Should I Go or Should I Stay?

I’m talking about writers’ conferences, not relationships. Returning last week from Left Coast Crime in Bellevue, Washington, I found a flurry of comments in my inbox, addressing the question: Was it worth it?

It’s a good question to ask. I spent a lot of money on the registration, flights, transportation to and from the airport, my hotel room, and non-included meals and drinks. Did I sell enough books to justify the cost? No—not even close. Did I make connections that will lead to greater sales in the future? That remains to be seen. But there are other considerations as well. Deciding to attend a writers’ conference or convention requires information and self-reflection.

The first question to ask is what kind of event are you considering? Although the terms are often used interchangeably, conferences and conventions aren’t the same.

CONFERENCES like Killer Nashville, Crime Bake, Sleuthfest, California Crime Writers Conference, and Thrillerfest focus on craft and community. Workshops, panels, and Master Classes are geared toward helping authors improve their writing skills, pitch effectively, and develop sensible strategies for promotion and marketing. Writers will usually have opportunities to pitch to agents or editors, receive professional critiques of their work, hang out with published authors, and make connections with other writers on the same path. At Crime Bake, I learned how to pitch my book. At Killer Nashville, I was introduced to cinematic plotting. At Sleuthfest, I met my editor and was offered a two-book contract. At every conference I’ve attended, I’ve met wonderful writers, many of whom have become friends and colleagues.

CONVENTIONS like Malice Domestic, Left Coast Crime, and Bouchercon are also called “fan conventions” because they bring writers and readers together through special events and interesting panels. There will be a bookstore carrying your books (be sure to check the requirements in advance). and an opportunity to sign. Writers can hang out with other writers or they can intentionally look for occasions to chat with readers. Published authors will be given opportunities to participate in and/or moderate a panel and participate in Author Speed Dating (giving a two-minute pitch to a group of interested readers many times). At some conventions, you can host a social event with readers. Debut authors may be recognized and applauded.

So, are writers’ conferences and conventions worth it? Here are five questions that might help you decide:

  1. What are you hoping to achieve?

Do you want to improve your craft, hire an agent, or attract a publishing contract? If so, a writers’ conference is for you. Are you hoping to expand your readership and potentially sell more books? You can do that most easily at a fan convention. Is networking important? A smaller event will give you more opportunities to meet people. Are you hoping to meet the author of your favorite NY Times bestseller? A large national convention like Bouchercon is your best bet. Do you write in a particular genre? Look for a conference like Thrillerfest or a convention like Malice Domestic that focuses on a certain genre. If you write cozies, you aren’t going to fit in at Thrillerfest. If you write thrillers, you probably won’t find your readers at Malice.

Once you’ve answered these basic questions, you can match your purpose and project to the right event for you. When you go, take advantage of every opportunity to achieve your goals. Some will require prior planning.

  1. How much money are you willing to spend?

Flights are expensive. Driving and parking aren’t free either. And hotels are expensive, even at reduced conference rates. Trust me, unless you’re a top-tier author, you won’t sell enough books to cover the cost. That means you will have to weigh the costs against the rewards. Conferences and conventions that are close to where you live will make the most sense financially, and you can reduce your costs by sharing taxis and hotel rooms. Even so, it will be expensive. This year Bouchercon is being held in Nashville over the Labor Day Weekend, so the cost of flights will be higher than usual—and the airports busier with families heading home for school. But maybe you’ve always wanted to visit Nashville and can take a few extra days to see the sights. The question really isn’t “Is it worth it?” but “Is it worth it to me?”

  1. Will you enjoy yourself?

Many writers are self-confessed introverts who find it difficult to put themselves out there in new situations. Introducing yourself to a stranger might cause you to break out in a sweat. Standing up in a ballroom and talking about your book may be your greatest fear. If this is true, ask yourself if you’re willing to change (just for the weekend). Can you join a breakfast table with folks you don’t know? Could you ask someone you’ve just met if they have plans for dinner? If you find yourself escaping to your hotel room every afternoon, you might be wasting your money—and your opportunities. Remember that the secret to small talk is not to be interesting but to be interested. Ask people about themselves—what they write, what they read, where they’re from. Can you do that? One consideration might be the size of the conference. Bouchercon is huge, and it’s easy to get lost, socially speaking, unless you intentionally reach out. Other conferences and conventions are smaller and friendlier. Find out which ones you will enjoy most by asking other writers about their experiences.

  1. Do you have a new book out or are you up for an award?

Fan conventions are best, in my opinion, if you have a new book to present. I’m going to Bouchercon this year because the fifth book in my Kate Hamilton series comes out in June. Then there are the book awards—the Agathas (Malice Domestic); the Leftys (Left Coast Crime); the Anthonys (Bouchercon); the Edgars (Mystery Writers of America); and the Claymore and Silver Falchion (Killer Nashville). If you’re nominated for an award, you might just win! Wouldn’t it be nice to be there in person to get that trophy?

