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Time Management for Author Conferences

Writing conferences can be busy and hectic. Here's how to make the most of them.

Spring is now in full flow and that only means one thing for authors: it’s conference season. Whether you attend the London Book Fair, Frankfurt, a 20BooksTo20K event or SPF’s very own Self Publishing Show Live, you’ll understand the format. Organisers deck out grand halls with stands, lights, posters, speakers and swag for thousands of creators and service providers to attend multi-day events. After travelling countless miles, many of us spend our days waking up in hotels, grabbing lanyards with glossy name cards, schmoozing, swapping ideas, and drinking. And in all that time, ideas like time management and a daily routine become a distant memory.

It’s overstimulating. It’s an endurance sport. It’s a networking gauntlet. Most importantly, though, it’s fun. The only issue is that the opportunities come like hail at these events and many of us don’t manage our time well enough to catch a lot. Given the flashing lights, the countless handshakes and vignetted memories of afterparty drinks, not only do we forget to circle back for that “important” conversation we promised an acquaintance, but we also completely lose our writing rhythm. Some authors claim that event fallout even stops them from writing for a week or more after a conference is finished. Returning home, they need to recover. To rebuild the habit.

Spend two days traipsing from seminars to meetings on blistered feet and you’ll understand why. When you’re at a conference, it becomes easy to lose track of responsibilities. A tsunami of social stimuli mean you couldn’t possibly predict how the event’s opening hours will pan out, never mind structure your mornings to maintain normal business momentum, right? Not exactly. Believe it or not, some authors have fun at conferences, arrange meetings, seize unpredictable opportunities, hit all their daily writing goals and come away feeling well-rested. How? That’s the focus of today’s blog post: how to manage your time efficiently at an author conference.

Identify Goals

Forethought is key. For a start, identifying a goal focuses your mind, not only forcing you to think about what you want to achieve, but what opportunities you should bypass, should they arrive. Two weeks is the minimum lead time you should give yourself to start thinking. Generally, that will allow you enough time to find out who else is attending in advance and organise meetings. Bear in mind that some vendors fill their timetables early, particularly at large events, and therefore may need up to six weeks. So, consider the primary reason for attending an event ASAP. Do you want to learn? License your content? Discuss newsletter swaps? Make friends?

Yes, it’s possible to drop by a vendor’s table during a conference, but seasoned networkers understand it’s not always possible without first emailing ahead to book a slot. And that’s why event organisers publish vendor contact details months in advance for you to trawl. Most vendors offer them freely, being there to network as much as you. Even then, though, a face-to-face meeting isn’t guaranteed if schedules clash. Remember productivity expert David Allen’s wisdom as you work: “You can do anything, but not everything.” Identify your primary goal and you can establish priorities, which will inform who you choose to spend your time pursuing.

Plan Your Time

Knowing your reason for attending and who you want to encounter is only part of the equation. If you want to manage your time well then you also need to consider the wheres and hows. Indeed, if you’ve only attended small-scale, local events then you might not realise how efficient you must be to visit a large one in a far-flung city and fully exploit it. You wouldn’t know, for example, that it’s wise to travel light and book a hotel even if you could theoretically leave super early and return home before bedtime. That way, you can eek out opportunities, like impromptu breakfast invitations and unscheduled afterparties, that you would otherwise have to reject.

Similarly, you wouldn’t know the benefit of browsing venue floor plans. Remember those people you wanted to meet? If the conference is as big as London Book Fair, they probably won’t be standing next to each other — and the venue is a labyrinth. Back-to-back meetings might not be possible, which is useful to know early on so you don’t end up running through crowds, sweating, to make a meeting. And the same goes for seminars. Popular ones fill up over five minutes before their official start time. Understand these logistical realities and you can anticipate issues at the planning stage, meaning you’ll be more efficient, composed and flexible on the day.

Pitch After Early Meals

Authors attend conferences for a plethora of reasons. Perhaps you want to buddy up with a co-writer, befriend a retailer executive or license your work to an audiobook publisher. Either way, it likely means selling something — a product, an idea or yourself. Having “the gift of the gab” might seem like everything in these scenarios. In many cases, however, timing plays a huge role. As a 2011 Scientific American article reports:

“Researchers at Ben Gurion University in Israel and Columbia University examined more than 1,000 decisions by eight Israeli judges who ruled on convicts’ parole requests. Judges granted 65 percent of requests they heard at the beginning of the day’s session and almost none at the end. Right after a snack break, approvals jumped back to 65 percent again. […] A similar effect occurs in hospitals, university admissions offices or anywhere people make repeated decisions.”

Factor in this information when scheduling key meetings and doing so can vastly improve the return you get on your time. Ask for a deal just before lunchtime, for example, and you’ll likely strike out. Meet just after breakfast or just after lunch, on the other hand, and you’ll find your gatekeeper far more optimistic and likely to grant you that deal. Just don’t leave pitches until too late after lunch. By that point in the day, attendees start to lose willpower and make rash decisions that will often work against you.

Rest Hard, Play Hard

So far, we’ve covered managing your time well before and during meetings. However, we can’t neglect the daily workload. Many attendees do, of course, but that doesn’t have to be the case. All you need to do to ensure you don’t lose momentum is “rest hard, play hard.” In other words, partition your mind to ensure you commit to any task in front of you but in a way that maintains your overall health. If you’re meeting, for instance, focus on the other person. If you’re learning, ask questions. If you’re at a party, be interesting and interested. If you’re queueing, queue. Don’t multitask. The simplicity will reduce overwhelm and make you look more approachable.

Likewise, if you’re resting, commit 100%. That means not fatiguing your brain by scrolling Instagram when you’re in the hotel room at night, making it easier to fall asleep. According to Healthline, “improving your sleep quality can reduce the number of hours you need.” Admittedly, this is only a short-term solution and can have “detrimental” effects if maintained long term. That said, the following factors can help you feel more rested and able to work during a hectic conference visit:

  • Light exercise
  • Low screen time before bed
  • Reduced caffeine intake
  • A healthy diet
  • Low alcohol intake

Say a conference starts at 9:00 am every day. Many attendees roll out of their hotel bed hungover at 8:30 am. Follow the above guidelines, however, and you can play hard enough to make friends but remain rested enough to rise at 7:00 am and write for an hour each morning in your hotel room to avoid losing your writing mojo.

Debrief and Process

Imagine you’re a bird researcher. Tasked with catching wild birds, you might collect 100 over a few days if you just run around with a big net. You’ll struggle to recall their details, however, if you try to memorise them all for a week before you get home to your desk. Attending a conference is similar. Talk to 100 people and you’ll have maybe 20 worthwhile conversations. But unless you keep a record and follow up while they remember you, those encounters might only result in one or two opportunities. Debrief yourself and process business cards the next day, on the other hand, and that number will be far higher.

Military organisations debrief soldiers after missions, knowing it enables those in power to seize openings before they slip under their radar. In groups, they discuss what happened, what went well, what needs improvement and what to do next. As an author, your debrief could be as simple as retracing your steps with a pen and paper while the event is fresh in your mind. Write a to-do list and decant new contacts’ business card details into a spreadsheet while you still have coherent memories regarding who “John Doe” was and where you met them. This conference aftercare magnifies the value of the rest of your time, making it time well managed.

Follow these guidelines and you should encounter more opportunities, strike up more connections, make more friends and have more fun in the same amount of time, all without losing track of your work-in-progress. Will you perfectly manage your time? No. You’re human; you will always waste some. But best practices enable you to maximise the value of each hour spent at a conference and minimise the cost to the rest of your author business.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.