What Should You Expect?
Every conference is a little different and every writer is going to approach their conference strategies differently based on their personal goals. The quality of your conference experience is in your hands, not the speakers, conference organizers, or other attendees. It’s important to go into each conference with a positive attitude and an open mind. Understand that your needs, desires and expectations will be different from every other professional attending the conference.
If you’re new to the conference circuit, expect to be overwhelmed. No matter how well you planned and prepared for the conference, the moment you step foot into the conference center or hotel, the energy transmitted by that many creative souls is powerful and overwhelming. You will need to go to the registration desk and sign in when you first arrive. The lobby is generally packed with other writers. The excitement is palpable. It can also be intimidating to the newbie conference goer.
Remember to take a breath and understand everyone else there is feeling or has felt exactly the same way.
The best way to combat this feeling is to take things slowly. Don’t rush the registration process. If you’re concerned about the information you are getting, or don’t understand the process for editor and agent appointments, or anything, ask. That is what the volunteers are there for. Also, remember volunteers often volunteer so that they can meet other writers. They really want to help you.
Expect to feel out of place. This seems like an odd expectation when you will be in the company of other writers, but often we all feel like a fish out of water when we are either stepping outside of our comfort zone (being social when we are introverted) or doing something new for the very first time. This is normal and will soon fade away the moment you say hello to the person either standing in front of you or behind you in line at the Registration desk.
Again, remember to breathe and to take things slowly. The best thing you can do is linger in the lobby for a moment. Make a new friend. Sit down in one of the chairs and go through your packet. The only way to feel comfortable is to stay in the environment. Eventually, you will feel right at home.
Expect to be both energized and exhausted. Extroverted people tend to get their energy from crowds. Introverted people tend to be exhausted by crowds. If you’re an extrovert, you will assimilate into this environment quickly. If you are an introvert, it’s important to push yourself to say hello to every conference person you sit or stand next to. You will be amazed at how invigorating this can be. A major part of conferences is networking with other authors. You can’t do this if you don’t put out the effort. Remember, most people have felt exactly the way you do.
In order to help with the exhaustion, drink plenty of water. Often we aren’t as tired as we think, but are dehydrated.
If you’re pitching, really try not to focus on the pitch. Stress won’t help with the feelings of exhaustion and being overwhelmed. We discuss pitching in another section, but remember editors and agents are people just like you and they are there for one reason…to hear about your story. The more relaxed you are, the more energy you will have, the better the experience.
Expect to learn. A big mistake many writers make is to focus on the editor or agent pitch and not the valuable information you can get from a conference. While networking is crucial, attending the workshops helps make for an invaluable experience. We’ve often see writers not attend workshops. They either spend all their time in their room writing or in the hallways practicing their pitches or just hanging out with friends. All of these aspects are important, but you’re missing out a wealth of information that could give help you move your career to the next level.
Later we’ll discuss how to pick the workshops you’ll attend, but remember it’s important to attend them, both craft and industry. The conference isn’t all about pitching, or all about networking, but a combination of elements that make up your future as a professional author. The moment you begin to think there is nothing left for you to learn is the moment your career and your writing become stagnant.
Every workshop is a chance to learn. A chance to meet someone who either you can help, or can help you. And it’s an opportunity to make long term connections.
Expect to be disappointed. But then turn it around. How many times have you attended a class or workshop only to be disappointed it wasn’t what you expected? Before you get up and leave, try to change your mindset. You expected A, but your getting B. Can B help you? And did you say hello to the person sitting next to you? Sometimes our expectations get in the way of having a great conference experience. We need to learn to adapt and change to our surroundings in order to get the most out of it. When you’re feeling disappointed in a workshop, ask yourself what it is that is really bothering you. Often it is those things we need to focus on.
Sometimes we hear one simple sentence and it changes our world. Be open to new and different ways of looking at things. Focus on what the speaker is saying, not what you wanted to hear. The hardest part about being disappointed is often it isn’t because of the speaker or topic, but because of our own preconceived notions.
Perhaps the best thing to do when walking into a workshop is to have no expectations and open your mind to something new.
Expect to be confused. We’ve often gone to one workshop and then an hour later go to one where the information given is in conflict with what we just heard. Whether this be in a craft workshop or an industry workshop it is often a source of stress for the new writer or newly published author. Whom do you believe? It’s difficult to decide right then and there when perhaps both make sense.
