Author’s Eye-view of a book conference

Hi, kids!

Hope everybody who is about to start the weekend has a great one and those who are already into their weekends are having a great one.

Well, we’re coming to the end of May, which puts us that much closer to the GCLS conference (in Portland this year). This is a hella fun con, but it’s also hella busy, and as much as I enjoy going to it, there’s a lot of prep involved. Readers, too, prepare for a conference, but for writers, there’s a whole other layer going on.

So here, readers, is part of my preparation for an event like this. WOOOO!

1. What bookseller(s) are going to be on hand? Generally, if an author’s publishing house is going to be on hand and selling books, that takes some stress out of trying to figure out what books/how many to bring. In publishing, the publisher that sells books on-site generally makes those calculations him/herself and brings the books accordingly. The only thing an author should have to tell a publisher is whether she’s going to a particular event or not, because publishers then adjust copies of books accordingly. That is, if an author’s going, will the author be participating in panels/book signings/book readings? If so, perhaps a few extra copies of the author’s latest book(s) should be on hand. If the author is not going to the event/conference, the publisher may decide to take fewer copies.

2. If an event-wide bookseller is on-hand, are they working directly with publishers to sell books? Or are they working with authors on consignment? If the latter, what’s the consignment rate? If you think it’s awesome, then order books and send them to the seller. If you think it’s not so awesome or you decide to sell books yourself, move to number 3.

3. You’ve decided to sell your books yourself at the event. So you’ll need a vendor table or you can pretend you’re that skeezy dude in the back alley selling watches or whatever and put your books in your room and tell people “Pssst. Wanna buy a book? Meet me at my room.” Which may get you some weird looks. Or maybe more than you bargained for. So let’s say you decide on the vendor table. Well, that means you are thus considered a vendor and will most likely need to get a tax permit from the city in which the event is held to sell your books. It’s generally not expensive, but it is another hoop. And it covers not only your butt, but the organization holding the event’s collective butts. Not to suggest that the IRS is all over every book conference there ever was to check permits. But all it takes is one person with an ax to grind to call the city and complain that people are selling without permits at a specific event. I’ve been at a few events in the past where the city actually did come and ask to see permits. So though rare, it does happen.

4. Okay, so since you’re going all maverick to sell your books, you now need to find out how/where to ship them. Hopefully, you have local contacts in the city who graciously agree to let you do that and who also graciously agree to bring your books to the venue (please at least graciously buy these people a drink for helping you out). If not, you may be coordinating with the hotel staff. And you don’t want to bring too many books, because if they don’t all sell, that means you have to get them home.


Typically, book conferences aren’t generally the best places to sell books. My fellow authors and I talk about this a lot. Why? Because they’re print books, and many people attending these events have traveled from elsewhere and don’t want to take books back. Some will. But most won’t. Even the amazing and loyal readers that lesfic has have to think about what they can and can’t lug home. So as an author, I have to figure out just the right numbers of titles to bring and which ones to bring.

If I have a new release out, well, that’s obvious. That one’s going for sure. My older stuff, however…I have to think about that. Fortunately, more and more readers are doing the ebook thing and they can buy your stuff and have it on their devices right there at the event. So if they’re cruising around the vendor room and they see a print book of yours and they pick it up and like the synopsis, they might just buy your ebook. Which is ultra-cool, but it still leaves you with those print copies. However, print copies can themselves be promotion, especially if your book has made a finalists’ list for an award. Oh, and it’s probably a good idea to bring some kind of holder thingie to prop your book up if you’re selling your books yourself.

Those of you who are going as vendors, you know what I’m talking about. And that’s a whole other realm of preparation! If you sell your books yourself, you’ll probably have a banner, too, to put on your table (so you’ll need to think about having one made). And you’ll need to think about the stuff in number 5.

5. Okay, it’s probably a good idea to have some swag on hand to give out. I try to have some little doo-dads that are reasonably useful (like bottle openers, for example) that you can take on planes. Postcards and bookmarks are so-so to have around because, again, most people don’t want to be bothered with carrying a ton of postcards around. Or bookmarks. Especially in this age of ebooking. Nonetheless, I’ve noticed that some readers like signed postcards/bookmarks, so that’s why I have a few on-hand. I generally use these, however, when I mail print books out to people. Still, I’ll have some at my vendor table.

