Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

A Trendsetter’s Guide to Conferences

Digital Book World is a two-day conference (with a third day of additional programming) that focuses on the digital aspects of the publishing industry and the ways in which book businesses are incorporating digital change into their products and workflows. Last week, at the Sheraton Hotel in NYC, I experienced my first Digital Book World– but even though it was my first DBW, it was not my first conference, and I thought I would share some of my best tips and tricks for getting the most out of your conference time as a young book publishing professional:

01. Make yourself a conference schedule

Let’s face it, conferences are expensive. So chances are you’re going to be sharing a conference pass with a few other attendees from your department. Once the conference schedule is listed, plan out which sessions you’d like to attend during each time slot for the entire conference. That way, if the pass suddenly becomes available, you know exactly where to go instead of having to make an uninformed decision about which session would be best for you.

As soon as I knew I was going to be able to go to DBW14, I got out a notebook and pulled up the conference schedule. I wrote down each date and time slot and planned out which panels were of most benefit to me. We had two passes for the office, so I wrote down alternate sessions if more than one piqued my interest. The way I see it, you shouldn’t have more than one person per office in the same session. If you divide and conquer, you can learn more.

02. Plan your time wisely

There’s nothing worse than getting into a session and realizing it’s not at all what you thought it was going to be. This time around I got stuck at a panel focused on the minutiae of digital storage for publishers because I simply didn’t read the fine print. It’s not that it was a bad session overall, it just wasn’t for me. Conference time is valuable. Make sure that you not only read the title of the session, but read the descriptions.

Also, try to get an understanding of the layout of the conference area. Sure there will be time in between sessions to get from one place to another, but sessions can run long, or take place in rooms far apart from each other. Talk to someone who’s already been, or get a map so you can minimize time spent wandering around trying to find a ballroom with a funny name. I’ve enlisted people who attended earlier in the day draw me a map or write down what floor each room was on and never regretted it. This year, DBWwas hosted at the Sheraton in New York City, and the layout was a little baffling. One of my bosses wrote out what level of the hotel each room was, and it saved me a considerable amount of time between sessions.

03. Actually try to meet people

I know. This is hard. When I say meet people, I don’t necessarily mean complete strangers. Maybe you’ll recognize someone that you’ve been emailing with on and off for a few years, or a name on a nametag. Or maybe you’ll strike up a conversation with someone that came into your office for a meeting once is sitting nearby. You already have the common ground of being interested in the same session topic, or conference topic at least, so go forth and be social.

You’ll probably notice that there is a dearth of young people at publishing conferences. If you see a bright-eyed fellow young person in publishing sitting by themselves at lunch, they’d probably be thankful for the company. I know I would be. This year, I all but screamed Jess Johns’ name as I saw her walking across the Metropolitan Ballroom when I plopped down to eat a sandwich by myself this year. Jess is one of the planners of DBW, and I’d met her once very briefly in the office, but we hadn’t interacted beyond that. She sat down and had lunch with me, and it was really nice to spend that time getting to know her instead of playing with my phone and not noticing the crumbs I got on my dress.

04. And try to meet some older attendees too

This might seem even harder than talking to someone closer to your age. But strike up a conversation with someone you admire. See where you can contribute some fresh ideas that build on existing traditions in publishing.  And even better, you’ll learn something that isn’t available in a session.

I’ll admit, I didn’t do this this year, but I’ve definitely been the girl waiting outside of the door to catch a panelist on their way out of their sessions to ask them a question or two about something they mentioned during the panel. It’s always resulted in an interesting response, even if it was only a short one.

05. Sit up front

I think many of us still suffer from the delusion that the cool kids sit in the back. This is not the case at conferences. If it’s a session you’re really excited about, make sure to get a seat close to the front. This isn’t to score proverbial brownie points, it’s more to be prepared for human error. Sometimes there aren’t enough microphones, or a panelist just talks softly. Be the cool kid that sits up front and hears everything correctly.

06. Take notes

Having the privilege of attending a conference needs to be more than just an afternoon away from your desk. Treat it that way! Take notes on the sessions you’ve already carefully selected, and then when the conference is over, type them up and share them with your department. This is a pretty good way to ensure that you’ll be asked to go to future conferences.

I have about five pages of notes handwritten notes that I typed out and distributed to the office this year, and that I now have to refer back to if I want to remember something specific about some of the stats on Wattpad users. Did you know that half of the stories written on the site are composed on a mobile device? Or that according to Penguin Random House, author specific email newsletters have a 50% open rate? If I hadn’t taken notes, I couldn’t have recalled those stats given all of the other facts and figures I heard that day.

What other conference tips do you have for getting the most out of a conference?

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