Posted on January 13, 2014
In part 3 of my series on conferences, I’m taking a look at reader conferences. These would be number 3 on my list of value for investment, but they’re a big draw for a lot of people. I can only speak to the few I’ve attended, which fall into the genres of romance and mystery. I know there are all sorts of conferences for science fiction and fantasy, but since those aren’t my focus, I’ll let you dig into them yourself.
In romance, the biggie is RT, or Romantic Times. Another is RomCon. Ellora’s Cave holds its own conference. In mystery, there are reader conferences all over the country. Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, ThrillerFest are the ones I’ve have first-hand experience with.
In general, a reader conference offers readers a chance to meet and mingle with authors. The romance conferences are filled with social events. What does the reader get for coming to one of these conferences? Often, authors and/or publishers will host lunches, teas, or night parties. Publishers will provide books, and readers can get them autographed and have a few minutes to chat with their favorite authors. Cover models provide some man candy. In fact, one cover model, Jimmy Thomas, hosts his own conference. I’ve never been to one of his, so I can’t speak to its value (although he IS on the cover of What’s in a Name?).
The mystery reader conferences tend to be less about the parties, but they’re still filled with ways to meet authors. And, there are also plenty of books given away, and lots of opportunities to get books signed.
The basic structure of these conference sessions will be panels with a relatively loose topic. They’re designed more to showcase the authors and their books than to provide any deep content. They can be a lot of fun, and readers can get some glimpses into behind-the-scenes stories.
There might be a panel about books that include food, or dogs, or a panel about thrillers. What I’ve found, however, is that despite the title of the panel, much of the time is spent on author promotion. And a lot rides on the moderator’s ability to make sure everyone has a chance to speak. Often, a moderator will pose a question to a panelist, and after it’s answered, go down the line, which can result in a lot of “What she said” answers from the other ones.
Why are these my least favorite? First (and I’m admitting to a very small sample size, so feel free to chime in with your own experiences), getting on a panel is based on chance. At one reader conference I attended recently, many authors were skipped over while others were on more than one panel, either as a panelist or a moderator. And, let’s be honest. For an author, it’s about ‘face time’ and it doesn’t really matter which role you’re playing. You’re up on the stage and people will be aware you’re an author.
Which brings me to another point. If you’re not a well-know author, you’re not going to get much, if any any recognition. It’s one thing to be Harlan Coben or Nora Roberts. It’s another thing to be Terry Odell. Unless your name tag says you’re an author, nobody’s going to know. If you’re not on a panel, you won’t be participating in the book signings. Your books probably won’t even be at the conference book stores. You’ll meet people, but it’ll be one-on-one, and you’ll have to figure out a way to bring up the fact that you’re an author. Readers are delighted to find this out, and most will want to know more about your books, but you’re not going to hit very many of them.
On the plus side, there’s still networking, and it’s a way to catch up with people you’ve met at other conferences, or through on-line groups. I had the good fortune of meeting a book formatter, and I’ve used his services.
More and more of these conferences are becoming hybrids, with some attempts to offer both craft content for writers and interesting content for readers. Some weave it into the overall conference, like SleuthFest, and others, like ThrillerFest offer a separate event focused on craft. Most of the Big Name Authors don’t need to learn about craft (but it’s really cool when they give a workshop), but at my level, I still like gleaning things I can use to make my books better.
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society