Publishing Trade Shows, Conferences, and Expos: Why Go, and What to Know
by Lin A. Lacombe
When publishers list things to do for their books, they often include trade shows, conferences, and expos. But attending these kinds of events can be daunting—especially if you don’t investigate what they have to offer before deciding to attend, or if you are not adequately prepared once you are there. The sagest pundits will tell you to be a sponge, ask questions, take business cards, take notes, take your time, follow up, and always say “Thank you!” and mean it.
Good advice. But which events are right for you? How do you decide which ones will provide the best value in exchange for your money and time?
Go? Don’t Go?
Any publishing event can be worthwhile and exciting, but the first step is for you to evaluate what you want to get out of it. Often, the primary reason to attend is to learn.
Begin by researching possible conferences, trade shows, and other events. Look through events calendars at sites including ibpa.org and combinedbook.com; check reference guides (The Encyclopedia of Associations is excellent) and pick the shows you think you might like to attend. Then talk to friends and associates who have attended. Your local or regional independent publishing association is a good place to start, or contact the helpful folks at IBPA. Membership in these organizations is really priceless for the information, camaraderie, and resources you will acquire.
Check each event Web site, especially its Purpose and Who Should Attend sections. Does it seem like a fit? Also check the Exhibitors List. Do most of them interest you? And last but not least, if you want to meet booksellers, librarians, vendors, and/or other potential trading partners, will the ones that suit you be in attendance?
After you have narrowed your search, dig deeper and ask: Does this event fit what I want at this time for me, my book(s), and my education in the publishing industry (not two years from now . . . now)? Then think about the return on investment, given the necessary outlays of money, time, and energy. Do you have the budget for registration, special events, after-hours events, speeches and workshops, accommodations, travel, and probably more? If you can answer Yes, then you are ready to hit the road.
As with any project, it pays to decide beforehand what you want to accomplish. Following are checklists to use before, during, and after events.
Make a plan. What sessions do you want to attend? What exhibitors do you want to visit? What parties, if any, will you go to? What speakers do you want to hear? How will you network? Make your plan flexible so you can change it as time goes on.
Recognize that you can’t do it all. Expect that. Then expect a miracle.
If appointments are included in your plans, make them well in advance. People’s calendars get crowded.
Allow time for chance encounters. They can be powerful.
Study the showroom floor so you know how far Exhibit Area A is from Exhibit Area D. Map out where you want to be; then you can wander in and out of exhibit areas and not get caught in the morass of noise, presentations, and activity.
Take care of yourself before the event. Don’t get run down before attending. Shows can be exhausting.
On the Scene
If you can, get in a day early just to get grounded. Know how to get to the venue. Driving to Book Expo America on CA Highway 101 during rush hour can jangle a person’s nerves, and so can navigating New York City’s streets and subways.
At the event, check your ego at the door, and prepare to engage the energy on the floor.
Examine your plan and the exhibit floor plan, and make changes if you see a need.
Never be late for planned meetings, and try not to monopolize anyone’s time at scheduled meetings and otherwise. Don’t let anyone monopolize yours, either.
Your time is currency; spend it wisely. You can always reconnect at a later date.
While you have someone in your clutches, ask lots of questions, then listen. Oh, and leave “I know” out of your vocabulary, just for these few days.
Get business cards. Either immediately after a conversation or after each five interactions or so, find a spot, sit, and make notes on the back of each business card about what you and this person said to each other. This will pay off immensely in the long run.
Have your platform (your 30-second elevator pitch) on the tip of your tongue; have your business cards and your book(s) at the ready in a professional-looking bag.
If you are going to pick up material, giveaways, or galleys, make sure you have bags or a cart that you can carry or pull easily. Overzealous and overloaded attendees look like packhorses and don’t make a good impression. Also, don’t request material you don’t really want (please, save a tree).
If parties are on your agenda and you get invited, go. If you drink, be moderate unless Sauced is the title of your book.
Say “Thank you!” to everyone from showroom staff to newsroom personnel, folks working the booths, concierges, other publishers, booksellers, librarians, vendors, and peers, and mean it.
Once you are back at your office, spread out the business cards you collected, and cull them. Find the most pertinent and contact those people first.
Keep your message short. Remind them of your encounter, what each of you promised, and when you will, or expect them to, deliver.
If someone contacts you, respond, even if you are not interested. Be clear and concise in your communication and expectations. Do not be flip.
Now, feel great about what you have accomplished. You learned. You made valuable contacts (and they met you). And you are building lifelong friendships in an exciting industry.
Lin A. Lacombe is vice president of the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA). A literary publicist and president of Communications Consultants in Sausalito, CA, she is an award-winning speaker on one of her favorite topics, “Your Book: From Passion to Publicity.” To reach her, email email@example.com.