Dying Conferences and Conventions….

Last May a conference died.  Present at the wake were conference volunteers and members of the board of Mystery Writers of America, Southwest Chapter.  Eulogies were said over “Hardboiled Heroes and Cozy Cats,” the conference with the mouthful title that has been chapter-sponsored with great success for many years and was  scheduled for  June 19 and 20 this year.

I didn’t travel to any of the HHCC conventions in Houston, the long-time venue, but was present at the first one held in  Dallas in 2007.  Huge  success, well attended.  Cindy Daniel, a real fireball worker, was the main driver, ably assisted by Mike Kirkpatrick.  A smoooooth event enjoyed by all.

In 2008 the conference, a moderate success, fell in a financial hole.  Income didn’t cover expenses.

2009.  We had big dreams, great hopes.    The chapter board and volunteers worked against a tide of difficulties to pull their conference together.  Major speakers were on board, including Doug Lyle and a retired FBI agent.   Though widely scattered over the chapter’s four-state area, workers and board members held one conference call after another to iron out details.  We took baby steps forward and spent hours on the phone.  A little over a month before the opening date we had 21 registered.  Cancellation was a mandate.   After a tussle with a hotel that wanted something over four thousand dollars in cancellation fees, the Ft. Smith school system closed because of a swine flu scare.  The cancellation fee was waived.  Though we had given the event plenty of our time,  at least we weren’t out money.

Twenty-one registered!  A conference that had previously drawn a hundred or two attendees couldn’t even get some of the volunteer workers to sign up and pay.   From what they said, the economy was definitely a factor.  Some promised to register and pay at the last moment.  Others asked about giving a credit card number to hold a registration and not activating a bill until the opening date.

Fast forward to now.  Midwest Mysteryfest,  sponsored by the Sisters in Crime Greater St. Louis Chapter at St. Charles Community College. The conference was skipped last year in favor of the chapter-sponsored Forensic University, but had been  held with success in earlier years and was scheduled for September 25 and 26 this year.

Midwest Mysteryfest died yesterday.  25 had registered, including panelists and speakers.  Organizer Jo Hiestand figured there would be 4, max, in the audience at each panel.  (Three tracks had been planned.)  Would scheduled agents want to travel long distances to hear only a few pitches?

This is scary.

I can’t verify, but have heard that attendance at almost all regularly held mystery conferences or conventions is down, from Malice to Mayhem.  Final figures aren’t in yet for Bouchercon.

WHY?  What’s your idea?  We already know the economy is a factor.  But what else?  Proliferation of available events?  Maybe.  But here’s something I haven’t heard mentioned before.   The Internet.   Could the availability of promotion activity on all kinds of lists and social networks be keeping people at home…saving money and giving them the feeling they are promoting actively on line when they previously used conventions as one way to make contacts and  get their names and their writing before the public?

Do these people yet miss contacts with other humans, face-to-face?   Do they have any idea they ARE missing something?  ( I admit I have good friends, Internet friends, I have never seen in person.)

Will the Internet kill many of our conventions?  And then, what else?

What do you think?

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36 Responses to “Dying Conferences and Conventions….”

  1. Sandra Parshall Says:

    I don’t think the internet is to blame. It makes book promotion possible for writers who don’t want to attend conferences even if they can afford to, but I don’t think it replaces conferences. It’s the economy… well, I can’t call you stupid, Radine! 🙂 And we have to remember that the majority of attendees at any conferences are readers (many of whom are aspiring, unpublished writers). They don’t have a solid business reason for attending, they can’t write off the cost on their tax returns, so they’ll stay home when money is tight.

    I think you hit on something else that’s important when you mentioned the proliferation of conferences. They’ve been popping up all over the country for years, and no writer can attend all of them, so the effect has probably been to lower the number of writers who attend any single conference. Bouchercon remains the big one, but it’s been bigger in the past than it will be this year.

  2. carl brookins Says:

    Sad about the demise of conferences. I believe there are two factors right now, one being concerns over the flu bug. The state of the economy right now is the bigger gorilla in the dining room. Other factors affect attendance. Conferences are becoming too routine, perhaps. Many of the same folks provide the same panels year after year. Yes, there are always new ears and eyes, but they aren’t enough to draw sizeable audiences.

    On the other hand, I think there are some solutions. With the exception of a couple of big cons (Left Coast and Bouchercon) most cons could be smaller, with even single tracks. The other thing that would help is new ideas, new platforms, less reliance on name authors to be the draw and more on information sharing. ex. Continuous Conversations. Creative Process. (give an author a scenario and get instant response) Who are You? (Authors reveal their real selves)

  3. Sunny Frazier Says:

    I’m crossing conferences off my list that have crossed me off theirs–meaning the ones who have the “MWA Approved List of Publishers” as guidelines for who will speak and sell.

