When to Say No

Yesterday, I was a guest at writer’s conference at a hotel out in Simi Valley. It was one of those small-time conferences where the paid attendees were vastly out-numbered by the invited authors, 90% of whom were self-published (One of the authors there was published by Ellora’s Cave and let me tell you, those hideous CG covers look even worse in print than they do on screen)

With the exception of having the opportunity to chat  with Leslie Klinger (author of the widely acclaimed and award-winning "New Annotated Sherlock Holmes"), the event was a complete waste of time. I didn’t sell a single book nor, it seemed, did anybody else. I also didn’t meet a single reader. Come to think of it,  I didn’t I even see one. The only people in the booksigning room were the authors… otherwise, the aisles were empty. I left when someone calling himself "The Peanut Man" went up to the microphone in the bookroom to read-aloud from his work.

On the drive back home, suffering from a skull-cracking boredom headache, I vowed to be much more
selective about the events that I agree to do. But it’s not easy to
determine, from the invitations alone, which events will be worthwhile
and which will suck the soul out of your body with a straw, cost you money, and take too much time away from your family and your writing.  My friend Harley Jane Kozak, who is on her way today to an event up in Fresno,  is also grappling with this issue:

I don’t have the experience to tell the waste-of-time gigs from the
worthwhile ones, or even figure out the criteria. Number of bodies that
show up? Books sold? Miles driven? Media interest? Quality of life
experienced by my husband and children while I’m on the road? Time
spent not writing my current novel? I operate on vague instincts.

I don’t judge the events solely on the basis of how many books I’m likely to sell. I try to guess whether it will be a good opportunity to establish relationships with booksellers, generate w0rd-of-mouth/publicity, meet readers, or network with other writers.

I also factor in the cost (how much will it cost me in gas, airfare, hotel, food etc.), inconvenience (do I have to drive to Fresno!?) and whether the event is for a good cause (fundraising for charity, educating aspiring writers, etc). And, finally, it comes down to gut instinct… do the organizers have a clue what they are doing? What are the odds that I will, at the very least, enjoy myself? Could any good possibly come from shlepping to Fresno?

I’m better at judging events than I used to be…but I still end up at conferences like the one yesterday, which raised $1200 for the homeless. That’s fine, but I suspect a good chunk of that money came from invited authors, who were pressured by the well-meaning event organizers to not only attend the conference, but pay $25  for breakfast. That should have been my first clue that this event was destined to suck…

8 thoughts on “When to Say No”

  1. Well, glad I missed that one…..
    It is rather sad to find out that Simi only has one bookstore (Borders) but it has over 25 Starbucks, what does that tell you?

  2. Can you get a listing of the other authors in attendance as well as their publishers? I’d think that would tell you a lot.

  3. You’re right. But these kind of events don’t always have all their authors booked when you get your invite. In this case, though, they had enough that I could have looked and discovered ahead of time the misery that I was in for. But I didn’t. My mistake.

  4. Q: “Can you get a listing of the other authors in attendance as well as their publishers?”
    A: Getting a listing of the other authors in attendance BEFORE signing up would be a catch 22.
    If the good names for the list waited to see some good names on the list before adding their own name – the list would always be empty…

  5. Great post. I’m going through a similar thing now — trying to figure out which signings, festivals and events are worth the trouble. I figure this time out, I’ll try everything and anything (within reason), and whatever doesn’t work, so be it. I’ll know for next time. An event with zero readers, however, sounds like a new level of hell…

  6. Yes, many of these are becoming new levels of Hell as an increasingly number of self-published writers lay in wait — in the bar, after conference sessions, at the signing table — to thrust a volume of their work in my face.
    I swear their freaking books have GPS tracking devices implanted that allow precision stalking, because they show up everywhere, always asking whether I had time to read the book…and growing increasingly petulant each time when I have not.
    About two years ago, I started attending events (that was Left Coast Crime in Monterey).
    I was lucky enough to have Lee introduce me to some very cool people whom I am grateful to have as friends.
    After expanding the number of events I have gone to, I have learned that the personal friendships are the primary advantage but that attending and being on panels have done very, very little for the development of my career, book sales, getting books reviewed etc.
    I believe that — other than one, perhaps two events per year — the time and money (Oh the money! $10K+ last year) are MUCH better spent on a publicist and other publicity activities.
    So, from my perspective, I’ll narrow things to one “must-attend” conference each year.
    My MAIN criterion for attending will be to renew friendships, but not to delude myself that being there will do anything for my writing career.
    Obviously this is justv my experience and your mileage may vary.
    But at a time of proliferating conferences in increasingly difficult-to-travel-to locations, I think I will attend ThrillerCon as my ONE, must-attend annual conference.
    The other optional conference — if I go to one — will be based on: friends attending, cost, time, convienience and whether or not the location fits with other promotional activities that acdtually will boost sales, reviews, promotion etc.

  7. I came to that conclusion a while back, Lew. I only attend Bouchercon and Left Coast crime…but even then there are conditions. I don’t go unless I have a book out (or coming out soon) and it’s not too inconvenient (or pricey) to attend. I didn’t go to Bouchercon in Chicago, despite having two new books out, because Labor Day weekend was bad timing for me.
    I’m not going to Left Coast because it’s in England…and the State of Hawaii is flying me to the islands to sign speak at their libraries instead.
    I attend the Edgars sometimes — but only if I am nominated for an award or I can arrange to be in NY on business at the same time.
    I am not attending the San Francisco Writers Conference this year(despite a stellar line-up of speakers) because I figured it would cost me at least $1000, 12 hours of driving, and I would be lucky to sell four books (last year, they didn’t have ANY of my books on hand when I spoke). It’s also scheduled a day or two after I return from Hawaii and that’s too many days away for me all at once. On the other hand, if the event coincided with a new book release, and other signings in the Bay Area, I could justify the shlep. I am going up to the Bay Area later this month, for example, to sign at two stores, do an interview for a website, and speak to Mystery Readers International…the drive time is the same, but it’s going to cost me far less than $1000, there’s a greater likelihood I will sell books, and it’s a chance to generate some word-of-mouth.
    I am attending the inaugural Thrillerfest Convention in Phoenix in June. I have a feeling it’s going to be a great event.

  8. I think it may be appropriate to separate the criteria for attending a “writer’s conference” from the criteria for attending a “fan convention.”
    For example, I rarely attend a writer’s conference unless–at a minimum–my expenses are covered by the organizers. I expect to work for my money, of course, by leading workshops, lecturing, judging contests, etc.
    I occasionally attend a fan convention–one Bouchercon and a handful of SF conventions over the years–at my own expense if they are close by. Although I might moderate a panel or be a panelist, I really don’t expect to “work” if I’m paying the freight to attend. I expect to hang out with people I know and meet a few new people.
    Either way, the organizers get their money’s worth from me…


Leave a Comment