Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My Three Days at the Malice Domestic Convention

Poison, image by
Andrew Kuznetsov, via Flickr
This is from the “About Malice Domestic” link on their website:
“Established in 1989, Malice Domestic® is an annual "fun fan" convention in metropolitan Washington, D.C., saluting the traditional mystery—books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie.
The genre is loosely defined as mysteries which contain no explicit sex or excessive gore or violence.”
I don’t write traditional mysteries or cozies, and the fact that all my books are self-published made me ineligible to participate on a panel. Had any of my books been published by a large or small press, or if I’d published three short stories in any of the accepted mystery magazines or anthologies before I switched to publishing my own books, I would have been considered panel-worthy. I could have moderated, but since that was my first time going, the program director thought it would be a good idea for me to get my feet wet first. I knew that going in, and I was okay with it.

However, I was gob-smacked when I asked the attendant of the hospitality room if I could put my bookmarks along the walls with a gazillion of other writers’ promotional paraphernalia, and she said no when she found out that I wrote darker mysteries. The writers I told, some in board positions, were as outraged as I. They told me I should have put them there without asking, and the next day I did, but the slight still rankled.

All the qualifications/requirements set by the conference got me thinking: how could so many indie authors writing good books continue to be ignored, and was it fair that they were? Conferences can make any restrictions they want; it is their privilege, but has the time come to set some criteria to separate those serious self-published writers from those with one or two books who didn’t take the essential steps such as editing, cover design, or formatting to produce a professional publication? Should a ranking gleaned from purchasing venues such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or bestseller lists, whether local or national, newspapers, libraries, or bookstores, be a determining factor of whether an author should qualify to be included in conference participation? Self-published books have garnered high marks and positions on all of those venues. What about a requisite number of reviews with a minimum rating as a condition? I don’t know the answer or if there even is one. But I certainly think it’s time for some discussion. Another indie writer made the point that readers couldn’t care less who published the books they like. Or those they don’t like. They remember the authors and either look for more of their work or avoid them.

My real purpose for going to Malice was to meet friends I’d made in the online mystery community, friends I knew I would like in the flesh and did. I cheered them on when they were up for awards and was thrilled to congratulate them for their nominations and wins. I manned the Sisters in Crime table for a few hours, met more people I didn’t previously know, and enjoyed the many panels I attended. All and all, it was a great time, and I’m glad I went. But more than likely, I won’t be going back. Though I felt welcomed by the amazing writers I met, I was still left with the feeling that I wasn’t quite good enough for this particular conference.

An opposite example is Murder in the Magic City in Birmingham. It’s a smaller conference, of course, but they’ve managed to integrate the panels with both traditionally and indie published authors, and in doing so, expanded the opportunities and information for all writers. I enjoyed being on the panels in the more intimate setting. I know other conferences have adapted to the new author landscape, and when I can afford to do so, I’ll attend some of those because conferences are the best way to make personal connections.

Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Deja Vu, Threads, and two books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

38 comments :

  1. Polly, I agree with so much of what you've said about writers who publish independently. For several years I tried to interest others in a way to "mark" compelling, well-written books by self-published authors, but nobody expressed interest. I still think this has merit. Want to bat around some ideas?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Follow the money, Polly. There must be a way for Indie authors of distinction to break through.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The money is on the Indie side, Elaine, and it's still being ignored. I don't know what it will take.

      Delete
    2. There is, and it's called The Independent Publisher Award "Ippy". Eventually conferences and member organizations will have to change because the reader base has changed and they are no longer relevant.

      Delete
  3. Well, it seems the conference officially lived up to its first name. So many of us are in this position of second-class citizenship. People on the International Thriller Writers group on LinkedIn look to me as an old-hand contributor and turn to me for advice, but because I'm an indie author, I can't become a member.

    There have been a number of attempts to start a "Good Housekeeping" style seal of approval or to vet indie books for quality. The problem has not been lack of interest as lack of traction. There are too many initiatives and none gain the critical mass or recognition necessary.

    Even after we receive awards or other recognitions we are often still relegated to the sidelines.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought of joining ITW, Larry, but all the dues are free for everyone except Indie writers, and that put me off. Why should I contribute to an organization that doesn't recognize me as a writer?

      Delete
  4. Good post, Polly. I agree that who your publisher is or isn't has nothing to do with book quality or your qualifications as a panelist. I also agree that the Murder in the Magic City conference was terrific. Glad I was able to attend.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Linda, you and I know, and I'm sure everyone posting on this blog knows, that there's a lot of crap being published by "accepted" publishers, while so many really good Indie writers are being ignored and banned from participating in conference panels. I think it stinks, and I'm not shy saying so.

