If you’re an author, conferences are a great way for you to attend sessions and workshops to hone your craft, meet fellow authors, and mingle with publishing professionals. But they also can be an effective platform for promoting your book in person.
Here’s a checklist for promoting your books at conferences:
1. Determine your budget
Before diving into conference planning, determine how much you’re willing to spend. Will you be footing the bill yourself as a tax-deductible business expense? If you’re traditionally published, will your publisher chip in? If you’ve been invited to speak at the conference, are the organizers giving you free passes and travel accommodations? Once you know where the money will come from, here’s where you’ll incur most of the cost for attending:
- Travel (airfare, train/bus tickets, or gas, if necessary)
- Hotel (if necessary, ideally within a mile of the conference)
- Event tickets
- Food and beverages
- Copies of your book (if you want to give any to bloggers/reviewers)
- Any of the marketing ideas listed below
2. Hold book signings
Many conferences like BEA and BookCon will let authors reserve a table, autographing session, or a booth, giving them exposure to both readers and booksellers. The price can vary tremendously by conference and by package, from a single session for $200 to a full-day table for $3,000.
At some conferences, publishers will provide free copies for their authors to give away. This helps drive word-of-mouth exposure and reviews. But you shouldn’t feel obligated to give away your books for free. Many authors sell books during their signings. You can purchase an easy-to-use checkout tool like Square to process credit card transactions at a cost of only 2.75% per swipe. Plus, you’ll look all technologically fancy.
3. Give a talk
Ready to flex your public speaking skills? As a published author, you are likely qualified to speak at conferences about a variety of topics:
- The subject of your book. This could be an inspirational talk about overcoming obstacles your characters overcame, an educational talk if you write nonfiction or historical fiction, or a behind-the-scenes look at how you crafted your stories and characters.
- How to write. If you have a hefty backlist under your belt, you probably have tips on the writing and revising process for fellow authors.
- How to get published. Whether you’re traditionally or indie published, you’ll have tips newbies would appreciate. Even your readers could find this session interesting if you spin it as a tale of personal growth and had a life-altering experience leading up to your publication journey.
- How to promote your books. If you have had successful sales figures, an engaged social media following, and creative marketing strategies, you could share tips with fellow authors and publishers.
The topic you choose would depend on the audience at the conference or session track. Whatever you choose, be prepared to speak for around 35-40 minutes, with 10 minutes of Q&A at the end. Set up a table near the exit of the room so you or your team can sell copies of your book after your session.
4. Participate on panels
If flying solo on stage for 45 minutes sounds way too intimidating, participating on a panel might be a more comfortable option for you. Speaking on panels at book conferences is a sure way to gain exposure, whether to readers at consumer conferences or fellow authors at writing conferences. It also lets authors connect with and learn from their co-panelists.
During a panel, you’ll be seated onstage with 2–4 other authors and a moderator who will ask questions. Some questions will be for the whole group, and some will be just for you. Usually, the questions are predetermined and discussed beforehand, so it’s unlikely the moderator will catch you off guard. The audience Q&A is another story, but you’ll have other authors to back you up if you get stuck on any of the questions.
A panel will still get you a lot of exposure, and there are cross-promotion opportunities aplenty. You can get some face time with fans who originally came to hear a different author speak, and you’ll have the opportunity to forge valuable relationships with the other authors on the panel as well.
5. Distribute swag
Love it or hate it, everyone has an opinion about swag. Some readers love coming home with a goody bag of bookmarks, stickers, and tote bags. Others hate carrying around junk. But if you can be creative and unique, swag can be an effective marketing tool, especially if it ties in to your story in some way.
Remember: everyone gives away bookmarks and bookplates. Don’t be part of the pile people throw away right after the conference. Consider your target audience, and think about what they would have a real use for that relates to your book. There are plenty of creative options:
- Romance: small candles branded with your book cover.
- Young Adult: a charm bracelet made of your book covers
- Chick Lit: chapstick or lip gloss branded with your book cover
- Sci-Fi: a branded USB drive for your wallet
- Travel Memoir: branded luggage tags or locks
These are just a few ideas, and of course selecting swag will depend on your budget. But there are some options you can get in bulk for as little as $0.50 per item.
6. Let fans know you’re attending ahead of time
Once you finalize what you’ll be doing and bringing to the event, make sure your readers and fellow authors know you’ll be attending. Add the conference to the events page on your author website. Share that you’ll be attending on Facebook and Twitter, using the appropriate event hashtag. Encourage the conference hosts to include you on the event website and agenda page if they haven’t already. Make sure people will know they can find you at the conference, and get them excited to see you there!
7. Print marketing collateral and/or business cards
If you won’t be bringing copies of your book to give away, or if you run out, you should bring something to hand out to potential readers who want to buy your book later. You can create postcard-sized handouts or business cards people can stick in their wallets. Make sure the collateral is small enough for attendees to carry around, but not so flimsy as to be crushed at the bottom of their suitcases. Vistaprint is a great resource for printing high-quality cards inexpensively. These are not to be confused with swag, which should be fun or serve some purpose to fans.
8. Run a contest to get people to your signing/talk/panel
Build some buzz and excitement for your signing, session, or panel by offering a free book or giveaway to the first 5–10 people who arrive at each of these locations. Announce this giveaway on Twitter and Facebook using the event-specific hashtag. Once other attendees see people flocking to you, they’ll want to see what all the fuss is about.
9. Blog and live-tweet about the event
Keep the momentum going during the event by blogging and tweeting about your experience throughout the event. Make it easy for fans to find you by tweeting your location, and be sure to include lots of photos, since photos are more likely to be shared on social media.
What are some other ideas you have for marketing your books at conferences? Share your ideas in the comments below!
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