Chip MacGregor

July 26, 2012

Thursdays with Amanda: Promoting Yourself at a Conference


Amanda Luedeke Literary AgentAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent.

We’re all at RWA this week, and if you’ve never been to a BIG conference, then do yourself a favor and sign up for one. Lots of great information, lots of big-name authors, lots of agents, editors and aspiring writers.

In short, there’s lots and lots of chaos.

And I’ve noticed that within that chaos, you have numerous authors who seem to get lost in the mix…authors who are so intent on soaking up every last bit of the conference and attending every workshop, party, and award show that they lose sight of one of the most valuable uses of their time: SELF PROMOTION.

In an attempt to avoid frantically writing a post and slapping it up in time for my next appointment, I’m going to cut this week’s Thursday with Amanda short. BUT that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear from you! So, take some time to think about these questions, and then share your thoughts:

  • What have YOU done to promote yourself at conferences?
  • How have you dropped the ball?
  • How have you succeeded?
  • What has prevented you from going all-out with your promotions during conference time?

Over the next few weeks, we’ll dive in to looking at what published and unpublished authors can do to promote themselves at conferences.


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  • Laurasmith says:

    I get postcards printed with my previous book covers on the front and a short bio of me (as well as FB, Twitter, website, etc.) on back. Whenever I meet someone at conference – sitting next to them at lunch, attending their sessions, in a meeting w/an editor/agent etc. I hand them one of my postcards. It’s much larger and more visual (with the color book covers) than a business card and gives us an immediate talking point. 

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    Writing is so much easier (and more enjoyable) than self-promotion. But my goal is to be ready to dive into this at my next convention — and I’m on track to do so.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Having my book trailer on my smart phone to show anyone who was interested turned out to be a successful promotion strategy. And I didn’t just use it for pitches. Everyone is talking about trailers and marketing these days, so I was able to share the trailer we’d created during conversations with other writers. And when they all said, “I want to read that book,” I figured I was reaching future readers.

    But I do have a tendency to put my foot in my mouth, whether from nerves or a misguided sense of humor, I don’t know. I’ve embarrassed myself more than once. At the last ACFW conference I was coming off a migraine medication that really scrambled my brain. One of my critique partners offered to make me note cards to hang around my neck with all the pertinent info I’d need for spur-of-the-moment pitches.

    My name is Evangeline.
    I write supernatural romance.
    My book is about…

    You get the idea.

  • Jan Cline says:

    This is an awesome topic – one that interests me as an aspiring author and also as a conference director. Personally, I’m still a little shy when it comes to approaching an editor or agent. I always worry that I’m pestering them. But I have attended enough conferences now to know that you just have to pay attention to what is going on around you and take advantage of those small opportunities that just might make a good connection for you. I always take business cards and one sheets, but I’m not always good at handing them out!

    I love the learning/workshop aspect of a conference and I like what has been said about not getting so wrapped up in it that you forget to give yourself a little spotlight time. I am amazed as I watch writers and authors that come to my conference at how little they know about or care about self promo. Most of the attendees are first timers and need a little guidance. I like to encourage those who have been at several to come alongside and show them the ropes.

    I have begun teaching at conferences in my area of expertise – research. That is a great way to get a little attention.

    Jan Cline

  • Tiffany Amber Stockton says:

    Oh, and what’s kept me from going all-out? Usually the need to step back and soak it in. Be quiet and learn or listen. The need to be teachable. The need to slow down.

  • Tiffany Amber Stockton says:

    Hmm, what have *I* done? Let’s see:

    * wore now infamous Tiki-bird slippers to a national conference
    * married the “dinosaur-man” or “S-Man” as many know him from Brandilyn Collins’ books
    * rang a cowbell in a conference bookstore for a free-for-all book spree
    * was the only one with a 5-week-old infant present, and all doted on him
    * made teasing remarks about keynote speakers with them standing not 5 feet away

    And too many more things to mention.

    But seriously, I usually go to conferences to mingle and connect with fellow crazy writers. It’s encouraging to know I’m not alone, and although I’m outgoing with a penchant for embarrassing myself, I do my best to relax and have a good time.

