Thursday, March 28, 2013

Readers, Writers, and Pressing the Flesh

Writing tends to be a solitary profession. It's just you and your manuscript. But sometimes it's good to get out and mingle with people other than your characters. When I started writing, it was all about learning the craft. I hooked up with a critique group, joined my local chapter of Romance Writers of America (even though I didn't think I was writing a romance—people recommended the organization because it covers all aspects of writing), and kept writing. And submitting. My critique group encouraged me to attend a local conference for writers, and although they practically had to drag me along, I found these gatherings of writers were wonderful places to exchange ideas and learn more about the craft. There was a kind of "relief" to see so many people in the same situation as I was. Kind of like when I attended my first "Mothers of Twins" meeting and found out I wasn't alone.

Fast-forward a few years, and I had a few published books to my name. Now, I was also giving workshops at these conferences, sharing what I knew about the craft. When I moved from Florida to Colorado, I had different "local" conferences to consider, and discovered reader-focused gatherings. I confess that when I went to my first Left Coast Crime, I expected it to be the equivalent of the Florida based SleuthFest I'd attended for years, and had to make a rapid shift in expectation.

What's the difference? At a writer's conference, such as RWA or any of its chapter conferences, or SleuthFest, which is mystery-based, it's about advancing a writing career. There are workshops or panels where published authors, editors, or agents share tips for moving forward in the industry. You don't have to be a published author to attend—these conferences are great places for networking with other authors and meeting the people in the industry. Normally, they'll have agents and editors in attendance who will listen to book pitches. They might have critique sessions. And they'll definitely have workshops that will teach you about writing and publishing.

At a reader's conference, such as Left Coast Crime, where I was last week, the focus is on connecting writers with readers. The panels will be aimed more at "tell us about your book" and if you're an unheard of author like myself, it's a great way to meet readers and let them know what you have to offer. At Left Coast Crime (which is aimed at readers of mystery), I attended panels on thrillers, setting, forensics, police procedures, humor, romance in mystery, and characters. There were, of course, many others that I couldn't attend, since I forgot to bring my cloning machine.

However, whereas in a writer's conference a workshop on setting would tell you how important it is, and would give you a "lesson" in how to develop setting in your book. At a reader's conference, the panel will be a discussion of where each author sets his or her books, and why they chose that setting. Same goes for characters, or genre, or anything else. The goal is to entice readers to pick up the books, and also to let them know you're a real, live, person.

And, frankly, it takes a different mind-set when you attend a conference like this as an author. You're wearing a marketing hat, not a writing hat. I'm not very good at that, but I did have a great time.


Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

23 comments :

  1. Great post! I'm looking forward to working with the distinctions you've drawn here. Even though I learn so much from other writers, I write, always, from the standpoint of a reader, and that's the voice I have to listen to.
    It's a little like the bit in Stephen King's Misery where a writer's biggest fan explains "the rules" of reviving a character. Sometimes the reader within each of us knows best.
    Looking forward to getting that kind of input from OTHER readers!

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  2. Thanks, James. These sorts of conferences are definitely two different animals. I've been to some that balance aspects of both (SleuthFest comes to mind), but otherwise, I think they tend to keep the programming focused on one or the other.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  3. I plan to attend Spring Fling conference next year, a conference my chapter, Chicago-North RWA, puts on every other year. It's reasonably priced, nearby, and usually has some great headliners, along with agents and publishers. Also, I can help out while there. I went to Bouchercon once and the National RWA Conference once when they were nearby, and used to go to all the Love is Murder conferences. I probably will only stick to Spring Fling conference from now on, since I'm now retired and don't have extra money to play with.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://www.morganmandel.com

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  4. Thanks for this post Terry. I've never considered readers conferences before. You've made me interested!

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  5. Morgan, you bring up that excellent point--money. Some of these conferences can get very pricey. I'm going to my first (and probably last) ThrillerFest this summer. It has a Craft Fest attached, so it's a double-duty conference, but NYC is EXPENSIVE! I'm also going to Bouchercon, which just about eats up my conference budget.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  6. Terry, when were the readers allowed to visit LCC this past week? One day or throughout? I looked for local news about it and wondered how/when this actually occurred. Were there special signing times, panels for readers or Q&A sessions? How did the reader/author interaction actually happen? I agree that a writer wears different hats when dealing with their own community, and hobnobbing with the public.

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  7. Dani, the whole conference was targeted to readers. They were there all the time--it was their conference. If you didn't see publicity, that's the fault of the organization.

    Panels went on throughout the day, every day, with brief signing periods immediately following (don't get me started on what I think of that format.) Reader/author interaction happened at the panels, in the hallways, in the bar--anywhere at all.

    If you want to see more, you can check out the LCC program here

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  8. Okay, Terry, now I know why you have 1200 followers on Fazebook and I have ... well, I'm not sure ... that's one more thing I don't understand about FB ... but I know it's not 1200. Annnnyway, you're suggesting that I should get out there 'amongst the English' as the Amish say ... not that I'm Amish ... far from it ... I'm just saying that for effect ... what was I talking about? Oh, yeah, pressing the flesh ... well, my reaction to mingling with readers is ... well ... it reminds me of what a friend who had a failing retail store once said, "This would be a great business ... if wasn't for the customers."

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  9. I've not been to any of the big cons in quite a while. Early in my career I attended a lot of writer's conferences where I learned so much about writing and the business of writing. Then for a few years I attended Mayhem in the Midlands, a mid-sized con that was aimed at readers. That was so much fun.

    Terry, I did not know you are also a mother of twins. I am, too. They were a challenge as babies and toddlers.

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  10. Christopher - At the moment my author page is only 1143 "likes". But I'll be giving away a box of books when it hits 1500, and I'm giving away a $10 Amazon gift card at Booklover's Bench this week, so maybe I'll get closer.

    I think as writers, we're all 'loners' at heart (unless you count schmoozing with our characters), but sometimes we have to remember that we want readers to enjoy our books, too, and to find them, we have to get out in the world.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  11. Maryann - yep, I've got twin daughters. I don't remember much from their first 3 years, but now that they're grown, it's a little easier. OK, a lot easier!

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  12. I've been following the LCC updates for the past six months, because I had planned to go (as much as I loathe conferences). But my hearing didn't return enough to make it worthwhile, even after Ann Parker offered me Camille Minichino's spot when she had to cancel. So all the panels had reader audience, not just other authors? And did those readers have to pay to get in? I trolled all the local online news regularly and even passionate mystery readers who are friends in the area didn't know about this conference. It was very curious. Did you have a sense of how many readers actually turned out, compared to paying author members? Did you sell lots of books? I'd like to know these things before I think about going to Monterey next year. I say this from the standpoint of someone who suffers through these events, though I know many, many authors who can't wait to go. So bear that in mind. ;)

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  13. Dani, I can't tell you the breakdown of readers vs authors vs unpublished authors, but once you registered for the conference (no different pricing structure) you could go anywhere you wanted. As for selling lots of books? That varies by author popularity. I'm an unknown, so I never expect to sell many. If you look at these conferences as a way to make money on book sales, you'll be disappointed. It's about discoverability and reach. It's planting the bug in readers' ears that you have something they might be interested in. And don't forget, we 'authors' are readers, too.

    I went because it was an hour away from my house, although I still paid for a hotel room and registration fees & meals, so even local conferences can get pricey.

    Terry
    Terry's Place


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  14. I've been to quite a few conferences (Bouchercon, Agents! Agents (Writers League of Texas), Story Circle Network, etc. Never been to LCC. I think it would be interesting to go to a conference that focuses on the readers more than the writers.

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  15. Helen, it IS different. In romance circles, the biggie is Romantic Times, and there's a smaller one in Colorado, RomCon.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  16. I really like going to my Women Writing the West conference, mainly for the people, but also for what I learn from the workshops.

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  17. Btw, Crime Fiction Collective has a post about LCC today also. http://crimefictioncollective.blogspot.com

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  18. It was great to finally meet you in person, Terry. I had a such a great time, I'm still taking daily naps to help me recover faster. :D

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  19. Sounds like it was a good time, Terry. Perhaps there will be a readers conference close enough for me to be able to afford to attend one day. I enjoy reading about where you've gone and what you've learned though.

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  20. I think I'd like a readers' conference. Understanding the mentality of the reader would help me write to that person. Perhaps next year I'll try to attend one.

    Excellent post, Terry.

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  21. Patricia - great seeing you, too.

    Heidi - that's one major difference between reader and writer conferences. There's not as much craft at a reader's conference.

    Karen - that's why I like to post about conferences; gives people a 'virtual' trip.

    Linda - you should give it a try. Reader or writer conferences, so much happens outside the panels and workshops. (Not saying I spent a lot of time at the bar ... )

    Terry
    Terry's Place



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  22. Patricia, I loved your comment. I think writers truly able to access their inner core on the page are often quite sensitive to stimuli, and a conference with all its hubbub can be truly overwhelming. Rest well!

    Terry, your "Mother of Twins" anecdote reminds me of my brother's comment when he visited with my writer's group one time. He said, "This is like AA only you didn't have to be an alcoholic first." He said he'd never experienced such a supportive group of people.

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  23. Kathryn - I agree. The mental stimulation at conferences leads to 'conference brain' and it's exhausting, especially for people who are used to being/working alone.

    Anyone who's had twins knows how much they need support! I can't imagine triplets or more.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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