Among the replies, I received two that described the responder’s experience with some detail. Their stories showed me that, while their attendance at these conventions was in part exhilarating, exasperating, interesting, and nerve-wracking, it was also costly and probably didn’t gain the hoped-for results.
The costs associated with attending one of these conventions as an author can near $500, and that’s not including travel, accommodations, and food costs. Then there’s the time factor. Evidently, if you want to make the most impact, you need to be there for the entire event, or at least the key days of the event. That means, taking time off from work (if you have a regular “day job” other than author), which can be a long weekend, or a whole week (depending on the convention).
It seems as if there are two main goals of those authors who attend these events:
- Network (with agents and publishers, and other authors)
- Recognition (give away free copies of your book(s), give away other free items with your brand/logo on them—t-shirts, pens, coffee mugs, etc., get noticed—give a speech/reading, make an impact on potential readers)
While these seem like worthwhile goals, the second one (especially) can be done for less money and with less hassle via the Web. If you want to give stuff away, create a web site and announce free stuff; list your book(s) for free with Amazon (or other online vendors) for a day or two; announce a contest and the prize can be a free mug, t-shirt, or book, or even lunch with the author; create posters of your book covers and offer them on some of the art sites; create an electronic newsletter or blog and build an audience via your writing.
If you really crave the spotlight and want to give a speech or reading of your material, you can arrange to do so at local gatherings (libraries, country clubs, social clubs—red hat society meetings, reading clubs, schools—present yourself at career day for high school or middle school students or college campuses, give a history or writing lecture for school students or local college, etc.). If you can afford the travel expenses, then you can pursue these same types of venues in other (further) locations from where you live.
As for the networking angle…well, I’m all for meeting other authors, I think most of us are a great bunch of people. However, I’m not all that stoked about landing a contract with a “real” publishing house, and I don’t really see the advantage of sharing what few commissions I make with an agent. Now, I might be willing to share my commissions with someone who could actually help me do the marketing of my books, but since most agents and publishers don’t really help you out with that, I’m not really interested.
As it is, I’m too busy trying to build my readership and develop some name recognition to really spend time cultivating a network of agents and publishers. Nearsighted? Maybe, but I’d rather shake hands and socialize with those few people who just might want to read my stories.
So, to sum up:
Pros of Attending: Lots of chances for networking, opportunities to listen to and learn from more experienced people in the industry, possibilities for building readership recognition
Cons of Attending: costly, crowded (easy to get lost in the crush), not a great venue for introverts
Therefore, I think if I were to attend, I would go as a guest. I would get a day pass and attend conference sessions, lectures, and demos; speak with other authors; and make connections with potential readers. However, I don’t think I would bother with the hassle of renting a space and a booth, and then hoping that people would find me. I think I’d rather go out and find them.