Thursday, February 02, 2006

Love is Murder in Chicago

I go to a lot of writing conventions. One of my favorites, Love is Murder, is happening this weekend, Feb 3-5, in Chicago, Illinois at the Rosemont O'Hare Wyndham.

You want to meet some great authors? How about David Morrell, Judith Guest, William Kent Krueger, Barry Eisler, Libby Fischer Hellmann, David Ellis, Robert W. Walker, Raymond Benson, Barbara D'Amato, and dozens of others. Plus agents, editors, cops, lawyers, reviewers, and librarians.

If you're a mystery or thriller fan, an unpublished writer, or a new writer looking to make some connections and find a few blurbs, Love is Murder is one of the most intimate, laid back, and fun conferences of the year. Plus, you get to spend quality time with your good friend Joe.

Check out www.loveismurder.net for more info.

Conventions can be expensive, but they are immeasurably valuable in getting your name out there, and if you're savvy, and use them wisely, they can be the biggest bang for your promotional buck.

Here's what I do:

1. Pick the conventions that you'll benefit from most. As a mystery author, Bouchercon is essential for me. Malice Domestic, while a fun mystery conference, caters mostly to cozy writers, and I write thrillers, so I don't attend that one. You have to be choosy. And if time is an issue, you can always attend for a single day, rather than the entire con.

2. Register in advance. This will assure you get on a speaking panel, and that you pay the lowest price (most cons have early bird pricing specials). It will also make the hotel fee and plane fare less of a burden if the registration has been paid for months earlier. Most convention costs are between $50 and $175 (for the three day conventions). If money is tight, save in advance. Have a jar that you put extra change in. Give up smoking or gum or dessert, and put the money you would have spent on that towards a convention. Try to get your publisher to go halvsies with you.

3. Priceline.com and Expedia. Hotels usually offer discounts for convention-goers, but you can almost always get a better deal by using Priceline or Expedia. Priceline lets you name your own price. I recently stayed in Muncie for Magna Cum Murder for $30 a night, when everyone else was paying $95.

It also isn't necessary to stay at the hotel the convention is being held at. It's convenient, but if you can save major money by staying at a nearby hotel, do it. At Bouchercon I didn't stay at either of the convention hotels ($220 a night). I stayed a mile away ($50 a night), and also had a roommate to split the costs (so it came out to $25 a night). Often the person running the convention can put out the word that you’re looking for a roommate.

Airfare can also vary dramatically. Join the internet discount programs for all the major airlines (they send you weekly internet fare specials). I just flew from Chicago to NY for $49 each way.

4. Pack food and alcohol. Restaurants and bars are a great place to meet and schmooze, but you don't need to eat and drink there. Packing a sandwich can save you a $20 lunch. Packing a bottle of rum or a case of beer will cost less than if you spend the night drinking in the bar, and then you can invite people up to drink in your room, which will make you very popular.

I can't stress enough how much meeting and greeting is done at conventions. And if you tell a group of authors/fans/convention goers that "I've got a case of beer on ice in my room" people will follow you, and love you for it.

5. Make the convention count. Pass out business cards to everyone. EVERYONE. Bring flyers for the goodie table. Bring hand-outs. Bring chapbooks. Make sure you know the bookseller beforehand, and that they have your book. Bring extra copies of your book, just in case. Get the extra copies from a local bookseller, rather than from your publisher, because then they count towards your sales. A local indie store who likes you will order copies and sell them to you at cost--a 40% discount off cover price.

6. NEVER sell your own book unless the bookseller is out of stock. And if they are out of stock, offer to give the bookseller copies on consignment---assuming you got them at discount--- and pass the same discount off to the seller. You DO NOT want to make money selling books yourself. You want the bookseller to make money, so they like you and keep ordering your books and handselling them.

7. Carry a copy of your book around with you at the con. Hand it to people to look at. Try to meet as many people as you can--that means sitting down with strangers at lunchtime, joining conversations when you don't know anyone there, speaking to authors you've never met or even heard of, and smiling the whole time.

A successful convention won't just boost your sales, it will boost your word-of-mouth. People will talk about you afterwards. You'll be discussed in bookstores, in libraries, and on newsgroups.

If you prepare for your panels and are engaging, informative, and funny, that is the best advertising you can ever have. If you meet people and seem genuinely interested in talking to them, you'll be remembered.

You must be part entertainer, part salesperson, and part ambassador at a convention. If you plan carefully, a convention can be the best thing you do for your career.

And plan on taking a day or two off after the convention ends---you'll be exhausted.