Thursday, May 08, 2014

Big Fish

I, Donis, am honored to be writing the 2001st blog entry for Type M 4 Murder today, which is to say that after Barbara's excellent post of yesterday, it's now back to business as usual.

And business as usual for we Type M-ers entails pondering on the vagaries of the writing life. I've been following all the lovely Facebook entries from the people who were lucky enough to attend Malice Domestic last weekend. Malice, for those of you who don't know, is a huge annual "fun fan" convention saluting the traditional mystery. The conference is held every year in Bethesda, MD, and is quite the deal. I was there last year and enjoyed it very much. Learned a lot, sold some books, met many friends, and found out there are actually people on the East Coast who have heard of me and my series. Excellent for the ego when that happens.

I didn't get to Malice this year. This year I was honored to be asked to be part of the faculty for the Oklahoma Writers' Federation International annual conference in Oklahoma City. I gave a talk on living the writer's life, and two workshops; one on constructing a mystery novel and one on general plotting. Since my series is set in Oklahoma, and the organizers offered to pay me actual money to attend, I opted for the regional conference this year rather than the national conference. The OWFI conference is for writers of all ilks. It is wonderfully run and very large, drawing many hundreds of attendees from Oklahoma and neighboring states, and offering dozens of sessions and workshops about writing and publishing.

I think I made a good choice.

 Lots of OWFI attendees discussing writing between sessions.

When my first book, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, was just about to come out in 2005, I asked my editor what she thought would be the most effective actions I could take to publicize my work. Attend Bouchercon? Do a national tour? Hire a publicist? Her advice was to concentrate on activities in Oklahoma and environs, at least at first, because readers are always interested in reading about a place they recognize and people they are familiar with. This advice has done me well. Over the past decade I have attended conferences all over the country and done books tours all over the Western U.S. I receive fan letters and notes from everywhere in the wide world, but when I do anything in person, I always draw a bigger audience when I'm in my home territory of Oklahoma and its sister states of Kansas, Arkansas, and Texas. The only book in the series that did better here in Arizona than it did in Oklahoma was The Wrong Hill to Die On, which was set in...you guessed it...Arizona.

So here is what I would advise anyone who asked me about promotion. Concentrate your activities on whoever your audience is. My books are regional and historical and seem to strike the loudest chord with those who are familiar with the time and place (though I get a fair number of readers who are simply fascinated with life in pre-World War I Southwestern United States). If I were writing a series about a gourmet chef, I'd be hunting out foodies. Fashion for fashionistas, racing for race aficionados, genealogy for family historians, apple farming for Washingtonians. This is not to say that others aren't interested in whatever you write about, and as time goes out it's very good to expand your publicity efforts. But since there is only so much time and money to go around, spend it to build your base, especially when you're starting out.

I had a tremendous experience at the OWFI conference. Rather than being a little fish at the national pond of Malice Domestic, I was a bigger fish in the regional pond of the Oklahoma Writers Federation conference.

p.s. I don't want to clutter up this post, but if you want to know more, I wrote about my experiences at the conference on my own website, here, including a couple of very odd pre- and post-conference happenings that left me bruised in body and in ego, but unbowed.

7 comments:

Barbara Fradkin said...

I agree about the small, personal conferences, Donis. Unless you are already a huge name, it's very hard to get noticed at the big conferences like Malice and Bouchercon. Left Coast Crime is a wonderful, intermediate-sized conference which allows lots of chances to connect personally with book lovers, and as a Canadian, Bloody Words is has been invaluable. Too bad this is the last year!

Tina said...

Left Coast Crime is my favorite for lots of reasons, including the ones that you mention. I am also partial to the smaller one-day conferences, like Atlanta's Murder Goes South.

Eileen Goudge said...

I've done many regional conferences through the years and have found them to be better attended and more fruitful for me, in terms of broadening reader base and selling books, than the ginormous national conferences at which you can get lost in the shuffle. Yay to grassroots power!

Donis Casey said...

Left Coast is one of the few relevant conferences I've NOT attended. I'll have to correct that post haste.

radine said...

As someone who has attended Oklahoma Writers' Federation Conferences in Oklahoma City for over thirty years (this was the event's 45th year), I read this blog post with a song in my heart. Donis caught the best aspects of OWFI as well as the reasons to attend conferences close to home. I attended all three of Donis's sessions this year and they were the most interesting and informative of the entire conference for me--a mystery writer. Like Donis, I have learned that my book sales are best close to home. (In this case, that's Arkansas.) The conference is close to my heart for all the reasons Donis gave, plus the fact my writing, both fiction and non-fiction, has won several awards there. I have been able to attend Malice once, and loved it, but its location on the east coast is a fur piece to travel. I am doubly grateful for OWFI and other regional conferences.

Di Eats the Elephant said...

It would be great to have a listing of all the small regional conferences. I'm in Oklahoma City now and never heard of this conference and my novel is set in Atlanta and I had never heard of its conference before either. I have been to Bouchercon when it came to Ohio when I was living there and to Left Coast Crime when I lived briefly in Colorado Springs last year. So the big conferences were local for me each time. What helped me wad that I went to the Writer's Police Academy in NC the month before Bouchercon and Lee Child sat at our table. We weren't instant friends but I managed to talk to him. In the hotel lobby at Bouchercon, he kindly introduced me to Alamance Burke, whose books and father I admire greatly, who introduced me to Michael Connelly and others. I did go up to Lee Child at WPA and shake his hand and thank him for Jack Reacher when I had the opportunity. I am by nature shy but learned years ago that I have to smile and put my hand out and day Hello if I want to meet someone. All the authors I walked up to were charming. I loved every one of them. That daid, LCC is definitely intimate between fans and writers. I wish I could have gone back this year to see Brad Parks in his tux as emcee. I am perhaps not good at followup but baby steps are how to eat the elephant.

Di Eats the Elephant said...

Alafaire Burke....