      Delete
    2. Polly, I just read your book Threads, enjoyed it and had no idea whether it was publisher or independently published. The quality was there. I'm an avid reader and novelist myself and I've often read sadly disappointing, poorly edited, or just plain boring books put out by the major publishers. I know the independent publishing industry is growing. The main problem for authors is that the independent doesn't have the advertising or distribution resources that a publisher has and starts out at a disadvantage. I'm hoping the popularity and easy access to Kindle will change all that.

      Delete
  5. Polly, I'm very familiar with your writing and you hold one of the two five star reviews I've given out in the past year. Publishing needs to be about quality, of book and story, not about who signs the royalty check. Your books deserve to be at the top of any best-selling list - what difference would it make if you were published by xyz press? Shame to see this attitude still exists.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Kait. I appreciate the support. Somehow I missed you at Malice, or maybe you weren't there and it's WPA where I look forward to meeting you. I do agree that it would be hard to cull through the self-published books in order to determine who qualifies and who doesn't, but they do it with published books, so I don't see why recommendations couldn't do it with indie books. Time will tell.

      Delete
  6. Excellent points. The times, they are a'changin', and I think a few years down the road, there will be more doors opening for indie authors. My first publisher was digital first, and everyone said "Let me know when you write a REAL book." A few years later, when I tell people I'm a writer (or if they see my print books at a signing), they ask "Can I get it for my Kindle?" The same is happening with indie publications ... just look at Hugh Howey's latest report. But it will take time. I tried to enter a contest I'd previously finaled in, and was told that they didn't take self-published books. RWA accepts indie authors for the RITAs. And, recently there's been blowback about the booksigning at the big RT convention because self-published authors and traditionally published authors were in separate rooms. Bouchercon is another mystery conference; I went to my first last year and won't be going back to that one because of the way it was managed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, didn't know that about Bouchercon. Next year it takes place near me in North Carolina. Doubt I'll be spending my money to be separated from "real writers."

      Delete
    2. Oh, and by the way, indie authors couldn't sign at Malice. Not at all.

      Delete
  7. And, rather than have a huge comment, I'll separate topics. I agree it would be nice to have some way to recognize quality indie books, but how? Every reader brings something different to the table, and relying on reader reviews/star ratings doesn't cut it for me. I can't advertise some of my books at various sites because they require a specific number of reviews with a specific star average. All that would do is put money in the pockets of those who sell reviews. And, somehow, seeing a book touted as "typo free" wouldn't be a compelling reason to buy the book for me. I do know I read a book recently where the editor was given credit (and even a link to her website.) That was great because the editing was SO bad, I knew never to go to her.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm laughing about the editor, Terry. I'd still rather see a few typos with a terrific story than a crappy story typo-free, but that's just me. I see plenty of typos in traditionally published books. I don't think it's a specialty of indie publishing, though I wish some authors would go the extra mile and get an editor. It unfortunately paints us all with a broad brush when one author puts out inferior work.

      Delete
  8. Hi Polly, I felt your pain at Malice and wished it wasn't so. Change comes slowly in any facet of life, and publishing isn't just changing, it's reinventing itself. Sometimes it seems to me it changes daily. I never know what I will find when I open my mail each day. Ultimately, the marketplace wins out as having the final say. Your books are top notch in my view and they should be treated as such.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Maggie. I guess the problem is separating the wheat from the chaff, and that won't be easy. I'm sure if ever a way is discovered, some people won't be happy. There's no pleasing everyone in a situation like this. But you're right, it's an evolving situation. Might be too late for me.

      Delete
  9. Polly, I agree: the time has come to end this discrimination.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Sandy, the time has come. How to go about it is the trick, and I'm sure if they ever find a way, someone will be unhappy. The caste system must end.

      Delete
  10. I went to a conference once where they had special "add ons" to your name tag: published, 3rd time attendee, award winner, etc. I thought I was at girl scout camp. But Malice and Boucheron are places where fans can meet their favorite mystery writers and I wouldn't presume to tell them how to run it. There's nothing stopping Indies from coming together to create their own Indy MWA, awards, and events. Why not?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are indie awards like EPIC and a couple of others. But that doesn't solve the problem, Diana, it only exacerbates it by separating the writers into first and second tiers. I remember in high school we had sororities, and the ones who didn't make it into the two "acceptable" ones created a third sorority, but everyone knew those girls were third best, or "add-ons," if you will, no matter how they positioned themselves. No, the main conferences need to integrate somehow. How is the key word.

      Delete
    2. And I REALLY wished Bouchercon had something on the nametags that said "author" because since I wasn't on a panel, the only way people would know I wrote books was for me to tell them or wait for them to ask. So many times, if I did bring it up, they were delighted to meet me, but it would have been so much nicer if that little extra was added to the nametag somehow.

