Many people who attend the annual conference of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) avoid the book fair. It’s true the book fair can be completely paralyzing, with its hundreds of booths and thousands of attendees all schmoozing as if their lives depended on it. Don’t miss the book fair, though. It’s the best opportunity all year to make contact with editors and with organizations for literary writers.
But when you visit the book fair, go with a specific purpose in mind.
Let’s say you’ve got several stories or poems you feel are ready to send out. Ignore the booths of presses that only publish graphic novels about surfing vampires. Focus on talking to presses that have a magazine that’s looking for new work, but don’t miss the fun of just a random conversation.
Bring a business card. If you don't have a business card for your work as a writer, just print it on a laser printer onto card stock.
Make contact with editors who might appreciate your work. Leave a card with them and say something positive about what you sincerely admire about their publication. If you can afford it, buy one of their books or magazines. Ask for the card of the editor you want to send work to, make notes on the back of the card about what you discussed. Email or write to that person directly when you follow up. Don't make contact until several days after the conference, not during the conference. Don’t give out anything other than your card during AWP. The people at the tables are under siege. Be considerate. When you write to them later, just remind the editor that you met at AWP.
The same idea applies if you have a manuscript to send out. Find out which presses are open to new work in your genre, and in your style, and get a business card of a person to send a manuscript to. Follow up with every place where you have a good contact, but after the conference.
If you have a book to publicize, look for reading series and publications that review work in the same vein as your book.
Besides all the schmoozing, make sure to take in at least two great readings at the conference, and two panels that make you rethink what literature can mean. Invite someone to lunch you didn’t know before the conference. Enjoy and explore the city of the bookfair and/or its surroundings.