    I still attend Left Coast Crime, which has declared the new practice “draconian.” Although with a small publisher, I was on two panels and sold all my books. I was willing to foot the airfare, fees and hotel just for a chance to present. From that conference, I was invited to Bloody Words in Canada. They don’t seem to discriminate.

    I have no sympathy for folding conferences. By creating a division between authors, the organizers have lost many attendees who were also authors. They bit the hand that fed them.

    I heard a “big name” author state in a memo that we were stealing her profits with our sub-par books. I no longer buy her books and discourage others from doing so.

    There had to be repercussions. Didn’t anyone see this coming?

  4. Tony Burton Says:

    I don’t know the specifics about HHCC and Midwest MysteryFest, but one thing that has bothered me is the occasional antipathy toward small-press authors that is often exhibited at these events. I just attended Killer Nashville, and was pleasantly surprised at the reception accorded my press’s books. People were happy to see me, and I moderated a panel–even though my press is not on the MWA approved publishers’ list and the event was co-sponsored by SEMWA and SinC.

    Granted, I was not able to get my books into the book room because of some inflexibility on the part of the bookseller (Barnes & Noble), but I was still able to sell books at my signing table… and didn’t have to give up the bookseller’s cut that way, either!

  5. James Gaskin Says:

    I know one reason HHCC died – nobody understood the need for e-mail marketing early and regularly. I talked Vertical Response into giving me a free account so I could send as many e-mails to as many potential attendees as we wanted, all for free. I had a budget of 10,000 e-mails and could have gotten more if needed.

    I begged for weeks and weeks for names to send e-mails to. Finally, I received a tired list of less than 400 e-mail addresses, and 67 of those bounced so they were old or no longer used. Names from local bookstores? No. Names from other writing groups beside MWA? No. Names from publishers? No. A short list of names that didn’t even include many of the attendees from the year before was all I got, and I got those names two or three months late.

    My favorite action by MWA regional? I was told not to do another mailing, because so few people had signed up. Yes, stop marketing because we don’t have enough customers. Genius.

    I, and several others, offered time and again to work for the conference. Nobody asked, and nobody answered when we asked what the hell was going on.

    Don’t say the HHCC “died” for some unknown reason. It was starved and neglected and mismanaged to death.

  6. Sylvia Says:

    Can’t help but agree with you Tony. Several of the organizations have so limited the offering from small press authors that it almost comes across as elitist. Decisions made by such organizations, although made with good intent, can oftentimes backfire. Hopefully these organizations will re-think their decisions and return to the grand glory days of conference.

  7. Shirley Says:

    I think the economy, as well as the easy accessibility of the internet is part of the problem. I’ve noticed a lot of Virtual Conferences being advertised lately. While the cost of the conference is usually minimal compared to In Person Conferences, you also save the expense of travel, motel and food.

    Like you, Radine, I have a lot of “equaintances” I’ve never met in person. But honestly, I’d still enjoy the occasional In Person conference. I hope they don’t all fade away.

  8. Lyn C. A. Gardner Says:

    I just learned with disappointment that Dying to Write 3, for which I’d registered, was cancelled.

    I don’t know about the Internet deterring attendees. I actually attend MORE conferences now because I am hearing about them online, and making online contacts and friends whom I’d like to meet in person. I think both venues are valuable. I hope that conferences pick up again once the economy improves. Maybe it would help for conferences to include a meter that showed potential attendees where they stood with registrations. If interested people knew that only their vote–their actual registration–would make that conference happen, they might be more likely to register in advance–or even to decide to come this year instead of waiting till next year, to keep the conference alive. Perhaps more interaction in programming would also improve attendance: if early registrations (*very* early) had the chance to vote on which programming tracks to pursue, this might also spark interest. Even taking public polls–and spreading the word online to all potentially interested online venues about such polls, on multiple platforms–about which of several programming tracks to pursue–might help get people excited about conferences and conventions during a time when there’s a lot of competition for their attention.

    Actually, that calls to mind something else. The economy is a factor these days in every decision many people make. But it’s also a factor in that there are a lot of calls for help. I used to try but can no longer afford to help all the bookstores and writers in need putting out calls for help and donation campaigns over the Internet. Maybe we’re all just being stretched too thin during times that are already hard for everyone. Wait till the dust settles and try again.

