by Barbara D'Amato
The Malice Domestic conference begins today and I'll be there. I've attended every Malice and always been glad I did.
Why go to crime writing conferences? Transportation and hotel fees are costly, although the conferences themselves are usually not pricey. And you can hardly get in and out without the cost of about four days.
Libby's wonderful post "I Don't get haircuts anymore--"[April 4 2010] about how much of her life has become virtual, reminded me of the value of real stuff--like face-to-face interactions with the people I enjoy. Some of my best friends are writers who live in North Carolina, Kansas, California, and elsewhere. I am not going to get together with them every couple of weeks for coffee, and an e-hello isn't quite enough. But I can see them at mystery conferences. It's a gathering of the clan.
"Who are all these people?" New people I don't recognize turn up. This is good.
"Everybody looks so young." One has to deal with this.
Conferences are truly worthwhile. Beginning writers with a book or two out ask, "Will you sell enough books to pay for your room charge?" Not likely. Unless you have become very famous, you won't sell enough to pay for the soap. You will sit at the signing table, with maybe a customer or two. Next to you may be Mary Higgins Clark, whose line goes out the door, down the hall, and passes the elevator bank. You will chat with your single customer as long as possible, so that you don't have to look woebegone. [By the way, Mary Higgins Clark is one of the most gracious people on the planet.]
Unpublished aspiring writers ask, "Can you actually make contacts to help you sell your manuscript?" Yes, over the years I've seen several people do exactly that, including the famous case of an aspiring writer at Bouchercon who forgot his car keys, went back to his room to get them, and came down on the elevator with an editor who asked him, "What do you write?" The rest is history. However, it has to be said that it's fairly rare. Still, it happens. And of course, that's just the contact. [By the way, you don't give any editor a five-pound manuscript to carry home on the plane.]
When you leave you will have:
Learned a lot about the business. I have never attended any conference without learning useful stuff.
Met some people who may become lifelong friends.
Made business contacts.
And to readers and fans, mystery enthusiasts who are not writing--in 99 percent of the cases, your favorite author will be happy to meet you and chat. Try the signing line, although you can't talk long because they have to pass on to the next person. If you find him/her at a reception or sit next to him/her at dinner, he/she [isn't this he/she thing cumbersome?]will be pleased that you are a fan and in most cases happy to talk. Trust me on this.
There are downsides, apart from the expense. Somewhere in Day Two of the conference, I start to get the feeling that everybody is working more efficiently, publishing while I'm dithering, and generally making me feel inadequate. Look at all the new books! Look at the beautiful covers. Listen to the rumors of stratospheric advances and ten-city author tours. Go to the book room: gee, this store and this store and that one don't have my books. This one has? Oh, splendid proprietor.
But by Day Three, when I'm packing the suitcase, I'm sorry it's over and planning the next.
It's probably too late to get to Malice this year unless you live in the area and can get a day pass. But Thrillerfest is coming up in July, Bouchercon and Magna cum Murder in October, Love Is Murder in February, and there are several others. These are real resources. Have fun with them.