Start with several hundred people, each of whom has a separate agenda. Subject many of them to security checks, crowded airplanes, bad food, and crossing through customs. Know as a certainty that some of them have come to the convention even though they are not feeling well, have had to have a pet put down, their car is in the shop after an accident, a family member was just diagnosed with a serious illness, or their agent told them on Friday that their publisher is dropping them.
Combine them in unfamiliar surroundings for three days, with more activities going on than they could do in three weeks. Add alcohol, hotel food, and freezing air conditioning. Tell them to have a good time.
Strangely enough, most people do.
Welcome to the world of writing conventions
Writing conventions come in two varieties
- A fan convention is a mix of the people who do (writers, actors, producers, agents, book sellers), people who want to do (aspiring writers, actors, etc.) and people who enjoy (fans). Some of the program is about writing, and there are lots of other events.
- A writing convention (often called a workshop) is a serious writing week/weekend. The focus is writing, writing, and more writing.
One kind is not better than the other, only different. It’s a good idea to check out which kind you’re going to ahead of time. Conventions have web sites and a quick stroll through there will give us what kinds of activities are scheduled.
Metabolism and Personality
I am a morning person? 7 AM breakfast meeting? Fine with me. Back-to-back morning workshops. I’m up for it. But by 3 PM, I start to fade and by 5 PM, that’s it. I’ve had it for the day. As much as I’d love to, I’m not going to the radio drama that starts at 10 PM.
Can you go for long stretches at top speed and collapse afterwards, or do you need some quiet, down time every hour or so? Does meeting new people give you an energy rush or absolutely terrify you? It’s important to answer questions like this before we arrive at the convention.
Whatever we’re like at home, we’ll be doubly so at a convention. Plus, at a convention, there is always the temptation to cram in as much as we can. After all, we’ve spent a lot of money to get here. We need to make it worthwhile. Right?
Wrong. The best way to enjoy a convention, and profit from it, is to stay as close to our normal rhythms as possible.
Try to get two real meals (not sandwiches and chips) every day and five hours of sleep a night. Reversing these don’t work; that is, trying for five meals and two hours of sleep will not keep us going.
Eat as though we’re in training, because we are. Sure, treat ourselves, whether it be a sticky dessert or a bit of alcohol, but also keep doing that vegetable-fruit-whole grain thing.
Hotels and convention centers are notoriously dry. Drink water. So have some coffee, tea, juice, etc., but remember water, water, water.
When we get our convention program, sit down and divide the program into three lists: absolutely must do, would really like to do, and everything else. Work our eating and sleeping schedule around the absolutely must do things, with a few really like to do things thrown in. Let everything else go. If we get to something else, fine; if we don’t, fine.
Aim for a few up-close and personal contacts. We might talk to someone sitting in an alcove or to the other six people at our banquet table. We don’t have to force ourselves to be gregarious when you aren’t.
Look for opportunities to spend time with individuals and small groups. Smile at someone eating alone and ask if we can join them. Check our the hospitality rooms. Be a volunteer. Volunteering gives us a chance to see and be seen behind the scenes.
We’re there to network, to get our names out for future reference. Give out business cards; collect all the business cards we can. When we get home, send everyone e-cards or e-mails, saying we enjoyed meeting them.
Bathrooms and hero worship
Give the gal (or guy) a break. Just because I’ve spotted my absolutely favorite author of all times, or the agent I would die, just die, to have as my very own, I will not accost them in the bathroom, or the elevator, or break into the dinner conversation they are having with a publisher, or invite myself along to the private dinner they are having with friends.
But I will take note of what they’re wearing, so I can spot them later on. When they’re not otherwise engaged, I’ll go up and introduce myself. Really. To anyone. If it’s done politely, it’s okay.
I once introduced myself to a writer who had just been given a major award. I totally blanked on the name of her latest book, which I admitted that to her. She winked and said, “I can’t remember the names of my books, either.” Then we had a lovely conversation.
Strut our stuff
We are on display. Yes, us, whether we’re pre-published, or have one book out, or are working on book twenty. People will remember us.
A few conventions have a dress code. Most don’t. Wear nice casual or nice dressy, depending on the tone of the convention. Jeans and sweatshirts are out, but also dress to be comfortable. It’s part of that being in training thing. If we are great-looking, but uncomfortable, by the end of the day, we’ll be in a terrible mood.
Smile. A few hours of volunteering to help at the convention will not only endear you to the convention organizers, but you’ll also have a great time. Smile. Say nice things about other writers. Smile. Well, you should have the idea by now.
Dealing with rejection: The free world does not hang in the balance. You are only writing a book. ~Sue Grafton, mystery writer.
My paraphrase about conventions on what Ms. Grafton said is, “It’s only one convention.” If this turns out to be the worst convention you’ve ever attended in your entire life, take a deep breath, cry if it helps, and keep going. There will be another convention soon. If it’s been the best convention you’ve ever attended, celebrate, and don’t forget to write an e-mail to the organizers telling them that when you get home.
For mystery writers or fans, here’s a list of the conventions coming up in 2014. Same after the location means it’s held in the same place each year; moves means the convention location changes each year. Some conventions remain in the same state, but change cities in that state.
- Sleuthfest, Orlando, Florida, – starts tomorrow, (moves, but always in Florida) – we’ve almost missed this one, but if you happen to be in Orlando or can get there, you can still make it
- Left Coast Crime, Monterey, California (moves), March 20 to 23
- Malice Domestic, Bethesda, Maryland (same), May 2-4 – their focus is more traditional mysteries, what some people call cozies
- Crimefest, Bristol, UK (moves, but always in UK), May 15 to 18
- Bloody Words, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (moves, but usually in Toronto), June 6 to 8
- Thrillerfest, New York City (moves), July 8 to 12 – focus more on thrillers than mysteries, but mystery writers do attend in large numbers
- Mystery Writers Conference, Corte Madera, CA (moves, but always in California), July 24-27 http://
- Killer Nashville, Nashville, Tennessee (same), August 21 to 24
- Police Writers Academy, Jamestown, North Carolina (same) September 4-7 – 2014 convention is sold out, but get on their e-mailing list for next year. Since this is a lot of hands-on research experience with first responders, it usually sells out within 24 hours of registration opening.
- New England Crime Bake, Boston, Massachusetts (same), November 7-9
- Bouchercon, Long Beach, California (moves), November 13-16 – this is the biggest one, also known as the World Mystery Convention
This isn’t a mystery convention, but it has an extra-special place in my heart. Story Circle Network’s Stories From the Heart Convention, Austin, Texas (same, happens every two years), will be held April 11 to 13. This gathering is devoted to women’s journaling, memoirs, family histories, life writing, and so on. SCN is for Women with Stories to Tell.
At this same spot, next Tuesday, March 4, I begin a series of four Writing the Novel blogs on character development. Hope to see you here.