We suggest you take notes during every workshop. Put a check mark next to those things that make you feel strongly one way or the other. If you are hearing conflicting information, write down the opposing points of view. Ask for clarification, without being snarky. You don’t have to say so and so said this and now you’re saying that.
You can also use the conflicting information as a way to strike up conversations with other writers either at the conference, or back home as long as it is done positively and isn’t putting down the speaker.
When it comes to craft workshops, every writer has his or her own process. Some are plot driven, others character driven. There are plotters and there are pantsers. There really is no right or wrong way to write a book. There is also no right or wrong way to get published, to promote, or anything in between. Your path as a writer is different from everyone else’s. What works for one writer in promotion might not fit your niche or even your goals. Hearing two different points of view can help you understand your path, your goals, your needs and ultimately lead you down the path of success.
Expect the big name speakers to be busy. At every conference, there are the big name speakers, keynote presenters and NY Times Best-Selling Authors that are the “draw”. While we are often star stuck by those writers we aspire to be like, many other writers wanting to get their picture taken, etc often surround them. These presenters enjoy being at the conference and appreciate you taking the time to be there, listen to them, support them and they in return enjoy sharing their experience and expertise so that you can achieve your goals.
One thing to remember is that there is a wealth of experience at conferences and the newly published author is the next best-seller. I’m not suggesting ignoring the bigger names, what I’m saying is there is talent all around you. Take advantage of the fountain of knowledge that you are being presented with. Don’t think a workshop given by a new author on promotion has nothing to offer you. If you want to know about promotion, hearing how a newly published author does it over an author who has the backing and powerhouse of a marketing team from a major publisher might be a better fit. Hearing how to revise from someone who just went through their first revision for their first contact might be a better fit than someone who can do it in their sleep.
Expect to make connections. Not all writers are introverts, but many of us are, therefore we tend to keep to ourselves. If we go in with the mindset that we are there to network and meet other authors, editors and agents, then often we will. The conference is about the business of writing on all levels. You are a part of that business. Make yourself known.
The key with making connections is the follow up after the conference.
Expect to have a good conference. Attitude is everything. If you walk into a conference thinking it’s going to suck, then it will suck. Have a positive attitude and present yourself positively. A good vibe from a person goes a long way. Make yourself available. Do everything in your power to meet all of your conference goals.
In the end, the conference is all about you and your career. These are basic expectations and as you become a conference expert, your expectations will grow and change as you grow and change. It is good to write out expectations before you go to the conference with the understanding that the overall experience is totally up to you.
Expect to have a good time. That goes without any explanation.
Make sure your travel plans are set and you have copies of everything. Again, a checklist helps. We have a travel checklist in Appendix C.
Make sure you know how you are getting from the airport to the conference. If the conference has a venue away from the hotel you will be staying at, coordinate transportation. Again, conferences often have boards or loops where you can find others in the same situation.
Going down the list of speakers, pick the primary ones you’d like to network with. Read some of their books so you can approach with a question about them, rather than pitching yourself. Often, you’ll be surprised to learn that you’ll know more about their book than they remember. Authors are usually focused on the book they’re writing, not the ones they’ve written. Such as an approach shows a level of professionalism that most people don’t achieve.
Print out beforehand the list of presenters with their photos. Even though people wear nametags, it’s good to have this handy. Highlight the people you’d like to talk to. Go to their web pages and note their bios. Google them. Know more about them than is in the conference handout. Know where they just were and where they might be going. All of these can be ice-breakers in starting a conversation.
If you’ve participated on social media with other people going to the same conference, make a plan to have a time and a place to physically meet these people and get to know each other.
Volunteer. Most conferences need lots of volunteers to run the conference. Being a volunteer is a great way to get on the inside You might also get a discount on registration. If you have a car, volunteer to pick up and drop off presenters at the airport. It might seem like a pain, but it’s a great way to get some face time with them.
Your Elevator Pitch
Be prepared to say what your book is about in one sentence. And make it an interesting sentence that would lead whoever you give it to, to ask questions about your project. Don’t overwhelm them with too much information. That one sentence is called the elevator pitch because people literally end up doing this in the time it takes to make it from the third floor to the first floor. You get on, you see the agent of your dreams there, the doors close, and they glance at your nametag and ask you: “What’s your book about?” Are you ready? We’ve seen people asked about their books during lunch, on elevators, at the bar, and the vast majority are not prepared and end up boring the agent/editor/writer and most importantly, a potential reader. You’ve got less than 15 seconds to make an impression.
