Question of the Week: Conferences

Catherine

In some ways the pandemic has had little impact on me. I’m an introvert. Other than dinner or lunch with close friends, monthly Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America meetings and the occasional writer’s conference, I pretty much focused on writing, cooking and reading. So when the lockdown came, my day-to-day life barely changed. 

But as the pandemic drags on, I’ve, weirdly, found myself longing for face-to-face meetings with other writers and the excitement and the exhaustion of the intense interactions of conferences. I’m dreaming about Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic, the Golden Crown Literary Society, Bouchercon and New England Crime Bake, all conferences I’d love to attend between April and November, 2022. 

I’ve been to some of these conferences many times, others just a few times. Some are targeted to writers, others to readers and writers. At most of them I’ve had the opportunity to sit on panels, to participate in author speed-dating,and to present and sign my books. At all of them I’ve made new friends and new readers and reconnected with old friends and old readers. And despite needing to frequently retreat to my room to breathe and relax, I always come home refreshed and energized. 

I can’t wait. But because of my age I’m in the Covid 19 high risk category so I’m not sure when it will be safe or when I’ll feel comfortable enough to fly and/or be inside with a lot of people. I have my fingers crossed.

What about you? Do you conference? Which are your favorites? What do you get out of them?

Connie

I love conferences and always wish I could attend more. My favorites are Malice Domestic and Crime Bake–maybe because I always meet good writer friends there. My first Left Coast Crime was San Diego, 2020, when the conference was shut down before it really began. I flew across Continent only to have to fly back home the very next day. I’m going to LCC this year, though, and hope to see some of you there! My dream is to attend one of the conferences in England. Anyone want to tag along???

Emilya

I went to ThrillerFest in 2019 and CrimeBake in 2021. It was definitely nice to meet authors in person and chat. I enjoyed the panels at ThrillerFest. I guess I have conflicted feelings about conferences. I find being “on” all the time utterly exhausting and it takes me over a month to recover. But once I recover, I’m always glad I went. So… I’ll probably limit myself to 1 or 2 conferences a year and see how that goes. Still on the fence about ThrillerFest 2022. 

Keenan

I’ve been to Malice, Crime Bake, and Left Coast Crime. I’d say LCC is my favorite, maybe because it’s easier to get to, but also because there is a wider representation of genre. I know folks say there are traditional and thrillers at Malice. Bruce Robert Coffin is always there. Hank is always there. Hallie Ephron. But the majority of readers are there for cozies. The last convention I went to was LCC in San Diego when we were sent home because of COVID. Alas, I will not be going to any this year.

Sharon

Great question, Catherine. I used to love conferences, but now I’m not so sold on them. When I was a novice author learning about the business, it made sense. I went to Crime Bake 8 or 9 times, the Tony Hillerman Conference in Santa Fe once, the Writers’ Digest conference in NYC several times, the Cape Cod Writers Conference a few times, Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Writers’ Retreats 3 or 4 times, and a ton of others. I learned a lot; I met some great people; and I spent a lot of money. I also took online classes, from various SinC chapters, including my home chapter of New England. I took MWA classes. I took ITW classes. I was like a sponge. And like a sponge, I was pretty indiscriminate in what I absorbed.

Then two things happened. I got accepted at the Yale Writers Workshop, and I learned what real writing education was. I met great people, like Wanda Morris and Lori Rayder Day, and two amazing writers who are now part of my virtual writers group. I met Hallie Ephron, and she changed my writing  life. THIS is what writing education should be.

The next year I took a Minerva Education course in Italy with Hallie as the instructor, and I learned even more from her. I also met several people there who are still close friends and advisors, and another writer who I invited to join my virtual writer’s group.

I took classes from Steven James, whom I‘d met at WDC, and who I think is brilliant. I learned a lot from him.

But now that I knew what writing education could really do, I was hungry for more. I enrolled in an MFA program, but I dropped out after a semester because it’s expensive, and I wasn’t crazy about their disdain for genre fiction.But I loved Sterling Watson, who was my mentor there and who taught me how to apply myself to writing rigorously. I enrolled in Emerson College’s MFA in pop fiction program, and I learned SO MUCH it was incredible. But alas, way too expensive for an old retired lady, so I had to drop out of that program too.

Another turn around the Yale Writer’s Workshop, and my conference criteria gelled.

If I want to attend a conference for social reasons, to catch up with friends, etc., then I do. 

But people, even people I love, drain my energy, so I have to be judicious about it. 

But if I’m looking for education, then I look for actual educators. Programs that require an application and a writing sample for admission, not just a check. And with instructors who are actual educators, not just the flavor of the month.

And honestly, I’m part of the generation at high risk for COVID, so my conference selection criteria are even more stringent now.

Catherine

I’m jealous, Sharon. It sounds like you had some great experiences.  Crime Bake was my first conference. It was small, everybody was friendly and I was in the early stages of my writing journey so the workshops were pitched at the right level. At the time I didn’t know that some conferences are oriented to readers and others writers so I I accidentally picked just what I needed. I returned to Crime Bake many times even when the workshops no longer interested me, to see friends, like Michele Dorsey, and because I always learned something and I always came thome energized. 

