by K.B. Owen, misterio press author
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!
Murder Under the Oaks: my experience at BoucherConOctober 13, 2015 at 12:16 pm
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Vinnie HansenOctober 13, 2015 at 1:23 pm
Good advice, Kathy. I especially like your idea about a vertical display for bookmarks so they don’t get buried. I’ve also volunteered in various capacities, but have not tried panel monitor–sounds like something I could manage. Thanks for the tips.
K.B. OwenOctober 13, 2015 at 2:24 pm
Panel Monitor is definitely manageable, and I think a vertical display will work well! Let us know when you implement it, Vinnie.
Jenny HansenOctober 13, 2015 at 1:25 pm
It sounds like you had a blast, Kathy! Congratulations on a successful conference…may you have enough bookmarks at the next one. 🙂
K.B. OwenOctober 13, 2015 at 2:25 pm
Thanks so much, Jenny! It was a terrific experience.
Karen McFarlandOctober 13, 2015 at 2:41 pm
I am so glad things went so well for such a sweet introvert like you Kathy. You put yourself out there and the weekend was a total success. Bookmarks aside, you pushed out of your comfort zone, met some fabulous peeps, volunteered! That was a brilliant idea. But we know your brain was never in question. Thanks for sharing your experience. ((Hugs)) 🙂
K.B. OwenOctober 13, 2015 at 2:48 pm
Aww, Karen, you’re so sweet! Thanks hon. Yep, I felt like a fish out of water at times, but mostly it was cool to look around and think: “These are my people! Finally, a tribe who GETS me!” LOL.
Kirsten WeissOctober 13, 2015 at 3:07 pm
thanks for this, Kathy! I’m going to attend my first convention next year, and I wasn’t sure how to maximize it. This is great stuff!
K.B. OwenOctober 13, 2015 at 3:43 pm
I’m sure you will absolutely rock it, Kirsten! 😉
JoAnn BassettOctober 13, 2015 at 6:41 pm
Thanks for the great advice, Kathy. I used to attend writer’s conferences and spent most of the time fretting about “was I doing it right?” I think your first piece of advice: have a goal, is a great one. Back in the day when conferences were all about “pitch sessions” (i.e. the “speed dating” equivalent of trying to get an agent or editor to take on your project) it seemed everyone was competing with everyone else to get noticed. I’m glad this has changed with the advent of successful indie publishing careers. Again, thanks for taking the time to reflect on your experience. It’s all great advice.
K.B. OwenOctober 16, 2015 at 7:51 am
Wow, Joann, that sounds brutal – and depressing! So glad things are changing.
Shannon EspositoOctober 17, 2015 at 4:03 pm
Great tips, Kathy! I love conferences. Especially getting to hang out with other writers…the most awesome group of people in my opinion. 🙂 I agree with JoAnn, glad they’re shifting. The first conference I attended in Pa. I did a pitch session with an agent and completely bombed it because I was so nervous. I actually got hives. Not a good experience. The other conferences I’ve been to since, though, have shaped my writing career in amazing ways. And I’ve come away with some great friends.. ahem, lookin’ at you, Kass 🙂
K.B. OwenOctober 20, 2015 at 9:58 am
Oh, you poor thing! I cannot imagine having to survive a face-to-face pitch session. So glad you met Kassandra at one of them! 😉
Kassandra LambOctober 21, 2015 at 2:17 pm
You have inspired me to go to more conferences in the future. I’ve been hiding from them, partly because of cost and partly because they turn this extravert into a nervous introvert. For some reason, they make me go all bashful. But the last couple (including the one where I met the amazing Shannon Esposito) were not so intimidating, so time to branch out. Your tips will definitely be helpful! Especially the have-goals and bring-lots-of-bookmarks ones. 🙂
K.B. OwenOctober 21, 2015 at 2:25 pm
So glad it was helpful, Kass! Maybe we’ll meet up again at one of them. *wink*
Kassandra LambOctober 21, 2015 at 2:39 pm
Hope so! Would love to chat some more in person!!