After shelling out a few hundred bucks for Thriller Fest and with Love is Murder around the corner, I felt a need to speak a little bit about writing conferences. I started a few years back with Dark and Stormy nights, then went to Bouchercon and well, I got hooked. I had never been in a room with so many authors, so many people who understood the writing life and publishing world. And while it is fun to kick back and get hammered, writers, published or not, attend conferences for one primary reason: to network. If you disagree, then I suggest saving your money and getting a beer at your neighborhood bar.
For the published author, you go to market your book, connect with readers, and pretty much gain exposure. For me, I come out of each conference with a list of books to read, books that I probably would never pick up if I hadn't spoken with the author. For Newbies like me, I go to build my list of contacts, to talk with the masters and hopefully gain insight on writing and publishing, and to open myself to new opportunities.
Last year at LIM, I was on the Reviewer Panel moderated by Jon Jordan. After the panel (and after a few beers) Jon gave me the chance to review for Crimespree. I had been so nervous about being on a panel that I was almost going to call and cancel, but if I had, I would never have gotten that opportunity. After a few rounds at the bar, authors continued to come up and introduce themselves, saying that they enjoyed what I had to say on the panel. I was thinking, "Why do these people want to talk to me? Who am I?" But I realized that I was a reader and a reviewer and, to my surprise, and important contact for these authors to have. The next day, I had my pitch session with Cherry Weiner. Again, a last minute decision that I hadn't planned to participate in. But a month after she received my manuscript I was signing on the dotted line.
These conferences are what you make of them. You can't expect to sit at the bar nursing a beer and have people come up to you. You have to be confident and outgoing and be open to all opportunites that may come your way. Many aspiring writers think it's only important to talk to agents and editors. They are wrong. Other authors are some of the most important connections to have. They are the ones who will blurb your book when it comes out, they are the ones you may tour with, they are the ones who may vouch for you when their agent or editor has your manuscript. And, above all, most of them know what they're doing. In this market, if you have a book on the shelves, you have to be doing something right.
I'll be on the reviewer panel again at Love is Murder, so I hope to see everyone there. Take my advice, put yourself out there, pitch, talk to people, make contacts. It will pay off in the long run.