Preparing for a Reader Conference

Have you ever attended a Reader Writer get together, event, or conference? As an author, I love spending a weekend with readers! And just as there are varied and wonderfully unique books, there are different types of reader weekends. As an attending author, I need to tailor my preparations to the type of reader event to make the most of the opportunity.

Tomorrow I leave for Romancing Williamsburg, a new Historical Romance Writer/Reader weekend event in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Romancing Williamsburg Historical Reader Event

Regency style dress with poke bonnet

I’m beyond excited, because I’m an historical author and someone who loves to dress up in period clothing. Early this year, I commissioned Victoria Vane (one of the founders of this conference) to create a 17th century English court gown

for me to wear in her Vintage Fashion Show. My mother also made me a Regency gown with jacket and bonnet and a 17th century Scottish costume to wear to my book signing at the conference. I am also part of a group of authors giving a presentation about tea history, one of my favorite subjects. As you can see, this is the perfect event for me.

17th century Scottish gown

I have attended two other reader events recently. The Lori Foster Reader/Author Get Together and the Shameless Book Con. They were very different from one another but both fabulous! Lori Foster’s event veered more toward the sweeter romances, although there were also spicy romances represented and everything in between. Shameless Book Con veers toward erotica, but there were also plenty of other romance sub-genres represented (I was one of two historical authors there).

No matter what type of reader con you are attending, you can make it work for you as an author, even if it doesn’t line up easily with what you write. The number one thing to remember is: You are making an impression on readers, so make it a good impression. Always be accepting of what they like and be friendly. If they don’t read what you write, they might decide to take a chance and read one of your books if they like you.

With that in mind, let’s talk about preparing for a Reader Event.

1. What are your goals? Meeting readers, selling books, dressing up in costumes, networking with other authors, getting people to sign up for your newsletter… Whatever your goals are, make sure that you can quantify them, so you can tell if you met your goal when you return home.

2. Are there themes or certain parties at the event? For a historical reader event, I am bringing my historical gowns and accessories. For the Shameless Book Con, I brought my human rose costume for the big, sexy Smut Gala on Saturday night. My husband attended with me and shipped his stilts to the hotel as part of his costume (it was a carnival theme, and he was the tall man). He ended up winning the costume contest!

Tall man & Human rose at Shameless Book Con

Honestly, if you can dress up in an interesting way, you should do so, given the chance. Even hanging out with readers during the day, I try to wear interesting outfits that will stick in their memories. I just ordered a dress that has books all over it, and my mother made me a fun pencil skirt in hot pink that has little typewriters in the pattern. Not only does an interesting, themed wardrobe give you and readers something in which to start a discussion, but it shows your fun, approachable side and makes you memorable.

3. Who else is going? Are there authors you want to meet in person, friends you’ve made on line but have never gotten to sit down with? If they are going to the same conference, set up a time to chat or eat together. Do you have readers who have reached out to say that they are attending? Make certain to reach back and see them there. Invite them to sit with you or bring a little prize for those loyal fans.

4. Gather your swag and prizes. Double check to make certain you know what the conference might require you bring for a grand prize (books or swag for the reader goodie bags). Hopefully your swag reflects your brand and the sub-genre in which you write. At the tea history presentation at Romancing Williamsburg, I’m giving away a tea cup and saucer, Scottish shortbread, and of course tea. I’m also handing out individual tea favors and booklets on tea history to each participant. These reflect not only the presentation but what I write.

Tea Favor

When I attended Shameless Book Con, I brought key chains with a picture of a kilt on them and the tag line “For the hero who needs extra room.” It was a bit sexier than what I will take to the historical reader event. Bottom line – think about who will be attending and what they might like that still represents your brand.

5. Think about selling yourself and your sub-genre. Going to a book con that was geared toward erotica when I write historical romance required a different approach when talking to readers about my books. My Scottish historicals are a bit spicy, but they are not erotica. I would never mislead a reader, but I did talk more about the spicy parts.

At a historical reader event, I will talk more about the Scottish/English history and things like tea and making my own poke bonnet. For both conferences I talk about the themes of empowering women about which I write. At the historical reader event I will talk about the difficulties getting into my English court gown, where at the erotica event I talked more about the difficulties getting out of my English court gown and how I could see a heroine just telling the hero to forget the stay ties and throw her petticoats up over her head!

6. Don’t forget the basics. These are items you should bring to all kinds of reader events.

Bookmarks with your latest books (QR codes are helpful)

Swag with your branding

Banners and signing table decorations and markers

Sign up sheets for your newsletter and/or mailings

Cash change or way to take a credit card (Square, Venmo, PayPal)

Business cards for networking with other authors or industry professionals

Books if you are required to bring your own to sell. If a book store is providing your books, find out how many they will bring. You might need to bring more.

Badge holder with pins, special bag, or favorite note pad

Prizes and special swag to give out to presentation attendees

Names/Contact info for those with whom you want to meet up

Computer, phone, chargers, and all documents you might need for presentations

Costumes and wardrobe with the right shoes (comfortable and/or stylish) and jewelry

Travel details and wallet

17th Century English Mantua with Fontage headdress

Going over this list has helped me prepare for Romancing Williamsburg! I’m thrilled to attend, and my mom is going with me as a reader. I still need to wash and pack ten teapots for table decorations, and I mustn’t forget my pompadour shoes and fontage headpiece. It’s going to be a fun weekend!

Have you attended reader events? Which have been your favorites? Please add anything that I may have left out. Thanks! Heather





9 responses to “Preparing for a Reader Conference”

  1. Stealing this and tucking it away in my author prep notebook. What a great post and an extremely helpful list!

    And your costumes are FABULOUS!!

    • Heather McCollum says:

      Thanks, Louisa!
      I’ve always loved dressing in costumes. Being a historical author has given me a great excuse for sliding into someone else’s life for a bit. So much fun!

  2. Have a grand time, Heather! Your enthusiasm is contagious and it sounds like you’re more than ready. Your mom is extremely talented! Going to keep this list for reference, thanks.

  3. I love seeing your dress-up pictures, Heather. Have an awesome time at the event and report back to us.

  4. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    Fabulous “dress-up” pictures. Have a fabulous time!

  5. What an interesting (and useful) article on preparing for readers’ events. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Addison Fox says:

    What a fun post!! I think conferences are one of my most favorite parts of being a writer – whether reader or writer cons. I love the camaraderie of fellow book lovers!!

    And your dresses are fabulous!!!!


  7. Tamara Hogan says:

    Heather, what gorgeous gowns!

    And bless you (and other authors) who represent our genre so wonderfully, who create such vivid experiences for romance readers.

    Have fun, everyone!

  8. Elisa Beatty says:

    That sounds like so much fun!! I LOVE all the costumes, and your naughty key chain tag line! How great that you can pitch what you differently to different audiences–very smart.

    And you’re into tea history!!!! I have to pull you aside sometime and pick your brain.

    Very cool!


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