Yesterday, I blogged some pix from the recent IRA annual convention here in Minneapolis.
Today, I want to share just a bit of what I got out of it and when I think it makes sense for a writer or illustrator to attend a big convention like IRA (International Reading Association) or ALA (American Library Association).
Basically, if you’re a writer or illustrator trying to build a career, and you’ve been steadily submitting and getting responses from publishers, I think attending IRA can be really productive. As a writer with one new trade book out, Stampede!, a bunch of educational market books out, and a history of studying the marketplace, here are some things I did while at IRA:
1 - Gathered catalogs–They got heavy, but how great to have the newest catalogs for a ton of publishers–terrific for market research.
2 - Talked to trade editors–I didn’t expect editors to be there, and every booth didn’t necessarily have one, but I spoke with Lucia Monfried, Steve Geck, Bonnie Bader, Liz Szabla, Kathy Landwehr, Alyssa Pusey, and a few others.
3 - Studied educational publishers as possible work-for-hire clients–I don’t have time to diversify right now, but if my regular educational publishers were to quit assigning me as much work, I would have plenty of leads for new publishers.
4 – Connected with authors–I got to see/meet Dori Butler, Ally Carter, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, Joyce Sidman, Paul Janeczko, Chris Raschka, Jordan Sonnenblick, Megan McDonald, Annie Barrows, Eileen Spinelli, Marilyn Nelson, A. LaFaye, and more. For some of them, I got to chat with them long enough to introduce myself as a writer.
5 - Heard speakers–I went to a number of author sessions, and I was busy analyzing what worked and what didn’t as far as making teachers rush out of the room thinking, “I have to get that book!” This will be helpful if I propose speaking at a future IRA or teacher-audience event.
6 – Connected with the marketing department at my own publisher, Clarion–I got to meet and chat with (a few different times) Marjorie Naughton, publicity guru, and also Lisa DiSarro, head of Houghton Mifflin publicity. It was lovely to chat with both of them to learn their perspective on these giant trade shows.
7 - Showed my publisher I am willing to work to promote Stampede–There really aren’t a ton of writers at these conferences. By showing up, bringing flyers, asking questions, and being interested in marketing to teachers, I hope I let Clarion know that I am a busy marketer. I’m not necessarily the most outgoing or comfortable marketer, but I will do what I can to help my book succeed. That’s a good thing for a publisher to know!
8 - Gave out flyers for my book, Stampede–Not only did Clarion have me leave a stack of my flyers at their booth (and moved Stampede down from the back wall to sit right on the front counter), but I also handed out some flyers in workshop rooms and at lunch tables.
9 - Gathered samples of promotional items–In this age of authors needing to do a lot to promote their own books, it’s really helpful to see what authors and publishers are doing in the way of flyers, teaching guides, buttons, activity sheets, etc. These make great examples when I need to create my own materials.
10 – Learned about publisher personalities–By seeing all their new books and what they’re trying to heavily promote, you can really get a sense of a publisher’s personality. You can tell where your various manuscripts might better fit.
So if you do decide to invest the bucks, here are a few tips that I think will help you make the event as productive as possible.
1 – If you’re a published writer or illustrator, ask your publisher if they would be able to give you a badge. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt did (Clarion is an imprint of HMH), which saved me $300. It also makes it easier to approach industry folks because they see the Exhibitor badge, which sets you apart from the crowd right away.
2 – Wear comfortable shoes!
3 – Go with a writing partner. My bookstore-signing-buddy Dara Dokas and I went together. We were much braver together than apart. I never would have introduced myself to editors, handed out flyers, etc., if Dara and I hadn’t been together, reminding each other that this was a professional event and we had work to do!
4 – Do your homework. Look at the exhibitor list and jot down notes about which editors you have corresponded with or want to know better at various publishing houses. I have a terrible memory, and doing this really helped me.
5 – At a booth, don’t just ask, “Are there any editors here?” Instead, ask for the specific editor whose name you know. You might find out she’s not there, but a different editor is (who you can then chat with), or you might get invited to leave a business card with a note for that editor. Asking for a specific editor reassures the marketing person or editor (unbeknownst to you) that you’re asking this question of that you’re not a newbie who thinks you can meet an editor and sell your 4,000-word picture book to them at an IRA booth.
6 – If an editor is nice enough to chat with you, make good use of it. Briefly let them know what you write and find out what they’re looking for. Remind them of any previous connections you’ve had. And let them go quickly when there are a ton of teachers crowding the booth. They have a job to do!
7 – Bring snacks. There were plenty of concessions, some even fairly healthy. But the prices are high, of course. So bring your own bottled water and some snacks, so that lunch is all you have to spring for.
8 – Visit booths near author signing times. That’s when an editor is most likely to be present. But wait for the commotion dies down a bit before approaching the editor for a quick visit.
9 – Take and hand out business cards, preferably ones with your latest title on them!
10 – I was able to accomplish the 10 things in the list above to varying degrees. There are only so many hours in a day! Before you head out each day, make a list of three goals you want to meet that day. Meet an editor at the Peachtree booth. Study pub displays and choose 3 publishers to submit my XYZ manuscript to. Meet ABC author at signing, buy her book, and introduce myself.
11 – Bring flyers or postcards for your latest book. If you want to do school visits, put school visit into on your flyer. Here’s an audience of thousands of teachers! Try to make at least some of them aware of your book and your speaking availability.
12 – Don’t buy an incredibly expensive booth and expect to sell your books. The cost is astronomical, and there’s no way you would make up that money (unless you have an unbelievably cool gimmick to make teachers NEED to have your book). The author booths never have a crowd of people. State trade shows are a better venue for a Buy My Book kind of booth.
13 – Follow up. A week or two after the conference, send personal notes to the editors you chatted with. Thank them for their time and remind them a bit of the conversation. Or, if you have a ms you feel is just right for them, send it and mention IRA in your cover letter.
OK, I was hoping to share what I thought worked well and didn’t work well at author signings and speaking sessions, but this is too long already! Maybe next week!
If you have other tips or advice, do please share in the comments! And thanks to Wendie Old and Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, who have shared their own trade show advice with me. Also thanks to Clarion and Marjorie Naughton. Without that badge, I might not have discovered how useful it can really be to attend IRA!