By Michele Drier
I’m not even sure when I first attended a conference. It was probably better than forty years ago. It was a conference on Women’s Rights (I’d been appointed to the Attorney General’s Commission on Women’s Rights by my state senator) and the guest speakers were Delores Huerta and Jane Fonda.
Funnily enough, even with that lineup, it’s an issue that’s still headline-making today.
Since then I’ve attended conferences, been a panel moderator and panelist, convened state-wide panels and put on conferences in the areas of the arts, affordable housing and homelessness, and recognizing and preventing elder abuse.
And in the last six years, since I published my first book, conferences on mystery reading and writing.
Though the underlying topics differ, the basic format stays similar. Headliners speak, or are interviewed, awards are given, experts speak on issues, and most, important, attendees mix, mingle and meet people.
Hands-down, authors are the kindest, most open people I’ve met in years of conference-going. They’ll take the time to talk to a fan, or an aspiring author, in the stairwell, the restrooms, the bar, the elevators.
Beyond the “names,” conferences are a great place to meet people, make friends and that over-used word, “network.” As an attendee you’ll talk to people just like you who are looking for an agent, trying to figure out marketing, discover good software to use for plotting, weigh the pro and cons of traditional vs. indie publishing. There’s a wealth of information and help available for up to four days in one place, and it’s yours to take advantage of. Read the panel descriptions, look up the panelist’s bios, attend the publisher-sponsored hospitality events.
To keep down the cost, consider sharing a room with someone—even someone you don’t know! I shared a room a few years ago at Malice with Polly Iyer, a writer I only knew through the online Sisters in Crime group, the Guppies. What a delight! Witty, wry, a dynamite writer and now a good friend. The only drawback is that we live about 3,000 miles from one another. And in October, at Bouchercon 2017 in Toronto, I shared a room with Mo Walsh, the president of the New England chapter of MWA.
Writer’s conferences range from one-day, small (Capitol Crimes, my local Sisters in Crime chapter does a single-day workshop bi-annually that attracts about 90 writers) to large, four-day affairs (Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans had 2,000 attendees).
Attending conferences for me pays double duty. I was the president of the Sisters in Crime Guppy chapter for two years and “knew” about 650 people scattered across the country (and in Europe). Thanks to some conferences, I’ve met many of them, including Sheila Connolly, whose adventures in owning an Irish cottage I’ve been following.
If you’re overwhelmed by large crowds, pick a small one first. California Crime Writers in L.A., (in Southern California, bi-annual, limit of 200 attendee); Public Safety Writers, annual, Las Vegas; Malice Domestic in Bethesda, MD (they’ve been keeping it to about 500); Killer Nashville. On the Right Coast is New England Crimebake, that they keep to 250.
Even Left Coast Crime, at about 800 registrants, is edging up. Then the large ones: Bouchercon at about 1,500 and Thrillerfest…I don’t even know.
But don’t be put off, there’s a lot of information out there and hundreds of compatriots who now look like old hands. But they, too, made that first step and registered for a conference.
There are hundreds of them all across the county, not to mention CrimeFest in Bristol, England and Bloody Scotland. Oh, I’d love to do those!
Full disclosure: I’m the co-chair for Boucheron 2020 in Sacramento, I’ll be at Left Coast Crime in Reno in March, 2018 and, because I also write paranormal romance, at the Romance Writers’ of America conference in May 2018. Whew.
January 2018 will feature four more posts about conferences-large and small. Narrowed your conference $$ down? Leave a comment, let us know!
Michele Drier was born in Santa Cruz and is a fifth generation Californian. During her career in journalism—as a reporter and editor at daily newspapers—she won awards for producing investigative series.
She is the president of Capitol Crimes, the Sacramento chapter of Sisters in Crime, and the co-chair of Bouchercon 2020.
Her Amy Hobbes Newspaper Mysteries are Edited for Death, (called “Riveting and much recommended” by the Midwest Book Review), Labeled for Death and Delta for Death, and a stand-alone thriller, Ashes of Memories, published in 2017.
Her paranormal romance series, The Kandesky Vampire Chronicles, has consistently won awards and was the best paranormal vampire series of 2014 from the Paranormal Romance Guild. The series is SNAP: The World Unfolds, SNAP: New Talent, Plague: A Love Story, Danube: A Tale of Murder, SNAP: Love for Blood, SNAP: Happily Ever After?, SNAP: White Nights, SNAP: All That Jazz, and SNAP: I, Vampire.