While I never thought about an MFA program, I did seek more challenging venues. I went to Portland, Oregon for a ten day intensive with James N. Frey and I attended an intensive workshop with SJ Rozan at Art Workshop International in Assisi, Italy. Unfortunately, for personal reasons, I had to leave Assisi after a few days but both were great learning experiences. 

Connie

Sharon, that course in Italy sounds so amazing! One of my beta readers went the year Elizabeth George taught it. 

Susan

One of my favorite things about being a Miss Demeanor is that I always know someone at a conference, and someone I like! I’m a person who really would be happy sitting in my office with my dogs, so it’s hard for me to go to conferences, but I think it’s important to get out there. Occasionally. I always like Malice Domestic and Crime Bake.  I like the Writers Police Academy (especially the Zoom version) because I learn so much that’s helpful for being a mystery writer. I’ve gone to ITW, which is nice because it’s not a long journey. This year, for the first time, I’m going to Sleuthfest, but that’s because I’m on a panel. 

Catherine

I went to Sleuthfest several times and really enjoyed it. It used to be held in February/March so being in FLorida at that time was an added bonus.

Alexia

I love conferences! Malice Domestic and Thriller Fest were the ones I never missed. The best was when Malice Domestic was held the same week as the Edgar Awards banquet. I’d fly to NY to go to the banquet then take the train down to DC (Maryland, actually) and go to Malice, then fly home from DC. I also attended New England Crime Bake and Left Coast Crime regularly. I went to Bouchercon a couple of times. I participated in Sleuth Fest and Killer Nashville as faculty. I attended a couple of smaller, regional conferences, like Murder and Mayhem and the Chicago Printers Row festival. I was fortunate to be on panels at all of the conferences I’ve been to.

Reader/fan conferences are my favorite. I feel more relaxed and I get to meet people who like my books (and sell a few copies, let’s be honest). I haven’t attended any craft-focused conferences strictly as a participant, except for the Mystery Writers of America University before my first book was published. I’ve considered my participation in those as my way of giving back to the crime fiction community by providing advice to aspiring authors. I also got to do some networking at the craft conferences, especially at Thriller Fest. Networking is an important part of the publishing business and in-person conferences were a convenient way to do that because so many industry professionals were in one place.

 I’m looking forward to traveling to in-person events but I don’t think I’ll completely give up virtual events. I’ve enjoyed being able to attend conferences that I never would have been able to travel to in-person. The virtual events are the ones I’m most likely to attend as a participant-only, from the comfort of my living room (or kitchen). If I go in person, I prefer to be on a panel and get an author signing slot. I find that I sell more books at conferences if I’m on a panel, vs. only having my books available at the bookseller’s table.

Tracee

Me too, Alexia, the back-to-back Malice and Edgars were perfect for a sweep. 

Overall, I’ve been to quite a few conferences. Bouchercon in New Orleans and Toronto, ThrillerFest, and Malice Domestic several times, as well as Murder and Mayhem, the Virginia Festival of the Book, and Killer Nashville, among others. I’ve always been on panels, which meant a focused interaction with other writers and I hesitate to go if I’m not on a panel, given the time and energy involved.

I had no idea about the writer’s community until I attended Bouchercon in the months before my first book came out. In retrospect, I wish I’d been aware of these events earlier, not so much for craft, but for on-the-ground advice given between panels . . . and at the bar! The sense of community among the mystery writers is phenomenal and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on those in person experiences. This is what I’ve missed the most over the past two years – the in person networking in a place where a broad spectrum of the publishing community is gathered. 

As for right now, I do love to see people (although I agree with Emilya that conferences are exhausting) however, perhaps over the past two years I’ve also gotten used to not attending. I don’t have any on my schedule yet this year, partly because I started making other plans which now would conflict with the travel schedules. Perhaps subconsciously I didn’t want to make plans to travel and then be disappointed again? I must say that it has been very nice to attend virtual conferences and I hope at least some aspect of a hybrid solution will continue. It is not practical or possible to travel everywhere! 

Alexia

Tracee, the bar is absolutely the highlight of any in person conference, even if you don’t drink. It’s the center of the crime fiction conference community. You meet the best people and hear the best stories.

Tracee

So now, thinking about the bar, I may have to change plans and go to a few. The best stories, the best advice, and absolutely where you meet new writing friends! 

Catherine

Alexia and Tracee, you have summed it up perfectly. It’s all about the connections we make and that’s what I’ve been missing.  

Dear readers and writers, tell us about the conferences you love and why you love them. Will you be conferencing this year?

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Catherine Maiorisi

Author

Catherine is the author of four NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli mysteries–A Matter of Blood, The Blood Runs Cold, A Message in Blood and Legacy in the Blood.

In addition to the four Corelli mysteries Catherine has written four romances and The Disappearance of Lindy James, general fiction.

When not writing, Catherine is either cooking or reading. She lives in the New York City with her wife.

One comment

  1. I love attending reader/fan conferences. My first was Malice and I loved it. It was the right amount of people from me. When I got overwhelmed with the number of people, I went to my room and came back to the conference when I was ready. Second one I attended was Bouchercon and was that a larger conference. Spent many hours in my room. I went to Left Coast Crime and Crime Bake. Best part is meeting authors and becoming friends. I’m planning to attend all three again, this year because I miss my friends.

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