By Gayle Carline
On Monday, Jodie Renner gave us a wonderfully organized list of writers’conferences and conventions, and in the comments, Jeri Westerson pointed out there is a difference between the two.
As well I know, having been to both.
Writers’ conferences are for writers, and by writers, I mean anyone who might even be thinking of writing but is not certain if they are ready to sit in front of a blank screen or sheet of paper and open a vein. All genres are welcomed, discussed, deconstructed and built anew. The nuts and bolts of the writing business are presented, from the craft of writing to the logistics of business. The rooms have tables with their chairs, so you can take notes comfortably.
At least, a good conference should do this. If every evening ends at the bar, telling jokes, swapping bad publishing stories, and juggling swords, well, that’s a bonus. And if there is an impromptu field trip to a porn store, you’re looking at a trifecta.
My first writers’ conference was in Palm Springs and it’s where I got the idea for Freezer Burn. Subsequent conferences taught me how to write a damn good book, how to find a publisher, and ultimately how to publish and promote my damn good books by myself.
Conventions, on the other hand, are where authors meet their readers, both old and new. They are, as a rule, genre-specific. There are several mystery/thriller conventions, from Bouchercon to Love is Murder to Left Coast Crime and beyond. Romance authors have their soirees, as well as sci-fi/fantasy, and I’m guessing YA and/or children’s books.
Conventions are about panels. The chairs are set up in rows and there are no tables, so the taking of notes, while not discouraged, is not expected. There will be no exam later. Four or five authors sit at a table and a moderator asks them questions for most of the 45 minutes, leaving about ten minutes for questions from the audience.
I’m pretty sure this is to keep the audience from telling long-winded tales of their own that don’t really have a question attached. Sometimes it works.
A convention also has an entire room full of booksellers, so if you have never read an author, but see her* on the panel and decide to check out her books, you can buy one and hunt her down for an autograph. (*Or him, but I really like it when it happens to me.)
A really good convention begins with a continental breakfast and ends at the bar, telling jokes and swapping bad publishing stories. (There might be sword juggling, but I’ve never witnessed this.) And even though I’ve been to two conventions and have yet to go on a field trip, it would not be out of the realm of possibility.
This is when it would suck to write literary fiction. No convention, no drinks with people who love your work despite the fact you’re a jackass, and no field trips.
At my first convention, which was Bouchercon, I spent one evening sitting at a table, watching a steady stream of authors and their friends come and go like a tide. LJ Sellers and CJ West sat down. Gary Phillips arrived and LJ left. CJ left and someone else arrived. It was like an entire night of cameo appearances. The high point was when Lee Child sat down next to me. He was so darned sweet and gracious, you wanted to take him home to meet your mother, just to prove to her that you knew someone with a lick of manners.
At my second convention, Left Coast Crime, I didn’t meet Lee Child, although I did get to schmooze with Gary Phillips and LJ and a bunch of fun-fun authors. But the best was Sunday morning, when I was waiting for a seat in the uber-crowded café and a group of readers waved me over to sit with them. Three women who didn’t know me from Adam/Eve and had never read my books, asked me tons of questions, requested my card and bookmarks, and made me feel like an Author. I was as tickled to be with them as they were with me — how cool is that?
Obviously, I find something in both kinds of gatherings that feeds my creative soul. Now that I have described them both to you, which ones do you like to (or wish to) attend, and why?