Friday, November 23, 2012

Literary Conferences: Writing and Reader.

Dear Reader,

I just spent the better part of a year attending a plethera of conferences.  Some were writers conferences: Pikes Peak Writers Conference, Crested Butte Writers Conference.  Some were reader and genre conferences: Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic, Men of Mystery.  One was an amalgam, a mixture if you will, of the two: Killer Nashville.

Before I go into the pros and cons and my evaluation of these literary get-togethers, let's define our terms.

Writers Conferences - This is an event structured to enhance the writer's career.  They feature classes in all aspects of the writing life.  For the beginning and intermediate writer there are classes in the craft (plot, setting, characterization, dialogue, etc), genre classes taught by experts in that genre (Romance, Young Adult, Western, Action, Sci-Fi, Horror, Mystery/Suspense, and so on), classes on aspects of writing (humor, critique groups,self-publishing technology as it touches the writing life, etc). For the more advanced writer there may be classes in promotion, marketing, networking, and other areas to help make a published and close-to-published author more successful.  Another aspect of these types of conferences are the presence of literary agents and publishers.  The conference provides a platform whereby the authors and agent/publishers can meet and talk business.  After all, the aim of most writers is to see their work in print (be it electronic or otherwise).  Big name authors are invited and these provide motivational and humorous talks on what they've experienced in their writing journey.

Genre Conferences - These are primarily conference designed to cater to readers of various genres.  There are YA conferences, Western conferences, Romance conferences, and my own particular interest, Mystery/Suspense conferences.  Avid readers come to these conferences to meet their favorite authors, learn what is new in some sub-genre they are enamored with (say Historical Mysteries or Paranormal Romance).  For the most part these conferences are the home of THE PANEL. Panels are a gathering of pundits who answer questions in the their areas of expertise.  A panel might consist of 4 to 6 authors, all of whom write Mysteries set in the old west or Science Fiction set in a dystopian future.  These authors answer questions designed to interest readers who are consumers of such works or are fans of the authors themselves.  A weekend conference of this sort might feature a hundred such panels and readers are invited to sample as many different sub-genres as they can fit into their schedule. Usually, following panels of these sort readers are invited to join the authors for a signing of their works and perhaps a more intimate Q & A session with the author.

This is the portion of this post where I give my opinion of the relative merits of the conferences I have attended.  Be aware that I am speaking from my perspective as an author of mysteries, not as a reader of genre fiction.  As such I am biased and proudly so.

Let me begin with writing conferences, Of which I attended two, three if you count the hybrid Killer Nashville. Here comes my personal bias.  Pikes Peak Writing Conference is so diverse that it caters to every aspect of what a writer might need to further his or her career.  Plus there are a boatload of the publisher/literary agent types.  I have but suggestion for this wonderful conference.  At PPWC there is a grueling day of agent/publisher pitch sessions--ten minute sessions where an author presents what they are working on to an agent or publisher they have signed up to meet.  On a typical day, these literary professionals listen to fifty-plus avid writers hoping to break into print.  For the most part nothing comes of these interviews.  At Crested Butte Writers Conference they take a slightly different approach.  A writer sends the first ten pages of their work ( up to 2 manuscripts) and the conference distributes the work to all the agents and publishers who are attending the conference.  From this initial introduction, the agents and or publishers select those that interest them. A writer might have many professionals who request a further interview.  Of course, the other possibility is that no one will select their work.

Killer Nashville has classes for all levels of writers.  From marketing/promotion classes to craft classes.  They take the TRACK approach.  If you are a published writer, you take the tracked classes that help you in that phase of your career.  If you are a beginning writer there is a track for that.  However, if you are genre reader of fiction, there are several tracks that cater to you.  And here's where we meet the PANEL.

Malice Domestic (a conference promoting the cozy mystery), Left Coast Crime (a conference designed to entertain suspense/thriller/and mystery readers) and Killer Nashville all have a large number of fan readers who attend, which is definitely a kick in the butt if you are writer in these genres.  All of these conferences are designed to connect the reader to their favorite writers and to help them find new favorites.  Let me just say right here that mystery readers are the best fans in the world.

And now my only complaint.  In all three conferences, LCC, MD, and KN authors are put on panels with similar authors, say five who write academic mysteries, or historical mysteries.  An hour of Q&A is followed by an invitation to join the authors for a book signing.  And here's where things could use a good hard look.  Audience members follow authors to signing tables where their books are displayed, but less than ten minutes later the next panel starts and the signing arena is a ghost town.  Authors, unless they have a rabid following are left sitting staring at one another.

And now the Fifty Men of Mystery Conference.  It is only a one day affair where 50 male mystery/thriller/suspense writers are invited to meet 400 readers.  There are fans and newbees, established authors and first-timers.  Early on in the day, a gathering ensues where the authors introduce themselves and their work.  Big names are not invited to do this since they are already well known.  Immediately after this fun session of blatant and humorous self-promotion everyone, both fans and writers, are taken to a great room adjoining the conference bookstore where a significant amount of time is set aside to cater to book signing and meet and greet between reader and writer.  Readers can ask the authors questions, talk about their own preferences, and generally spend a relaxed time in the company of writers.  I had a blast.

Now, don't get me wrong.  Other conferences have similar times set aside for meet and greet.  Pikes Peak Writers last year had a very similar situation and again it was a kick in the butt.  Malice Domestic has a session where authors circulated from table to table (10 readers per table) and talk about their work and themselves.  This was a hoot!

Let me finish by saying that I found something to like about all these gatherings.  My only regret for this year is that I didn't attend the mother of all mystery conferences, Bouchercon.

Oh well, maybe next year.

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