A Newbie’s Guide to Book Conferences

A Newbie’s Guide to Book Conferences

Heather M. O’Connor. My publisher Orca Books recently invited me to sign copies of Betting Game at the Ontario Library Association (OLA) Super Conference.

“Me? Sign books at the OLA? Sure!” It’s the largest library conference and trade show in Canada.

A day or two before the big day, I felt like a preteen going to her first boy-girl party. What should I wear and bring? What are the signings like? What do I say?

I’ve gathered some super tips for preparing for and attending the OLA Super Conference. You can also use this advice to get the most out of other major book events, trade shows and conferences.

Be prepared

Check out the event website. You never know what you’ll find. (The OLA provided a cool photo frame for my pics.) Identify and use the conference hashtag, and add the conference app to your phone.

Read the program, even if you’re not attending the panels. Who is signing? Who is speaking? Maybe you’ll “bump into” that editor you want to meet.

Shout out on social media that you’re going, and ask who else is attending. If you’re signing books, announce the time and your publisher’s booth. Share news about other signings and events. If the conference has a Facebook group or event, join it.

What to wear

The default attire is business casual.

However, some authors add a little cosplay flair to their signings. Lena Coakley donned a prim Brontë-style bonnet to sign Worlds of Ink and Shadow at the OLA. Kari-Lynn Winters signed Bad Pirate in ARRR-some pirate gear at Reading for the Love of It, a big Toronto teachers’ conference.

Skip the high heels and opt for comfortable shoes. You’ll be on your feet for hours.

What to bring

A phone for taking and posting pics, following the program and connecting with friends. A watch. Business cards. A strong bag for carrying all the book loot.

Two reliable pens or Sharpie markers for signing, if you’re picky about your writing implements. (What writer isn’t?) Book swag, like bookmarks or buttons. My time slot was at the end of the day, so I offered a free draw to entice people to stick around.

Coffee for your publishing team—they can’t always get a break.

Meet the people

Conferences are the perfect place to network, do market research, and connect with writers and book-lovers. Strike up a conversation with your neighbour. Browse for books. Share a lunch table.

Librarians and teachers:

  • find out what their kids like to read and what they ask for
  • mention you do classroom visits, book clubs and programs
  • tell them about funding for author visits (more about that in a future post)
  • swap book recommendations


  • study the books they showcase at the booth–what are they selling?
  • find out which books they’re excited about and why
  • identify trends and ask market-related questions (when they’re not busy)
  • pick up catalogues and take advantage of a live peek at their books


  • hang out with other writers and expand your tribe
  • observe experienced writers in action and ask their advice
  • promote other authors and their events–what goes around comes around
  • check out the event before you’re published so you come prepared
Schmooze dos and don’ts

DO take lots of pictures. Selfies. Signings. Capture the excitement, then share your pics on social media and your blog.

DON’T accept book giveaways or enter the free draws at conferences for librarians or teachers, no matter how tempting they look. You’ll take those resources away from classrooms and libraries.

Book signing tips

Check in with your publisher when you arrive, and return to the booth 10-15 minutes before your signing. It gives you time to stow your bag, straighten your clothes and thoughts, and think about what you want to write. Ask someone to take pictures.

Librarians and teachers are book people. They’re your fans. When they ask you to sign their book “For the students of XXX School,” you feel like a million bucks. I add a personal line, like “Always count on your team” or “Keep kicking!”

Make small talk. Find connections—a student who likes soccer books, a familiar school. If they seem interested, share interesting facts and valuable resources for your book, like extras on your website or an online teachers’ guide. Or mention you do school and library visits.

You feel like a rock star while you’re signing, but it’s over before you know it. Enjoy!

What are your tips for getting the most out of a big book event like the OLA Super Conference? Share them below.

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4 thoughts on “A Newbie’s Guide to Book Conferences

    1. Thanks very much, Evelyn. I’m glad you found my tips helpful. I was a little nervous going in, but it was worth every butterfly!

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