Question Time 2012: Conferences

Stacy McKitrick asks:

Are there some conventions you like over others? How do you choose which ones to go to?

The first one I went to was scary, but I’m starting to get the hang of them, now. However, I wonder if I’m spending my time and money wisely by being a repeat attender – especially since I’m not published yet.

There are three main reasons I like a convention: (1) meeting readers, (2) seeing writer friends (3) attending fascinating, funny, or educational panels.

For these reasons, I love BoucherCon, the World Mystery Convention. It’s planned, run by, and aimed at fans. It’s huge and fun. But the focus is on the mystery genre and on readers. It’s not a writers’ conference.

Thrillerfest is a mix of conference and convention, with a day available on craft and on meeting agents, plus panels aimed at fans. And it’s in New York, and has a lot of energy.

For writers’ conferences, two in the US I’ve been to that I thoroughly enjoyed are Left Coast Crime and Sleuthfest. LCC is an annual conference held someplace in the west; Sleuthfest is in Florida. I went last year as a guest of honor and had an amazing time. The panels were entertaining and informative even for somebody who’s published multiple books. And the organizers arranged for the Broward County bomb squad to visit, as well as a forensics team. It was well worth it.

In the UK, Harrogate, CrimeFest, and Reading have been great.

Looking beyond crime writing, the RT (aka Romantic Times) convention is an amazing chance for writers to meet several thousand rabid readers, and for readers to have a great time not just at panels but at a wild variety of costume parties. When I attended RT in Orlando, I didn’t know that I was expected to bring faerie wings for the ball, or a corset and fangs for vampire night.

As for whether to attend a conference or convention more than once, it depends on whether you’re looking for entertainment or for education and connections. If you can learn a lot and meet agents and editors at a con, as well as meeting other writers and spending time with people who share your passion — always envigorating and validating — then why not go again?

Dana Jean asks:

When you go to these conferences or speaking engagements where other authors will also be, do you make sure you read one of their books before you get to the event? That is, if it’s someone new you’ve never read. Do you do “research” on fellow authors so you don’t go in not knowing anything about them?

Also, what famous or infamous person have you met that you outwardly were trying to be calm and cool around, but inside you were squealing like an insane fan girl?

If I’m going to be speaking as a member of a panel, I try to read the other authors’ most recent books, but it’s not always possible. I at least find out about the others on the panel, and try to email them ahead of time. If I am moderating the panel — leading the discussion, asking the questions — I try extremely hard to read the authors’ most recent books, and to research each of them so I know what they write, where they’re coming from, and what their backgrounds are. That’s the only way to generate an intelligent and informed discussion.

As for blithering like a teenage fangirl, that happened when I met Elmore Leonard. It took me an hour to work up the nerve to tell him how much I adore his work, and I blushed and stammered and could barely get a coherent word out. Fortunately he’s courteous and courtly and acted as though we were having a normal conversation and that I didn’t need to dunk my head in an ice bucket to calm down.

2 responses to “Question Time 2012: Conferences

  1. Thanks, Meg. I was curious how others chose. I am going to RT this year (my second time), mainly to hook up with writers I met from my first time. I could see me attending lots of conventions as a fan, though. Too many to choose from (and not enough time and money!).

  2. Very interesting.

    And, I know the feeling with Elmore. I did the same when I met Stephen King. Well, not exactly the same. At least you managed a conversation. I was introduced to him, I shook his hand and said it was nice to meet him and I walked through the door he was holding open and that was it. I didn’t say s**t to him other than that! What a dink!

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