Everyone is signed up, keeping an eye on travel schedules and hotel bookings, and checking their panel assignments. And triple checking that their books will be in stock with the conference books sellers for fans to purchase. That’s how many writer’s fill their idle time in spring.
Bouchercon, Malice Domestic and Thrillerfest. Surely three of the largest, or at least well known, of the mystery conferences. I’ve attended all three both as a reader and later as a writer. Here’s a brief run down for anyone thinking about diving deeper into the mystery world – they are for readers and writers alike!
Bouchercon, held annually in a rotating North American location, is Fan Conference writ large. I’ve met book clubs in attendance, families on vacation, and best friends who use it as an annual gathering. The panel topics are aimed at fans, so writers use the time in between their own talks to see friends or listen to their idols on the stage. There are hundreds of authors in attendance and it is a great chance to get an autograph! If you want to ‘run into’ someone, make a plan because this is a large gathering. At the conclusion of the conference the Anthony Awards are given in five categories, voted on by attendees and given to an author in attendance.
Malice Domestic, held annually in the Washington DC area, is another fan conference, although on a smaller scale than Bouchercon, and with a slightly different angle. While Bouchercon embraces the entire mystery genre, from cozy to thriller, Malice Domestic focuses on the traditional mystery (fans and writers of police procedural and domestic suspense shouldn’t write this one off, however. Malice Domestic attendees are voracious readers, always looking for a new book.). As with Bouchercon, the fan focus means that the panels are aimed at readers, not craft. Due to the smaller size of the conference, writers have a greater chance to spend time with their idols, perhaps developing contacts and friendships that will sustain them in the future. At the conclusion, the Agatha Awards honoring the Traditional Mystery are given in multiple categories. The Agatha Committee creates the short list, and all conference attendees are invited to vote by ballot.
Thrillerfest is held in New York City and has the energy and complexity of the city. Founded by a group of thriller writers as a means to promote their end of the mystery genre, the conference has multiple threads for attendees. There is an ATF workshop, Master Classes, CraftFest, PitchFest, and, the main attraction, ThrillFest. It is critical to know what you want from Thrillerfest since there is so much to choose from. It’s possible to hone craft, find an agent, or simply network and see friends. Despite its size, the ‘big names’ are accessible and part of the thrill is having a chance to chat with the likes of Lee Child, David Morrell or Lisa Unger in between panels or over cocktails. Of course, like Bouchercon, it is important to make a plan if you want to run into someone, for it is a busy event. The awards banquet deserves a special shout out – the organizers know how to throw a party! The Thriller Awards are determined by committee and the winners are announced at the banquet.
Final thoughts: If you are an author, conferences can be expensive to attend and, unless you are already a bestseller, you likely won’t sell that many books. However, they are a chance to meet new readers and build a following – the readers who attend are serious and sometimes influential, buying for libraries or running blogs. Meeting and renewing friendships with leading authors is another reason to attend – what better way to meet the people you will need to ask for a blurb? And, of course, seeing fellow writers and sharing in their triumphs and set backs. The fellowship is amazing. For a reader, these conferences are a chance to get inside the minds of their favorite authors, learn more about the creation of their character and what a writer’s life is like. And of course, pose for that selfie!
Hope to see you on the conference circuit this year!