Next week, my wife of infinite awesome and I are heading up north to New York for a writer’s conference. It is the Writers Digest Conference, and we are heading up there to talk about two things we do very well:
- Social Media & Content Marketing
Now, here’s the thing. There are going to be a lot of writers at this conference. This is an event where writers of varying backgrounds—fiction, non-fiction, beginners, seasoned veterans—go to pitch their ideas and perfect their approach to business. This isn’t really a “con” like RavenCon or Balticon, but this is an honest-to-God, professional, industry conference. No cosplayers. (But we will get punked up for the Steampunk panel, sure!) No panels on who would win in a fight—Batman or Superman. (Supes.) Less fans of our writing and more people who want to be professional writers. (Awww yeah, it’s business time!) This is a very different dynamic than a book event at a teashop or a steampunk convention. This is an event where writers are learning about the business of books.
This means that while there will be readers there, it may not be a reader event. Ergo, we may not move a lot of books at this conference.
This conclusion may have some writers out there asking “Why do it then?” You see, I know these “some authors” from previous appearances, and they sure do know how to make a sale. That’s their objective. The only objective. An objective that includes selling books to other authors. If you are going to an event—any event—you make the sale. Period.
I have a real problem with that.
Let me take you back to the second year of my book career. I was checking in at an event’s Green Room where I ran into an author I had met at another event the previous year. I recognized her, and she me, so I said, “It’s been a while. How are you?” This author immediately launched into a very rehearsed sales pitch of every book, anthology, and novella she had released between the last con I had seen her at and this one. I got titles, I got quick descriptions, and (of course) I got prices of her various books.
We stood there for a few seconds after she finished her hard sell and I said, “That’s great you have been so busy, but I asked about you. How are you?”
And we just stared at each other for a moment…
Sure, it’s nice when other authors, especially ones you respect, buy your books; but hard selling your books to other authors? That’s not making a connection with your fellow wordherders. That’s just being “that author” who looks at every event, every writer group meeting, and every simple exchange as a chance to shill your book. Even to other authors. This might stem from mistaking networking with selling books.
When you sell books, you sell books. You will have a stack of books in front of you, maybe some signage, a few deals set up, and—if you are plugged in—a smartphone running Square or some equivalent.
When you network, you are increasing awareness about you, about your books, and about your career. If you are networking, you may not have a book on hand but you will have your business card (or in the case of The Writing Show event we did last year, a beer). Business cards here carry a touch more clout than a bookmark, but if a bookmark is all you have handy then go for it. You network with agents if you are looking to make a jump from independent to corporate publishing. You network with editors and publishers as they are decision makers, and it’s good to make positive first impressions on them. You also network with event organizers as they are taking on the responsibility to sponsor and plan events where new readers will attend.
You don’t sell your books to these people. If they offer to purchase your book, that is entirely different; but it’s a nicer gesture if you offer them a copy and write the book off your taxes.
When selling books, you need to keep track of transactions and the like. When you are networking, you need to listen. Listen hard. Agents usually will tell you up front if they are accepting submissions or not. Editors and publishers may share with you what they are looking for. Organizers will tell you something about their event, and this is when you either find where you could potentially fit in or recommend another author that would fit the bill. You do this as a gesture to help out the event organizer, and to spread the love to your fellow wordherders.
Networking can involve just doing nice things. Doing nice things are cool.
And this is why we are heading to New York City as guests of Writers Digest. We’re not going to be selling books by the fistful, and we know that. This is a chance to network with people in the business, give our names a little more reach, and give back to the attendees. If we sell books, fantastic, but this isn’t about making the sale. This is about making an impression. Preferably, a good one. These impressions, at their best, can yield solid leads to professional opportunities, and at the very least, widen your insight on what is happening in the publishing industry or what you can do to improve your writing career. Opportunities to sell your stuff will be plenty, have no fear; but to truly network and promote you and your brand? Those opportunities are harder come by, and harder still to navigate without coming across the pushy huckster. Keep your networking events less about what you have to sell and more about you as a professional writer. Remember, it’s about the impression you want to make and how you want your brand to be remembered.
And don’t be a douche. That usually means paying attention to what’s being said, how you’re saying it, and how people react to you. That’s being a pro.