      Delete
  11. I'm not sure whether to be less depressed by finding out so many people share my experiences and opinions, or more depressed because so many people share my experience and opinions. The "legacy" publishing world has done a huge disservice to authors -- every last one of them -- and it is a major reason so many serious writers have gone indie. Putting authors of all ilk on equal footing at conferences could go a long way to ending this disgraceful treatment, and end the unfair discrimination and uninformed, judgmental opinions. It's time for some organizers to step up and do what's right. I won't go to a conference again until efforts are made to correct a system that perpetuates such ridiculous discriminatory practices.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree with you completely, Susan. I wish you were on the east coast because Murder in the Magic City is exactly how it should be done. Bob Dugoni, Julia Spencer Fleming, and other multi-pubbed authors shared the stage and broke bread with indie authors, and no one seemed to make the distinction. Great camaraderie and lots of knowledge shared from both camps. Yes, we were invited to attend and to be on panels, so the organizers did their homework. I also sold quite a few books. It can be done. Thanks so much for stopping by.

      Delete
  12. I agree, Polly. Left Coast Crime doesn't separate indie from traditionally published and it's made for a richer, wider selection of panels to chose from, both for authors and fans.
    And I do write traditional mysteries, fitting into the Malice guidelines, but not cozies.
    Best part? Meeting you and other other authors from the East coast...putting names with faces!
    But I'm not sure I'll spend the time and money again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Full disclosure: Michele and I were roommates, and it was a great pleasure meeting her and others, which was the reason I went in the first place. Maybe I'll save my coins for LCC, Michele, and good for them. I just don't see what the problem is for integrating the two factions of published writers. We're writers first and foremost.

      Delete
  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Well, I can strike Malice from my list.

    One regional writers group I belong to made gestures toward indie authors, but there's still a class distinction. I won't be renewing my membership with them.

    Another group, Colorado Authors' League, has absolutely no publication distinctions, other than you have to have a book in print form to submit to their board for membership approval. They've impressed me so much that I'm now on their board.

    Left Coast Crime is also a terrific conference for self-published authors. The reader fans who attend just love a good story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm saving my money for LCC, Peg. Sounds like my kind of conference. I wouldn't have said a thing about the Malice policy if it hadn't been for the hospitality room kerfuffle. Since that got my dander up, and since the Malice liaison contacted me about it, I went all the way. It would be nice if it made a difference, but I won't hold my breath. Colorado sounds like a great place--except for the snow. Just can't do that again. Thanks for posting.

      Delete
  15. I'm just following the discussions. (I've read several rants). Where do the readers come in? I want the freedom to buy any book I want without Publishers or writing groups telling me the author "isn't a real writer." Bosh!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly, Marilynne. As others have said, readers just want a good story. For the most part they don't care who publishes the book. Just keep them turning the pages, whether for laughter or suspense or romance. Make them care about the characters and what happens. The problems seem to stem from writers judging writers. Bosh is right!

      Delete
  16. I can't believe there's anyone with even a passing familiarity with publishing who doesn't recognize there are multitudes of talented indie authors out there. Frankly, this almost smacks of discrimination by laziness. As you mentioned, Polly, to include indie authors would require some gate-keeping on the part of conference organizers (usually volunteers). By depending on traditional publishing to do the gate-keeping for them, organizers are relieved of the responsibility. Is this fair? Absolutely not, but that can be said of much of this business. What happens with hybrid authors at these conferences? If they participate on a panel are they permitted to refer only to books they've traditionally published? Separating indie and legacy published authors is just as ridiculous.

    VR Barkowski

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. VR, I didn't see any restrictions on which books hybrid authors could talk about. Most of the panels were themed, and authors referred to their books in connection to the theme. There was one noir writer on a panel with five cozy writers. I did feel kind of sorry for him. Later I mentioned that to him, and he wasn't at all bothered. Apparently, he goes to Malice every year. I think attending has a lot to do with the camaraderie. Sooner or later the powers that be in these conferences are going to have to recognize the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

      Delete
  17. Polly, I've only been publishing since 2006, but I can recall stories of well-known authors complaining about being put on panels with small press writers (nobodies like me). I guess everybody wants somebody to look down on. I hate discrimination in every form. It diminishes all of us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, Sandy. It's sad that writers can't be supportive of other writers, no matter where they are on the totem pole, more than likely a place they themselves occupied in the not to distant past. If you're a nobody, which you aren't, you can imagine the cold shoulders someone like me and other indies receive from those who've forgotten their climb to publication.

      The readers are the ones getting shafted because the powers that be are telling them what to read. The reviewers review very few indie authors, and more than anything, it's other writers calling the shots about who gets on what rung of the ladder. If some indie author does reach the heavens, most other authors rant about the badly written book or a dozen other things to put us in our places. I suggest they look at the formulaic stuff coming out of the big five for starters. Putting the name of a big publisher on the binding doesn't guarantee a good book.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. in the not TOO distant past. Aaargh!

      Delete

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.

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...