While in the midst of the oh-so-hectic-and-fun TLA '13 conference, I started making a list of all the tips I wish I'd known ahead of time to make the most out of my experience. If you haven't attended a conference/convention before, these tips and tricks will hopefully help you map out your plan for tackling one. Trust me, it's so worth it!
1. Prioritize your schedule. Decide what's important to you, be it panels, signings, arcs or a mix of your favorites of each and let those take a higher priority over everything else. A signed arc from an author you don't know might not make up for you missing your favorite author or the arc of the final book in a series that you've been dying to get your hands on.
2. Wear comfortable clothing! No one cares what's on your feet, unless they're crocs, which shouldn't be worn under any circumstance EVER anyway. Wear comfy flats, sandals or sneakers. Keep clothing relatively loose instead of form fitting. Dress nicely, but casually. This isn't a business meeting, exactly, but it's not a day at the beach either. Wear layers. Panel rooms are cooler (you'll be sitting for a while), but the exibit hall is warm (lots of bodies, lots of walking and standing).
3. Bring snacks and water. You may not have a lot of opportunities to eat or drink, except in line. Stay hydrated!! I didn't each lunch for two days because of the lines, but I didn't get mind because I drank lots of water. And when I did get hungry, I pulled out a granola bar.
4. Bring plenty of canvas bags and totes. Some booths provide cool bags, but they go early. Be prepared and bring your own. A large suitcase is also good to bring as you can keep it at a bag check and unload books there periodically.
5. Bring cash. Most everyone only deals in cash. There are great deals (paperbacks as low as $2, hardcovers for $5!), but only if you've got the dough on you. This is especially true for the last day. SAVE UP for that because publishers don't want to ship books back home so they'll sell them off early and cheaply on the last day. So you should....
6. Bring your own books, if you can. You'll be able to save your money for new stuff instead of buying a second copy of what you already own. It also helps to prep books early. I was complimented several times for having my books post-it-noted early. I spent about an hour two days before the conference deciding which books to get signed and sticking post-it notes on the title page. Also, prep your books to be signed, whether in advance or in line, by flipping them all to the title page and having them open. It can be a pain, but it'll help lines move more quickly if you do it yourself instead of relying on someone else do it.
7. Arrive early! Early birds get the best parking spots, places in line, seats in panels, and arcs!
8. Make friends with fellow attendees. Trade blog addresses and Twitter handles. You may want to print up business cards in advance for this. These people will help up blog readership AND let you in line with them if you're running late. Be kind and return the favor.
9. Talk to publishers at the booths. Tell them some info about yourself so they can make recommendations. Ask probing questions, and you are so much more likely to get more books. Ask for business cards, and follow up with an email asap letting them know who you are, reminding them what you talked about. This is good networking for future arcs OR if you are at all interested in the publishing idustry, be it behind-the-scenes or as an author. Trust me, they'll remember you and appreciate your interest and initiative.
9a. Know your publishers and their authors. If you can be specific about the books a publisher has put out, they'll be so much more willing to help you out. If you know that an author has a book coming out with a publisher, but you don't see it, ASK. The worst they can say is they don't have it, BUT if you ask, they might have some copies hidden. They'll be impressed that you know who their authors and upcoming releases are.
9b. Make a list (and check it twice! Sorry, I had to) of all those authors and upcoming releases ahead of time so you don't forget in the stress of the moment. If you can be specific and focused with what you're asking for, you are so much more likely to get what you want. Sometimes that means you get the book. Sometimes that means you don't, but the workers at the booth might tell you when they're going to "drop" the book, giving you an opportunity to show up a little early.
10. Don't be a jerk. No pushing, shoving, or name-calling. Publishers and attendees will remember you if you're cool or if you're a pain in the butt. You do not want to be the latter. Be patient and wait in line like everyone else. Speaking of not being a jerk...
11. Don't be greedy. There is no possible way you can get a book for you and your five closest friends or even just you and one friend. All the other attendees paid for their admission just like you. Sorry if your friend couldn't make it, but they should consider going to the next one. There are plenty of books for everyone, but not enough for everyone to have multiple copies. Share the book with your friend instead of grabbing two. If your friends are present, it's good to divide and conquer but that still doesn't give you free reign to unlimited books. Be sensible because you still have to carry everything all day (even with a bag check you'll be carrying a daunting quantity and it gets heavy fast) and possibly ship your books home at the end of the conference. The books may be free but shipping isn't!
12. Say the magic words. Please, thank you and sorry will get you a lot of credit with everyone, from fellow attendees to publishers and authors, conference workers to security staff. You're all there for the same reason so be polite and enjoy the awesome trait you've got in common: a supreme passion for reading!!