Navigating Educational and Librarian Conferences

I just took a look at my calendar for the months ahead and realized one thing: conference season is starting back up again.  To help authors prepare, I thought I’d take a break from the usual Q-and-A format to cover some valuable tips I’ve picked up over the past three years of attending trade shows. Through my job, I participate in about six or seven conferences each year, all with their variety of acronyms (ALA, NCTE, IRA, TLA, NAEYC, AASL…), all focused on educators, librarians, and books, glorious books!

Today, let’s cover a few basic questions:

1. Can I ask my publisher to sponsor my attendance?

Yes! It never hurts to ask, especially if you’ve had a book come out within the last year or two. More often than not, if you’re local, they’ll be happy to secure a badge for you to walk the floor. Please note, however, that unless you’re on a panel, it’s much less likely that they’ll be willing to pay for a hotel room for you or purchase a plane or train ticket.  If you have gotten yourself on a panel (as opposed to your publisher pitching you and securing the spot), make sure you’re looping your editor/publicist/school & library marketing folks in as soon as possible so they can handle travel arrangements and put you in their hotel block if you’re not local.

2. What should I wear?

Depending on the convention center/hotel the conference is held at, you’ll be sweating or shivering. It’s always best to dress in layers and wear shoes that won’t kill your feet after hours of standing on thin carpet draped over concrete. Yes, definitely be yourself but also remember that these are professional events and you’re making an impression on others whether you realize it or not. Think about what you would wear into an office on a casual Friday, and don’t go much more casual than that. Jeans with a cute blazer and comfy flats? Dress and cardigan? Perfect. Also, think about bringing an extra tote bag or two! Chances are, you’ll be picking up a good amount of free books, and free bags from publishers can sometimes be scarce.

3. What’s the best use of my time while I’m there?

I’m going to say something that may seem controversial, but stick with me. When you go to a conference like this and your publisher has a great booth, try not to spend that much time hanging around in it. Obviously the people working the booth want to see you, but if you’re not signing or the exhibit floor isn’t quiet, their time is better spent networking with industry types and promoting your books to the educators/librarians/booksellers. If you’re there, their attention switches from doing that to taking care of you. Likewise, try not to hold court with your friends in the booth or nearby aisle if you can help it—you’re literally blocking others from entering!

One of the best things to do with your time is to just walk the exhibit floor and see what other publishers are putting out. Look at covers, at the promotional materials, and pick up advance reader copies that interest you. And, yes, you can definitely approach someone in one of these booths and ask for an ARC. Don’t be shy! Another great idea? Go sit in on some of the excellent panels and programs that are being held. Take the time to look through the schedule and find the ones that interest you, or are relevant to your career (ebooks, talks about the Common Core State Standards, etc.).

4. How do I get involved with these trade shows, or pitch myself for panels?

Each trade show will have different deadlines for getting proposals in, as well as formats and information they’d like up front. Your best bet is to investigate their webpage and see if there’s any information listed. There’s a chance, of course, that they’ll only take proposals from educators or members of their organization. In that case, your best bet is to put yourself out there. If it’s a local trade show, talking to your local librarians about what your books have to offer and making sure they know you’re available is one step. (Fostering relationships with your local librarians is always a good idea!) At conferences, have business cards. If you write non-fiction or historical fiction, make sure the business cards mentions the subject matter(s).

Likewise, reach out to your school & library and publicity folks and let the know you are interested and ask them to keep you in mind when pitching. There’s a pretty good chance that they already are pitching you, especially if you have a book coming out in the near future or one recently released (are you seeing a trend here?). Publishers like to take these shows as an opportunity to promote their frontlist, but if you have a book with a subject matter that could tie easily into school curriculums, it could be worth giving them a little poke to remind them. In fact, poke them as early as possible because publishers pitch months, sometimes even a full year, ahead of when the conference actually takes place.

With all the focus on Common Core Standards, now is a great time to be writing historical fiction and non-fiction—really any books related to core subjects in school, like science. The Common Core isn’t about the books themselves so much as the activities and lessons that the teacher can pull from them (or how they can integrate it into pre-existing lesson plans).  Just to be clear, any book can be used with the Common Core. Really examine what your book has to offer, and how you could put a fresh twist on a subject that’s been done to death. There’s just as much focus and attention given to the literary techniques you employ (for instance, multiple points of view) as there is on subject.

There’s a kind of self-perpetuating cycle when it comes to these shows—once you’re in with these folks, you’re really in and are likely to be invited back, so it’s worth your energy to try to get your foot in the door and to really prep a great talk.

Don’t see your question covered here? Sound off in the comments!


4 Responses to Navigating Educational and Librarian Conferences

  1. Julie Eshbaugh Oct 1 2013 at 1:23 pm #

    Loved this post, Alex! Thanks for touching on the Common Core and how it can impact teacher book selection. 🙂

  2. Natalie Aguirre Oct 1 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    Great post. One of my burning questions lately has been how to connect with librarians. I really appreciate the advice.

  3. stephanie garber Oct 1 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    Great post, Alex! And I’m so glad you talked about what to wear. It’s such a little thing, but a big thing at the same time.

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