A couple of days ago I returned from BoucherCon. With an attendance of 1500, it’s considered one of the larger mystery fiction conventions out there. (For those unfamiliar with the name, BoucherCon was created in 1970, in honor of mystery writer/editor/critic Anthony Boucher).
It appeals to every mystery fan along the continuum: authors, readers, agents, publishers, librarians, booksellers. The location changes each year. This year it was in Raleigh, NC.
This was my first BoucherCon. As an introvert who is most comfortable in my writing cave, I knew it was going to be exciting and challenging at the same time.
Here are a few things I learned along the way. I hope these will be of help for those new to the convention experience. I’m specifically targeting fellow authors, but many of these elements apply to anyone attending a large event of this kind.
Before the convention:
What do you want to get out of this experience? An agent, a possible contract? Connections to fellow writers, potential readers, booksellers? Spreading the word about your new release? A chance to meet well-established authors you’ve always admired? Learning from the panel discussions?
Clarifying your goals in advance will go a long way towards helping you decide how to spend your time at the convention and how you prepare. For me, I wanted to make connections with fellow authors and readers and learn more about this crazy process we call writing novels.
…and meet Laurie King! (Photo at right by fan-girl K.B. Owen).
2. Promo materials.
Chances are you’ll want to get the word out about your books, right? Well, in this environment, bookmarks rule! The numerous panels meant that two hotels were involved, with several corridors and public spaces where tables were situated. The table surfaces were absolutely covered with bookmarks, business cards, cocktail coasters, and rack cards promoting authors’ works. And readers patrolled those tables continually! They couldn’t get enough bookmarks.
I had brought bookmarks that I thought I’d be hand-delivering, person by person (which I did), but I didn’t know about the tables until I got there. In the future, I’ll be bringing many more bookmarks (and probably adding tassels for extra pop). I’ll also bring some sort of holder for them, to keep them vertical and contained. Horizontal table space is at a premium, and loose printed materials tended to slide around and get buried under other stuff.
Books: one of the nice things about BoucherCon in particular (in contrast to another mystery fic convention I used to attend) is that indie authors have the option to sell their books on consignment through one of the book room vendors. It’s not ideal (my books were only available for one day out of the four), but it is a unique opportunity, so I recommend doing it if you get the chance.
3. Forge connections.
Conventions are all about connections, and you can get started on that even before you walk in the door. For example, if you’ve been meaning to join Sisters in Crime, join ahead of time. You’ll get emails from them about meet-ups, events, and promo opportunities at the convention.
Use this opportunity to catch up with fellow writers you’ve never been able to meet in person. Find out who’s going, exchange phone numbers, figure out where you might be able to meet up. I met several writer pals this way during the convention, and they turned out to be even more fabulous in person! (Pictured below: Diane Capri, and me with Susan Spann).
At the convention:
Big conventions like BoucherCon need lots of volunteers to make the magic happen. When I got an email request to volunteer, my first instinct (being the writer cave-dweller I mentioned earlier) was to think this wasn’t a good idea. After all, I’ve never been to a BoucherCon, and I didn’t know what to expect. But then I realized that I could pick a job that didn’t require a whole lot of knowledge, and it might be a great way to break the ice and get to know some people.
And that’s exactly what happened. I served as a panel monitor twice, Thursday and Saturday. All it involved was keeping time, holding up a discreet sign for the moderator, setting out water for the panelists, and potential troubleshooting of microphone issues (which basically meant fetching someone who knew what to do). It felt good to be of assistance to writers I’ve always admired, such as Dorothy Cannell and Stephanie Barron, and it made me a bit more recognizable in a crowd.
If you can manage it, book your hotel within walking distance, ideally within the convention center itself. BoucherCon’s convention hotel fills quickly (more than a year in advance!), but I learned after the fact that you can keep calling the hotel and snag a last-minute cancellation. That way you don’t have to drive in an unfamiliar city, remember what parking garage you’re in, and lug all of your worldly possessions (including books that get heavier by the minute), which is what happened to me. Fortunately, the garage was only a block and a half away, so I used my car as a place to stow things until I needed them, and just made an extra trip or two to swap things out. Also, fellow mystery writer Susan Spann graciously let me spiff up in her room just before the Anthony Awards reception Saturday night.
3. What to wear.
There were endless variations on this, but the majority of attendees dressed in business casual. There are no hard and fast rules for this. I wore dress slacks, dress blouse, and a nice scarf. Flat dress shoes were a must for me. I have a low frustration threshold for teetering around in heels on city sidewalks and in banquet halls. 😉
4. Making conversation (tips for the introvert).
The prospect of introducing myself to strangers and making conversation with them used to scare the pants off me. That feeling has abated with practice, though I still get butterflies (and the occasional impulse to hide in the ladies’ room). When I find myself feeling this way, I do three things:
a) I remind myself that there are quite a few people like me out there. I may be cutting someone else a break by initiating the conversation.
b) It’s perfectly okay to talk about myself and what I write. Sharing what we do is a big part of why we’re all coming together in the first place.
c) If I feel tongue-tied about describing my own project, or the conversation seems to be lagging, I ask the other person additional questions about him/herself: what they write, how they’re feeling about the convention, what they’ve enjoyed so far, and so on. Being a good listener is a rare gift these days, and people appreciate it.
BoucherCon was an amazing experience, and I’m so glad I attended. I don’t know if it will translate into better visibility down the road, but it was worthwhile in many intangible ways. My final piece of advice: give it a try for yourself!
Have you ever attended a fiction convention? Any tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you!