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.


JA Konrath said...

Welcome to the blogosphere, Mr. Perez. AKA The Great Time Suck.

Good post. See you in Muskego...

jnantz said...

Sounds like a very quick "be prepared for these things in this way." Thanks for that. My wife and I are looking at finances for next year's B'con (motel 6 or Super 8 close by will have to do, I'm afraid), but it'll be our first and we're quite certain at this point tht we'll enjoy it.

I'm interested to see KILLING RED when it comes out!

Nienke Hinton said...

JAK sent me. Buy him a beer. Thx for the info on the conferences. Any notes you want to share from the panel discussions?

Henry Perez said...

Hey jnantz

Thanks for that comment, you brought up something I missed.

You don't have to stay at the conference hotel. Most cons are held at nicer, often upscale digs. I've stayed within walking distance for one conference, a short drive away from another, as well as at the main hotel for a couple more. It's really not a big deal to stay off site and commute, and you can save quite a bit of money over the two or three day stretch.

And if you've ever been to Indy you probably already know it's an easy town to get around.

Hope to see you there.

Henry Perez said...

Hey Nienke Hinton,

About panels...

I've sat through many and moderated a few, and I've come to the conclusion that if you can walk away from that hour with a single useful piece of information about the craft of writing or the business of publishing then your time was well spent.

Years ago I would go to a particular discussion for the same reasons everyone does--the topic or the authors--and walk away disappointed because it somehow turned out to be something other than what I had expected. But a few days or weeks later I would still be thinking about a point that one of the authors had made. That's what you're looking for.

Of course, sometimes it's purely about the entertainment value. A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to moderate a panel of bestselling authors that included David Morrell, James Rollins, Elizabeth Kostova, Lisa Jackson, and Jill Conner Browne. I don't know if anyone who sat through that learned a damn thing, but a good time was had by all.