Some Conventional Wisdom

Gerrie Ferris FingerRetired journalist for The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, in 2009, Gerrie Ferris Finger won The Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Minotaur Best First Traditional Novel Competition for The End Game, released by St. Martin’s Minotaur in 2010. She grew up in Missouri, then headed further south to join the staff of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There, she researched and edited the columns of humorist Lewis Grizzard and co-wrote a news column with another reporter for three years. The series that started there is still going strong today. Running with Wild Blood was released in January 2015.

I signed up for Bouchercon 2015, held this year in Raleigh, North Carolina. I love it when a major convention comes South because I can drive there and save a bunch of money.

Conventions, writer’s conferences, festivals and fan-cons cost money and for those of you who put out money to make money, be aware it’s hard to come by and even harder to measure your gain. So, how do you make the most of your time and money, and get the best results?

To profit from your visit to a writer’s conference, festival, convention, or fan-con, you must focus on why you’re going, and how it benefits you and your work. If it’s promotional, then what are you going to do to promote yourself and your books once you get there? If it’s to have fun, just go, don’t worry, have fun.

Let’s take the fun part first. Large or small, these are all social events. You’ve got to travel to get there, spend money and time in hotels, (unless you can crash with a relative), buy meals, spend for miscellaneous purchases, books or memorabilia and bar tabs (with or without liquor) because you’re there to have fun. For fun in the sun, if you’ve got the cash, the Maui Conference can’t be beat. There will be a lot of agents and editors attending because it’s Maui after all. Chances of your scoring one are not great.

Gerrie at Decatur 10

Gerrie at Decatur 10

When first starting out, it’s wise to choose a mainland regional festival or con within driving distance. I travel in the Southeast to festivals like the Decatur Book Festival in Atlanta, and the Cape Fear Crime Festival in Wilmington, N. C. Both are excellent as are several in Alabama, Tennessee and Florida, including the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America’s Sleuthfest. Here is a list of some well-known conferences, festivals, cons, etc.

Fan-cons are the fun conventions. These are the least expensive cons. Lots are regional. They are run by people who volunteer because they love their genres—mystery fan cons, comic fan cons, Sci-fi fan cons, dragon fan cons. All kinds of cons. It’s a great learning experience. And fun!

Usually new writers start with workshops and retreats. These events focus on teaching aspiring authors how to improve writing skills and then get on the road to publishing. Most of the good ones will provide opportunities to meet with agents, editors and published authors.

Okay, you’ve written a book and gotten an agent and are on the path to publication, maybe have a contract, but not yet rolling in advances and royalties. Where can you go to get the most out of your publicity fund? Most mid-level conventions like Killer Nashville have excellent panels and are fun to boot. If you can’t hook up with a panel, attend the sessions, talk to fellow writers and hang out at the bar. At the annual Malice Domestic in Virginia where my first novel and I made our convention debut, I met a bunch of writers in the lounge. All were eager to talk about their work. I hung on every word because I was a newbie and wanted to soak up their success and make it mine as soon as possible.

Running With Wild BloodBig Organization Conventions are yearly events and run by large writers’ organizations like the International Thriller Writers. Thrillerfest is held annually in New York City. You’ll need a relative there with a spare cot. You can rub shoulders with greatness, but the chances for an elevator pitch are few. You can learn from them, and they can be awesome, but if you’re weighing going to a big con over something smaller and cheaper, consider again that the professionals are rarely at these big cons to find new clients—they’re there to praise and further the steps to bestsellerdom for their current clients.

That’s not to say it’s a waste of time. If it was I wouldn’t be going to the World Mystery Convention, also known as Bouchercon—named for Anthony Boucher, a celebrated mystery author. Bouchercon is said to be the oldest major mystery convention going. I have five published series books by an excellent publisher and decided it’s time to try the big leagues. I registered early and requested a panel seat—even volunteered to be a moderator. While Bouchercon is an international convention, it’s also a fan con. Just an expensive one. Venues change from coast-to-coast across the United States and it’s been held in Canada and England. But I will always go back to my regional festivals. It’s fun to see familiar faces that ask how my dog is doing.

Wherever you go, make friends, be cool. And hang at the bar.