Sunday, November 06, 2005

Conference Culture

I'm in California, at the sixth annual Men of Mystery Convention. Like all good conferences, it was both productive and fun. Besides getting to meet readers, I hung out with fellow scribes Barry Eisler, James Rollins, Sean Doolittle, Dylan Schaffer, Jeff Shelby, Lee Goldberg, Tod Goldberg, and many others.

MoM is a 60 table banquet lunch with over 500 guests. Each author gets his own table (except for Shelby, who had to share with another author) and 90 seconds to stand up and address the entire room.

Some writers, sadly, are much better writers than talkers. Those I listed above don't have that problem (buy their books), and the conference quickly became a game of 'who can get the biggest laughs.' And there were some big ones. My favorite was Lee, waxing philosophically about his recent proctological exam, and possibly turing that into a mystery series. I offered to co-write, and proposed four titles:

MURDER IN AN UNHAPPY PLACE
IT ONLY HURTS IN THE END
HEY, WHERE'S MY WRISTWATCH?
HE STOLE MY CARS, THEN WRECKED 'EM

Laughs translated into sales. I sold out of paperbacks, and moved quite a few hardcovers. Those who spoke poorly, sold poorly.

Message from Joe: Learn to Speak in Public. Now.

There's a lot of buzz circulating about Dean Koontz's speech, and how he offended many attendees. Personally, I didn't find the remarks offensive---Koontz was purposely trying to be humorously insulting, in order to get a certain Japanese CEO to drop his name from a movie title. His goal was to dishonor the guy. The problem was in the set-up and the execution. Koontz just wasn't very funny. George Carlin is a lot more offensive, but gets away with it because he's funny.

Had Koontz spent more time showing he was the underdog, and established that he wasn't racist and did all of this to right an injustice (rather than because he simply wanted his way, which is how he came off), I think the story would have gone over a little better.

Or perhaps Mr. Koontz should simply retire this particular anecdote.

Of course, when you sell 300 million books, chances are you don't care too much about the opinions of your peers. In fact, I've only sold 100k books and I don't care too much about the opinions of my peers either. But, while I'm often inappropriate in public, I'm never hateful. Many thought Dean was.

Which brings up an interesting point. If you're going to talk in public, be aware that you might not get the reaction you expect. Whether that dictates what you say or don't say is up to you. Just be prepared to face public opinion when you're finished speaking.

Conferences are essential for writers, and at conferences you'll be asked to speak. Unlike signings, where you'll meet a few dozen readers, you can meet hundreds at a con. You don't want to turn readers against you.

Next weekend, I'll be with Dave Ellis, Blake Crouch, Melanie Lynne Hauser, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Gregg Hurwitz (who I just saw at MoM) and others, at Murder and Mayhem in Muskego.

Coming up next year is Love is Murder in Chicago February 3-4, Sleuthfest in Florida March 3-6, and the first annual Thrillerfest, June 29-July 2 in Arizona.

Thrillerfest is put on by the International Thriller Writers, and this con is quickly getting some very big names to attend. Get your tickets now, while they're still available.