Friday, November 6, 2009

How Conferences And Other Writers’ Events Can Strengthen Your Author Platform

If you’re budget-minded (like me), you probably think of writers’ or publishers’ conferences as a luxury: something you know you can benefit from, and something you’d love to do more often, but something for which it can be hard to justify the expense. Well, in addition to the educational and social networking benefits, it turns out there can be major author platform dividends as well.

Author Christina Katz (a.k.a.The Writermama) had two books published and a sizable readership when she was invited by O’Reilly Media to blog at the 2009 O’Reilly Tools of Change (TOC) conference. Katz was already known to a readership of writers but she was not a big name in publishing circles. While at the conference, Katz noticed other attendees Tweeting and decided to use Twitter to share her impressions of the conference rather than blogging. She sent frequent missives from each session she attended to provide her Twitter followers with real-time reportage.

Within a couple of hours the word was out on the ‘net: everyone who wanted to know what was going on at TOC was following Katz’ tweets. Her number of followers spiked over the course of the conference from about 400 to over 1,000, about the number of people attending the conference. In only a matter of hours, other folks tweeting the conference were soon wondering, “Who is The Writermama?” (@thewritermama is Katz’ Twitter username — she’d neglected to add her real name to her Twitter profile).

Ron Hogan from MediaBistro approached Katz when he saw her tweeting in the same session and asked if she was the mysterious tweeter everyone was wondering about. Attendees and presenters alike were soon following Katz’ tweets. Attendees thanking her for her updates from sessions they’d missed. Presenters thanking her for reporting on their sessions.
Meanwhile, away from the conference, hundreds of authors, publishing staffers and others who were following Christina’s tweets could easily discover more about her by checking out her sites, blogs and books online. Thanks to her presence at the conference, Christina’s brand recognition, industry reputation, and reach grew by leaps and bounds that weekend.

Tweet It
Now that tweeting from events is commonplace, if you intend to use the same strategy you’ll need to tweet both in quality and quantity to rise to the top of the Twittering crowd. But that’s not the only way to use conference and event attendance to grow your author platform.

Blog About It
If any part of the target demographic for your books are peers, do them a solid and share the experience. Remember that you’re present at an event most of your peers cannot attend, but a great many of them wish they could be there. You’re in a position to provide some inside information on what the event was like, and a highlights reel of information from the sessions and workshops you attended. Take careful notes on every talk, and you can have blog fodder lined up for many posts to come.

If the intended audience for your books and websites is composed primarily of reader-consumers, there are still some blogging gold nuggets to be mined from event attendance. You went to the event expecting to get something out of it as an author. Blog about the impact your experiences will have on your work, or on you as an author. If you were inspired, who or what inspired you, and why? Conversely, if you were disappointed or frustrated, blog about that.

Make Connections
Take advantage of breaks between sessions to mix and mingle with your fellow attendees and session presenters. If there’s an onsite lunch option, take it. You can bet that most presenters will remain onsite for lunch, and people you’d consider to be VIPs are much more accessible and approachable in an event setting. If there are any evening mixers or tweetups in the offing, attend those as well. They provide a terrific opportunity to meet attendees and presenters in a casual setting where everyone’s more comfortable chatting and having fun.

I’m not suggesting that you pitch your book ideas to the people you meet onsite, however. If you’re only chatting with Bob Agent because you’re looking for an opening to lob him a query, that will be all too apparent—and very annoying to Bob. Just focus on planting some relationship seeds and making a positive impression. If you can do that, Bob Agent is much more likely to be receptive to your query after the event.

Have some business cards printed up ahead of time (you can even print a small quantity yourself at home using special business-card paper stock, available at office supply stores), and exchange cards with others every time the opportunity presents itself. Make some brief notes about the people you meet on the back of their cards, and when you get back home you’ll have an insta-rolodex of event-related contacts to whom you can turn in the future when you have questions or ideas that may be of interest to those you’ve met. Unless you’ve really bonded on a personal level with a given individual however, be cautious in the tenor and frequency of your communications after the event. You want to become a trusted contact, not a pest.

Be A Speaker
Most big conferences put out a call for session and workshop proposals a year or so in advance of the event. If you’re comfortable with public speaking and have some relevant experience or skills, don’t be afraid to submit proposals. While conference organizers for a self-publishing event aimed at aspiring authors might not be terribly interested in the content of your book or your approach to craft, if you’ve become a social media whiz or expert in ebook production while working your platform, they very well may be.

Many conference sessions take the form of discussion panels, with a moderator asking questions of multiple speakers. If you are ever invited to be part of such a panel at a high-profile event, DO IT. Even if you have to pay your own travel expenses, if there’s any way you can swing it, DO SO. You’ll get invaluable exposure that can raise your profile exponentially. Being able to add that speaking credit to your credentials (and list it on your website) elevates your legitimacy within the industry while simultaneously establishing or reinforcing your stature as a subject area expert. On top of all that, it will also make it easier for you to book future speaking engagements. Hopefully, at least some of those will cover your travel expenses or even pay you a speaking fee. And if you’re paying your own way, here in the U.S. expenses related to the event are tax-deductible (so long as you report your authorship-related income and expenses on your taxes; consult a tax professional for further information).

If you've been doing a good job of making connections at previous events, you may even be able to pull together your own panel of experts to propose a panel talk at which you will act as moderator.

When Smashwords founder Mark Coker invited me to participate in a speaker panel at TOC 2009, my initial reaction was to thank him for thinking of me, but decline. I’d have to pay all my own expenses, and the trip from Los Angeles to New York is not cheap. Neither are New York hotels. Or meals. Or taxi cabs. But upon further consideration I decided the exposure would be worth the expense, and I was right. Speaking at that event gave me name recognition in the publishing industry, opened the door to more speaking opportunities, allowed me to make some invaluable contacts and conferred a great
deal of legitimacy upon me and my message.

Use The Right Hashtag
When you post anything online about the event, whether it’s tweets, Facebook updates, blog posts or articles, be sure to include the appropriate hashtag for the event in the body of your content as well as in the “tags” section in the case of blog posts or articles. Doing so will make your content turn up in searches on that hashtag, as well as in searches for online content related to the event. Event organizers will often post their preferred hashtag right on the event site. If not, you can do a Google search on the event to identify the hashtag used most frequently by others, then use that same hashtag in your tweets, updates and posts.

So you see, attending TOC, PubWest, DigiBookWorld, the Author Workshop Cruise or similar events is no mere luxury. Strive to make your participation in such events a plank in your author platform whenever possible. The more active you are in the larger community of writers and publishing, the easier it will be to build, maintain and grow your platform.

1 comment:

Jill Edmondson said...

I totally agree that writers' conferences and publishing events are very helpful. Yes, you can learn lots, and, yes, you can network. Even better, is that these events can help you get the word out and create a buzz when your book comes out.

But I also found that being involved in these kinds of things helped me to know the genre of my writing and knowing the genre was key to finding a publisher.

Cheers, Jill