I started publishing, I didn't realize that there were bookseller and library conferences where books were promoted pre-publication. In fact, I didn't learn about the bookseller conferences until my eighth published book—because no publisher ever sent me. Still, for certain books—though not all, by any means—going to these conferences is a big part of my job.
April 9-11th I attended TLA (#txla14)—the Texas Library Association conference. To my understanding, it's the USA's second-largest library conference, and therefore a lot of publishers pay to bring their authors out there, have them speak on panels. Then they have signings and everyone goes out to dinner with influential librarians. The publishers do the same at ALA (the big American Library Association conference) and to a lesser degree at smaller regional conferences.
How does one get to go to one of these big library conferences? Usually, your publisher is either supporting your book as a front-list title, or your mid-list title happened to get bang-up reviews—and therefore, there's a little more cash in your marketing budget than there was originally. The library conferences are booked through the school and library marketing department, not through publicity. Therefore, books that have good potential in that market are more likely to get that kind of support. You as an author can't ask to go, but you can certainly let your marketing department know if you will be a strong speaker at these kinds of events—for example, if you're a librarian, a school teacher, or have other credentials involving literacy, education, freedom of speech and related issues.
I have none of these credentials, really, but I have a book to promote anyway, so the publisher
arranged for me to go for my May 2014 YA book, We Were Liars. They let me know a few months ago that I'd be on a panel and what the general topic was. It was called "Haute Authors"—and was about style. I wasn't entirely sure what "haute authors" meant, but I said yes, because I figured it would be a good excuse to buy a new dress and I love talking to librarians. I was given a list of the other writers on the panel: Holly Black, Rae Carson, Melissa de la Cruz and Elizabeth Eulberg. I love their books and already knew some of them from other events, so that made it all the more appealing.
On some panels you have to prepare a speech. On others you just need to be prepared for a Q&A and hopefully a dialogue with your fellow panelists. "Haute Authors" turned out to be the latter—and about five days before I went to Texas I got a list of questions from the panel organizer. That doesn't always happen, but it’s a courtesy that often makes for a better panel. People have time to prepare snappy or thoughtful answers. I read over the questions and tried to be sure I had some decent points to make.
All my fellow panelists are on Twitter—so we announced the panel with the hashtag #txla14 and then had some Twitter chat back and forth where Rae Carson said she planned to wear sweatpants and Melissa said we should all wear hats and I revealed I only owned the warm kind with earflaps and in the end we decided we would all wear sunglasses to seem fashion-y. It doesn't really matter what you wear AT ALL to these kinds of things, but some panels are meant to be lively and fun—and ours was clearly that kind. Also, it was at 8 am, so we wanted to show people a good time if they'd hauled themselves out of bed to come to our panel.
The rest of the agenda for the Texas trip looked like this: I got in the night before. The panel was at 8, and at 9 AM I signed books in an autographing area. At noon I did a kid of author speed-dating thing called "Texas Tea." These events are pretty common at bookseller and library conventions. A group of librarians (or booksellers) signs up to attend, and they sit at round tables in a big conference room. The authors move table to table, and have some short window of time to give amusing spiels about their new books, hand out bookmarks, tap dance, whatever. Some people get really clever. I have bookmarks and smile big.
After Texas Tea I had some time to "walk the floor"—by which I mean walk the exhibit floor where publishers display all their new books for librarians to examine. Each publisher has a booth. This is a great education. You see everything your own publisher is putting out and how things are displayed—plus you get to look at all the books that are being published in the upcoming season. You also meet people. The marketing staff of your publishing house is working the booth, and they often introduce you to great librarians, other writers, and so on. But you can also just wander. Everyone has a name-tag, so it isn't hard to start up a conversation.
The last event was a dinner. These are typical also. In this case, I went to my publisher's YA author dinner, which invited influential librarians to meet me and three other YA writers who were there: Dana Reinhardt (We Are the Goldens), Robin Wasserman (The Waking Dark) and David Levithan (Two Boys Kissing). David and Robin's books are already out and had stellar reviews. Dana's and mine are just about to come out. We ate at different tables for each course so we could meet everybody, and we made short speeches. On other nights, the publisher probably hosted dinners for other categories of writers, introducing them to different specialized librarians.
And that's it. I had a little time the next morning to walk the floor again before my flight out. I always feel shy doing it, but I do it anyhow—making connections is the reason the publisher flew me all the way to Texas, so I figure I should make the most of the time I'm there.
Then I flew to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, where I rode a golf cart with Rainbow Rowell (Eleanor & Park), drank some weird gross wine with Tad Hills (Duck & Goose), squealed like a little boy on meeting Jennifer Holm (Babymouse) and heard Francesca Lia Block (Weetzie Bat) tell a ghost story. But all that's another post.