Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A Newbie's Guide to Writing Conferences

For those who don't know, there's a wonderful mystery magazine called Crimespree that Jon and Ruth Jordan publish six times a year.

Each issue is crammed full of good stuff: Fiction, articles, pictures, reviews, and lots more. I've written a few things for them, one of which was released in a limited collector's edition for the Love is Murder conference.

I believe that writing humor is harder than horror, action, romance, suspense, or mystery. Let me know if I succeeded with this:


The Newbie’s Guide to Writing Conferences

Every year there are dozens of writing conferences. If you’re a fan of mysteries and thrillers, 2006 brings you Love is Murder in Chicago, Sleuthfest in Ft. Lauderdale, Bouchercon in Madison, Thrillerfest in Phoenix, Left Coast Crime in Bristol, Men of Mystery in Los Angeles, Magna Cum Murder in Muncie, and a slew of others, many of which suck.

What can you expect when you attend a writing convention? How can you make sure you get your money’s worth? Will you get a chance to corner David Morrell and ask him to blurb your new manuscript, “The Speech Impediment Murdererererer”? (David loves this, by the way. Try to approach him when he's eating, or in the bathroom.)

Reading this short article will fully prepare you for anything a conference has to offer. It might even save your life.

REGISTRATION - If possible, buy your conference pass in advance. Bring proof of your registration to the event (a Paypal receipt, a copy of the letter saying you’ve been confirmed, your hard drive) because there’s a 90% chance your registration was lost, and the people running the conference will have no idea who you are. A much easier, and cheaper, tactic is to simply buy a nametag and a black marker. Stick it on your chest when no one is looking, and you’re in.

THE HOTEL - If possible, stay at the hotel. After the days’ events are through, there are always exclusive parties where you can get free food and drink and meet cool people. You won’t get invited to these parties, but you can hang out in the hallway with your ear to the door, and listen to J.A. Konrath make a fool of himself. Actually, you probably won’t need to put your ear to the door to hear that. J.A.’s pretty loud.

WHAT TO WEAR - The fashionable conference-goer wears business casual. Comfortable shoes are a must, because you’ll be walking a lot. A book bag is a great accessory. Not only can it hold books, but also an emergency fifth of vodka (do you really want to pay $9 for a martini at the hotel bar?)

AUTHOR SIGHTING - Imagine it: You’re in the lobby, putting the cap back on your vodka, and suddenly William Kent Krueger appears out of nowhere. Do you just run up to him, squealing like a schoolgirl, and beg him to sign your paperback copy of IRON LAKE that you’ve read 36 times, the last time aloud to your pet parakeet that you named Cork O’Connor? The answer: NO! Kent is a bigshot author, and they all hate signing paperbacks. Go to the bookroom and buy a hardcover first edition. When you approach him, make sure it’s on your hands and knees, because you are not worthy. Address him as “Mr. Krueger” or “Sir” or “Your Highness.” And NEVER make direct eye contact. He’s far too important to look at you.

In contrast, if you spot David Ellis, feel free to bring him your paperback copy of LINE OF VISION. Dave will be thrilled to sign that. He’ll also sign other authors’ books, cocktail napkins, food products, and basically anything but the check.

PANELS - If you’re an author, you need to speak on a panel. But it’s too late to sign up for one now, bonehead. They’ve already printed the programs. If you are on a panel, there’s only one important rule to follow: Make sure you’re on a panel with Barry Eisler. Barry is the one with the gaggle of drooling women following him around, hoping he’ll suddenly keel over so they’ll get to administer CPR. Don’t expect anyone to remember a single thing you’ve said when you’re on a panel with Barry, but at least you’ll be speaking to a packed room.

FOOD - Conference food is usually barely edible, but it’s expensive to compensate. That’s why all of the popular authors usually go out to eat at the trendiest restaurant in the area. It’s very easy to get invited to one of these exciting outings, where industry gossips flows fast and loose, and Barry often takes his shirt off and dances the lambada—the dance of love. If you want to go along, all you have to do is write a NYT Bestseller. If you haven’t done that, then you’re stuck with the hotel food. Be sure to try the potato salad. Is that potato salad? It might be rice pudding. Or lamb. Or a big dish of pus.

