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If you're a mystery or thriller fan, an unpublished writer, or a new writer looking to make some connections and find a few blurbs, Love is Murder is one of the most intimate, laid back, and fun conferences of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 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. 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.


  1. Anonymous8:25 AM

    what other conventions are you planning to attend later this year? i'm hoping you'll come to the la times festival of books so i can meet you.

  2. Thanks Joe!

    Just a couple of questions: What exactly is a chapbook? If it's what I think (a spiral bound sample of the first three chapters or so of a finished work?), would it make sense to put one together from something that hasn't been published yet?

  3. Jude I'm, so glad you asked, I was wondering the same thing.

  4. I explain chapbooks at

    Published writers can use them as give-away to promote their work, either sample chapters or short stories.

    Unpublished writers don't need them. UWs should bring business cards, practice their elevator pitch for meeting editors and agents, and hand out at the bar to talk to published writers.

  5. Anonymous11:00 AM

    You're right about conferences. After attending a local conference (Book Passage in Corte Madera),I finished my book and figured out how to get an agent. Some of the workshops are incredibly valuable (Lee Child on how to write suspense, Marilyn Wallace on editing, Amy Rennert on what agents want, etc.) No one's bought my book yet, but my agent is hopeful and I just finished Book #2. If you can afford one or two conferences, I think they are worth the money. Hey, I'll see you at the Backspace conference in July.
    (This is Tammy--I met you last summer at M is for Mystery in San Mateo, CA plus sports bar afterward.)

  6. Thanks again, Joe. I read the section on chapbooks in your tips file. Very informative.

  7. Joe's probably too modest to mention one of the other things I've seen him do: in addition to talking up your own book, be sure to say nice things to people about the work of other writers who you sincerely (underline sincerely) like, especially ones who are at the conference.
    I was mightily impressed with the panel Joe was on when he made a great performance out of making the audience recite, in unison, the names and current books of the other authors on the panel. It was a classy move and long remembered.
    You can't have too many friends in this business.
    And if you ever get a chance to take in the Joe Show, do it. It's a hoot.
    Sorry I missed Love is Murder this year, Joe...didn't even know about it until a few weeks ago. Maybe next year.

  8. I agree on the conventions, Joe. In fact, I believe we met at WHC one year. My chapbook premiered and almost completely sold out at the Phoenix WHC.

    New writers can learn a lot about the biz at these cons.

  9. Those of us who go cling to the notion they're useful, but there's nothing obviously, objectively advantageous unless you do a signing and sell 200 books. It helps with word of mouth, but by and large the same people go year after year.

    That's better.

    I'm a seasoned convetion goer in another industry. Two years ago I decided to try out a smaller regional conference. The first year I went, I made no sales. The second year, I made 3 to 5 bookings to people who attended, with all the same material.

    If you seem familiar to people, if you have a chance to build a relationship with them, that's a wonderful opportunity.

    My only disagreement with Joe's advice is the sharing a hotel room thing. Personally, I couldn't do it. Glad-handing people all day is very exhausting and I really need to be alone in a hotel room for a while to re-charge.

    I think a lot of writers are introverts and if you are, be aware that a conference will add up to a lot of stress and you NEED to schedule time away from people. No-one wants to meet a grumpy author.

  10. My only disagreement with Joe's advice is the sharing a hotel room thing. Personally, I couldn't do it. Glad-handing people all day is very exhausting and I really need to be alone in a hotel room for a while to re-charge.

    That, and my wife is really opposed to the idea.

  11. Mapletree said:

    "My only disagreement with Joe's advice is the sharing a hotel room thing. Personally, I couldn't do it. Glad-handing people all day is very exhausting and I really need to be alone in a hotel room for a while to re-charge."

    I can't disagree more. I'm been to many conventions and I ALWAYS have roommates, usually more than one. I've shared with as many as four people--the more bodies you can get in that room the better (not to mention networking with them, finding out who my roomies met—had an impromptu pitch with—and who was buying what, and much more). I’ve paid as little as $19 a night for the main hotel. I usually come away paying less than $40 for a $150 room.

    Sleeping is for after the convention. I usually get a couple of hours a night (but I make sure to nap during the day when things are slow, usually about 3 to 6 PM).

  12. Great tips, Joe. Good to know, since this will be my gearing up year for the book release.

  13. After my experience of attending Harrogate Crime Festival last July, I'd have to say this is great advice. I packed protein bars to avoid the costly lunch thing - and you do need something to counter all the alcohol.

    Love the picture ja.

  14. "packed protein bars to avoid the costly lunch thing - and you do need something to counter all the alcohol."

    Good call. Also, energy drinks. Red Bull is a con-goers friend.

  15. Out of all the celebrities I could look like...

  16. Shame on you, Mark.

    You shouldn't insult John Belushi like that.

    Just kidding, Bub...ah, I mean Joe.

  17. Well, I bought business cards and $150 worth of booze. I'm ready. I'm set.

  18. See you there, Joe!

    r.j. baker said: " Well, I bought business cards and $150 worth of booze. I'm ready. I'm set."

    Party in R.J.'s room!! Wahoo!

  19. Sorry - I won't make it this year Joe - but I sure enjoyed last year - and it was well worth the trip.

    I'll be at LEFT COAST CRIME in Bristol in England in March and I believe I'll see you again at ThrillerFest in Phoenix, Arizona, in June. We're both ITW members and my latest thriller, BLOOD RED SQUARE, is on the Final List of ITW Award submissions. The 5 finalists in my category (BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL) will be chosen at the LCC in Bristol and the winner will be chosen at ThrillerFest in June ..

    Anyway, enough of that. It's my understanding (from a well-positioned little bird in the inner sanctun of ITW) that I am having a night of fine beers with you - and you are picking up the tab!

    Geez, you are so generous! I can't wait!


  20. Anonymous1:26 PM

    I think Konrath meant "put out," not "hang out."

    This is, after all, a man who puts his shorts on display.

  21. Thank you for this post. I just signed up for my first writer's conference (not this one) and I knew I needed business cards and a pitch, but not the booze, which I am more than happy to provide. What a practical list.

  22. One of the coolest people on the planet gave Joe an awesome endorsement a few days ago. If you haven't seen it already, check out Tess Gerritsen's blog post for 1/30/2006.

    I just love it when writers support each other.


Thanks for the comment! Joe will get back to you eventually. :)