I signed up today to attend the writers conference Magna Cum Murder in Indianapolis, Oct. 19-21. When I first started writing mystery short stories and thought about trying my hand at novels, I went to quite a few conferences. My first was Midwest Writers in Muncie, Indiana, not far afield. I met a lot of talented people, but the workshops, at that time, covered a wide range of genres and topics. Once I knew I wanted to write mysteries, I decided to go to conferences that specialized in crime novels of all types.
That’s when I discovered Of Dark and Stormy NIghts in Chicago. Oh, how I loved that conference! It was held in the oldest building on the Northwestern University campus–complete with creaky stairs and hideaway cubbyholes. Perfect for nefarious deeds. And the writers there were so friendly and generous! They made every newbie feel welcome.
Sadly, Of Dark and Stormy finally ended, and then I ventured to bigger conferences, like Bouchercon and Malice Domestic. After a while, though, it was time for me to take a break from them. I just didn’t mean for the break to be so long. Once I stopped going, I filled my summers with other things–like trips with my family and going to see my kids when they moved away.
Conferences were good for me, though. The panels, made up of four or five authors, covered topics from poisons to creating series characters to explaining how to build tension. Experts shared their hardwon knowledge. Most importantly, though, I learned that writing wasn’t just about arranging words and ideas to tell a coherent story, hoping to hold a reader’s interest. It was also a business, and good writing wasn’t enough to guarantee you a sale. Then conferences became a way of meeting people, learning about markets, and making connections. Eventually, you graduate from attending panels to hanging out in the bar or lobby to meet more people.
Most conferences, these days, make agents and editors available for pitches. That doesn’t guarantee one will want to sign you, but your odds are better if they meet you in person. Just do your homework. Go in prepared. Know what type of work that agent represents and why your novel would be a good fit for him/her.
I always come home from writing events exhausted. My mind hits the saturation point and wants to shut down for a day or two. But I also come home excited, full of new ideas and plans. The first time I went to a conference, I was so nervous, I thought I’d make wallflowers look like extroverts. But I did better than I expected, and after that, I looked forward to meeting fellow writers and readers. Because the readers are full of information and enthusiasm, too. I always enjoy listening to which author is a person’s favorite and why.
The first time I was invited to be on a panel at a conference, I said yes–thankfully–before I could freak out. But even then I enjoyed the experience. It was fun talking writing with fellow writers and answering questions from readers. And everyone was NICE. Overall, most writers and readers are easy to like. It will be fun to be a part of a conference again.