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Making Hay at Conferences

Making Hay at Conferences
by Fern Reiss, CEO,

Last week, I was happy to be the keynote speaker for the Small Publishers Association of North America (SPAN) Conference. After spending three days meeting authors and publishers, and giving them publicity suggestions, I realized that while a lot of you are attending writing and publishing conferences, some of you aren’t maximizing the benefits. So here are a few easy tips on getting the most from upcoming conferences.

Do your research. Before you arrive, make a list of both your goals in attending the conference, and any questions you have. (Try to group these questions by category, so that when you find an appropriate person, you can roll through your whole list.) Check out both the list of speakers and their areas of expertise, and the list of vendors, in compiling your list of questions, and try to find the most appropriate person. For example, I was dispensing information on publicity, finding literary agents, self-publishing, selling more books, and Expertizing, but if you had wanted details on lay-flat binding, you would have been better off speaking to one of the many printers in attendance.

Make appointments. Keep in mind that conferences are a wonderful opportunity to have face-to-face time with people who might otherwise be inaccessible to you—so maximize that! Email the most interesting speakers and vendors before the conference, and introduce yourself. Explain that you know that they’ll be very busy at the conference but that you’d love the opportunity to buy them a coffee or a drink or a dinner. Keep your email short and to the point (no speaker is going to voluntarily subject themselves to an optional meal with a stranger who sends a rambling six-page letter) and offer them a choice of a few different times, and a way to contact you. Most speakers won’t be able to commit to a time in advance (there are always things that come up that need their attention) but if you’ve given them a choice of times and your cellphone number, you might be able to spend a private hour with the speaker everyone else is enamored of. (Be sure to leave those time slots free—if your favorite speaker does contact you and agree to a meeting, you don’t want to have to say you’re already committed for that time. And if you invite a speaker out, be sure to pick up the tab.)

Evaluate your needs and their motives. Any conference which includes vendors invites a potential conflict of interests. On the one hand, the conference organizers want you to get as much as possible out of the conference. On the other hand, they want to keep their (paying) vendors happy. This can sometimes mean that conference participants do not get accurate information, if industry standards are in conflict with what particular vendors are hawking. So always keep motives in mind. Amazon may be pushing their Search-Inside-The-Book program (as they were at the SPAN conference) which might result in more book sales for you—or it might result in a loss of your intellectual property. Print-on-Demand publishers may be offering bundled services such as editing, design, and publicity, which sounds like an attractive package—but the pricetag may be higher than what you might pay to buy those services separately, or the quality of those individual components may not be great. Marketers may encourage you to participate in a create-a-bestseller program where you urge your email list to buy a particular book on a particular day—but you may not be comfortable using your customer list in this way. Part of the allure of being your own publishers is the freedom to make decisions your way—so don’t be swayed by what everyone else is doing. Evaluate what’s being offered or sold, and determine your comfort level with it.

Harvest customer names. You’ll be doing a fair bit of schmoozing about your book and project. Whenever someone expresses interest, ask for their business card. Then, when your next book comes out, you have a way to get in touch with a potential customer. And don’t forget to bring your own business cards, so that people can contact you afterwards if they think of a good idea, potential customer, or a great contact on your topic.

Keep a list. A lot of people take notes at conferences. But in addition to taking notes, keep a master ‘To Do’ list for when you get home. I put my list in the front of the conference binder, and try to prioritize as I go, writing the ‘To Do’ items down as I think of them, putting them either higher or lower on the page depending on how important they are. Then, when I get home, in addition to dozens of pages of scrawled notes, I also have a list of prioritized items to follow.

Follow up. When you get home, do your follow up promptly. Put your ‘To Do’ list on the top of your desk, and knock those items off one by one. Send quick emails of thanks to anyone at the conference who was particularly helpful. (Don’t forget to send a great thank you blurb to the conference organizers and key speakers—hearing you made a difference is always appreciated. I also use such thank you’s as testimonials on my website and marketing materials, and always include the name and book title, which is free publicity for whoever wrote it.) Sign up for those newsletters and ezines that people told you about, and buy the books or register for the workshops of the speakers who most moved you. And keep the spirit and enthusiasm of the conference alive by staying in touch with the handful of people with whom you really connected. That way, you’ll reap the benefits of your conference for a long time to come.

So go out and enjoy some conferences! And if you’re going to the NYC Small Press Bookfair, Ice Escape, Media Relations Conference, ASJA, PMA University, or BEA, let me know—maybe I’ll have time for dinner :*)


Fern Reiss is CEO of ( and ( and the author of the books, The Publishing Game: Find an Agent in 30 Days, The Publishing Game: Bestseller in 30 Days, and The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days as well as several other award-winning books.  She is also the Director of the International Association of Writers ( providing publicity vehicles to writers worldwide. She also runs The Expertizing® Publicity Forum where you can pitch your book or business directly to journalists; more information at  Sign up for her complimentary newsletter at

Copyright © 2011 Fern Reiss


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