Thursday, March 12, 2015

Conference Season

I, Donis, won’t be going to the Left Coast Crime conference this year. I’m sorry, too, because so many friends will be there, and Tim Hallinan, whom I greatly admire, is the guest of honor. Besides, it’s in Portland, which is worth the trip on it’s own.

Tucson Festival of Books, a huge book festival that is held on the University of Arizona campus on the same weekend, March 14 and 15. I’ve done TFoB every year that it has been held. Since I live in Arizona, I know many of the organizers and I am always set up to appear on several panels and do a number of signings. I also present a mystery-writing workshop every year which has been incredibly popular. In fact, Dear Reader, if you are going to TFoB and have always wanted to write a mystery novel, come by the Integrated Learning Center, Room 141, on Saturday, March 14, from 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm, and in one hour I’ll tell you everything there is to know about the craft.*

Many years ago I owned a small Celtic import gift shop in Tempe, Arizona. I sold jewelry and goods from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales (and Man, Brittany, and Galicia, when I could get them.) I had my little store, but I also set up shop at festivals and games all over the Western United States. In fact, if I had had the energy, I would have made more money if I had gotten rid of the storefront and spent every weekend traveling to Highland games and Irish Feis. I could have done it, too. There is some sort of Celtic celebration somewhere in this country every blinking week of the year. I could have sold my house, bought myself a travel trailer, and lived on the road. Many retailers do just that.

Working at Highland Games, Orange County, CA

As it was, I hit games half-a-dozen times a year, in Arizona and California, mainly, with the occasional foray into Utah and New Mexico. I not only made a lot of money, but setting up at festivals was a great way to advertise my shop. After a game weekend, I’d gain a fair number of mail-order customers from wherever I had been. The only problem was that however profitable it was to travel, it was exhausting to pack up the shop, drive five hundred miles, set up the shop on a field at four o’clock in the morning, run off your feet selling all day while praying it doesn’t rain or the wind doesn’t blow your tent over, then pack up the shop after the games were over and drive home.

I’ve been thinking of those days lately. I don’t own a shop any more. I write mystery novels, which is a lot less profitable but a lot more fun. I still travel, and if I could afford it, I still could do writers’ conferences and workshops every weekend of the year. Last month I spent a week doing programs in Wake County, North Carolina, with Erika Chase and our own Vicki Delany. I had a spectacular time and gained five pounds (Vicki wrote an entry about that on this very blog here. You should check it out if you haven’t yet, Dear Reader. Nothing is more delightful than gorgeous photographs of Southern cooking.) I wrote about the trip on my own blog, here, if you are interested in the details of the trip and how a woman from Arizona deals with ice and snow.

I think that it is a helpful thing for an author to go to conferences and to make as many public appearances as she can afford, mainly because it’s good to be with other authors, to learn that you’re not alone. Even the Very Big Names suffer the same fears and insecurities as you do when they write. One famous author told me that every time she finishes a book, she’s absolutely sure that she’ll never be able to do it again, and every time she starts a new book, she’s terrified that she won’t be able to pull it off.

It’s also good to get your name out there. Let yourself be seen. Learn how to promote yourself. And I must say that it’s a lot less tiring than selling jewelry in the middle of a field to a thousand
people in kilts.

The only thing is that you don’t come home from a speaking engagement or a writer’s or fan conference with bags full of money. In fact, it’s hard to measure whether the money you spend to do these personal appearances is worth it in terms of book sales. You have to pick and choose what you can afford and which conference or appearance will get you the most bang for your buck. All you can do is the best you can do.
*Sarcasm. However, I do present a technique for teaching yourself everything you need to know. My complete TFoB schedule can be seen on the TFoB site or here.


Eileen Goudge said...

No bags of money, that's for sure. A bag full of tricks maybe, which can lead to making money :) Have fun at the conference!

Donis Casey said...

I have yet to learn the proper money making trick, Eileen. I just keep pulling them out in hope one of them works.