If you’ve attended a recent romance convention, you’ve probably met—or at least heard, possibly from across the room, with his booming Voice of Welcome—author Damon Suede.
From D&D-style strategies to extracurricular skills-improvement activities, and laugh-out-loud observations to serious-as-a-heartbeat advice, Damon walks us through his go-to strategy for bringing his A-game and A-gang to a networking event. Don’t miss the giveaways from our #IndieMonth2017 sponsors at the bottom of this article!
Contact Sport by Damon Suede
First off I want to say thanks to Sue for inviting me to participate in her Independence Celebration. I’m a promo maniac, and a die-hard con-goer…so she’s asked me to swing by to talk about some of the ways I bring my A game to genre events.
Promo works best when we get up close and personal with our goals, and that starts with knowing where you’re going…
Know your prize
The single biggest mistake that authors make when attending industry events is to show up without a clear Goal, Motivation, and Conflict in mind. You’re an author! WRITE YOUR CAREER!
Before I take on any project, convention, meeting, or partnership I establish my Measure of Success…a clear, concrete target with defined parameters and a time limit. Otherwise, how will I know if I’ve succeeded or failed? How can I get better each time I sally forth? Lots of authors avoid establishing a specific Measure of Success, for exactly that reason: as long as they don’t pin it down, they don’t have to weigh their failings or make changes. It also means they never get serious about winning the game.
Make certain you ask yourself:
- What are you going to this convention to accomplish? Why here, now, and with these people?
- Why do you want it? Why is this convention the best place to achieve it?
- What is the biggest challenge you’ll face? Why haven’t you achieved this goal before?
- What allies, resources, and skills would tip the scale in your favor?
Make sure you know why you are going and what you need to do the job properly…because it IS a job. Don’t treat it like a vacation, or it will become a vacation which does nothing to serve your promotional efforts. Every moment that you aren’t investing your energy and attention where they’ll do the most good is time wasted.
Once you know your goal, allow it to shape all of your decisions at the event. Stack the deck in your favor by choosing activities and interactions that will move you closer to the desired outcome. Promo only works if we enjoy it.
A conference may be fun at times, but when you attend as an author you are connecting with your colleagues and selling your work. It is a professional opportunity which requires professional focus and professional skills. Develop the skills necessary. If big conferences make you nervous start small. If nine days away from home seems impossible start with two. Never force yourself to do something because someone insists you have to. The only thing you have to be is a competent, positive professional.
Pick the spot
All cons and all authors are not created equal. Every con is not for every author. So how do you choose? By choosing the event that will help you achieve your personal, professional goals.
A con is an investment. The base costs begin anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars and only go up, so unless you have a bottomless trust fund you’d best get strategic about where and when your attention is best paid.
Just because your writing buddies love huge, loud parties doesn’t mean you should follow suit. Just because the library down the street hosts public readings, doesn’t mean that’s where you’ll put your best foot forward. Going to a con requires more than a travel plan, luggage, and a fistful of bookmarks. The central issue is return on investment (ROI). Before you make plans to attend a conference, look at both sides:
- Costs: time, registration, travel/accommodations, sponsorship, swag, prizes, etc
- Benefits: appeal, reader population (new and old), information, colleague attendance, energy level, publicity, promo value, etc.
If the benefits warrant the costs, then this event may be worth your time. If the costs outweigh the benefits, get specific about the logic of investing your resources and energy incautiously. Most complaints about promo have their root in lousy ROI, and the only person who can gauge all the factors is you.
Going to a con requires more than a travel plan, luggage, and a fistful of bookmarks.
Here’s the deal: people pay attention. If you don’t enjoy something, your fans will know. If the event sucks for you, you will suck at it. If you are a hateful, sullen misanthrope who bristles at casual contact, public events are never going to work as a promo op. If you loathe human contact or have a habit of hooking up with hotties in the hotel bar, steer clear of potential disasters. If giant crowds panic you, then avoid massive cons even if they’re in the hotel next door.
Look for events that maximize your personal ROI. Learn what resources and abilities you bring to the table and where you can invest them for maximum benefit.
Build a team
Even the most introverted author in the world must collaborate with others. We may write in a vacuum, but eventually a whole posse of professionals swoops in to edit our words and cover them with beauty. Art builds communities, and like it or not that means you do too.
