by Damon Suede
Colleagues often tease me about how much I strategize my career, but after a lifetime of conventions, conferences, and retreats, I’ve learned that winging it in front of hundreds or even thousands of people can induce paralysis and invite disaster.
Measuring twice and cutting once keeps me in one piece at professional gatherings. The following suggestions represent an idiosyncratic hodgepodge of practical tactics that have saved my behonkus on more than one occasion.
Every event has a slightly different vibe… so the first thing to do with any professional gathering is identify its focus and flavor: Where and when is it? Who will attend? Does it last six hours or six days? What’s the size and scope? Is it for readers, publishers, media, or writers? Keeping its specifics in mind, build a list of event-specific goals (and potential snafus) so you know where to put your energy and effort.
Book early! You’ll save money by reserving, ticketing, and registering far in advance. Likewise, decide your budget before you agree to attend. Don’t forget to factor in registration, travel, hotel, transport, swag, and meals. Deduct your expenses!
Be present! If you want to teach or host something, organize and book your workshops & panels long before the deadlines. Don’t overbook; better that you offer one incredible showstopper than four rushed and sparse mutter-fests.
Show up! Identify the panels and parties that you “must” attend. It will help other folks find you and keep you focused. Scrutinize the schedule for people you want to support or connections you’d like to make. Discuss your options with trusted cohorts.
Stay put! Every moment spent offsite wastes professional opportunities. If you’re an author, this isn’t a vacation and you aren’t at a romance genre event to “get away” from anything. While you’re there, your job is to connect with colleagues and readers. If you want tourist-time, then schedule extra days before or after.
Pace yourself! Every moment onsite you are doing your job, so be friendly, helpful, and professional. If you cannot, then step away until you can do so again. Be sure to schedule hydration, meals, and downtime unless you want to go postal or catatonic.
Pack smart! How much are you bringing that will make the round trip? How much stuff will you acquire before the event is finished? As you might expect, I organize my luggage as if going on safari on Mars. In the weeks leading up to the con, think through what you’re likely to need on hand. Even minimal bag strategy staves off common catastrophes and eleventh-hour panic attacks.
Con Bag: Find a sturdy, manageable case with ample pockets that can hold swaggage, a laptop, and items you need throughout the day. I keep mine packed and stocked at all times. The minute I get home, I empty, clean, and reload it like a gun.
Business cards: Have something to help colleagues connect. When you're ordering them, aim for gorgeous, brand-specific design with your email, website & (perhaps) a mobile number.
Killer swag: Take a healthy variety. Remember, useful always beats cheap or redundant. Paper has grown iffy; many bookmarks and rack cards get trashed.
Signing supplies: Pack several of your favorite pens and a Sharpie™ for glossy surfaces. Bring extra books to sell, not forgetting your backlist and samplers. Consider posters or displays for appearances (and tape or clips to mount them).
Clean pages: Print out outlines for presentations you're giving and copies of your reading selections that have been mindfully edited for public performance. Use a HUGE font for legibility. Include spare copies!
Throat care: Bring your favorite lozenges. Marathon chatter in air-conditioned rooms is laryngitis bait. One cool trick I learned as a singer? Slippery Elm Tea can relieve any sore throat in minutes (for real!). The Met keeps URNS of it backstage. Organic “Throat Coat” teabags have saved a lot of standing ovations.
Breath fresheners: Mints, spray, or hard candy…because nothing says “flee my presence” or “don’t buy my book” like open-grave halitosis in close quarters.
First-aid: Have a multivitamin, bandages, and the aspirin/ibuprofen of your choice. Because lack of sleep guarantees there will be wear and tear on the chassis.
Wardrobe changes: Check the weather before you travel. Plan options for different events; always bring at least one “nice” outfit, a sweater to combat refrigerated rooms, and a pair of comfortable shoes. Remember: fun clothes are fine but dress for your authorial brand.
At the same time, don’t get too stuck on expectations. Allow for contingencies good and bad: from stomach flu to surprise cocktails with J.R. Ward. The more you manage to improvise on the ground the more you can take advantage of unexpected opportunities.
Romance events offer fabulous opportunities to meet people, no matter how shy you might be. Swirling together with all those likeminded folks can cement friendships and forge alliances that transform the arc of your career. Gathering your support team presents an easy way to guarantee a fun and productive con.
Speak up! Announce your plans in your chapters,
groups, and loops. Discuss the event to find out which of your
friends, allies, and acquaintances will be joining you there.
Identify attendees you’d like to meet. Before you all arrive,
compile a contact sheet (cell
phones & email addresses) to facilitate staying in touch on the
ground. n.b. GoogleDocs is a fantastic way of gathering data
from folks that can be accessible to a group.
n.b. GoogleDocs is a fantastic way of gathering data from folks that can be accessible to a group.
Sit down! Plan a mellow meet-n-greet early in the schedule so you can identify a few likely con buddies. Once you’ve met each other, try to establish a trysting place where the group can convene and discuss developments. This can often help when folks lose track of each other and makes it easy for organizers and fans to locate you.
Meet out! Discussions with editors, agents, and other professional contacts deserve some structure and privacy. Make use of those meal gaps in your day for a confab away from the crowds. Likewise, if you aren’t schmoozing, consider inviting a couple fans to come grab a quick bite and chat. Impromptu connections can last a lifetime.
Pitch in! Assist your fellow writers and the organizers when you have downtime. People often forget to ask for help. Directed goodwill works wonders. Don’t forget to expand your circle when possible. If you notice friendly stragglers, invite them to meet your colleagues and chat. Smile… and introduce yourself. Make people feel welcome and they’ll return the favor. Sharing contacts mindfully helps everyone involved.
my mother used to say, “Luck is opportunity plus preparation.” No
two attendees need or want the same things, so the more you prepare,
the more you can take advantage of the twists of fate and crazy
breaks meant for you and
you alone. With a solid plan, the right tools, and clever allies,
attending genre events can transform your career. Know your goals
and stack the deck in your favor. Romance cons
reward pros .
Copyright 2012. Damon Suede. All Rights Reserved
Originally published in the Pot of Gold (#13, Q2,
newsletter of the
Rainbow Romance Writers chapter of the Romance Writers of America
If you wish to republish this article, just drop me a line.