Hello! I'm Cara North. Last year was my first year at AAD. I had a blast.
I thought I would share a few tips that I picked up with those who may be new to the event.
If you are an author, or an aspiring author, you are representing your brand(s) from the moment you walk in to this convention. Be prepared to spark conversations with strangers.
Some strategies that work best:
1. Have your card or a small promotional item on you to hand to people you have a sincere conversation with. (This is not the person who you ask to pass the spatula so you can get another slice of dessert). The person you give this item to include: the people at your table when you eat, someone you wait in line with and learn shares the same interests as you do, the reader that you discover in the elevator with everyone's book but yours. My favorite example of this technique was Jae Lynne Davies's strategy. She had her signature hand made bookmark creation in a cute black bag with her card attached. It was small enough to put in my purse or tote bag, but I would not get her confused with anyone else!
2. Never sit in the same seat twice. In fact, don't sit at the same table twice. Try to avoid your friends (you read that correctly) at meals. I sat with a whole new group of strangers at almost each meal. I did make one dinner plan to sit with my friends because I do not get to see them often. However, the trip is about business, and they know this because they are there for the same reason. I needed to sell books, and not to people I already know. I made some great contacts with this strategy. I also sold out of my books by the end of the signing day.
3. If you are lucky enough to get a coveted seat on a panel, be sure to follow some basic courtesy rules:
a. Don't just tell people to buy your book. Obviously you wrote a book or you wouldn't be sitting there.
b. Don't hog the spotlight. be sure to remain on the subject the audience asked and limit your response to a concise answer so that other people have a chance to respond as well. (Yes, even if the question was directed at you, the other people should have a chance to respond also.) If there is a moderator (and there usually is, try to find out the system they use prior to sitting down for the session. Some people use a stopwatch to time answers, others start at one end of the table and go one by one from there. If you have more to say, just make yourself available afterwards. Invite the people to approach you with further questions throughout the conference. Some readers are shy and will not speak out in public.
c. Don't speak negative about anyone else. We all do things differently, there is no right or wrong way.
4. If you are not lucky enough to get on a panel, don't fret, you have more freedom to your schedule and you can participate in the audience by asking thoughtful questions. You might get the attention of others.
You will need to be prepared to market yourself at your publisher's table, if they have one, or by networking like an author who really wants to promote his/her brand. You are your brand. The more you are active and friendly at this conference, the more people will be drawn to you. You will make a bigger impression if you keep a pocket notebook that lets you make notes about people you meet so you can continue to build those relationships once the conference is over.
For example, if you are talking to a reader and she says that her daughter is getting braces next month, you might include a nice "I hope your daughter adjusts to the braces" note in your e-mail to her. These little things can make a big difference. Whether you swap cards or you ask if you can keep in contact via e-mail after the conference, make a note so the person will know you are talking to them, not at them.
I met an editor at the AAD conference and she mentioned that her birthday was Christmas Eve. I made sure to wish her happy birthday on Christmas Eve in a quick e-mail. She doesn't think I am just randomly contacting her. I wrote it down, and I told her I was writing it down so I wouldn't forget her. I personally would not mind if someone took my name and wrote a quick note beside it with my e-mail. I would know that person wanted to remember me when he/she got home. Bring an autograph book and have people you met and want to keep in contact with sign it. Keep track by putting the event, panel, meal on the top of the page. Anything that helps you remember these awesome people you are about to meet!
5. When it's time to party-take caution if you party hard. Remember that the publishing industry may be spread across the nation, but the Internet has equaled the contact playing field. It is not hard to talk to other publishers anymore than talking to other authors. So if you get sauced, you may be putting yourself on a "do not publish" list at some houses. I know the publishers I write for do pay attention to the way people behave. No company can control these things. I don't think it would get a contract cancelled, but if you are there shopping for a publisher, be professional at all times and know your limit if you decide to party.
6. If you are shopping for a publisher be sure to talk to them if they are there. You don't have to make a formal pitch or even tell them you are an author right off the bat. Ask some questions about the company. It might help you to make a decision and save some time in your submission process. I met a lot of great people, but some houses do not publish what I write, or they are only looking for certain things. I saved myself a lot of trouble in searching for guidelines just by stopping by to say hi and asking what they publish and what they would be publishing in the next year or so. Not every publisher is the right fit for every author. Some have a small network of authors and know them all by name. Others have so many authors they may not know who was standing next to them if they were holding a poster with their book and name on it. Where you fit in will be up to you. It is always nice to meet people in person and get a feel for how they want the company to run.
7. Ask authors who are already published with a house what they think of that publisher. There is no better testimony than word of mouth. Especially when there are so many different places and so many authors who are published by more than one publisher. They can tell you what their experience has been like. If a company publishes erotic romance but the top sellers are sweet romance, you may want to ask where the hotter books are selling. Readers come to trust companies the same way they come to trust an author. If they like one historical, they will likely try more. If they don't they may shun the entire historical line from a publisher. There is no real method to the madness. It is simply a matter of personal preference.
8. Write small and test large. Have something short already written to shop around. It is easier for you and the publisher to test each other out if you have a complete work ready. Many places take short works. So have something between 10-25k ready to go so you can talk about it in addition to your other work.
9. Dress the part. You don't have to come in a business suit to an event like this one, but think about the image you want to display to others. If you are wearing jeans and a t-shirt, that is fine, dress it up with a cute top. One of my favorite casual bunnies was Joy, from Joyfully Reviewed. When she dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, she had her bunny ears on and a logo on her shirt. She was comfortable and yet still marketing! She also dressed up for other meals and/or panels. Leanna Renee Hieber remained in Steampunk attire for the entire conference. There was no way to miss her adorable and interesting outfits!
So you can see, you can go casual and/or go costume and still be professional and present your brand to your target audience.
10. Speaking of clothing, bring a light sweater with you because you never know what the hotel will be like. The AAD staff do not control the weather outside or the temperatures inside the dining or panel rooms. A light sweater got me through when I was sitting under the AC vent at one meal.
11. If you have special diet needs or allergies, don't wait until the last minute to tell someone. A friend of mine is diabetic and she hates some brands of artificial sweetener. She packs her own Splenda packets to avoid issues. Another friend has a child with a peanut allergy. She calls ahead anywhere they go to make sure she can bring her son's food to avoid any reaction he may have to the food at the place. (Think movie theatre, bowling alley, or someones birthday party). If you have allergies, let the hotel people know so you are not waiting to eat because they have to prepare your meal separate.
12. Pre-planning is key. I flew all the way from California with a carry on bag for the last event. The time change kicked my butt, the delayed flight added to my eye strain, and I was starving by the time I landed in New Jersey. A hungry Cara does not represent any brand well, I can assure you! I made sure to leave room for books and goodies for my trip home. I also stocked up on packaged candies and treats so I would have something to snack on in the event I was delayed again. Airport food can really rack up when they are charging 2 bucks for candy I got for free at the conference. I wore slacks and nice shirts, but I wore my comfortable New Balance shoes. If I was going to be on my feet all day, and aside from meals and panels I was, I needed to be comfortable. Plus, it cut back on what I had to bring with me in my bag.
I hope these 12 tips will come in handy. Hopefully others who have been to the event will add to this blog and give you more ideas and suggestions for representing your brand at a conference. You don't have to spend a lot of money, you just have to spend a little time thinking ahead and making the most of whatever opportunities that you will have before you at AAD!