Publishing Conferences, Expos, and Trade Shows-Why Go? What to Know

We are well into this new year and, as you look at the calendar in front of you and envision filling it with opportunities for you and your book, it is likely that publishing conferences, expos, and trade shows are high on your list of things to do. 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 most sage 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 hold the most value?

Which Should You Attend?
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. The first reason you should attend is to learn. Begin by researching possible conference/s, trade shows, and publishing events. Look through writer’s publications (Writer’s Digest, Poets and Writers) or reference guides (The Encyclopedia of Associations is excellent) and pick the shows you think you might like to attend. Then talk to others who have attended. Check the Conference website and note the Purpose and Who Should Attend sections. Does it seem like a fit for you, your book? Also check the Exhibitors List. Do the majority of them interest you? And last but not least, if you want to meet editors, agents, or publishers, will the ones that suit you be in attendance?

Go? Don’t Go?
After you have narrowed down your search, dig in deeper and ask: “Does the criteria fit me, and what I want at this time for me, my book, and my education in the independent publishing industry (not two years from now…NOW)?” Then think about the “return on investment” for you to attend, given the outlay of money, time, and energy. Do you have the budget (i.e., for registration, special events, after-hours events, speeches and workshops, accommodations, travel, per diem)? If you can answer all of these with “yes,” then you are ready to hit the road!

Advance Preparation
Unless you are going for the sheer joy of being around the literati and squeezing in some good schmooze time, decide what you want to accomplish. Make a checklist.

  1. Make a plan – What sessions do you want to attend, what exhibitors do you want to visit, what after-parties, if any, will you attend, what speakers do you want to hear, do you just want to network? Make a plan but make it organic so it can change.
  2. Take care of yourself pre-conference. Don’t run yourself down before attending. Shows are exhausting enough.
  3. You can’t do it all. Expect that. Then expect a miracle.
  4. Make appointments, if that is your goal, well enough in advance to get on people’s calendar.
  5. 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.

Once There
Obviously, your arrival time depends on the size of the show and whether or not you have to travel to get there. If it is the former, and, if you can, get in a day early just to get grounded. Know how to get to the venue. Driving to Book Expo of America on LA’s Highway 101, in the wrong direction, during rush hour, can jangle a person’s nerves. Once there, check your ego at the door. No explanation needed here. On the Exhibit floor, check your plan and the Exhibit floor plan; change it according to your interest level, so you can leave time for chance encounters. For planned meetings, never be late and whether orchestrated or not try not to monopolize anyone’s time, nor they yours. Your time is your currency; spend it wisely, as you can always connect with them at a later date. While you have them in your clutches ask lots of questions, then listen. Oh, and leave “I know” out of your vocabulary, just for these few days (“I know” it is tough!). Get their business card. Either immediately, or after each 5 interactions or so, find a spot, sit, and make notations, promises, etc. on the back of each card. This will pay off immensely for you in the long run.

Remember that you are there to learn, not to sell yourself, your platform, or your book. That said, have your platform (your 30-second elevator pitch), business card, galley, manuscript, book at the ready in a professional looking bag. If you are going to pick up material, give-aways, or galleys, make sure you have carts or bags that you can carry or pull easily. Over-zealous and over-loaded attendees look like sherpas and don’t make a good impression. Also, get your badge scanned, or give a vendor your business card, only if you really want all that material (please, save a tree).

If parties are on your agenda, get invited and go. Take any and all invitations from publishers, if they interest you. If you drink, be moderate unless Gluttony is the name of your book, then have at it!

Say “Thank you!” to everyone from show room staff, News Room personnel, folks working the booths, concierges, publishers, editors, and peers, and mean it.

Show up, wander, and engage the energy on the floor. And most importantly have fun!

Follow Up
Once you are back home, spread out those cards that you collected, and cull them. Find the most pertinent and contact those people first. Keep it short. Remind them of your encounter, what each of you promised, and when you will or will expect them to deliver. If someone contacts you, respond, even if you are not interested. Be clear and concise in your communication and expectation. Do not be flip.

Now, feel great about what you have just accomplished. You experienced something new. You learned. You made valuable contacts (and they met you). And you are building lifelong friendships in an exciting industry in which you are passionate.

Lin A. Lacombe is Past President and Vice President, Marketing of the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA) and past VP Women’s Nat’l Book Assoc..  A literary publicist and President of Communications Consultants in Sausalito, CA, she is a speaker on her one of her favorite topics:  “Your Book: From Passion to Publicity.” Email or

Photo by Petr Novák, Wikipedia. (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons