Monday, October 02, 2006

Conferences

Last weekend I attended Bouchercon, and hung out with peers and fans. I had more fun this year than any other, because I was less focused on making an impression and more focused on simply being a nice guy. That meant taking the time to meet new people, reconnect with old friends, and basically smile and nod a lot.

I wasn't on any of the big panels in the big rooms, so my crowd was smaller and mostly made up of newbie writers. This meant I didn't win over new fans with my clever banter who then ran to the dealer room to buy my books. (At conferences, the size of your panel audience is usually proportional to the number of books you sell.) Instead, a lot of newbies cornered me for advice or praise or to ask me to look at their query letter. I'm fine with that.

I heard a lot of folks talking about my 500 bookstore tour, which made me blush. Over the weekend dozens of people came up to me, to offer congratulations, ask questions, or just meet me in person. I managed to sign for a solid 40 minutes at my autographing session, which was nice.

For the very first time at a conference, I felt as if all the hard work building a brand and establishing name recognition might be actually paying off.

Which means now it's time to quit them for a while.

Writing conventions are essential for newbie authors. Go to as many as you can afford, meet as many people as possible, network and schmooze and act like a writer, no matter how published or unpublished you are.

But eventually there comes a saturation point. Instead of your presence being a surprise, it has become expected. The cost of attending, both in time and money, may no longer be worthwhile. You see the same 800 people year after year. You wind up partying with the same two dozen of them. Bouchercon for me has become less about selling books and more about reconnecting with old friends.

If I were rich and famous, I'd treat it like a holiday and have huge parties like the always charming Lee Child, inviting everyone and footing the bill. Lee doesn't come to sell books. He comes to be available to his fans. (Thanks, Lee!)

I'm not nearly at his level. I'm a midlist author on a budget, and I could be doing other things to further my career. Less expensive things.

I don't want to be thought of as overexposed. I might even benefit from people saying "Where's Konrath?" rather than "There's Konrath." There is a value in being missed.

So unless my publisher asks me to go, or unless the conference organizers decide they must have me as a speaker and offer to pay my way, I'm going to take a year off from conferences.

Is that stupid? Crazy? The antithesis of everything I'm all about?

I don't think so. I believe both my career, and the conference world, can manage a year without me. And the several thousand bucks I spend every year on travel, conference fees, hotels, and food, could be put to different use.

Of course, nothing is set in stone. If I become rich within the next twelve months, you're all invited to the huge party I'm throwing at next years' Bouchercon. Especially that Child guy. I owe him a lot of beer.

18 comments:

Stacey Cochran said...

Joe,

It was great to catch up, and what you said Saturday night at Bleak House will stay with me the rest of my life.

So, yeah, the Thai food wasn't bad.

Stacey

P.S. Incidentally, there are a bunch of pictures over at staceycochran.com, including a really good one of you, Robert Walker, and I at the Crimespree party, as well as the picture from dinner Saturday.

Robin Bayne said...

I think taking a break is a good idea. I did the same with a regional conference I used to do yearly.

Jim Winter said...

Joe, good seeing you again. And you looked a lot less stressed than you did in July.

Everyone, buy Joe's books and make him rich. Why?

No beer at Bouchercon is sweeter than the beer someone else buys.

That Spotted Cow I had on Lee's tab was great!

Allison Brennan said...

I'm sorry I missed Bouchercon because I'd never been, but I went to a writers retreat that was fabulous (and in Victoria, BC).

I understand where you're coming from, though I think conferences are beneficial for a lot of other reasons. I don't think they're just for newbie authors. But that's me. I'm an extrovert and writing is solitary--I love to get out and talk with people. But I never go with the purpose of selling books, I go with the purpose of meeting people. The ancilliary benefit is that they may buy my books, if not now then in the future.

Jana Oliver said...

Joe
I love doing conventions, meeting my readers, etc.. I love them so much I did 11 this year. But the truth is that they cut into writing time and they're expensive. I've just now made the leap to where a few of the conventions will foot some of my expenses.

It's a bummer to turn down a convention when they ask you to be a guest. But sometimes you just have to say "sorry." That way you meet your deadlines, your credit cards stop smoldering and folks don't say, "Oh, great, it's her again."

rossalexander said...

Did Stephen King, or Dan Brown, or Thomas Harris ever go through the conference/convention road trip circuit as you have done? Or can you avoid it altogether, be an anti-social hermit and just write mega-sellers?

Richard said...

Oh crap--I forgot to go to Bouchercon. Well, see you at ThrillerFest, then.

Amy said...

Joe,
You make good points here, and certainly you don't want to burn yourself out.

I think you are missing something, though. You are as good a teacher and speaker as you are a writer, and that is not something all authors can say. Did you notice how you mention that several newbies asked you about query letters? Why were there no panels on this topic?

I enjoyed Bouchercon. I have moderated and spoken on many panels at conferences about teen things, and this was one of the best groups I've had. (It included Stacey who commented above here.) I was 'conferenced out' after a bit though and was going to murder the next person who explained at length why their series is not 'cozy'.

The panels that do best, like blogs, are ones with a unique point to them. Laura Lippman said she loves talking about the Crime Lab Project because it gives her more to say than just talking about herself and her books.

You are very good at writing and teaching live about getting into the business. You have a valuable angle other than talking about your books that folks obviously want to hear.

While I think taking a break is never a bad thing, I hope you will continue to find ways to teach - through here and even local conferences where you won't have to stay overnight.

Mark said...

Ah, just trying to avoid Anchorage? You can go to ThrillerFest in July and visit your agent and publisher at the same time.

Best,
Mark Terry
www.markterrybooks.com

Tasha Alexander said...

Joe, it was great to see you this weekend! I don't know what I would've done if you hadn't let me crash on the Governor's Club couch Friday afternoon. :)

AND you're a fabulous bartender!

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Joe, it was good seeing you and I especially enjoyed your panel presentation on marketing. As I said at Lee's party, you are a master.

Sorry to hear you're cutting back, but I can clearly understand why.

Marti said...

I've never been to a conference, so I can't make any judegments. I'm sure you make a lot of valid points about expense and overexposure, but I bet you'd be sorely missed.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Thanks so much for the bartending, baby - AND the Prufrock. Highlight of BCon, I'm telling you - and I'd be sad not to see your face at at least five or six of these a year.

XX

Trish Ryan said...

You're right - absence makes the heart grow fonder. Better to be missed than to be omnipresent.

Perhaps you can style your sabbatical after Celine Dion - take the year off, then drive your Suzuki into the desert to set up the first open every night writers' conferece Vegas has ever seen. People will come from far and wide to hear you read a chapter or two, share your pearls of wisdom, and perhaps belt out the chorus to that Titanic song and beat your chest with passion.

Just something to think about if you want to keep people talking...

David J. Montgomery said...

I think it can be useful to authors to skip a conference every few years. I just wouldn't recommend they skip them every year.

This is especially true when the conference is 5000 miles away.

I actually didn't miss being at Bouchercon this year, although it would have been nice to see everyone.

Douglas V. Gibbs said...

I'm going to my first bookfest on October 14th, and my first conference (La Jolla Writers Conference in San Diego) on October 20-22. Thanks to your advice, Joe, I feel like I am going well equipped.

anne frasier said...

joe, i'm especially happy to have witnessed the duet.

my ears quit bleeding fairly quickly. really.

Creatively Self-Employed said...

great point. i've never been to a conference and while they may be useful, i can network with others just fine on my own. plus, i'm more of a copywriter, so i network for clients.

now, as a new author, who knows--i may attend.