Monday, October 20, 2008


Yeah, I know, this was supposed to be "Getting Started." But I want to discuss my recent experiences at last weekend's Bouchercon and writer's conferences in general.

Bouchercon, for anyone who has never been, is the biggest annual gathering of crime fiction authors, readers, and industry professionals. This year's, held in Baltimore, was the best I have attended. The author lineup was outstanding, the panel discussions covered a wide set of topics, the host hotel was great, and everything ran smoothly.

So what can you get out a huge event like Bouchercon? Well, let's start by getting the key negative out of the way. A national conference like this can be pricey. While the admission price was quite reasonable compared to other cons, by the time you add in transportation costs, hotel for several nights, and all of other usual travel expenses, the total price tag exceeds $1000. And, if you know why you're going and have a clear and reasonable set of goals and expectations, it's well worth it.

This was my fourth Bouchercon, and I've had different reasons for being at each one that I've attended. I began primarily as a reader with hopes of someday writing a crime novel. Back then my writing could be found in newspaper stories and short fiction, but I left my first Bouchercon with a greater sense of what I needed to do to knock out a first novel that might have a chance to get sold.

If you're a reader heading to your first conference, hoping to meet all those great writers whose work you've enjoyed, my best advice is pace yourself. Most of the authors will be around for the entire conference. Usually it's the local authors who tend to show up for their events and signings then go home. The out of towners can often be found in the booksellers' room, in the lobby, or at the hotel bar after hours.

If you're a writer who is just starting out, then many of the panel discussions should prove valuable. You will, however, find that over time most of the panels become less useful. That is not a slam on panel discussions, it's just that the more you learn from writing, the less helpful they tend to be.

Some conferences offer pitch meetings in which the author has a predetermined amount of time to discuss their book with an agent or editor. These can be quite valuable, not because you'll make a sale (you probably won't) but because it will give you the opportunity to see your work through the eyes of a publishing professional. Be prepared to accept criticism, again, and again, and again.

Unless you've registered for a pitch meeting, don't show up with a manuscript, or sample chapters, or anything else like that, nobody is going to want to read it or cart it home with them. This is an opportunity to exchange information, trade business cards, and put faces to names. Be ready to talk about your work, but always be professional, never pushy.

Go where the day---and the night---takes you. In the case of Baltimore, the first night I wound up in a brewpub with Blake Crouch, Scott Phillips, and JA Konrath. The following afternoon I joined a group of fellow writers for lunch at the Inner Harbor. Later that same day I walked to Edgar Allan Poe's grave with a different group of authors. None of these things were on my to-do list, but you've got to be ready to just go with it. The best moments at these conferences are often found in the margins, not on the main agenda.

Be prepared to stay up late, too late, much too late. You'll sleep on the plane or when you get home. If you really need your eight hours you may have chosen the wrong profession.

There a number of outstanding writer's conferences worth checking out. The first weekend in November I'll be at Murder and Mayhem in Muskego, a great one day event in suburban Milwaukee. Then in February I'll be attending Love is Murder, which this year moves to Chicago's North Shore. Over the past several years Love is Murder has emerged as one the very best mystery conferences. And one of these years I'll get to Thrillerfest.

Next year's Bouchercon will be held in Indianapolis. I hope to see some of you there.

NEXT TIME: Getting Started...unless I write about something else.

Monday, October 6, 2008


About two years ago I started writing my first novel, Killing Red. It’s the story of newspaper reporter Alex Chapa’s struggle to find a woman who very well be the target of a copycat killer.

But long before I first typed the title of my debut thriller on a blank page, I spent several years trying to learn as much as I could about the publishing business. I was very fortunate to meet authors, agents, and editors who spoke openly and with candor about their successes and failures, what worked and what didn’t. Their advice proved to be extremely useful, and I don’t know whether I would have been able to launch my career as quickly as I did without it. In short, the advice I received helped me avoid some common pitfalls, and gave me a much better sense of the business I was determined to break into.

Once Killing Red was finished (after months of rewriting) I was fortunate to get an outstanding agent, who quickly landed a two book deal with Kensington. Killing Red will be published in June, 2009 as a lead title under my publisher’s Pinnacle imprint.

Over the coming months I will be using this space to discuss my experiences as an unpublished author trying to break in, as well what the process has been like since I landed my first book deal. I also want to encourage a cordial and positive exchange of ideas on my blog.

NEXT TIME: Getting Started