It’s the last hour of the last day of the Bouchercon world mystery convention. This year it was in New Orleans, an “easy” (by Texas standards) drive from Austin. I’ve spent four days with 2000 mystery authors, editors, publishers, and readers.
I already knew a few, and I was fortunate to ride down and room with my friend and amazing author Karen MacInerney. But I also did my best to meet new folks.
Two primary benefits to attending a conference
I don’t get to attend conferences very often, and this one reminds that there are two particularly valuable results to attending a conference that focuses on an area of interest or expertise.
Writing is a particularly solitary activity, and it is easy to become something of a hermit, to become demotivated, or even a combination of both. I recently found that although I truly want to finish my novel, a handful of “real life” incidents crowded in and stole my drive. A conference full of others who are each somewhere on the spectrum between “totally driven and not sleeping” to “was I supposed to be writing something?” is both an affirmation and inspiring.
I found a great deal of encouragement from the many panels I attended. I chose carefully, focusing on the areas in my own writing that could benefit from the most outside influence — particularly marketing/promotion (one can never learn too much about this), messing with your protagonist (because I’m often too nice to mine), and balancing the dark and light in stories (a good story needs both and finding that balance is key).
I also left Harlan Coben‘s Guest of Honor talk with a new degree of enthusiasm. He has over thirty-five books to his credit and is one of the biggest, best selling contemporary authors. His words of wisdom touched me to my core. So much so that I wrote down two of them (and acted like a fangirl when I got him to sign my book):
“You can fix bad pages, but you can’t fix no pages. Just write. Just get it down.”
“Writing is like driving through fog. You can only see a little bit ahead, but if you know your destination, you’ll always get there.”
There’s always value in knowing others in your field or hobby. Everyone has knowledge we don’t. And finding someone with a particular expertise can prove invaluable down the road. I met authors with decades more experience than me, editors, and lots of specialists, including forensic researcher David Cook, and FBI agent Alistair Kimble.
Everyone was friendly and more than willing to share contact information. I hope someday to be able to pay it forward with authors who are just getting started, or who are still working on “only” their second or third book.
In the meantime, I’m reinvigorated about my own writing. I even sold a book in the dealers room. That might not sound like much, but I’m an unknown and there were, quite literally, thousands of authors represented in that room.
No matter what your field or hobby is, take time when you can to attend a conference. Pack and hand out stacks of business cards. Introduce yourself to others. Get cards from them. Friend them on Faceboook or follow them on Twitter. Some people view conferences as nothing more than a chance to get away from home and party hard for a few days. But that truly is a waste of a goldmine.
A conference can inspire, educate, motivate, and encourage even the most timid attendees, if they take the time to seek out and explore all the conference offers. It might even be the catalyst that leads to “the big break” and ultimate success. Will this conference now make me an overnight success? Of course not. Did I get big contract offers for Double Trouble or Virgilante? No, and I didn’t expect to. But did I end the conference a better writer than I arrived? Absolutely.
And if all else fails, there’s always Marie Laveau.