When in doubt I leave you with two words: COOPERATE & RECIPROCATE. They work in every situation, positive or negative.
You literally cannot do it alone. A convention is a gigantic mixing pot of egos, emotion, and expectation bubbling around you. Frankly, there isn’t enough of you to cover all the necessary bases; you need a trusted team that can help you find the things you need and meet the people you must. When you’re heading to an event, reach out in advance and find out who else is going that you trust and admire. Buddy up with people at or near your professional level (skill, subgenre, experience, interests) so that you have a support network and also so that you can plan intelligently. I call these folks the A-gang because they help me bring my A game.
When in doubt I leave you with two words: COOPERATE & RECIPROCATE. They work in every situation, positive or negative.
This is one of the greatest advantages of belonging to RWA chapters. A purpose-built organization that exists solely to promote the interests of career-focused romance professionals. Reach out to friends and fellow attendees in advance—that will help and calm and center you on the ground. Find people who will cooperate and reciprocate with you and help you do the same.
That doesn’t mean extroversion is necessary or even desirable. Plenty of introverts dazzle in their professional interactions, and plenty of extroverts bomb. You’ll have to decide when and where downtime is necessary, and I do mean decide. I once went 36 hours without eating because I thought it was rude to walk away from fans. Before any con sit down and map out the meals, rest, and sanity breaks necessary to get you through the melee in one piece. Establish your A-gang on the ground before you’re on the ground. The more people who know your goal for the con the more eyes you have on the prize.
Before any con sit down and map out the meals, rest, and sanity breaks necessary to get you through the melee in one piece.
Hook up before you head out. Reach out to people in advance, and once you know who you’re playing with, share your measure of success for the event with the group and ask about theirs. Help each other strategize and plan. A great team can also steer you away from the bad stuff and toward the good. Make sure to incorporate a balance of skills and personalities for maximum impact. Think like D&D or a rom-com…each balanced group of friends works better a performer, an achiever, a socializer, and an explorer (aka a rogue, a warrior, a healer, a wizard).
Think like D&D or a rom-com…each balanced group of friends works better a performer, an achiever, a socializer, and an explorer (aka a rogue, a warrior, a healer, a wizard).
Once the event is over, look at how your team played…who excelled and who choked. Where could you have done better? Where did you meet, miss, and exceed your individual measures of success? How can you play better next time?
Build your skills
Not every author needs to give public readings, or host a party for ten thousand, or feature underwear as a costume choice. We use our talents to accomplish our goals. Based on your Measure of Success, choose venues and activities that serve your ultimate goal. If you love interacting with fans, seek out places where reader contact is central. If you suck at reading in public, don’t force folks to watch you get better in a public setting if it will depress your sales. This isn’t group therapy, and it’s not your time to talk.
That said, get better at stuff in an appropriate venue. If you suck at panels, practice and get some basic media training. If parties give you hives but you’re determined to master them, start small and work up to the formal ballroom. If you dream of rapturous public readings but your voice, affect, and sense of drama need an upgrade, take a bunch of improv and public speaking classes until you can handle performance on the fly.
Pull them in
Be a positive, thoughtful presence. That doesn’t mean showboating or blind gushiness. Everyone who attends a con is there because they want something they’re not sure how to get. On the one hand that makes cons a stressful, vexing gladiatorial arena…but simultaneously it means there are over a thousand ways that you can pitch in to help clear someone else’s path to success. And news flash: scratch backs and yours will get scratched.
Nothing can replace authentic engagement. Backflips and fireworks displays may be your thing, but what most people want is positive attention. Give people your focus: listen to stories and ask mindful questions. If you are an extrovert, mazel tov, but most research indicates that unchecked extroversion can actually impede connections. If you’re legitimately introverted, or even think of yourself as shy, allow positive curiosity to guide you and put your energy towards being a positive, engaged presence. When in doubt, SMILE, and ask people questions that let folks share what they want to. Instead of trying to be interesting, be interest-ed.
Give people your focus: listen to stories and ask mindful questions. When in doubt, SMILE, and ask people questions that let folks share what they want to.
On that tip, don’t thrust things upon your fellow attendees: cards, books, or swag. If you push stuff at people you tacitly signal that it’s undesirable and burdensome. Business cards and bookmarks pushed on folks who haven’t asked for them will almost instantly end up in the trash. Instead, engage with people in ways that make them ask for the stuff you want them to take from you. Cooperate! Reciprocate!
