I attended BEA for the first time in 2011, and I wish someone would have walked me through how to best utilize a publishing industry conference/expo and the ARCS available. I managed to figure it out once on the BEA Expo floor, but not until the conference was nearly over. In the midst of ARC mania it hit me: I need to make contacts with PR reps and build relationships with publishers with the precious face time I was afforded at BEA. By the end of the day I was able to salvage my trip, and met many of the awesome publicists I still work with today. The following are tips I think would have helped me with that first trip.
Tips for New Bloggers Attending Publishing Industry Conferences
- Before The Conference When you sport that little badge identifying yourself as a book blogger at whatever conference you’re attending, you’re representing your blog as a media outlet. If you’re brand new to book blogging, I highly recommend reviewing books you get at the library or purchase before accepting ARCs or attending conferences. This way you have time to build content and an audience. If you attend with a brand new blog that has no readership and you hand out your freshly made business cards, publicists are going to notice when they go to your blog and there isn’t much content. You need to become influential if you are going to begin accepting ARCs. I’m not going to get into “how to become influential” in this post. I know it sounds vague. But I will say this: Write quality content and readers will come. A little patience pays off in the end.
- It’s not all about the ARCs. New book bloggers feel an urgency to get ARCs. That’s understandable. It’s almost like having an advance copy means you’re part of the club. That you’ve learned the secret book blogger handshake. I felt this way when I started out too. I remember the feeling of getting my first ARC in the mail. It was euphoric. My blog gained an audience quickly, because I had help from a blog consultant when I launched it. This was weird because I was still in that newbie, I’m not getting ARCs stage. Yet, people were still reading my blog. I started off just writing about whatever I purchased at the store, posting silly pictures of my family and me with books, or I wrote about the latest Rumpus Book Club selection. At the time I was upset because I didn’t understand how to acquire ARCs. Now I realize it was a good thing because I was able to build content.
- Pre-Conference/Expo Research Okay, so you’ve built up content on your blog and you have a readership. (Even if it’s a small readership, it will build and grow as your content and voice does. Content is the key.) Before you ever step on the expo floor look up publishers’ websites and peruse their upcoming release catalogs. Each publishing house website typically has upcoming releases up online or you can contact a rep and have them mail a catalog to you. Each title should have a description of what the book is about and give you an idea of whether a title will appeal to you or not. When you attend your conference and visit said publishing house’s expo booth, one of the books you’re interested in might be available. This way you’re not grabbing blindly at all the pretty stacks of books. You’re making an informed decision regarding what you want to cover on your site. Remember, you are acting as editor-in-chief of your publication. It’s a responsibility to take seriously.
Says the woman who posts pics of herself on the toilet reading.Running from booth to booth filling totes with random books you didn’t research will not be helpful to you or to the publisher.
- On The Conference/Expo Floor You have made it to the conference! Congratulations, your hard work has paid off. Now what? Check with the publishing houses that caught your eye in your pre-conference research. They may not have the books that interested you online available, but this is your chance to build relationships. Talk to the publicists and ask about the books they have available. They have always been more than happy to give me the info on the ARCs they are giving away. If something sounds like something that will fit with the tone and tenor of your blog by all means take a copy. But be shrewd about what you accept. When you hand over your business card you are representing yourself as a professional. Act like one. (Obviously, you may get an ARC or three home and realize, once you dig into the books, that they aren’t what you imagined they would be. That’s okay. You made an informed decision and did your research. However, sometimes a book isn’t what you expected.) The most important thing you can do for your blog at your first conference/expo is to make contact with publicists. Ask if they have blogger outreach programs and give them a business card. This can lead to being put on email lists from different publishing houses of bloggers who receive emails regarding ARCs that are available each month for review. If you make contacts like this, your next conference/expo experience will not be spent chasing ARCs. You can spend it networking, meeting up with blogger friends, exploring the conference room floor, and attending buzz sessions so you can learn about the latest publishing industry trends. Your first expo/conference as a book blogger is important. Don’t waste the experience.
- More Conference/Expo Floor Common Sense Tips: Make sure you grab an expo program. This is a booklet that lists all of the signings, panels, etc. This booklet is your golden ticket for knowing what is going on at the conference/expo. It should include a map of the expo floor and tell the booth numbers for the publishers you are interested in checking out. Each conference/expo typically has a website you can go to that will list all of this information online prior to the event. BEA had a show planner program on their site this year that allowed attendees to make a schedule prior to attending. BEA also has a phone app that allows attendees to keep track of signings, panels, etc. If you are with a big group, please do not hold spots in line for signings for other members of your group. Typically there are about 200 ARCs for each signing. If there is a line of 200 people waiting an hour in advance for a signing and 8 people cut in line that means 8 people at the end of the line won’t get the book they just waited in line for an hour to get. I witnessed this happen at BEA 11, and I was pretty shocked. So especially if the line is at 200, do not cut. It’s not courteous behavior. (This should be common sense, but it occurred to me that people may not realize the implications for others when they hold spots for big groups.)
- After The Conference/Expo After attending a conference or expo always take time to follow up with publicists. Thank them for their time. Ask about books you discussed with them. In general, be a nice person. (Note to self: I owe Eric at Quirk an email and a huge virtual hug.) Also, take time out to connect with other book bloggers or authors you got to know. Meet up with them on twitter. Stop by their blogs. Nurture the relationships you began at the event. Over the past two years I have met so many people I now call friends in the publishing industry. We may only see each other once or twice a year, but each time we do it’s like an awesome family reunion.
This year I attended BEA without the sense of urgency I felt last year. I was after five arcs that I researched beforehand. I got three of the ones I originally wanted and found a couple of surprises. With the exception of a few swag bags I got at events, I went home with five ARCs, and lots of information. I’m still in post conference mode making follow up emails and writing round up posts. The work goes on after the conference is over, but it’s worth it. Your expo experience is what you make it. Don’t sell yourself short. Be smart. Be prepared. Be respectful. And above all, have fun. If you see me at BEA next year, please hug me. It’ll make my feet feel better.