How to Prepare for a Literary Festival: A Writer’s Checklist

Prepare for a Literary Festival

If you’re an independent author or small publisher, attending a festival and other events can open up great new opportunities, but they’re also expensive, especially if you’re traveling. You want to make sure you plan ahead, set clear goals, and get the most out of the experience.

Are you planning on attending a literary festival? June is a busy month for book fairs, publishing expos, and literary festivals. Summer writing workshops are just around the corner, too.

The checklist below, while by no means exhaustive, should serve as a good starting point for your preparations.

The book fair, publishing expo, and literary festival to-do list:

  1. Set your goals beforehand – in writing!
  2. Take inventory of your press materials, business cards, books, etc. Do you have enough?
  3. Buy a pair of the most comfortable walking shoes ever. If you don’t, you’ll be sorry.
  4. Do your research on presenters, panel discussions, appearances, etc. Which do you want to attend? Add them to a wish list.
  5. Do your research on the publishers, agents, distributors, service providers, authors, and  editors that will be attending. Who do you want to meet? Add them to your wish list, too.
  6. Get a map of the grounds or convention center with booth locations (if available). You don’t want to commit yourself to a 12:15 meeting at one end of the event, and then have to sprint half a mile to get to a 12:30.
  7. Start a spreadsheet schedule and organize it in 15-minute blocks.
  8. Talk to other folks who have attended the event previously. What advice do they have?
  9. Start contacting people on your wish list well in advance of the event to set up a meeting. If they’re too busy to commit to a meeting (and industry professionals are crazy busy at these things!), just casually mention that you’ll try to swing by their booth at some point. That way if you do get lucky and run into them during a free moment you’ll already have the virtual handshake out of the way.
    If they agree to a meeting, be absolutely clear about what time, what day, and what location or booth. Try to get a cell phone number too, in case either of you are running late.
  10. Get to the event early and scope it out. Survey the landscape. Make sense of the labyrinth before you go raising for the cheese.
  11. Bring healthy snacks. These events usually serve crappy foods like cheese-stuffed-cheese and shrink-wrapped mystery meats. Oh, and bring plenty of water too. You don’t want to have to hunt down a water cooler every couple hours.
  12. Bring your computer, cell phone, cell phone charger/battery pack, notepad, pens (bring a few!), and anything else you need to be prepared for note-taking, presentations, or pitches.
  13. Get there at opening and stay until closing. Make the most of your day. And if you make friends, ask them where the cool industry after-parties are!
  14. Rest for a week. Then take all those business cards you’ve collected, notes you’ve taken, memories and recollections, and follow up with all your contacts. Thank them for the chance to meet, and hopefully – further explore the kinds of opportunities you hoped would come your way when you first decided to attend.
  15. Oh! And bring some of those signed 100 Books!

How do you prepare for industry events? Let us know in the comments section below.


Chris Robley is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."



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