Survival Tips for Conferences

Survival Tips for Conferences
Terry Odell

Header of the Left Coast Crime 2023 Conference showing a setting sun, cactus and man wearing a black hat and coatI’m in Tucson for the Left Coast Crime Conference, so forgive me if I don’t respond to comments right away.

Left Coast Crime is a reader-based conference, which means the focus is on connecting writers with readers. The panels will be aimed more at “tell us about your book” and they’re a great way to meet readers and let them know what you have to offer. In a writer’s conference, a workshop on setting would tell you how important it is, and would give you a “lesson” in how to develop setting in your book. At a reader’s conference, the panel will be a discussion of where each author sets his or her books, and why they chose that setting. Same goes for characters, or genre, or anything else.

This year, I’m on a “Romance in Mystery” panel and who knows where that one will go! Ultimately, the goal is to entice readers to pick up the books, and also to let them know you’re a real, live, person. It takes a different mind-set when you attend a conference like this as an author. You’re wearing a marketing hat, not a writing hat.

However, no matter what kind of a conference you attend, there are some “survival” techniques I’ve picked up over the years, listed in no order of importance.

  1. Have copies of your receipts. Nothing like finding out they’ve lost your registration or meal choices or room reservation to start things off on a stressful note. Better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them.
  2. Bring your own tote if you have one. Although most conferences hand out tote bags, they all look alike. If you bring one from a different conference, you’re less likely to have it picked up by mistake. (I also bring my own badge holder—the kind with compartments from another conference, just in case they give you a simple plastic one. This way, I’ve got a secure place for my badge, meal tickets, a little cash and other vitals—like business cards or bookmarks.)
  3. Don’t be afraid to meet people. It’s not required that you travel with a glued-to-the-hip companion. Take an empty seat, smile, hand over your business card, bookmark, or simple swag, and introduce yourself. This is one place where there’s an immediate conversation starter: “What do you write?” Or, in the case of a readers’ conference ‘read’? On the flip side, be polite and invite people to join you, include them in conversations. There’s a popular author who ignored me at a conference lunch table, and I haven’t bought any more of his books. Another good way to “mingle” is to volunteer. Most conferences are always looking for help.
  4. Bring comfortable clothes, especially shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of sitting, and a lot of walking, depending on how far apart the meeting rooms are. Also, bring layers. Regardless of the outside temperatures, meeting rooms can be meat-locker cold or steamy hot.
  5. Pace yourself. You’re not obligated to participate in every single event. Take breaks. Hide in your room for an hour if you need to. I long ago stopped feeling guilty about crawling into bed with a book at a decent hour. A lot of action takes place in the bar, so think about leaving some time for a visit there. Prioritize. Returning home with “conference crud”, or these days, the nasty virus, isn’t the souvenir you want.
  6. Speaking of books…bring either a bigger suitcase than you need, or some other method of transporting books. Most conferences are heavy on giveaways—and then there’s the inevitable bookstore and/or book signing. Another good reason to bring your own tote. Use the one they give you for books.
  7. Budget. Long ago, when I traveled with the Hubster on his per-diem, I learned how to save a few bucks. Think college dorm room. Almost all hotel rooms have coffee makers. They make hot water as well as coffee. There are all sorts of “just add boiling water” meal options out there. I’ll have instant oatmeal in my room for breakfast. This saves getting dressed early and going downstairs to a crowded hotel restaurant and blowing way too much money on a simple meal. And avoids the possibility of the staff not being able to handle several hundred people arriving at the same time. I’ll carry snacks as well. I’m not one for huge lunches at home, so for conferences that serve a banquet meal at lunch—well, that’s usually my dinner as well. A drink at the bar, maybe an appetizer or salad, and that’s enough for me. No need for another huge and expensive, calorie-laden meal. I can buy books with what I’ve saved.
  8. Scope out the facilities. Find out-of-the-way restrooms. Given short breaks between sessions and everyone on the same schedule, lines can get long.
  9. Giveaways. Odds are there are giveaway tables. Having swag is a great way to get your name in front of people. I’ve given away post-it notes, pens, lip balm, business cards, and bookmarks. I posted about pros and cons of some swag I collected in a previous TKZ post. Paper items such as bookmarks and business cards seem to be least effective based on what’s leftover at the end of the conference, but this year, I’ve had postcards printed with links to one of my books which will be a free download at BookFunnel. We’ll see how that goes.
  10. Have fun.

Cover image of Deadly Relations by Terry OdellAvailable Now
Deadly Relations.
Nothing Ever Happens in Mapleton … Until it Does
Gordon Hepler, Mapleton, Colorado’s Police Chief, is called away from a quiet Sunday with his wife to an emergency situation at the home he’s planning to sell. A man has chained himself to the front porch, threatening to set off an explosive.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

17 thoughts on “Survival Tips for Conferences

  1. Writers’ conferences are more fun than just about anything. Maybe I’m due for another one. The last one I attended was 18 years ago. Enjoy Left Coast Crime Conference!

  2. Hope you enjoy your visit to our beautiful Arizona. Unfortunately, today at least, I think instead of our beautiful blue sunny skies we are scheduled for a bit of rain. Enjoy the conference!

  3. Terry, what an excellent, comprehensive list! I’ve been mostly to writers conferences so I appreciate your explanation of the differences, including a marketing mindset.

    #8 is a great tip!

    Thanks for this useful, practical information! Have a wonderful time!!!

  4. Great post, Terry. I hope you’re having a great time.

    Thanks for all the tips and pointers, very valuable.

    “Pace yourself.” You don’t need to respond to this comment. Find a good book and gets some sleep.

  5. Great post, Terry. Thanks for the helpful tips and advice.

    I hope you have a wonderful time at Left Coast Crime! Enjoy yourself. See you on the flip side.

  6. Great list of tips.

    As for bathrooms, that’s why it’s so great to have a room in the hotel. I usually just slip upstairs before or after lunch and use my private bathroom. 🙂

    Also, if you’re attending a writers conference as a newbie, focus on making friends instead of business contacts. You’ll drive yourself crazy and have no fun if you’re just trying to make it in.

    • Depends on the hotel — this one is a ‘resort’ and the conference center building has no guest rooms, so it’s a schlep, and outside, too. 🙂

  7. Very solid list.

    I have never been to a book conference. If you will be picking up books, bring a tote bag that will hold them. I have a ton of drawstring totes. Most start to die if I pick up too many pens. I use a canvas tote bag.

    I was at a conference a few years ago. My phone dinged near the end of the day. I had set a new personal best for miles walked – 9 miles. Plan your shoes with care.

  8. Great list, Terry. I would add two points:
    1. Make yourself hang out at the bar at night. You don’t have to drink but that will be the largest concentration of fellow writers.
    2. While at the bar, hang with the crowd you aspire to belong to. Big cons, like Bouchercon or Left Coast, attract big-name authors and well-established agents and editors. In my experience, all are approachable. Don’t squander the meet-up with a canned pitch, but rather get to know them as people. There is no better networking strategy.

    • Yes, networking at the bar is always a good thing. At a reader’s conference like Left Coast Crime, it’s a way to find/meet potential readers.

  9. Hope you’re having a wonderful and constructive time at the conference, Terry. These tips are very helpful.

    Giveaways are a great way to get your name in front of people. I remember reading about your lip balm. 🙂

    • I rarely take home any leftover lip balm, Kay, although I’ve notice I’m no longer the only one who gives it away as swag. The word must have gotten out!

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