ITINERARY - There are many things to see at a conference, and often you’ll be tortured by the dilemma of two good panels happening at the same time, and no idea which to attend. The answer is easy: Attend both of them. Authors love seeing scores of people leave the room while they are talking–they believe they’re being so effective, the crowd is rushing out to buy their book. Try to do this five or six times per hour, and make sure you open and close the doors extra loudly. Also, take that extra time between panels to talk on your cell phone. If your conversation carries on into the panel room—it’s okay. His Higness Krueger will forgive you.

WHERE ARE THE AUTHORS? - You’ve been trying desperately to get Robert W. Walker’s autograph, but he’s been missing in action for two days. Where is he? He’s in the hotel bar. In fact, all of the authors are in the hotel bar. If you want to spot your favorite, arrive early while they’re still coherent. In Rob’s case, I challenge you to figure out when that is.

THE BOOKROOM - This is the most important room in the whole conference. Here, you’ll find all of the books by all of the authors in attendance, expect for the one book you truly want to buy. They’ll be out of that one. But don’t worry, there will be plenty of pristine, unsold, unread copies of WHISKEY SOUR. Plenty of them.

BARGAIN HUNTER TIP - All the paperbacks in the bookroom are free if you simply rip off the cover beforehand! Don’t be bashful–the booksellers love it!

ETTIQUETTE - It’s during one of the delicious buffet-style meals. You’ve got your plate piled high with something that might be meat in gravy, and you’re searching for a place to eat and see an empty chair between Judith Guest and Libby Fischer Hellmann. Do you dare ask to sit there? In a word, NO! That seat belongs to someone a lot more important than you are. Go sit by Jon and Ruth Jordan, who publish this magazine. Always plenty of chairs around them. The surrounding tables are usually free too.

ATTENDEES - Conferences are a great place to meet new people who share common interests. They’re also a great place to get abducted by some weirdo and killed with a blowtorch. Wise convention goers avoid talking to anyone else, at all times. Try to keep some kind of weapon on you. They sell $59 letter openers in the hotel gift shop, right next to the $42 tee shirts and the $12 bottled water. If you’re an author, save the receipt—it’s deductible.

Or try carrying around a plate piled high with that stuff they served at lunch–the stuff in the gravy. That way, if someone tries to assault you, you can say, “Hey! I’m eating!”

AWARDS - At most conferences, the writers like to congratulate themselves by giving each other awards. They usually do this over a nine course meal that takes eleven hours, and a cash bar that charges so much for a Budweiser you’ll need to put it on lay-away. Be sure to congratulate the lucky winners. It’s also a lot of fun to go up to the losers and congratulate them for winning, and then pretend to be confused when they tell you they’ve actually lost. Do this two or three times to the same loser. They’ll start to find it funny, eventually.

CONCLUSION - Remember, if you want to have a good conference, that responsibility rests squarely on one person’s shoulders—the person running the conference. Be sure to complain about every little thing, at any given time, even if it’s something they can’t fix such as, “The carpet is too soft” or “Robert W. Walker touched me inappropriately” or “I hear voices in my head.” Demand a refund. Threaten to contact an attorney. And above all, remember to have fun.


James Goodman said...

That was outstanding. I can't wait to sign up for my next con.

Jude Hardin said...

Come on, Joe. Be truthful here. There are no weirdos with blow torches at conferences.

They all carry belt sanders.

Nice piece.

JA Konrath said...

Funny stuff, Mark. :)

Maia Sepp said...

“The Speech Impediment Murdererererer”



Lainey said...

Sounds like a good investment to me!

Anonymous said...

Oh, Joe, you do make me laugh!

Jennette Marie Powell said...

LOL! You forgot to mention one useful tip for unpublished authors - Be sure to take a complete copy of your 800-page ms in case an agent or editor wants to read it on the spot. It's particularly considerate to slide it under the stall door while the agent/ed is on the john, in case s/he needs some reading material.

Jude Hardin said...


This is just a little sarcastic article. It's not meant to be an autobiography.

Anonymous said...

Geez, Joe. I have got to stop reading your blog first thing in the morning while drinking I need a new keyboard...sans coffee!

And are as much of a hoot as Joe.

Thanks guys I needed this!

Heather Brewer said...

Sorry, Joe. Could you repeat that? I totally spaced out after "Barry often takes his shirt off and dances the lambada".

Jennette Marie Powell said...

Jude, ha ha. I've never done anything that interesting. I'll be sure to take my belt sander next time.

Diana Castilleja said...

Absolutely hysterical! I will take it all to heart.. **snort**.

Nancy Henderson said...

Your post couldn't have come at a better time (signing up to attend my first RWA National conference).