Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Are you here for the conference?

by Michelle Gagnonconference

Until I received an invite to Bouchercon, I had no idea conferences like that even existed (and until relatively recently, I had no idea how to properly pronounce Bouchercon, either, as it turns out. I have to stop myself from French-ifying it).

How cool, I thought- the opportunity to meet some of my favorite authors and discuss their books with like-minded fans. When I joined some of the online mystery groups and found out that not only could I attend, but I might even be asked to serve on a panel, it was downright mind-boggling. So the year my debut thriller was released, I devoted most of my marketing budget to conference fees, flying everywhere from Anchorage to New York.

Was it worth it?

Well, I had a great time, that's for sure. The camaraderie at these conferences is fantastic- where else could I spend a night kicking back with Jeffery Deaver and Harlan Coben? But after two years of attending as many as I could afford, I've developed some basic parameters:

  • Cost and release dates: My last two books had summer releases: great for conferences, since most of the big ones occur between March and October and they're clustered in the summer months (I always think of Bouchercon as closing out conference season). THE GATEKEEPER will be released in November, so I'm cutting back dramatically on what I attend since I'll just end up pitching BONEYARD to people, many of whom already heard about it last year. Cost is always an issue- even if the conference fee isn't very expensive, once you factor in all the ancillary costs (travel, hotel, etc), each conference runs me at least a grand. And that adds up quickly. Which leads to...

  • What do I hope to get out of it? Mind you, I love hanging out with fellow writers and fans, but it's hard to justify spending a thousand dollars over a weekend to do that (especially in this economy). So ideally, I hope to get on at least one good panel, and to network with people I haven't met yet. There's always a lot of debate on the lists about which conferences are worth attending, and I'm certain that everyone has a different experience. You might sell more books at smaller regional ones where you're one of a handful of authors, whereas at larger conferences you might get lost in the shuffle. Yet at those big conferences there's an opportunity to meet domestic and foreign editors, booksellers, and agents, and to get your name out to a larger cross-section of mystery fans.And sometimes the regional conferences are skewed toward local authors, so if you're not from the area, you might find yourself relegated to the panel on bug detectives (not a well-attended one, in my experience). So it largely depends on what your career goals are at that given moment. Personally, I'm doing the same thing with conference attendance that I do with my financial portfolio: spreading it out between smaller conferences like Left Coast Crime (they had me at "Hawaii") and big ones like Bouchercon (which I always seem to get a lot out of).

  • Is it a fan conference, or a writing one? Not that writers aren't fans- we all are, obviously. But some conferences specialize in helping new authors hone their craft and pitch agents- which is invaluable for them, but I've discovered that at those conferences, I spend most of my time dodging requests to pass a manuscript on to my agent. I'd much rather go to a true fan conference, where most of the attendees are readers who want to meet their favorite bestselling authors, and who might be persuaded to try a new one as well.

  • Which genre does the conference emphasize? I've gone to a few romance conferences, and so far haven't had much luck with those (although I know my friend Alex Sokoloff has had a much more positive experience). For me, going to RWA felt like starting over again; I didn't know the lingo, and since romance isn't a major component of my books, I drew a lot of blank stares. I'm considering giving Romantic Times a shot when it lands a bit closer to home, but flying to Orlando isn't a possibility for me this April.

Even though I'm cutting back, as of right now I plan on attending Left Coast Crime, LA Times Festival of Books (a cheap flight, and I can stay with friends), Book Passage (local, and no conference fee), and Bouchercon. I'm on the fence about Thrillerfest, since NY is just so darn expensive, and I'm skipping BEA since my ARCs won't be ready yet. Also, no Edgars for me, sadly, or Sleuthfest (I could really use a trip to Florida, too. Oh well).

On the plus side, this leaves my summer largely free. But I have to wonder what poor Harlan and Jeffery will do without me. So my question for the day is: are you going to any conferences? Which ones, and why?

22 comments:

  1. My last thriller novel came out in 2003--Six Minutes to Freedom is a non-fiction thriller, which I learned to my dismay means it's invisible to my fan base--so I have some major profile rebuilding to do. With NO MERCY due out in late June--a release date chosen specifically to correspond with Thrillerfest--I'll be something of a conference whore in the next couple of years.

    For me, the two gotta-dos every year are Thrillerfest and Magna Cum Murder; the former because it is THE place to be as a thriller writer or fan, and the latter because it is always a terrific time. Unfortunately, Magna, which is always held at Ball State University in Muncie, IN, will be on hiatus this year because Bouchercon will be in Indianapolis. I've already made my reservations for that, too.

    I'll be on the faculty of the Midwest Writers Conference in July, the same month when I'll be stopping by my old stomping grounds at Virginia's Governors School for Humanities and Visual and Performing Arts for a presentation or two.

