Thursday, October 11, 2012

Are you a conferee, a conventioneer, or a little bit of both?

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 cafĂ© 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?


  1. I quit attending writers conferences years ago. I still study the craft with a goal of improving, but it's more important for me to spend my money on readers conferences, which I love!

    Because writers are there too, and they all write in my genre. It's so much fun to talk shop with people who love it as much as I do.

    I just got back from a terrific Bouchercon. The logistics of the conference were not that great, but I connected with so many readers and writers that it was incredible. I posted a couple of blogs if you want to read more.

    I also love Left Coast Crime, a smaller more-intimate version of B-con, and I'm on board to co-chair it in 2015 in Portland.

    And next year I'm thinking of attending Crimefest in Bristol, just to make a trip overseas.

  2. I just attended my first ever event, the same Bouchercon as LJ (waves hello). It was great. I think I'm at the point in my career when both are valuable, but I tend to like my "craft" sessions a little more intimate. I'm attending my second writers' retreat with my local Sisters in Crime chapter, and I expect to learn a lot. And I hope to find I've learned a lot since my first retreat last fall too!

  3. As a fiction editor who's always sharpening her craft for her writer clients, I prefer conferences with workshops. I accidentally went to Bouchercon a few years ago, when it was in San Francisco, thinking it was a writers' conference. (I was blinded by the idea of going back to visit San Francisco!) That convention was just too big for my tastes. I felt lost in the crowds, so ended up playing hookey a lot and exploring San Francisco (which was a blast!). Left Coast Crime's convention in Santa Fe a year ago April was much better, as it was smaller and they had organized some excellent excursions around the area - and I knew I'd be connecting with good friend LJ Sellers!

    For honing your fiction writing skills, finding out the latest on the writing biz, pitching to agents, and getting advice on publishing and marketing your books, I highly recommend writers' conferences. If you write thrillers, don't miss Craftfest in NYC in July! (The first 2 days of Thrillerfest - just excellent!)

  4. There's actually a third type... I guess you could call it Live Theater or Hands On. Lee Lofland's Writers Police Academy is a terrific experience for writers, and there isn't one session on craft.

    I'm excited to attend Left Coast Crime next year because I'll have two books under my belt and hopefully a third well underway.


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