The Pros and Cons of Mystery Conferences, or, You Didn’t Need Your Liver, Did You?

JULIA: If you’re a mystery reader or an aspiring author, at some point some one is going to say to you,

Lea Wait at the Crime Bake banquet as a "work in progress" with Mike Cooper.

“Hey! You should go to a con!” You’ll think about it. The chance to mingle with glamorous superstars of the crime fiction world? Meet agents trapped in elevators? Get a chance to complete your collection of Erle Stanley Gardner first editions?

There are a lot of them around. The Examiner lists 31 conferences in five different English-speaking countries, and they’ve probably missed several. Some are oriented toward writers, with panels on Pacing and Character Development and Forensics. Others are boisterous fan-fests, more like family reunions than conferences. Why not go to all of them? Because cons can get expensive. You have to travel to get there, pay for your membership, and, unless you have an obliging friend living nearby, spring for lodging. Then there are meals, drinks, tips, tours, books – it’s entirely possible for a first time author to spend his or her entire advance on one conference.

So what makes for a good con? What should you do to ensure the biggest bang for your buck (or pound,

Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Whimsey

or Euro?) Just as importantly, what should you avoid? We’ve gathered advice from attendees at this weekend’s Crime Bake conference, who want to make sure you have as good a time as they’re having.

Kate: My first piece of advice, unless you love crowds or are a writing superstar junkie, is find the cons that are small. The New England Crime Bake sells out every year and has a great reputation because it’s small enough to not be overwhelming, yet content rich enough to leave you with that delicious, your head is going to explode kind of stimulation by Sunday at noon. Yes…the feeling that your head may explode is good. Trust me.

Vicki Doudera, Jeri Westerson, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Timothy Hallinan, Kelli Stanley, and Rosemary Harris at the ALA Midwinter Conference

Lea: I agree. Small is best for me, too. I’ll second Crime Bake (we are from Maine, after all.) And Add Malice Domestic, held in Bethesda, Maryland, and focusing on traditional mysteries. Murder in the Magic City (you knew Birmingham, Alabama, was the Magic City, right?) is another great small conference. And Left Coast Crime, for those a little west of New England. Although I’ll admit the year they held it on the west coast of England I thought that was a bit of a stretch …!

Barb:The mystery community is a generous one. If you give to the community, you will get it back in spades. I sat in the bar last night with an author who complained bitterly that he had asked every

Level Best Book authors and editors at Crime Bake, including our own Barbara Ross and Kate Flora!

published author in Maine for a blurb for his self-published book and gotten nothing. My experience couldn’t have been more different. My publisher gave me next to no time to find blurbs for The Death of an Ambitious Woman and almost everyone I asked read the manuscript and responded. But I was asking people I knew and whose own books I had read and admired. I think that made all the difference.

Sweating out the bourbon...

Vicki: I’ll add to the great advice above by saying that I think it is important to make a little “me” time… and for this writer that means getting in a little exercise. (And I’m not talking about going from the ballroom to the bar…)  I get myself up early in the morning (here I am at 7 am at Crimebake in the Hilton’s exercise room) or, if the conference is in a warm spot, sneak in a walk.  Pack those sneakers and your ipod. You never know when you’ll meet a mystery lover on the treadmill next to you!

Some advice from our friends

“To get the most out of a conference – volunteer! Sign up to help the conference run. It gives you something to do and an easy way to meet people and talk with them. And when you sit down alone at a

Everybody's at Malice Domestic!

session, introduce yourself to the person next to you. Find out what they are working on, where they live.”

Edith Maxwell,

“Here is my two cents: Go to as many events as you can, talk to strangers (even though your mom told you not to) you never know who you will meet or who is willing to help you on your journey, and if you don’t have a friend to go with go anyway you will make lots of new friends!”

Sherry Harris

Julia and her husband Ross at Bouchercon. Conferences are for non-writers, too!

“Get cards printed up with your name, website, email, phone, etc. These are networking events, so be prepared. If you see an agent or an editor, it is OK to say hello. But don’t stalk them. Bring an extra bag to take home books. Because you are going to buy them.Take lots of notes. Plan on being exhausted the day you get home (and the day after).”

Julie Hennrikus,

“Don’t drink too much before you pitch to an agent, or you might end up describing a book that not only have you not written, but you are incapable of writing (or remembering).”


JULIA: Good advice for us all to keep in mind. How about you, readers? Do you have any words of wisdom to impart? Great (or terrible) con experiences you’d like to share?  Leave us a comment!

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2 Responses to The Pros and Cons of Mystery Conferences, or, You Didn’t Need Your Liver, Did You?

  1. John Clark says:

    All great bits of advice. I’ve had a chance to attend a couple of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy conferences in Boston and the energy and enthusiasm I too home more than paid for the experience.

  2. Bob Thomas says:

    Judging by what I ‘ve heard so far, the information Lea brought home tonight is in the estimation of this former management consultant, very valuable. If your publisher is unaware of small eddies within the tide, you might be missing important retailers who concentrate on mysteries.

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