  1. Are you willing to bet on the future?

We all know about delayed gratification and investing in the future. As writers we have to work hard for a long time, not only writing our books but also getting our name out there. If you’re an emerging writer, look for events that will help you grow in your craft and offer you advice from trusted professionals. If you’re a seasoned author, you might need inspiration. And we all need colleagues, people on the same journey. You might just meet a mentor, an accountability buddy, a beta reader, or a critique partner. You might run into an industry leader who will offer to look at your work or someone who can introduce you to a key person in the publishing business. You might meet your agent or editor. You will meet lifelong friends.

What are your favorite writers’ conferences or conventions? Are they worth it to you?


  1. Bravo Connie, for a candid and comprehensive analysis. I haven’t been able to attend conferences for a few years because of my husband’s illness. This has forced me to ask the same questions you posed and I still haven’t come to a definitive conclusion. I do miss meeting new writers and seeing my old friends.

  2. This is a great outline, and after reading it’s pretty clear I’m not going to any conferences or conventions in the near future :-). I did enjoy the ones I went to (Thrillerfest, CrimeBake), but it always took me months to recover my equilibrium afterward. On the other hand, the more time I spend in the writing community, the more people I know, the more comfortable I feel at these things. So… who knows? I might be lurking at a conference one of these days.

  3. What a fantastic post, Connie, and so much wise advice! This is my debut year, and part of me wants to go to every conference. Meanwhile, my introverted, budget-conscious side keeps telling me to stay home and write. I love that you not only consider factors like cost, book sales, and networking, but you also acknowledge that we all have different goals and capacities when it comes to these events. I’ll be attending ThrillerFest and Bouchercon for sure this year, so I hope to have a chance to meet you in Nashville!

  4. Great analysis, Connie. Over the years I’ve attended Crimebake, Sleuthfest, Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, and Malice. Crimebake was my first and my favorite. I met Michele there, learned from the craft workshops and panels. and enjoyed meeting writers I admired.

    These days I always think about attending some or all of the crime fiction conferences and conventions but when it comes down to it, I’m drawn back to the multi-genre, lesbian writers and readers conference that I found after I’d written my first romance. It’s small, around 350 attendees, and it feels intimate and personal, something missing for me in other conferences. The readers are appreciative of the authors, and the camaraderie between authors in amazing. I must admit I love the ego boost.

  5. I choose conferences/conventions partly by whether I can get there via Amtrak in a morning or afternoon vs. flying. Since I’m in NYC, CrimeBake and Malice fit the bill nicely — I don’t write thrillers so haven’t checked out Thrillerfest. However, I did go to Killer Nashville when I was a finalist for a Claymore, and I’m so glad I did — I won in my category and there is nothing more exciting than hearing your name called in a situation like that.

  6. Excellent article. I’ve found I’ve enjoyed smaller, more intimate events like Crime Bake the best because they give you the opportunity to really get to know folks. As I’ve met more people, I spent less time running out of larger conventions like Bouchercon to go decompress in my hotel room but I felt better about myself when I learned that some REALLY BIG NAMES also get flustered in big crowds and retreat to regroup.

  7. Great cogent post, Connie. I agree with your thoughtful examination of it all.
    This year I’m doing Malice and for the first time, Killer Nashville. To be continued…

  8. Thank you SO much for this article (which I’m going to share with friends). It well and truly nailed every fear and question I have had about going to these things. Last year I went to the First Annual Mystery Fest in Ashland Oregon (organized by Ellie Alexander-Bakeshop Mysteries) which is four days of interactive mystery dinners, writing workshops, an across town ‘solve the mystery’ scavenger hunt, author panels, food-oriented cozies baking events–totally fun, but incredibly exhausting. And I did do the ” I’ve had too many people, I’m not going to that” syndrome. Peopled-out. And $ is a significant factor, even at a small town event like that. On the other hand, I have 2 friends who are having their first cozies published this year, and they LOVE conferences! Yes, they are 30 years younger than I am, but…. ; -)

  9. Now we know why you are our Guppy Pres! Outgoing, intelligent and comforting to all you meet and get to know. Thanks for sharing your knowledge about cons and conventions, Connie.
    See you at Malice and maybe Killer Nashville!
    Beth Schmelzer

  10. Connie, great article. I can afford one a year, so my goal is to vary locations and types. My favorite was Willamette Writers Conference in Portland years and years and years ago. But I loved the easy networking at Killer Nashville. Next time I go to a convention, I’ll know what I have to do. And I’ll stop registering at the last minute. Next year, Crime Bake, I think. (Not this one, although I may change my mind and register at the last minued, despite what I just said.) I learn a lot each time. Thanks for the article.

  11. At the beginning of my fiction career I went to more conferences and conventions than now. I have a publisher and agent so I’m not at that stage. Note: I never met any readers at Bouchercon. I did meet other writers at the two Bouchercons I went to and a couple of bookstore owners. If I have the money (a big “if”) and it fits into my day job and my family schedules, I enjoy hanging out with other writers. It can be inspiring. and fun.

  12. I’m at Malice Domestic right now, which has a pretty big representation of historical mystery folks and SinC sibs — definitely feeling inspired and having fun. Also it fits my bonus incentive: I can get there by Amtrak!

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