Positive word of mouth is the single greatest force in promotion. Everything you do as an author in public should encourage it.
Sign the line
For the past twenty years, a toxic myth has sprung up around the giant signings at genre events. Because authorship can be an isolating profession, dubious in the eyes of many, authors tend to treat the public signings as a magical panacea. They’ll stagger an entire event toward that two hour block of time, throwing fits if they don’t get a seat and obsessing over where and how they’re seated.
I’m gonna lay down some truth: a public signing is a gift you give the romance community. It is service, not promo.
I’m gonna lay down some truth: a public signing is a gift you give the romance community. It is service, not promo. It is not where you pick up fans, and it is the LEAST efficient place to find new ones. Authors who skip an event because they “missed out” on the signing walk away from their greatest opportunity. A signing is only a harvest of seeds you’ve planted all week, all year, and all of your career.
I get the putative appeal of signings: you sit in one place, the table can hide you, and you scribble your name on books that earn you money. Easy-peasy, right? ZZZZZZT. Nope. Eager, active lines who carry off piles of books don’t happen by accident. The authors they visit worked like hell to earn their attention and make that signing a success.
Eager, active lines who carry off piles of books don’t happen by accident.
If you haven’t shown up and done the advance work, a signing will be almost worthless to you. I suspect what folks want in cool-kid signings is bragging rights, but again, if THAT is your measure of success, good luck becoming successful one shared folding table at a time alongside 600 people doing the same. In fact if you are a beginning author without a large fanbase, the most useful portion of a con is the early days, the quieter moments, the intimate groups that will allow you to make a connection. In your career there are resources worth fighting for, but a fancy signing is not one of them. THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS. If you’ve earned special treatment and an army of adoring fans, the signing is the least of your concerns. And if you haven’t earned that stuff, what are you waiting for?
If you are a beginning author without a large fanbase, the most useful portion of a con is the early days, the quieter moments, the intimate groups that will allow you to make a connection.
Enjoy the ride
No matter how stressful, exhausting, and confusing our industry is, it’s not global thermonuclear war. If your book flops, no one will die. It feels like they will. That lack of recognition or income may seriously hurt, but if you approach your promotional tasks with the grim determination of a starving coyote in the desert, don’t be surprised when someone drops an anvil on your head. Cooperate with your colleagues and reciprocate appropriately. They should do the same; best be wary if they don’t.
If you approach your promotional tasks with the grim determination of a starving coyote in the desert, don’t be surprised when someone drops an anvil on your head.
Every con, volunteer for one task. It keeps you humble, introduces you to folks outside your circle, and also exposes you to fascinating corners of the industry. And by volunteer, I mean offer to do thankless jobs with joy and equanimity. Be the helpful, buoyant presence you would want from someone at something you hosted.
Promo only works if we enjoy it.
No one attends a con with a gun at their head. Readers, writers, industry professionals, and media all show up because they want to enjoy themselves. Help them do that. You are your own greatest resource and best advertisement. Put your time, energy, resources, and attention where they will expand your brand and improve the experience of the other folks attending.
Not only will they have a great time, you will as well, which builds our community and creates meaningful relationships…and THAT is the reason we go to genre cons in the first place.
Damon Suede and his coauthor Heidi Cullinan have released Your A Game: winning promo for genre Fiction. Check out your-A-game.com for more exercises, worksheets, and strategies for boosting your promotional efforts.
More about Your A Game: winning promo for genre Fiction by Damon Suede & Heidi Cullinan!Your A Game: winning promo for genre fiction by Damon Suede, Heidi Cullinan
Published by Signum Publishing on June 29, 2016
Add it to your To Read shelf: Goodreads
Buy or reserve your copy online at*: Amazon (Kindle)
Promoting genre fiction grows more competitive every day, yet no two authors or careers are alike.
Our solution: a chooseable adventure so you can pick the path toward the career you've always wanted. We offer a promo game plan tailored to your personal style, strategy, and measure of success.
Your A Game explains the tools and rules of kickass genre marketing to let you make your best next move. We break down the tricks and traps facing all novelists so you can:
• build your personal brand into a professional force.• polish your public presence, online and in person.• reach your ideal market and access your fans.•raise each project to the next level.
Your career should be fun. Start playing Your A Game now.
*This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.
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