Lea Wait here — and in Bethesda, Maryland, where today is the day most attendees will arrive at the Hyatt Regency for Malice Domestic, the annual mystery conference featuring “cozy,” or “traditional” mysteries. This year more than 150 authors will be there .. along with between 500-600 fans.
Recently I also attended a one-day mystery conference (Maine Crime Wave) in Portland, Maine. It was small, as mystery conferences go — about 80 people were there — and everyone I spoke with was an aspiring or published author of mysteries.
Two very different sorts of conferences. (I won’t even start to list the number of mystery conferences held every year, ranging from the granddaddy of them all, Bouchercon, which attracts writers of all mystery genres and several thousand fans .. down to that “first annual” Maine Crime Wave.) I’m often asked, by fans and writers … “Why? Why attend a mystery conference?
To begin with some conferences, like the one in Portland, and Sleuthfest (in Florida) are aimed at writers. Workshops and talks are about writing techniques; marketing; the state of the industry; and often agents and editors are in attendance. Other conferences, like Bouchercon and Malice and Left Coast Crime, are aimed more at readers: panels feature published writers talking on topics such as “The weirdest thing I’ve done in the name of research”; “Why are so many crime novels set in New England?”; “What happens when weather interferes with solving a crime?” And so forth. Most of them are fun topics, and give the authors on the panels a chance to plug their books. Some conferences, like Crime Bake (in Massachusetts in November) try to appeal to both readers and writers.
I attended my first mystery conference as a “pre-published” author. I was looking for an agent. (I didn’t find one there.) The conference was a two-day one in Philadelphia, and I attended one day. I learned a lot, and loved the idea of a whole room full of people (all of whom knew a lot more about mysteries than I did) discussing serial killer fiction and cozies and who the up-and-coming authors were. I went home exhausted, but intrigued. I had my first inkling of how much I had to learn.
My next conference was Malice Domestic several years later, and I attended it with excitement as a first-time Agatha Award nominee. (Did I mention some conferences give out coveted awards?) Yes, I was overwhelmed .. but I was a part of everything. I didn’t exactly feel at home, but I did feel part of the action.
Since then I’ve attended mystery conferences all over the United States… an average of 2-3 each year, which is a small number. I know authors who attend 10-12 regularly.
But attending a conference takes time away from writing …takes money … and the number of books sold at each conference doesn’t justify the trip. What does justify it is meeting fans, connecting with booksellers, hobnobbing with other authors (and agents and editors,) and getting out into the world and away from your computer screen.
If you’re thinking of signing up for a mystery conference, here are some basic hints:
1) Decide if you’re interested in a fan conference or a conference on writing. They’re not the same.
2) If you’re published, register early and try to get on a panel so you and your book(s) can be showcased. This will also mean your books will be carried in the conference book room.
3) If you have (and authors should have) bookmarks, postcards, pins, brochures … anything that markets your books, bring multi-copies. There are usually tables on which authors can put these giveaways. And attendees do load up!
4) Even if you’re on a panel, double-check with one or more of the bookstores that will be at the conference to make sure they’ll order and bring copies of your latest book.
5) Attend as many panels/talks/events at the conference as you can .. but if you’re exhausted, sitting at the bar (even if you drink coffee) is not a bad idea. Friendships and book deals are made at conference bars.
6) Don’t be shy. Introduce yourself to people sitting or standing next to you. After all, you already have mysteries in common. And if your favorite author is there … tell him or her how much you love their books! (Authors don’t get tired of hearing that.)
7) If you’re a fan, look at the conference website for the list of attending authors, and bring copies of their books you already own to be signed. It’s better to buy the books on site .. but few authors will object to signing a book bought elsewhere.
8) Wear comfortable shoes! You’ll be walking and standing a lot and (except for some awards’ dinners) mystery conferences are casual.
9) Don’t worry about acquiring too many books. (Is there such a thing?) Most conferences have contracted with a shipper so you can have your new signed books (or dirty laundry) shipped home for you.
10) Be sure to take a notebook .. you’re going to hear about new authors, new books .. or maybe a great new plot twist for the book you’re writing. You don’t want to forget anything. And you’ll be exhausted at the end of two or three days. Take my words for it.
So … as you’re reading this I’m on my way to Malice Domestic. Many of us Maine Crime Writers will be there. It’s an especially great year for Maine … Kathy Lynn Emerson is the guest of honor at Malice. Dorothy Cannell (along with Margaret Maron and Joan Hess) is receiving a Lifetime Achievement award. Barbara Ross is nominated for — not one — but TWO Agathas. (Best novel and best short story.)
I’ll be a part of the “Author Go Round” Friday morning, talking about my latest books, and I’ll be doing an “author’s alley” … a short presentation … at 10:00 Saturday morning, talking about my new mystery series that will begin in January of 2015. And, most of all, I’ll be cheering on my fellow Mainers, and having a great time.
Wish you were here!