Authors and illustrators often ask about attending conferences (ALA, TLA, BEA, etc.) and these shows are great marketing tools for authors. Unfortunately, new authors often ask too late in the process.
If your publisher wants you to attend a conference as part of the marketing plan, they will most likely contact you 3-6 months (if not longer) beforehand. You should know that the decision about who to bring to which conferences can be both simple: the author wrote the lead title on the next list or the author is on the program or the author just won the Newbery. It can also be a bit more complicated. The point is that not every publisher can (or wants to) bring authors to a show.
So what happens when the show is in your neck of the woods or your writers’ group plans to drive together or your college roommate lives in that city? If you want to attend, and are willing to pay your own expenses (or a portion of them), you should let your publisher know 3-6 months in advance. If you are submitting your own proposal for the program, please also let your publisher know. They may be able to tell you right away if they’ll be able to provide expenses.
From the publisher side, I always check where the authors and illustrators of our current list live. (Current list means about a year surrounding the date of the show.) We ask anyone within easy driving distance (no hotel needed) to come in for a signing and possibly a dinner.
Also, for each show, we budget money to invite authors to attend based on a number of factors — most important is how effective we think bringing that author will be for future sales of that author’s books. Do we have a plan into the future for that author — a series, multiple-book contracts, etc.? Is the author on a program? Can we share the expenses with another publisher? Do we think the book has a strong chance in that market (teachers, librarians, booksellers, etc.)? As much fun as conferences are, there are often better ways to spend budget dollars for a particular title.
FYI, we really don’t need to you to tell us that you’re available. We assume that if we ask you to attend a large, national show, we will receive one of the following answers:
1) Yes, when do you need me?
2) I have school visits scheduled then. Let me give them a call about rescheduling and get back to you.
3) My daughter is getting married that weekend. I’m so sorry I can’t come.
If we’re asking you to do something smaller (local bookseller event, state show, etc.), the only difference is for answer #2) I have school visits scheduled then. Is this important enough to reschedule? After all, we want you to be making the best use of your time.
For most shows, we love a crowded author autographing schedule. It helps bring people into the booth and it’s fun to hang out with you. So, hopefully we’ll see you at the next one.