I just returned from Malice Domestic, a traditional mystery conference in Bethesda, Maryland for readers and writers. I had a fabulous time. I got to meet and mingle with so many talented writers and chat with mystery readers. Here are some things I've learned over the years...
Before the Event
1. Decide if you want to attend an event that focuses on writing (e.g. the craft, mechanics, etc.) or readers (e.g. programming geared for readers and fans). Look over the conference materials. You probably won't find book marketing and writing tips at a fan-based conference, and you usually won't find too many readers at an author-focused event.
2. Decide if you want to participate in a panel. If so, make sure that you sign up early (it's usually part of the registration information).
3. Make sure to fill out all registration and applications ahead of the deadline. If you miss early bird deadlines, the prices go up.
4. Make sure to keep copies of all confirmation emails. I keep them in a folder, and I print them for the trip.
5. Many conferences sponsor an anthology of selected authors' short stories. If you're interested, make sure you're aware of the requirements and deadlines.
6. Many conferences have special events (e.g. banquets, luncheons, breakfasts, and other meet ups). Make sure you're aware of all the registration requirements, so you don't miss out.
7. Check out the website for the dress code for special events.
8. You're going to do a lot of walking. Make sure you have comfortable shoes.
9. If there is a book dealer, make sure that you contact him/her before the event to find out if your books will be there. Some do consignments with authors. Make sure you have all the details and know whether or not to bring books.
10. Always bring plenty of pens, bookmarks, and business cards. You'll never know who you'll meet.
During the Event
1. Get a copy of the schedule of events and plan your time. I attended one conference where the panels and book signings were in different hotels. I had to make sure I had enough time to get to the locations.
2. If you're on panels or have book signings, make sure you know when and where you're supposed to be. Most panel moderators contact you before the event to review logistics and discussion topics.
3. If you flew to the conference, most hotels have a business area where you can ship things back home. Many conferences provide give-aways (and lots of books). Some conferences have hospitality rooms where you can donate books that you don't want to travel with.
4. Find the "meet up" places (e.g. lobby, bar, and entry ways). These are usually great places to find old friends and meet new ones.
Best wishes with your next conference. I always have a great time at these events. And there are lots of choices out there, depending on your interests and genre. What else would you add to my list?
And you'll never know who you'll meet...