Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Conventions - Are They Worth Attending?

I’m back from Malice Domestic, my last convention of the year. While I’ve enjoyed the conventions I’ve attended, I’m glad to be home with no plans to travel in the near future. The last couple years I’ve done a painting convention in Las Vegas end of February/early March, Left Coast Crime in Hawaii/Reno a couple weeks later, and Malice Domestic end of April. I’m now reassessing my attendance at mystery conventions. Are they worth the expense and time away from home and writing?

Up until last year when LCC was in Hawaii, I only attended once before when it was in Downtown Los Angeles, a 45-minute drive. LCC often coincided with my painting convention, which won out because, well, I have my priorities. But the lure of Hawaii and the timing around my birthday made this a must attend event. I signed up for LCC in Reno for two reasons: we could drive there and one of the guests of honor was a friend. I had some great conversations with fellow authors at both events, but I’m not sure I picked up any new readers.

This was my fifth Malice and my favorite so far. Even though it was held at a different hotel this time around, I still felt like I was coming home, so to speak. I know a lot of people who attend and I feel like I belong there more than at other conventions. Cozy/traditional mystery are the books I enjoy reading most and the kind of stories I enjoy writing. Sometimes, at LCC and Bouchercon (I’ve attended that one once when it was in Long Beach), I almost feel like I have to apologize for writing the lighter side of mystery. Not so at Malice.

I think I also enjoyed it more because I filled my time with a lot of different things. I did the Malice Go Round (aka speed dating with authors), attended the Sisters in Crime breakfast for the first time, was on a panel, did a Facebook Live interview and co-hosted a table at the Agatha Awards banquet.

The banquet is my favorite part of the event. I never thought I would say that. I’m not good at small talk, but I always seem to have a good time there. This time around, I teamed up with Agatha award nominee Kathleen Valenti and co-hosted a table. Turns out I’m much better at small talk when I’m a host. I feel like it’s my responsibility to make sure everyone has a good time so that seems to get me out of my shell.
Giveaways for our table. Missing is a pill bottle filled with M&Ms from Kathleen. Give me M&Ms and I eat them!

Another reason I enjoy Malice is I get to see my Henery Press peeps. While we stay in touch online, it’s nice to see them in person. How many HP authors attend depends on the year. This time around it was 14 or so. We attend each others panels, get together for drinks and compare notes on writing and the publishing world.
Henery Press at Malice. Photo taken by Eleanor Cawood Jones

I also enjoy going to Washington, D.C., and taking some time before the convention starts to go to a museum or two and just walk around. We often visit the pandas at the National Zoo.

But, it’s a long flight across the country and not exactly cheap. Still, if I were to attend only one convention a year, it would be Malice. I feel like I’ve picked up some readers there and I enjoy talking to readers as well as authors. I know many authors who don’t attend any conventions, saying it’s not worth it. They don’t sell enough extra books to warrant the time and money spent. I certainly don’t get my “money back” in sales. For me, right now, it’s more about exposure and about feeling like I’m part of a community.

Still, I’ve pretty much decided I’m cutting down on mystery conventions next year. I won’t be attending LCC, but I’ll most likely do Bouchercon since it’s in Dallas where my publisher is. While I enjoy Malice, I’m still on the fence about attending next year. I have plenty of time to decide.

What about you writers out there? Do you think conventions are worth attending?


Michael Bracken said...

I'm primarily a short story writer, so I don't attend conventions in the hopes of selling copies of my books to interested readers. I attend to meet other writers, to talk shop, to play poker, and to visit parts of the country I might not otherwise ever visit.

Sometimes, though, good things happen unexpectedly. At my only LCC (in Santa Fe), I met an editor and have since placed stories in several of his anthologies.

At Bouchercon Toronto I met a publisher for whom I will be editing an annual anthology series and an editor who subsequently invited me to contribute to two anthologies.

At this year's Malice Domestic I met four editors and one publisher (three I've previously met; two I had not) who have published my work and one (mentioned above) who is about to. Perhaps it's a coincidence, but within a week of returning from Malice, I received acceptances for four short stories sitting in those editors' slush piles. I also left the convention with the possibility of working on a collaborative project with one of them.

So, yes, attending conventions is clearly worthwhile.

Sybil Johnson said...

Hi, Michael. Sounds like you've had some wonderful things happen from attending conventions. I attended the panel on Malice that you moderated with the Short Story nominees. Very interesting!

Christine said...

I enjoyed Malice Domestic a lot - and Michael and his wife were some of the people I enjoyed meeting. If it leads on to publishing opportunities that is a bonus, but mostly I go to meet old friends and make new ones and to visit interesting places.

Sybil Johnson said...

Visiting interesting places is definitely a draw for me.

Anonymous said...

Conventions are great for networking, good for boosting book sales and I like any place where someone else makes my bed.

Sybil Johnson said...

Yes, someone else making the bed is good.