Sunday, April 20, 2008


I am delighted that Neil agreed to be my guest blogger. He is a fine writer, and a genuinely nice guy. Here are his thoughts on...

Conferences and Conventions

A few years ago, when I was first breaking in to the mystery field, I asked a friend who had published a couple of novels about going to Bouchercon. I’d heard that it was a big deal in the mystery community, and wanted to know more about it.
“It’s not worth going to unless you can be on a panel,” she told me. “If you’re not on a panel then you can’t have a signing, and you can’t sell books.”

I didn’t know enough back then to realize the basic fallacy in this statement. Bouchercon is a convention for fans of the mystery. If you’re a reader, as I am, then there’s a place for you, even if you don’t have a book to promote. As a matter of fact, I think it’s more fun to go to a convention like Bouchercon if you’re not trying to sell a book. You can just hang out with other people who like the same kind of books you do, listen to your favorite authors on panels, and mingle with them at the cocktail hour. If you’ve got a book to push, conventions and conferences are a lot more like work.

There are two different kinds of events in the mystery world: conferences and conventions. Sleuthfest, for example, is a writer’s conference. The panels and presentations are geared around researching, writing and promoting mystery books. If you’re a fan, you might enjoy listening to your favorite authors talk about their craft; if you’re a writer, then they can be a great chance to hear from technical experts (coroners, detectives, gun guys, and so on) as well as get insights into character development, story structure and other points to improve your writing.
You might sell a few books at a writer’s conference—mostly to your friends, to the lady you sat at lunch with, or an aspiring writer who’s interested in your niche. But the big selling point is the chance to mingle with other writers, learn from the masters, and maybe even get some comments on a manuscript in progress.

At a fan convention, though, most of those in attendance will be readers—that most precious commodity to a writer. There are three big fan-based conventions, and the granddaddy of them all is Bouchercon, where there can be upwards of 1,000 attendees. Bouchercon moves around from year to year, organized by dedicated volunteers in each city. I started attending in 2005, in Chicago; it moved to Madison, Wisconsin in 2006 and then Anchorage, Alaska, in 2007. This fall, it will be in Baltimore. Because Alaska was so far for many people, B’con 2007 was relatively small, and word on the street is that Baltimore will be huge, because of all those who didn’t trek to Anchorage last year.

Left Coast Crime is another conference that moves around, though as its name indicates it’s focused on the west coast. This year’s was in Denver, and it was a well-run event, including things like a crime tour of Denver by bus and an extra day for skiing, if you wanted. Next year it will be on the Big Island of Hawaii, and that promises to be a lot of fun.

Malice Domestic, which celebrates the “traditional” mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie (though there’s always a wide range of authors there) is held every year in Arlington, Virginia in May. I went last year, and I couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome. Even though my mystery series is a little harder-edged, the fans and the other writers were incredibly nice, and I felt welcomed from the moment I checked in.
Did I have a great time at these conferences just because I had that little word “author” on my name tag, and because I sold a couple of books? I don’t think so. I love reading mysteries, and have since I was a teenager devouring the collected works of Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Dorothy L. Sayers and Erle Stanley Gardner. I was delighted not only to meet people who’ve read my books, but people who’ve read other books I have, and who’ve read books I want to read.
In short, if you’re a writer, especially one who isn’t published yet, you can’t lose by attending a writer’s conference. There are dozens around the country, many of them sponsored by local chapters of the Mystery Writers of America. And if you’re a mystery fan, then a convention is a chance to meet others who love the genre you do.

Neil Plakcy is the author of Mahu, Mahu Surfer, and Mahu Fire, mystery novels which take place in Hawaii. He is co-editor of Paws & Reflect: A Special Bond Between Man and Dog (Alyson Books, 2006) and editor of the gay construction worker erotica anthology, Hard Hats. A journalist, book reviewer and college professor, he is also a frequent contributor to gay anthologies. His website is

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