The Conference Mystique Unveiled
There’s a warm spot in my heart for writing conferences. As a result of a ten-minute manuscript consult with an editor at the San Diego State University Writers Conference in 2010, I sold my first novel. Since then I’ve attended more writers’ conferences than I can count—Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic, Crime Bake, RWA, Fire & Ice, and the biennial California Crime Writers Conference.
I’ve travelled to new cities to meet mystery fans, and filled notebooks with tips on writing, marketing, publishing, and character development from seasoned panelists and speakers. I’ve bonded with my “conference buddy” and made dozens of writing friends from all over the world. My adventures provided me with an arsenal of information on how to “work” a conference, and taught me a few lessons along the way.
A lot of writers, especially newcomers, ask me how to get on a panel. There are no guarantees (unless you’re the hot-selling author of the day) but in my experience registering early is a good start to open a path to a seat on the stage. Why? Program planning begins anywhere from three months to a year before the conference date, and in most cases the majority of panelists are chosen from the registrant list. Why risk being the last to the party by signing up late?
Fan conferences like Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime attract influencers and early adopters. If you have a recent or upcoming book release, add a fan conference to your marketing plan and register early. Check off “yes” on the “Would you be on a panel?” question and—here’s Secret Tip #1--offer a panel idea in the Comments box, an idea unique to your expertise or fun for the audience. Rumor has it that programming people like getting new panel ideas. Fans love to be entertained. Writers like to showcase their new work. Triple-win.
Opinions vary on the moderator vs. panelist issue. Personally, I like to moderate. It introduces me to authors I haven’t read before, brands me to the audience, and creates panel camaraderie that often lasts beyond conference. There is an art to moderating—you should be comfortable being onstage with a microphone, be willing to prepare in advance by reading a work by each panelist, and have your list of questions ready. If you’re curious and gregarious, moderating can be a blast. Secret Tip #2--Programmers are always looking for moderators.
I’m always jazzed if I come home with a great writing tip I didn’t know before but, for most authors, conferences are for networking and image building. Be approachable. Dress to establish an image you want remembered. Don’t be afraid to be bold. Take a cue from Kelli Stanley (fedoras), Tammy Kaehler (racing car gear), Diane Vallere (fashion and costumes), Ellen Byron (Mardi Gras colors) and wear something that brands you to your books.
If dressing up isn’t your thing, give away tchotchkes connected to your writing platform. Bookmarks get lost in the sea of glossies at the swag table, but a pen, small mirror, rubber duck, spatula, bandage case, key chain, or ??? with your name and book or series title on it will travel far and make a lasting impression.
Most of all, conferences are for networking, getting away, and fun. Look for familiar faces in the lobby and at the bar, stop by the book signing tables, go to the publisher parties. Mingle, laugh, hand out your business card. Approach an agent, talk to editors and publishers, get to know your fellow authors. Show your support at the new author breakfasts and the go-rounds. Who knows? A conversation with the person seated next to you at a panel, at your luncheon or banquet table, or in the lobby may start a friendship that lasts your entire writing career. It happened to me.
Rochelle Staab, author of the Mind for Murder Mystery series, can be contacted via her website: www.rochellestaab.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter.