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
I’ve always wanted to go to a conference, but hate crowds. 🙂
Gram – some conferences like Left Coast Crime are large, but there are other more intimate ones that are also good.
Good to see you here, Jim! I think you’ve got it right. Conferences are not about selling a lot of books (at the conference, anyway), but they give you a chance to meet a lot of your fellow writers, the majority of whom are great people and fun to hang out with, and more than willing to share their experience. You can rub elbows with your idols. You can get a sense of where the publishing world is headed. Lots of plusses! (And a lot is tax-deductible too.)
Exactly right, Sheila — and once I understood all that, my stress level went waaaaay down. 🙂
thanks Jim. I am thinking about attending Left Coast Crime in Phoenix. The cost to fly there from Toronto is pricey to say the least, plus hotel, but as you say there are many advantages.
Plus, Judy, Phoenix gets you out of ugly winter weather for a week!
Jim, you are indeed an excellent moderator! Conferences can be physically draining, but nothing beats the high of being in the company of so many like-minded fans of the genre. For authors, who usually work in solitude, it’s like having an office water cooler a few times a year. For me, LCC has just the right mix of fans, authors and craft-related programming. Hope to see you in Phoenix next year — if not sooner!
Lynne — Thank you. It certainly helps the moderator when the panel is interesting and articulate as our panel at LCC was this year. Bouchercon?
Thanks, Jim, for your words about conferences. My primary reason for attending an occasional conference (both fan and writers’ conferences) is being around other writers I find that it bolsters my energy and I return home ready to start working on my manuscript again. When you haven’t been published yet, it is so easy to become discouraged and give up. The writers I meet inspire me to keep trying.
Grace — isn’t that a wonderful aspect of the writing community — that we support each other? And the stories of how long some (now) famous authors struggled before they were first published or first recognized can indeed give us a lift when we need it.
Jim–welcome! I used to have a boss who believed you had to get out of the office once a quarter–be it for a conference, vacation or a class. He thought it improved your perspective and gave you a sense of the wider world. Writers work alone a lot and are often introspective types. Being among the human people every so often sharpens skills that otherwise might become dormant.
The Wickeds do have a lot of fun, it’s true. You’re welcome to hang out any time!
I remember having an employee who would not take vacations. I finally scheduled him for two weeks off and told him if he came in I would install a lock on his door so he could not get into his office. With MUCH grumbling he took his vacation, came back rested, and berated me for not forcing him to take his vacation earlier!
Great story, Jim! I never really understood people who wouldn’t take their allotted time off. Thanks again for joining us today, and for your financial viewpoint, too.
You’re back among us, Edith? I hope the docs are all pleased with their work and your recover quickly.
(So you’re awake?)
Even the vacation from hell provides a break from routine, where you can grow scale. Some people do volunteer work under horrific conditions, but they come back recharged.
I have only attended to LCC’s and one Bouchercon. All three were in the LA area (where I live), and for two, I even slept at home. Money has always been an issue for me, but I’m finally at the point where I might be able to branch out and attend more.
Yes, the costs don’t make it worth it if you break it down dollar wise (I’m an accountant). But they are so much fun rubbing elbows with authors and fellow book addicts. I have met a couple of authors I love as a result of these conferences, too, so they might not be huge boosts to your book sales, but they certainly do help.
Mark — One of the advantages of a major metropolitan area is that you can attend conferences like LCC and Bouchercon in your back yard. When I’m up north, I’m 3 hours from the closest city with 100K residents & 5-1/2 from Chicago — not exactly commuting range.
If I hadn’t attended conferences I wouldn’t have met Julie Hennrikus and eventually through her all of the other Wickeds. They are expensive but I think it’s the intangibles that make them worthwhile. I love your comment about our photo, Jim — I’m one lucky lady to be a part of this group.
It is a great photo — although I have to say Jessie is hogging a large part of the color spectrum with her orange when the rest of you are in purple, blues and blacks. 🙂
Nice post, Jim. I can’t afford most conferences, but when I’m able to go, I come away with valuable experiences and great memories.
If everyone expected to make money (or break even) on conferences, we’d never have any fans who went! My first conferences were as a fan.
I like mingling with other people who love mysteries and crime fiction.
It’s only been recently that I have felt I could spend the money to go to the big guys, but there are always the little, local affairs, and I go to them.
Susan — I haven’t been to a conference yet that I didn’t get something valuable from.
Kathleen — the local, one day type conferences can be a bargain and still provide the battery recharge, social and education aspects of larger conferences without the hotel and travel costs.
Welcome Jim! When I was just starting to figure this all out, I met an author who said “you have to go to Malice”, which I did. I met a lot of folks, and found my tribe. As I’ve moved along, I have differing experiences, but also enjoy being around other writers. That said, I pick and chose as well. Though LCC sounds like a great conference!
As I mentioined to Judy Penz Sheluk, LCC has the wonderful advantage of being in places that generally have a lot better winters than the N.E. and March can be the cruelest month…just when you think Spring might be arriving. BANG there’s more bad weather. That said, you folks do a rather fine conference in Crimebake that West Coasters might want to consider.
I attended a couple of conferences and enjoyed them both. I could even be on a panel at one of them, so that was fun. The best part, as you mentioned, was meeting people I’d only known online. LCC is one conference I’d love to attend. Maybe some day.
Polly — Some conferences are more traditional (aka old-fashioned?) than others and so folks without traditional publishers need check carefully about what authors they will assign to panels and what kinds of topics they will discuss.
I have to agree with you, Jim. You don’t make money selling books at conferences unless you are a BIG name. But the inspiration, the connections, the motivating spirit, and just having a fun and exciting time are huge pluses. I’m skipping Malice this year for money considerations, but going to Bouchercon because I can drive! Hope to see many of you there.
Hi Sasscer. Thanks for stopping by. I am also skipping Malice: a combination of other travel plans and that my novels are more suspense/thrillers and less traditional/cozy. I’ll miss seeing lots of writer friends I’ve made through the Guppies, though. (Guppy chapter of Sisters in Crime)
Jim, speaking of the great locations and opportunity to escape winter weather, LCC 2017 will be in Honolulu!
Hi Vinnie — yes, and I think I am going because every other day Jan happens to just mentions something about never being in Hawaii, and I’ve been to all 50 states and she hasn’t and how much fun she has at LCC…and you get the idea. 🙂
Jim, we would love to have you as an honorary Wicked! Thanks for stopping by today. Would love to check out LCC someday. I do love to go to cons to meet new people, spend some time with fellow writers, and possibly pick up a couple of new readers.
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