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Publishing U: Making Your Debut at ALA

Publishing UOur readers are often curious about the process of writing and publishing books, and we’re happy to provide access to the experts. In this latest addition to our Publishing U series, debut YA novelist Amy Lukavics (Daughters unto Devils) shares her experience at ALA’s Annual Conference this past summer—and offers tips for other first-time authors.


Amy Lukavics: When I learned that I had been invited to attend the American Library Association’s annual conference in San Francisco, I was thrilled beyond words. For the past six years, I’d been going through the meat grinder of querying agents and revising my manuscripts in the hope of making a sale. It was difficult at times to keep going, but watching coverage from major conferences like ALA provided a wonderful boost of inspiration to me year after year. Maybe some day it would be my turn to tell librarians about my own book . . . .

Amy LukavicsAnd, finally, it was! As a publishing newbie, it was my first time attending any conference, much less one of such massive scale. I was nervous. Meeting people? Pitching my book? Speaking in public? I felt overwhelmed and eager, an emotional cocktail that had me wobbling. Attending ALA as a debut author is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so if you find yourself in the same position, there are a few things you can do to make the most of the experience.

Sure, it’s a great opportunity for meeting people, but networking is strongest, and lasts the longest, when it doesn’t feel forced on either end. So relax. The best connections come from genuine shared interest or excitement, without the presence of expectations. And the opportunity for those genuine connections are truly everywhere—sitting beside you at a panel, standing in the same line at a signing, walking with you as you make your way to and from the conference center. Remember that many of the people are there because of their shared love of stories, so saying hello and introducing yourself is a low-risk activity.

When it comes to deciding which programs and events you’re going to attend, things can be a little trickier. Since there’s so much good stuff going on at ALA, and often all at the same time, choosing where to go can seem overwhelming. There are a few different ways you can narrow it down. The official ALA website is extremely user-friendly and easy to navigate, allowing you to search and find any events relevant to your interests and pinpoint the exact location and time. If you have a Twitter account, you can also check up on the ALA hashtag to see what other conference-goers are especially excited about.

Attending ALA as a debut author is literally
a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

If you are lucky enough to be involved in any official events, be ready to give a quick “elevator pitch” summary of your book to anyone who asks. After meeting dozens of librarians at the wonderful AAP’s “Children’s and Teen Author Speed Dating Event” event, I learned that the first thing they often want to know is the age range of the intended audience for your book, closely followed by your inspiration for the story and what you hope to accomplish with your writing. Come prepared with free handouts, such as bookmarks or postcards that include the book’s cover and your contact info, which will make it easier to leave a lasting impression.

Daughters unto Devils by Amy LukavicsAnd make sure you have lots of extra room in your bag—there are plenty of free and signed books around every corner! It’s also helpful to have a pen and notepad to scribble down titles that catch your interest, or the contact info of people who don’t have business cards. Keep all the contact info and business cards together and be sure to follow up once you get home.

Between organizing your time and making sure your events go off without a hitch, it’s easy to forget to have fun. But don’t lose sight of the good time to be had! There is nothing quite as magical as stepping on to a show floor that is crowded with booths and swarming with every type of book person you can imagine, from authors and librarians to bloggers, readers, and people who work in publishing. There is so much to learn, see, and experience. An ALA conference is proof positive that the love of stories is alive and well.

Amy Lukavics’s debut YA novel, Daughters unto Devils (HarlequinTEEN), publishes today, September 29. Amy lives in Prescott, Arizona, with her husband and two children. Find her on the web at and on Twitter at @amylukavics.



About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

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