where the writers are
Writing Conferences - Part 3 - Readers

Posted on January 13, 2014

BookshelfIn 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. What's in a Name? by Terry OdellIn 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.