(Excerpted from the Writers Conference Guide: Getting the Most of Your Time and Money)
As an indie publishing house, we’re able to move quickly at Cool Gus Publishing (yes, the official change-over will occur later this week as our web site shifts to CoolGus.com). We track our sales and our metadata, always looking for ways to improve sales and our brand. I’ll blog more about the Cool Gus brand in future posts, but today I want to focus on covers.
The Atlantis series was the first of my backlist that we published. We learned a lot doing that. We learned scanning was very imperfect and copy-editing was essential (we still have those early reviews on the Amazon page and that was the price of ignorance). We learned how to do covers, by starting with some pretty bad ones.
I think we hit our stride with my new Area 51 covers, Duty, Honor, Country and I love our cover for the upcoming release (11 June) of I, Judas: The 5th Gospel.
Having cycled through over 70 titles in back and front list for our authors, we felt it was time to revisit our beginning. We decided it was time to redo the Atlantis covers in order to make the six books seem more like a series and also so that they “popped” more. That’s the word we use for a cover that really stands out in thumbnail.
Jen came up with a cover for the first book I really loved. So then we had to figure out a way to make the next five books align, yet be different. We decided to us the same base concept but with different colors and a different image on each one that represented something key from the story.
We spent days emailing back and forth as Jen tried concept after concept and I dove back into the books, trying to determine what images would be key. So we’re putting this out there for your input.
Here were the concepts:
Atlantis—just the gate opening. A gate to where? By who? That’s the story.
Atlantis Bermuda Triangle: Opens with a ballistic nuclear submarine doing . . . So we wanted a sub theme. Here are two choices.
Atlantis Devil’s Sea: Amelia Earhart plays a role in this book (and in subsequent books). So first we tried the plane image. But a gladiator in 79 AD also plays a role as Mount Vesuvius is erupting, so we had that image. Then we also went with just the gate, but in red. Here are three choices.
Atlantis Gate popped right away as the Battle of Thermopylae plays a key role in the past tale (the last 5 books have dual storylines from past and present). I liked the helmeted image right away (although Jen did have one with the face in a shadow and glowing eyes). I’ll show you that one here.
For Assault, I wanted the image of Crazy Horse, but in a statue (better than Custer with a few arrows in him). They’re building a huge one near Mount Rushmore and I found these images. We asked the photographer’s permission, Mike Tigas, and he graciously gave it. Then Jen presented it in three different ways.
And for the final book, while the past storyline included Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, the present storyline featured an assault by Special Operations Forces against the Shadow and an advanced version of the Osprey figured in the storyline. So we’ve got two options.
Feel free to weigh in. Also, is it important that the covers in a series look alike? Because the reality is, you’re never really going to see them like this, are you:
I flew into New York City this morning, took a cab to the Sheraton on 53rd, then went out and grabbed a slice of pizza at a local joint. I always love how places outside NY advertise “New York” pizza. I grew up in da’ Bronx and know NY pizza. I loved the rant Jon Stewart did on Trump eating pizza with a knife and fork. I even went into a pizza place one time in Seattle while at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference and asked for a slice. And they told me “We don’t do slices.” I mean WTF kind of pizza joint doesn’t do slices?
Anyway, then I went inside, still eating my slice and sat in on a workshop on SEO. There were a lot of industry people from publishing there since, after all, we’re in New York City, the home of publishing.
I have mixed feelings about conferences. Sometimes they can be mind-numbing. Other times they can be very exciting. But I find in the long run both extremes pull together towards useful. Even when they’re sort of mind-numbing, they stir the brain. As a fiction writer one of my favorite sayings is “take it one step further”. And another is: “What if what appears to be; isn’t.” The latter comes more from my time in the Special Forces. We were a tad paranoid. But you aint paranoid when they are out to get you.
Which brings me to the topic of analytics. The panel was “You can’t grow what you can’t measure.” Hmm. I’m not sure about that. Sometimes we become so enamored with numbers, we forget a key question: what do they really represent? I think of Snakes on a Plane. Tremendous internet buzz. Then when it came out, tanked. In Special Forces (YouTube video from appearance on Discovery ref the Green Berets) we knew there was a big difference between information and intelligence. The latter is usable information.
I was a bit surprised during the sessions I attended on how basic a lot of the information being put out was and how basic many of the questions were.
