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you can afford, meet as many people as possible, network and schmooze and act like a writer, no matter how published or unpublished you are.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.