    Yes, I’ve dropped the ball by not having my one-sheet or business cards handy, or not reading ahead on what a publisher was publishing/accepting at the time, or in not taking the time to listen to others and instead talking to much about what I was there to pitch.

    I’ve also succeeded, though, in making an editor or agent smile, helping faculty feel at home or like someone cared about them for more than what they could do for an attendee, and in studying the craft so my pitches were honed and the premises of my books were both strong and memorable. Did I launch from the starting gate with success? Not a chance! It took me a few years to get going on the right path. I still learn something new with every conference I attend.

    Keeping an open mind and being aware of all sorts of opportunities is key. You never know when a planned meeting might not take place but an unplanned one ends up being the right one for you.

    • I think everyone attends their first conference and comes away thinking “so THAT’S what a conference is…I should have done x, y and z.” Even agents and editors do this. If we’re completely new to the conference circuit, the first one is definitely a time of learning. You get better at it the more you do.

  • Jackie Layton says:

    So even if we’re unpublished, we should have business cards?

    • Tiffany Amber Stockton says:

      Yes, ma’am! You’re pitching your work and hoping to catch an editor or agent’s attention. If you make a memorable impression, and your business card has a thumbnail image of you on it, that editor or agent will have a handy card with them to remember you. Then, when you send in your requested proposal or manuscript, they’ve got a face with a name, which makes it that much more memorable.

      It’s all about establishing a connection.

      That, and editors and agents can meet with over 100 people at any given conference. They can’t possibly carry home that many proposals or manuscripts. A business card is light, easy to add to a carry-on, and won’t cause any weight issues with luggage.

      That, or a one-sheet is the way to go!

    • I agree completely with what Tiffany said. Now to be honest, the chances of an agent/editor referencing your business card are slim, but the times that I’ve needed a prospective author’s contact info and pulled their business card from my stash have meant all the difference for that author.

      If you don’t have a business card, then the next best thing to do is to get the agent/editor’s card and email them a thank-you once conference is over. Be sure to be very specific about who you were/how you met/how they can remember you. That way, they have your email should they want to contact you.

  • Jackie Layton says:

    I’m going to my FIRST conference in September and can’t wait to hear more from you. Thanks!

  • Judith Robl says:

    Conferences, one of my favorite topics. My advice:

    First, try not to schedule every waking moment!  Pick out the seminars or workshops you really want to attend and leave yourself some free time for soaking up the atmosphere, writing over what you have just learned, or having coffee with a new acquaintance.

    Second, mix and mingle.  I’m terrible with small talk, but the easiest thing to do at a conference is to walk over to a person, introduce yourself, and then ask something like “What are you hoping to take home from this conference?”  or “Tell me about your writing project.”  or similar question.  Then sit back and listen attentively.

    Third,  always have business cards and promo postcards handy – that is, in your briefcase, handbag, or notebook.

    This advice comes from a long series of my having been unprepared in one or more of these areas.

    My favorite conference tool is a well-prepared 3-ring notebook.  Paper for writing and taking notes, sleeves for business cards (both to give and to get), add a zipped 3-ring pocket for pens/pencils, paperclips, etc., and you have a virtual office right at hand. 

    There’s more, but that’s enough for now.

    • Tiffany Amber Stockton says:

      Judith, I love your first tip. Don’t fill every waking moment. So true! Schedule down-time. You’re going to need it.

      Too many conferees (especially first-timers) come away from a big conference exhausted, overwhelmed, and possibly like a failure if things didn’t go the way they thought it should.

      Down-time helps in a tremendous way to give you perspective and time to absorb or process.

  • Netbug says:

    I must admit I haven’t done anything! Well, except mention what I do a few times. I’m so new to doing this professionally that it’s hard to sell myself. 

    • Tiffany Amber Stockton says:

      Selling yourself is so difficult, but sometimes you just need to be yourself and get to know others. Remembering YOU might be the best selling tool you have at hand.

    • No one is going to care about your book as much as you, Netbug. So you’re really on your own when it comes to promoting it. It might help to practice talking about yourself/your book with friends and family. That way, your only practice doesn’t come at expensive conferences!

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