It’s tough to figure out what kinds of doo-dads to make available. Again, people are going to be bombarded with swag from everybody there. Many people are traveling from elsewhere, and don’t want to take a lot of stuff home like, say, a big stack of postcards. Unless they’re specifically collecting signatures, in which case then they might. And if you do things like koozies, keep in mind these are expensive, even if you’re buying in bulk. So though these are cool swag items, you’ll be spending some bucks up-front to get those made and ready. I still haven’t quite figured out what a good swag item truly is. I personally like pens (these, too, can be expensive to make) because I use them. And I like things like koozies. Again, something I use. So I’m currently trying to figure out what kinds of swag to take that people will actually find useful. And that won’t set me back a bunch of money. Kind of a balancing act. 😀

books n’ swag

6. What to wear? OMG for realz. This is part of my conference preparation. I tend to be a casual dresser, which means generally jeans/casual trousers and button-down shirts or polo shirts. The button-down shirt sleeves vary in length according to season. If I wear sneakers, they tend to not be athletic shoes. Something like throwback Converse or similar. Generally, the only time I’ll wear athletic sneakers is when I’m working out or taking a walk. At an event like this, I want to be comfortable but also look “presentable.” Reasonably put-together, basically. After all, I’m engaging in a business (publishing) and I’m a professional writer. When I’m out and about on writing/publishing business, I want to appear professional, though casual. Casually professional? Professionally casual? Along those lines.


So I plan clothing in accordance with the event, the destination, the expected weather, how long I’m going to be there, and what else I’m going to do (I travel with workout clothing, too). Which is what all of us do, obviously, but because for me it’s also a professional appearance event, I want to make sure I’m at least casually professional. And I tend to try to travel light, so the things I bring have to fit into my bag and they have to be versatile. That includes shoes. I spend a lot of time thinking about which shoes to bring. LOL

7. Panel prep. This year, I’m moderating a panel. So I’m in contact with everybody on this panel to get a sense of what people are going to chat about and what themes to address. I’ll start figuring out what’s going to work, and I’ll rely on the panelists to pick up some slack, too, but I’ll have material available to bring up to ask them about. I’m there just to guide. Not to take over. I’m also a panelist on another panel, and for that I’m going to prepare some materials and chat with the moderator and other panelists to find out how we’re going to approach it and how she’s planning to guide the theme. That way, I’m ready to go on the days I’m scheduled.

8. On a more personal note, food. I have some dietary restrictions, so I’ll see if there are stores in the vicinity of the hotel that carry some of the things I need. If not, I’ll make do with other grocery stores. If I’m renting a car, then I’ll map out the part of the city that I need to get to and from ahead of time and go to the stores that will best suit my needs. If the hotel has mini-fridges in the rooms, I am SET. If not, I’ll make some adjustments in the food I get or bring. So this goes into planning, too. Although there are lots of readers out there who do the same thing because of their dietary restrictions. Well, I’m here to tell you that you are not alone in that, friends!

9. Surrounding area. If the event is in a city I’m not familiar with, I’ll get a sense of the surrounding area where the hotel is. That is, I do some research. I’ll get some maps and get a feel for things before I get there. I like having a rudimentary sense of things before I arrive, especially if I drove in and I have a trunk full of books. Which is not the case this year, but I have been known to do that. 😀

10. And one of the cool things I get to do: if I’m up for an award (and I am this year), I’ll plan some words to say should I be so fortunate as to win. The statement is short and always thanks all of YOU, readers, for supporting my work and that of my fellow authors.

Because ultimately, all this prep? It’s about you. I’m honored and glad to do it.

So if you’re going to GCLS this year, see you there!

Happy Friday!


  1. I am so ready for the Con. I have been to Portland once and don’t remember much of it, long story, not a good one. I am still deciding on attire for the awards night. It’s cool though. I live by the seat of my pants now. For all the “virgins”, it’s a blast! See you there…..Dutch


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