    Truth be told, I don't know what the true value of these conferences are, but I've only been to one that I didn't enjoy, and that was my fault for choosing the wrong subgenre. I like meeting fans, and I like meeting fellow writers.

    Conferences are great fun.

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  2. I'll be going to Thrillerfest and the California Crime Writers Conference (June 13-14), which is in my neck of the woods near Los Angeles. Wish I could travel to many, many more!

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  3. I attended my first Bouchercon last October, and I'm submitting my registration for Indy when I get home from work tonight. I've been to a couple of smaller conferences, but, since I'm still in a pre-published state, I don't have the incentive (or the disposable income) to attend too many. If I had a book to flog and maybe some advance money to help defray expenses, I'm sure I'd go to more of them, if only to get my name out at the fan conferences.

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  4. I'm heading over to SleuthFest tomorrow and Saturday since it's about 5 miles from my house. That helps with the expenses. And of course, I'll be at ThrillerFest.

    Even though NYC is expensive, keep in mind that ITW is the only writers' organization that does not charge dues for qualified members. So there's $95 you can apply to your travel costs right off the top.

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  5. I'm heading to Left Coast Crime in Hawaii and taking the family (so if you see two high energy four year olds whizzing about the place you'll know who they are:)!) and the Historical Novel Society Conference in Illinois...but I've cut back on Malice and probably won't do Bouchercon this year. I'll just wait and see as I won't have a book out this year - I figure it's better to spend the money when that's out. I also don't want to get caught up in more gloom and doom re: publishing industry which will be inevitable at the conferences this year. 2009 is my year of writing like a maniac.

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  6. Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco. Because Rae said I didn't have a choice. I understand and obey.

    I'd love to go to some of the other ones, but this pesky work thing keeps getting in the way!

    Fortunately, many mystery authors cross our doorway, so in a way, my entire work year is a convention. Not such a bad job, when you look at it that way.

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  7. My wife and I had discussed going to Bouchercon this year, staying in a Motel 6 or something so we could afford it. Then the economy went to shit. Now I'm looking at it in SF next year (even further from lil' ole North Carolina) and thinking there are too many things our home/family needs for me to justify it until I actually write something that sells.

    But that's just me. And either Bouchercon or Thrillerfest would definitely be the first on my list.

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  8. I have been to three conferences. One local in Anchorage that was actually pretty decent and focused on new writers, albeit a very small conference.

    One semi-local, in Homer. It was the Kachemak Bay Writers Conference. Spending two days surrounded by self-described literary geniuses and poetry snobs who all looked like they were in some state of delirium wasn't worth the $400. There was a highlight at that conference though. One afternoon at a writing workshop, while dozens of wannabes wrote pornographic versions of Goldilocks (supposedly they were being creative...it seemed to me they were all child molesters escaped from a crashed death ship that washed up on shore)...anyway while they were giving their oral presentations I was selected to read mine.

    I rose and did a spot on impression of Sean Connery reading a sad, yet very much not pornographic version of Goldilocks that got oohs and ahhs from all the old hippies.

    Afterwards though it was kinda creepy when a bunch of hippy women my mothers age kept making flirty eyes at me. I made sure to keep my wife nearby the rest of the conference...and keep my kids away from those other readers.

    The third I went to was Bouchercon here in Anchorage, that was a blast. The one that was really worth the money and time. I learned a lot and met a few folks who became friends. Also met my future agent, although neither of us new it then.

    I would love to go to Thrillerfest, but alas being closer to Siberia than New York means that its a bit cost prohibitive for me. One of these days though I hope to be one of those guys doing readings in little conference rooms in hotels around the world. Just waiting for the big sale.

    Maybe by then the flirty hippy grandmas won't creep me out so much.

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  9. I did meet some new readers at my first Bouchercon last year, so I'll be in Indy. And ThrillerFest. Also, at Times Festival at UCLA, in the Mystery Bookstore booth. I'm conducting a walking tour of downtown LA for Left Coast Crime in 2010. I think I'll start at Angels Flight, which my dad, an LA lawyer, helped save back in the 60's.

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  10. Michelle, I used to call it Boosharecon.

    Boy did I feel stupid when I discovered the truth...

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  11. I don't go to many conferences, mainly because I'm still in that unpublished state. I went to my first Bouchercon last year and loved every minute of it. I'm definitely going to the one in Indianapolis.

    The only other conference I usually hit is Pennwriters, here in Pennsylvania. It's a small, multi-genre conference, but I highly recommend it. This year's keynote speaker is Lisa Scottoline, and there are quite a few good agents and editors on the schedule. And the fact that it's in Pittsburgh means I won't have a hotel bill.

