Edith here, in surgery in Newburyport, but I posted this in advance!
I’m so delighted to have James Montgomery Jackson (otherwise know as Jim), my fellow Barking Rain Press author, here as our guest today. I love his crime fiction and his protagonist Seamus McCree, and was more than pleased to blurb Cabin Fever for him. He just got back from attending Crimelandia, this years Left Coast Crime, in Portland, Oregon, and he’s treating us to his reflections, since none of the Wickeds were able to make it this year. Take it away, Jim.
Why I Went to Left Coast Crime
Before I get to my post, I want everyone reading this to look at the masthead. Do the Wicked Cozy Authors look like they are having fun, or what? I’ve been tempted to take up writing cozies just in the hope they’d be willing to add a guy to the group. I love hanging out with them online and at conferences. Alas, I write medium-boiled financial crime novels, and although my protagonist Seamus McCree hails from Boston, much of his story occurs outside New England. I guess I’m stuck being a wannabe. Thanks for having me as a guest. [Edith: Thanks! We do have fun…]
When I was a rookie novelist, I signed up for multiple conferences and sweated bullets over panel assignments. Sometimes I received good ones; more often, as an unknown, my assignments were either the first panel in the morning after the awards banquet or the last panel of the conference when many people were already on their way home.
First Thoughts About Conferences
Initially, I went to conferences because common wisdom told me they were important for debut novelists. Eventually, my finance background kicked in and I contemplated the economic value of conferences for writers.
Left Coast Crime (LCC to its devotees) is a fan conference (as contrasted to craft conferences, which are primarily designed to help authors improve their writing). It’s not a pure split. At least a third of the attendees at LCC were authors and a number of the panels were directed toward them (how to use social media, what agents do, etc.).
The Economics of a Conference
I had to fly from the East Coast, stay at a hotel, buy restaurant meals, etc. To attend the three and a half day conference conservatively set me back $1,500. [Jan (my much better half) and I also did some vacationing around the trip, so I can’t provide an accurate number. Her costs aren’t included in my $1,500.]
No author is going to earn anything near that from book sales at the conference. My own “profit” from LCC book sales was in the very low two digits. So, having your books for sale at the conference can’t justify the expense of attending this conference—or any for that matter.
In this age of ebooks I notice a bit of a bump in ebook sales after I attend a conference. The additional royalties may be enough to pay for one overpriced hotel coffee (or soda, in my case).
It should be clear by now that expecting a positive economic present value is NOT a reason to attend a conference. Common advice suggests that authors get their first 1,000 readers one-by-one. On a per reader basis, attending a conference is a very expensive approach.
Why Authors Should Go
Economics should not drive your decision to attend a fan conference. The main reason to attend is because you are a fan of mysteries and the mystery community. (As a working author you have the added benefit that, assuming your tax advisor agrees, you can write off the adventure as a business expense!)
Last year Jan and I enjoyed a two-week train trip surrounding our first LCC, which was in Monterey, CA. We had the pleasure of hearing Sue Grafton talk about her road to publication. Let me tell you, Sue does not pull punches. We also heard Tim Hallinan on a panel and chatted with him later on. Once home, Jan binge-read all of the books in his two current series, and since Tim was the guest of honor at this year’s LCC, she lobbied to come back. (Plus she had a childhood friend in Portland we could visit.) She won one of Tim’s books during his guest-of-honor interview, but since she’d already read all of them, he is sending her a pdf of his next as soon as he finishes the edits. She’s delighted. She could have bought the book when it comes out for a fraction of the conference price, but her conversations with Tim were priceless.
What about panels? Authors may pick up a tidbit or two of useful information at a fan conference. LCC included a panel of five FBI agents that was fascinating, and the Sisters in Crime sponsored a breakfast with three invited local police representatives who provided insight into their world as cops. There are always panels with doctors and lawyers where they ridicule how TV shows portray their work. You may even find a new favorite author, as Jan did with Tim Hallinan.
It all adds to your engagement with the larger mystery community. That’s the reason to spend money to attend a convention like LCC. You can meet favorite authors, learn of new authors, and visit with friends in the mystery community. You can make connections.
For example, at last year’s LCC “New Authors Breakfast” (where I did my one-minute spiel as a newbie) we met and enjoyed the company of Anne Cleeland. Anne and I have kept in touch and this year shared table-hosting duties at the LCC awards banquet, which was a lot of fun (but cost money for the ego trip.)
Oh sure, you may be dynamite on a panel or as a moderator. (Of the conferences I’ve attended, LCC’s panels stand out for me because moderators and panelists follow well-considered guidelines, and organizers set panel assignments sufficiently in advance of the conference to allow participants time to prepare well.) I am an excellent moderator (so-so as a panelist). I know a few people have noticed my moderating skills and bought a book or put me on a “want to read list.”
But I don’t kid myself that the exposure is worth the cost. There’s an endorphin boost to being selected for a panel. When my first novel was published, it was a time of great (and deserved) celebration. Being included in the “newbie” festivities was part of that fun.
So when you are considering whether or not to attend a fan convention, ‘fess up that it’s a money loser. Once you consciously make that recognition, you can attend for the good times, and the connections, and to recharge your spirit. And maybe even sell a few books.
Best of all, you too can kick up your heels and laugh and smile—just like the Wicked Cozy Authors!
Readers: Do you go to conferences? Authors – find it worth the cost? And what else would you like to know about Jim and his superb novels? Did you know his new novel, Ant Farm was chosen for the very competitive Kindle Scout program? Ask away – he’ll pop in to answer questions throughout the day.
James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. ANT FARM (Spring 2015), a prequel to BAD POLICY (2013) and CABIN FEVER (2014), recently won a Kindle Scout nomination. (Ebook published by Kindle Press; print from Wolf’s Echo Press). BAD POLICY won the Evan Marshall Fiction Makeover Contest whose criteria were the freshness and commerciality of the story and quality of the writing. Jim has published an acclaimed book on contract bridge, ONE TRICK AT A TIME: How to Start Winning at Bridge (Master Point Press 2012), as well as numerous short stories and essays. His website is http://jamesmjackson.com.
ANT FARM is a prequel to the Seamus McCree Mystery series. In it, financial crimes consultant Seamus McCree combats the evil behind the botulism murders of thirty-eight retirees at their picnic outside Chillicothe, OH. He also worms his way into the Cincinnati murder investigation of a church friend’s fiancé and finds police speculate the killing may have been the mistake of a dyslexic hit man. Seamus uncovers disturbing information of financial chicanery and in the process makes himself and his son targets of those who have already killed to keep their secrets.
Jackson’s crisp plotting keeps the story rolling, and his complex characters feel as real as next door. Get to know Seamus, one of crime fiction’s most intriguing sleuths, and plan to stay up late turning the pages. -Tina Whittle, Author of the Tai Randolph Mysteries