But here is some of the information (along with a few comments); make what intelligence of it you wish:
There was a lot of focus on click throughs. I get that you’d want people to actually go to your site and look at what you have, but I think (anecdata without even an anec or a data) that just having the cover on the side of a Facebook or Google page a couple hundred thousand times with only 20 clicks, still has reach. That image is in the corner of the eye. It penetrates the subconscious. And most of the time nothing happens. But say that person sees that cover or that author name again, somewhere else? There will be a connection. Presence marketing.
An interesting slide from the SEO session was how important it is to rank in the top three results on a google search of your keywords. Because people click on choice one 36.4% of the time, choice two 12.5% and choice three 9.5%. That’s hmm, 58.4% of people gone before they get to #4.
But Jen Talty covered all this in our upcoming The Shelfless Book: The Complete Digital Author (pre-order you copy NOW!). After I came back from Storyworld, the West Coast cousin to #DBW12 we focused on metadata.
Google also own 80% of the SEO market share. However, Bing has now passed Yahoo as a search engine.
Some other points made: use your keywords over and over in the body of your text also. Bob Mayer. And use links. A lotta links. Bob Mayer. An interesting thing we need to check into is that you can use keywords for images inserted into a WordPress blog (Jen just told me when she loads blogs here she puts in a description for the image). Also, the more time people spent on your page, the higher Google ranks it. So go get a beer, this will still be here when you get back. Even better, just leave this page on your screen when you go to bed? Hmm.
Any of you heard of pinterest? It’s supposed to be the hot new thing. I sent Jen the link. She signed right up, though is still waiting for her “invite”. What do you think if you’re using it?
One thing I realized, again, is that because I wear so many hats: author, publisher, promoter, crossbow firer, consigliore to Riley (my three week old grandson) the future leader of the resistance, servant to hardworking guard dogs Cool Gus and Sassy Becca, I have a big perspective on this whole digital book experience. I still get the feeling that experts are, well experts. Very good at what they do, but not exactly sure at times how their expertise helps the big picture.
I’ve got to go over my notes and then process them with a full day tomorrow and I’ll blog again. I did get some interesting ideas “taking it one step further”. Jen is waiting on the edge of her seat for my ideas. I think I’ll make her wait a little longer.
It’s weird, I keep hearing military terms in the civilian world and it kind of, well, I don’t know what it makes me feel. Don Cheadle in House of Lies used HALO, which stands for High Altitude Low Opening Parachuting. Special Forces runs the military’s HALO school at Ft. Bragg, which is now only 60 miles down the road from my new abode. I also use it in Who Dares Wins by that guy Bob Mayer, and Write It Forward, by that guy, Bob Mayer who works with that girl…what’s her name? Oh yeah, Jen Talty. But to hear people use it who have never done it, is strange. BTW, that’s a wickedly good show. Right up there with The Good Wife and Southland. We all need a touch of reality. And yes, I’m watching Downton Abbey too and it’s damn good. And then there’s Raising Hope, which is on the lighter side and we all need that too.
Oh, yeah, as promised, FREE eBooks. Two of the Black Ops series: The Line and The Gate, will be free on Kindle for the next three days (that’s Toosday, Wendssday and Thoisday in the Bronx). So go snark ‘em up. (You do know you don’t need to own a Kindle to read a Kindle book, right? It’s an app.)
The Line received some really cool reviews and also got me banned from the Association of Graduate’s Magazine book reviews at West Point:
“Mayer has crafted a military thriller in the tradition of John Grisham’s The Firm.” Kirkus
“So convincing, that by the last page, readers may doubt the official version of the last 50 years.” Publishers Weekly
I used to pitch it as an updated Seven Days in May. Until I gave the keynote at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and asked how many people had read or seen Seven Days and not one in 500 people raised their hands. Oops.
The Gate, I based on a book I picked up in the nonfiction section of the library at Ft. Campbell called Japan’s Secret War. The author claims there’s a chance the Japanese detonated an atomic bomb at the end of World War II in Manchuria. His evidence is spotty, but it is true the Germans sent two U-Boats with their uranium to Japan near the end of WWII. So it got me thinking and I took it one step further and asked: What if they did do that, but there were two bombs? And where is the second one? And . . .
Well, you can read the free book to find out the rest.
That’s my name (Bob Mayer) repeated how many times in this post? And how many links? And how many left this page live overnight? Come on, Google. Of course, the machine probably didn’t like me referring to the future leader of the resistance against the Rise of the Machines.
I think I just linked myself into a visit from a guy with sunglasses.
Write It Forward!