Should You Attend a Book Publishing Conference?

Ways to Network and Connect

Book publishing conference - Businesswoman handing business cards out
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Book publishing conferences can be great places for writers to learn about opportunities and to connect with agents, editors and fellow writers.

Book Publishing Conferences Can Be a Great Resource For Writers If…

…you understand what you want to get out of it.

Even a small local conference can be valuable if it means you learn one useful piece of marketing information or make one quality connection with an agent, editor, or even simpatico fellow writer. For example, the Mystery Writers of America generally offers its "MWA University" mystery writing class at a couple of locations around the country each year.

Conversely, attending an expensive, prestigious, professional book publishing conference — like Bookseller Expo America (BEA) — won't be helpful to a beginner, who's likely to get lost in the noise. And attending the Romance Writers of America Convention won't help if you don't go prepared to fully exploit its potential for connections and instruction.

As every conference generally requires an investment of time, energy, and money it's important to know what you are hoping to achieve, and what the likelihood is that the particular conference will help fulfill them.

To ensure you get the most out of the experience when assessing a book publishing conference, ask yourself the following questions:

How This Particular Book Publishing Conference Fits My Ultimate Goals

You might be eager for any and all information that maybe perhaps might help you get your book published.

Different conferences have different focuses — and different writers have different needs. So use your resources wisely and, before you enter your credit card number, make sure the conference is offering what you want:

  • Do you want to develop or deepen your writing or book marketing skills? Then look for a conference with hands-on instruction, such as small-group breakout sessions rather than just "keynote"-type addresses or panels.
  • Do you thrive on individual attention? Then make sure the conferences you choose include Q&A sessions after panels or — better yet — the opportunity to sign up for one-on-one consultations.
  • Do you want to better understand the current book publishing marketplace, and understand where and how your work fits into the trends? Assess the speakers and panelists — are they working professionals from traditional publishers, literary agencies, booksellers, and ebook distributors? These are a very different group than people hawking self-publishing services.
  • Do you want opportunities to make contact with literary agents or book editors? Then make sure they are in attendance and review the schedule to make sure there are networking events where you can meet them.
  • Does the conference offer a chance to connect with like-minded book authors (RomanceMysteryCookbooksChildrens?) for camaraderie or moral support? Again, networking events like cocktail parties or group meals help grease the wheels of interaction.

Evaluate the Book Publishing Conference Speakers

Do the speakers at the book publishing conference have experience and authority you're looking for? Figuring that out might take a bit of research.

With the proliferation of indie authors, self-publishing platforms, and hybrid publishers, it might take some digging to see who is speaking. Luckily, we've got the Internet to help. Learn beyond the bios and Google the specific speakers to learn:

  • Are there people at the conference whose experiences or skills you're excited to learn from?
  • Do the topics covered by the seminars and panels resonate with what you need right now?
  • Are the sessions given by people who've "been there," who have a number of years of experience in the topic they're speaking about and have something to teach you?

Resources to Commit to This Event

Conferences are an investment, especially when you add travel, hotel, meals, and maybe a new outfit or two. Even if you have the ready cash, you should think of all the resources necessary to leverage your investment – not only money but time, energy and bandwidth:

  • Do you see true value in this conference for your investment of money?
  • Does your schedule allow time for you to prepare and get the most out of the conference?
  • Do your existing commitments leave you with enough energy to be "on" and "up" for the conference? You can't be a dishrag and effectively network.
  • Is your portfolio of written material — book proposal, novel manuscript, children's book pages — ready to be sent out?
  • Are your self-marketing materials — website, business cards – in good enough shape that if an editor or agent looks you up, you are putting your most professional writer self forward?
  • Do you have the time to responsibly follow up with the contacts you will be making?

Or —be honest with yourself — would the time and energy be better spent actually writing and having something to show for the next conference?