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Thursday, April 5

Event Goals: Getting the Most Out of Conference Networking

By Damon Suede, @DamonSuede

Part of the Indie Author Series

I’ve been with a niche press since I first started publishing romance, and despite some swanky offers from the Big 5, I find that I dig my neck of the niche woods. Of course working outside NYC’s hegemony requires moxie and flexibility, but it also gives me crazy latitude so that I can adapt and respond to market shifts on the fly.

Today, I want to speak to conference networking, which is something I adore and embrace with abandon. Full disclosure: unlike many authors I am an unapologetic extrovert and as a result I have some oddball insights into the way conferences can (and don’t work) for indie authors.

Obviously this is too big a topic for us to cover in one post so for today I'd like to talk about networking goals.

As it happens, I'm big on goals. I come to fiction from show business where the costs are astronomical and the risks even bigger. Nobody puts up $100 million on a whim. When I first started writing romance I brought a big weird bag of tricks with me. The most central one was: the measure of success.

No matter what part of entertainment you work in, many many factors will forever be beyond your control: audiences, receipts, reviews, opinions. In order to maintain your sanity and also keep yourself getting better with each new project, I recommend establishing a measure of success at the outset of any project… A specific, tangible, achievable goal that you actually want.

When it comes to conferences I mean this quite literally. Before I even agreed to attend a conference I decide what I will accomplish on the ground and what resources and skills I will need to make that happen. I'm very public about this process; in fact when I arrive at any event the first thing I do is sit down with my friends, my A-gang, so we can all compare goals.

This serves two functions. Firstly, by articulating my measure of success in front of people I trust I put the whole universe on notice. It's like having a personal trainer for that event so that I'm held accountable for my success or lack thereof. Secondly by sharing my measure of success with smart talented people I trust I instantly gain a gaggle of cohorts who can help me inch closer to that finish line.

Here's the irony: at every conference I've ever attended I have achieved my primary measure of success on the first day and spend the remaining time gilding the professional lily with bonuses and extras I never would've expected. Because I show up locked and, I hit the ground running. Because I share my goals with people who do the same, I’ve gradually assembled a trusted community of colleagues who know what matters to me and why. That’s priceless.

One of the great myths of publishing is that back in the good old days other folks did all the legwork for you. Writers sat in ivory towers and cranked out masterpieces and then the publishers marketing department slaved over a hot press release to spin scribblers into celebrities.

Balderdash.

No artistic success happens in a vacuum. Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Balzac busted ass to build their audiences. If you don't believe me I'd like to recommend a wonderful book with a woeful title: Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood by Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley, which documents the intense, laborious grind it took to turn the heat of disorganized manuscript pages into a cultural juggernaut that has never been out of print. Another book along these lines, Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann by Barbara Seaman lays out exactly how a failed actress without literary pretensions managed to turn D-list celebrity into global notoriety.

What was true for them is even more true today: even if you’re traditionally published no pub will come save you from your delusions, because no publisher ever came to save anyone. That’s not their job. You will only succeed if you identify your goals and work for them steadily and incrementally.

My point is no one in the history of genre fiction succeeded by being lucky. Luck is only opportunity plus preparation.

You cannot create opportunity, but you can prep like hell for it.


This is where conferences, signings, and other big public events can be invaluable if you approach them with the right mindset.

Genre events are not places to sell books. They are places to harvest readership and do market research in real time. Who are your diehard fans? What do readers expect from your genre? What stories do audiences need to hear told in your voice?

There is a vast difference between opinions and behavior. Surveys can only indicate what people want you to know about what they believe. But their actual purchases, their actual time, their legitimate attention cannot be faked. Public events give you a ringside seat to the fans who will champion your books better than anyone else could. In that sense, any genre event gives you a first class research op…whatever your experience level.

If you're just starting out in your career, your networking goals at a big event will be pretty fundamental because you’ll be trying to answer basic professional questions:
  • Who wants to read my book and why?
  • Where does my unique audience find fiction?
  • What can I do to attract my distinct readership?
Once you already have books on the market, you’ll want to build sales and public platform via participation in events. Your career goals become more granular as you seek out:
  • Access to readers who don't know yet that they need your book
  • Opportunities to support other people in your immediate writing community who will return the favor
  • Face time with librarians, vendors, bloggers, journalists, and book club organizers
  • Contacts with respected colleagues suitable for and open to cross promo efforts
If you already have a large fan base and serious sales numbers, the purpose of genre gatherings shift again because your needs become simultaneously more global and rarified in pursuit of:
  • Emotionally satisfying fan service and targeted project teases
  • Unique cross-promo with fellow bestsellers
  • Signal boosts for super fans and media outlets who support your work
  • Mentoring of up-n-comers in your subgenre Expansion of your niche on the subgenre bookshelf

Before any event, get specific about your own measure of success and your expectations.


Prepare credibly for your own success. Identify the best possible outcome you can imagine and what would it take to make it happen. What's the next one you'll be attending and what's the actual point of participating? Be brutally honest with yourself about your intentions and expectations before you commit yourself or your resources. Make a list and set concrete goals that will move you from where you stand now to where hope you'll be standing on the other side.

Beyond that I’ll offer a couple universal rules: Smile. Participate. Volunteer. When in doubt, say “thank you.” You get paid to make things up and for that you should always be grateful. Keep pursuing authentic, achievable goals and be a positive professional in all your interactions.

Treat professional events with a professional attitude and the professional impact can be staggering.

Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Though new to romance fiction, Damon has been writing for print, stage, and screen almost three decades and just released his first craft book: Verbalize, a practical guide to characterization and story craft. He’s won some awards, but counts his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year.

Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter |

About Verbalize

Verbalize: bring stories to life & life to stories

Fascinating fiction starts with characters who make readers care. This Live Wire Writer Guide presents a simple, effective technique to sharpen your hook, charge your scenes, and amplify your voice whether you’re a beginner or an expert.
  • Most writing manuals skirt craft questions with gimmicks and quick fixes rather than plugging directly into your story’s power source. Energize your fiction and boost your career with
  • a new characterization method that jumpstarts drafting, crafting, revision, and pitching.
  • skill-builders to intensify language, stakes, and emotion for your readers.
  • battle-tested solutions for common traps, crutches, and habits.
  • a dynamic story-planning strategy effective for plotters and pantsers.
  • ample examples and exercises to help you upgrade fiction in any genre.
Blast past overused tics and types with storycraft that busts your ruts and awes your audience. Whether you like to wing it or bring it, Verbalize offers a fresh set of user-friendly, language-based tools to populate your pages and lay the foundations of unforgettable genre fiction.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound |

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