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  12. Bookpassage is a must. The caliber of writers participating is exciting as an author or fan and the chance to spend time in Marin county is a bonus. Elaine, the books stores owner, has created a truly first class conference.

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  13. Bouchercon SF 2010-woo hoo! That's my neck of the woods, so I'm officially inviting any of you who attend to a Kill Zone Party at Toscas sometime that week.
    Who knows, if my money situation changes I mgiht make Tfest after all (hello, lotto!) It's just that without a new release, considering that for the price of that one I could attend two other conferences, it's hard to justify.
    I love Book Passage, it was the first conference I ever went to, and the convivial atmosphere can't be beat.

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  14. I too had a good time at Bouchercon (and learned how to pronounce it) last year. I'll be back this year, just because. I'll also probably attend the New England Crimebake this year (my third!). I like Crimebake because it's only two hours from where I live and it's a bit smaller than B'Con was. (Crimebake is capped at around 250). I'd like to go to the Edgars or TFest, but again, NY is WAY expensive. So, see you in Indy perhaps?

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  15. Funny, Rob, that's just how I said it! Ah, American-ized French names, I know them well...
    See you in Indy for sure, RJ! That'll be a fun one. I've always wanted to got to Crimebake, maybe someday.

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  16. Bouchercon for sure! Crimebake cause they have the best bar, and I can go on the train!

    Also, Alaska in August! It's a writing conference not a fan conference. The organizer promised I could pat a moose.

    I sure hope that's not code for something...else.

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  17. Hi Michelle, I'm going to attend the LA Times Fest this year and hopefully (crossing my fingers) Bouchercon - both for the first time. I'm a fan and I'm so hyped to meet some of my idols. Hopefully I'll have a chance to say "hey" at one or the other!

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  18. Jen- Definitely say hi if you can, I'll be at the Mystery Bookstore booth at LA Times!
    And Janet, that does sound awfully dirty-the conference isn't being held at a truck stop, is it? Basil, any thoughts?
    I'm still bummed I didn't get to see a moose when I was up there for Bouchercon last year.

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  19. I'm in a weird halfway state where I have an agent, but I haven't found a publisher. So I'm not going to conferences to pitch agents, but I don't have anything to sell, either. However, I still plan to go to three conferences this year.

    Thrillerfest is my favorite conference, and I've gone every year it's been held. It gives me a chance to meet with my agent in person once a year (I met her at the Craftfest), and it's the only place I can hang out with people who really get what I do. I've made a lot of friends there. Plus, I plan to have my next book finished by then, so it's a chance to pitch it to editors.

    Yes, T-Fest is expensive, which is why I'll forgo the banquet. I just get together with others who are skipping it, have a fun meal in NYC, then meet up with everyone else at the bar afterwards.

    The Pacific Northwest Writers Conference is in my backyard here in Seattle, so that's a no brainer. It is heavily attended by agents, so if you're pitching a book, it's a great conference.

    For the first time, I'll be heading to Bouchercon. I've heard a lot of good things about it, and I used to live in Indy, so I'll be able to save some money and stay with friends.

    For me, at this point in my career, conferences are primarily a chance to get out there and remember that I'm not the only one facing the writing hobgoblins. Conferences have done nothing but good for me. They recharge my batteries like nothing else.

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  20. Writers conferences in Alaska? Well, there are two I am aware of. One is the Kachemak Bay Writers conference in Homer, where I had the experiences I mention in my above post. Good workshop...just some weird people...or maybe I'm weird. That's in July.

    The one in August I believe you are mentioning must be the Alaska Writers Guild conference in Anchorage. Is that correct? If so its a pretty nice one. If its neither, then I haven't heard yet.

    As far as petting a moose? Well, you might want to hope its a stuffed moose. They are big, (half a ton), moody (maybe tempermental is a better word), and not terribly bright (dumb...lets stick with dumb).

    Reindeer on the other hand are quite pet-able. And can even be found pulling sleighs around sometimes, although not in August.

    Who, knows Jen but we may even run into each other at the conference depending on which one it is.

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  21. Michelle, RWA and RT are great for me, but I write on the supernatural side and often stress the erotic, which means the paranormal romance readers are drawn to my books. I can see how a straight thriller wouldn't play as well to that audience, but those cons are so worth going to because of all the publisher support you get there - TONS of giveaway books.

    Bouchercon I'd never miss. I love Malice and Left Coast Crime, but as you say, it depends on the timing - you really have to have a new book out because those readers will already have read all the stuff that's been out for a year.

    If you're out in hardcover I think the library conferences are a must.

    Thrillerfest is cross programmed with ALA this year. That REALLY SUCKS.

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