If you are planning to attend a conference this year or next, there are a few steps I recommend taking before you pull into the parking lot where you'll call home for a few days.
1. Know the address.
This may seem like a no-brainer but you'd be surprised how easy this little bit of information can get away from you. Plug that address into MapQuest and make sure you have print copies as well as electronic. I had two GPS going and I still got turned around, heading in the wrong direction. My print copies? In the back of my van!
2. Schedule your schedule.
A few weeks prior to your departure, sit down and figure out what panels you're on, what panels you want to watch and when you can sell your books. And then schedule in down time. You need to eat, rest and recoup so you're at your best because these events are long hours with little breaks.
And one thing I've learned while attending these things is to try and bring a friend or find someone that will work with you. For example, if an expo hall will be open for 10 hours to sell books, you can't sit there all day alone, especially if you need to speak on panels. Join forces with another author or bring an assistant, or heck, a spouse. This will allow you to take those breaks and fully enjoy the event.
3. Make connections.
I'm an introvert so stepping into a room full of unfamiliar faces throws me into a mini stroke. But, about five years ago, I pushed past my fears, bought an event ticket, reserved a room and drove 5+ hours to a reader/writer event. Did this increase my chances of getting a contract? No because the publisher there had already decided to offer me my first contract but I made lasting connections with bloggers, authors and other industry people. Folks I still work with today.
Again, this might seem simple, but you'd be surprised how differently a little teeth showing can make things. Sure, you may be scared out of your mind, but they might be, too. I met a really nice author at this last one and I think we shared a common personality trait. We were both shy but we connected, traded books and agreed to share reviews.
Conferences can be fun and relaxing as long as you take care to be prepared. If you've attended an event, please share your experience.