Today I have invited Akshaya Raman and Janella Angeles, my fabulous writer friends and members of the Boston Teen Author Festival team to do a guest post!
They are offering some truly ingenious tips and advice for conferences that all attendees may want to keep in mind when going to an event.
Without further ado, here are Aks and Janella!
Anyone in publishing knows that when conference season rolls around, your FOMO naturally rises. You see floods of cool author pictures online, a con-hashtag that keeps circulating, and tweets upon tweets of all the bookish fun you’re missing out on.
Real talk: behind all the glitz and glamour our online personas normally show off, conferences, while amazing opportunities, can also be difficult to navigate.
To any natural introvert (like us!), conferences tend to be overwhelming and stressful. Even more so, they can be hard to schedule around work or family, and are always harder on your wallet. It is a privilege to be able to attend events like these, and we have been extremely fortunate to attend a variety of conferences and festivals. We’re also lucky enough to be involved with the planning of the Boston Teen Author Festival, giving us a behind-the-scenes look at how bookish events are run.
And while conferences are a lot of fun, we also know that they’re a lot, in general. Here are a few useful things we wish we’d known before our first conference, and some tips we’ve picked up along the way since then:
- Social networking. Conferences aren’t just about attending panels–they can also be about meeting friends or online peeps in person! If you know you’ll be attending the same conference, don’t hesitate to ask an online buddy to meet up. Or if you haven’t found your book community yet, going to a conference can be a great place to start. Fun fact: the two of us actually met for the first time at a conference. Though we’d interacted via emails, Skype calls, and social media, we decided to fly halfway across the country to meet in person for the first time. It ended up being the best decision for how it pushed us out of our comfort zones to not only meet each other, but go to events and talk to new people. So don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with someone standing in line with you or attending the same panel. You never know who might become your new bestie!
- You do you! So yes, we did just tell you to network and hang out with friends, but also feel free to go off on your own. Explore things that interest you but might not sound as fun for your group. And for any introverts out there, it’s also fine to make like a hermit crab and retreat to your hotel room. You’re not obligated to participate in every single thing offered. Take what YOU want out of the experience, and don’t be afraid to drift from your pack. They’ll still be there at the end of the day…hopefully.
- Form a battle plan, but also be flexible. If you like to stick to a schedule, be sure to check the conference website beforehand. Look over the events for a general sense of which ones spark your interest. And if there are multiple exciting panels happening at once, one of our favorite conference techniques is to divide and conquer; we attend the panel of our choice, take notes, and share with our group when we reconvene. But at the same time, don’t feel obligated to stick to a strict schedule. If panels aren’t holding your interest or time is just getting away from you, be open to changes in plans.
- Be open to discovering other authors, not just your faves! Remember that conferences are a great way to find new books and authors. On many occasions, we’ve gone to a panel to support authors we love and have come away realizing that another panelist we didn’t know much about made a lot of interesting comments or just had a flat-out fantastic personality. Don’t be nervous to engage with authors you may not know much about, because they might end up becoming one of your future faves!
- Don’t feel entitled to authors’ or agents’ time. Authors and agents in attendance are either at the conference as part of their work, or in support of friends and colleagues. With that in mind, be aware of boundaries and be respectful of their time. They’re awesome people, yes–but still people. That’s not to say you can’t have the occasional fan moment or a quick hello, but don’t follow authors and agents into bathrooms with a book to sign or a story to pitch. Don’t be that person. Please.
And here are a few more general tips you might have encountered elsewhere:
- Get your coffee stat. General caution: the coffeeshop lines at/near the conference will be massive in the mornings. Either arrive early to get your caffeine fix or get it off site. Don’t let a 45-min wait prevent you from prime early con-time!
- Be prepared to wait in lines. In publishing, we hate the waiting game–but even in conferences, it’s inevitable. Expect to spend a good amount of time in line for everything: food, books, signings panels. And whatever you do, don’t cut. It was rude back in kindergarten, and it’s rude now.
- Look up signing rules. Some authors might have book limits or ticketed signings. You don’t want to haul an entire series around all day, later realizing you can only get two signed, right? Prevent that bookish tragedy by following the rules.
- Be aware of ARC etiquette. Think about whether an ARC would be better served going to someone else (a librarian, a diverse blogger etc.). Most times, there will be a lot of free books and swag to grab. Resist the FOMO and take only what you’re really interested in. And most importantly, don’t sell ARCs online after the event. It is severely uncool on all fronts.
- Always remember to be kind to the staff and volunteers. Speaking of etiquette, when you go to bookish events, you know those people giving you badges or writing your name on post-its for author signings? Many of them voluntarily give up their time to make these events possible, and more often than not, they don’t get to fully enjoy the fruits of their labor. Be courteous and don’t make their jobs difficult. We’re totally not speaking from experience…
- Lighten the load. There’s a good chance you’ll be weighed down by A LOT of free stuff: books, swag, cards, etc. Best problem to have, right? Not for your shoulders or back! Relieve them by scheduling a time in the day to drop off your spoils of war at your hotel room so you can return to the con with arms free…to grab more stuff, of course.
- Check in an empty suitcase if you’re flying. Even if you’re being selective with what you take, the allure of books can still be hard to resist. Bring an empty suitcase to fill with the unplanned books you’ll inevitably buy. The cost of an extra checked bag usually ends up being cheaper than shipping a heavy box of books home. No need to go (even more) broke because of your books.
- Don’t forget these conference bag essentials! Carry your phone charger since all those pictures, videos, and live tweets of panels will definitely drain your battery. Extra tote bags can come in handy for all those for impulse grabs. And definitely remember to pack snacks. Nothing’s worse than a hangry conference-goer, am I right?
- Consider getting involved with conferences and festivals! It can be a great way to network with industry pros and learn more about the publishing industry as a whole. And you don’t necessarily even have to travel far–look into volunteering at bookish events that happen locally. You never know who you’ll meet or what opportunities it might lead to!
- If you can’t make it to an in-person conferences, there are alternatives! We know that conferences and festivals can be extremely difficult in terms of entrance fees, spending all day on your feet, and traveling that adds up into costs that can make cons inaccessible for many. One great option can be checking out online conferences that are telecommutable and inexpensive (like WriteOnCon or Manuscript Academy). There are also scholarships and grants that some events (like RWA or SCBWI) offer to help cover some, or all, of the costs. Everyone knows that publishing still has a long way to go in terms of accessibility for everyone, but if you see a chance to go to a con you’ve been dying to attend, don’t throw away your shot!
To all future conference first-timers: we hope that our tips and tricks can prepare you as you take that next step where publishing meets community. But there’s always lots more to learn. And of course the best way to learn is by actually getting out there and experiencing it for yourself. And who knows? Maybe you’ll be able to teach us something soon!
Good luck, stay safe, and most importantly, have fun!
Akshaya Raman fell in love with writing when she wrote her first short story at the age of ten. While working on her YA novels, she contributes to Writer’s Block Party, and is a team member of the Boston Teen Author Festival. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and her website.
Janella Angeles is never without books since she works in publishing by day and pens novels by night. She’s a YA writer represented by Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, and a team member of the Boston Teen Author Festival. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and her website.