Most big conferences are attended by major publishers. They offer their books at discount so it’s a a good place to stock up. Most publishers will also ship books so you don’t have to cart them home in your luggage. But the book exhibition is useful for much more than conspicuous consumption.
The book display is often a really good place to connect with publishers.
Before you go to the conference you need to do some homework to ascertain which publishers are likely to be interested in the book you want to write. Once you’ve sorted out who might be tempted by your idea, then you need to contact them. All publishing websites have lists of the people to contact; big publishers will have several commissioning editors while smaller presses may only have one contact.
It’s best to email beforehand to make an appointment to speak to the right person – the email should offer one or two pithy lines about the topic of your proposed book.
The publisher may want to organize a time beforehand to meet with you during the conference, or they might just tell you to turn up at the start of the conference to fix a time. If you haven’t managed to email ahead of time, it’s generally still OK to appear at the publisher’s stand and request an appointment. But you might also like to rough out a book proposal ahead of time which you can send the publisher – or hand to them – once they have confirmed that they will be in attendance and will meet with you.
Before you meet the publisher check out all the other stands. The book exhibition is a great place to do some research about what’s in print already and therefore what the competition for your proposed book might be. All publishers want you to tell them about how your book stacks up against others, so it’s pretty handy to have so many all in one place. Check the stands carefully, noting texts that overlap with yours and ones that cover the same territory. Try to get a snapshot of how your book will be different from others.
When you do get to speak to the publisher, make sure you go prepared with the answers to the key questions they will have:
• What’s the book about?
• Who are the readers?
• How do you know there is a market?
• What’s the competition?
• What’s the USP (unique selling point)?
• What will be the benefits to readers of the book?
• Does the book have any particular features?
And remember that the way you present your ideas and your self during the meeting are really important. The publisher will not only be looking to see if your idea for a book has legs, but also to see if you seem to be someone who has credibility, and if you are someone they can work with.
During the conversation it’s important to be responsive to any suggestions. Remember that publishing is a shared enterprise – you put your expertise together with the publisher’s to get the book into print.
So, in a nutshell, the conference savvy is this – If you have a good book idea, and can communicate it well, and are prepared to negotiate, then there is every reason to think that you could go home from the conference with more than a credit card debt. You might land a book contract!