  9. Angela Wilson Says:

    Some of the conferences I want to attend are simply too expensive – especially right now. Some too often repeat speakers and topics, so I don’t need to attend each year – only every three years or so.

    It would be nice if there were smaller, regional conferences that didn’t rely so much on paying big names to make it, as offering needed information for writers in that region. It could be a day conference in a central location, with a single track. These would also be better places to network, because large conferences are simply too big, sometimes, to be effective at meeting others in publishing.

    With technology, there is no reason why you cannot set up a screen with a SKYPE conversation with an agent in NY while you meet in Nebraska. You could have online panel discussions. Shoot, using uStream or other live stream sites, you could have a conference online for a lot less cost. It would save a TON of money and the authors would still get a good return on their money and time investment.

  10. Sharon Wildwind Says:

    I agree with all of the above. From the production side rather than the attendance side, conventions are put together by volunteer labor. It is a huge undertaking to organize even a one-day conference and when the event goes into more than one day, meaning that hotel space, etc. is involved the workload grows exponentially. I belong to two local writing organizations, and frankly our members are just too overloaded, tired, and too few in number to think about planning any sort of medium or large conference. And we’re in a city of over 1 million people.

  11. radine Says:

    Hi y’all. Thanks for joining in what I think is an important discussion that I wish all conference organizers could read.

    It looks like most discount the ability to do Internet marketing as a reason for a slow down in conference attendance, and I am glad to learn what those wise heads say! I like Carl’s ideas for new “entertainment” and learning experiences for conference organizers to offer and look forward to seeing the results of some of his good ideas at Bouchercon. (Which brings up another question…can conferences/conventions be TOO big? I have been to one B’con and frankly felt like an ant fighting crowds in a busy ant hill the entire time. Hey, I’m a simple country girl. Huge crowds aren’t my thing. On the other hand, Malice didn’t feel overcrowded at all the year I went, though there were a lot of people there for sure. But maybe that’s just me.)

    Anyway, back to comments. I agree with the remarks about the damage MWA exclusivity and the attitude of some authors can do to small press authors and their publishers–who may be fully “legitimate” in all ways but size of publisher, books published per year, and/or size of advance. I am actually a very contented small press author now, though I was an active member of MWA (New York published, with all the bells and whistles now demanded) long before the new rules were put in place.

    Fortunately, I’ve enjoyed friendship with a large percentage of authors I have met. It didn’t matter whether they were number one on the NYT bestseller list or an author promoting her book from a publisher I’d never heard of. Who cares? Let the work speak for itself. A quick skim will soon tell you how smoothly any book is written and edited, and so on, and, even if it fails on that account, the author is still a person who loves seeing what words can accomplish as much as we all do.

    BUT, the thing is that the conference that just crashed, Midwest Mysteryfest, does not follow MWA rules. All were equally welcome and their books would have been sold there. Though MWA, as I understand it, did tell MWA-SW Chapter that non-approved members could not appear on panels, I don’t think they limited who would be able to sell books, and the Indie bookstore in Dallas planning to serve the conference accepted any books for sale, though they may have asked some POD authors to bring their books in for consignment, I don’t know.

    I didn’t hear about the offer to e-mail a MWA-SW conference invitation to a list of those interested. Seems to me just contacting area writers’ groups would have been a good way to get started in a list, and I thought the chapter secretary probably had those membership lists because they have been used before. But–some workers on the ground in Dallas this year were novices and were struggling to keep their heads above water under a huge influx of information and suggestions while they also went to jobs and took care of family needs. Some in the know in Dallas became ill, at least one went to the hospital, just to name another handicap. And, no matter how the Internet has enhanced communication, those of us who live nowhere near Dallas struggled to even understand what was going on there.

    Please keep joining in this virtual meeting.

  12. Sylvia Dickey Smith Says:

    Thanks, James, for giving out information probably not liked by some. You are a brave soul. I know I love HHCC and was sorry when it canceled. I’ve offered to help organize and run before, but never got asked. Of course I am with a small press, too. LOL

    I certainly would like to see big plans be made for next year and am willing to help make it happen.

  13. carl brookins Says:

    OK, I’m now going to address the 600 pound gorillas in the corner….maybe it’s the Scotch. I have listened to an author sneer at the very people who helped her up the ladder. She called us (those of us who like mystery fiction) trailer trash. I have read about a prominent author who accuses self-and small press authors of stealing her revenue. I know a Romance author who (facetiously) says she has a specially designed Kevlar vest she takes to RITA cons. The vest is designed to protect her from being stabbed in the back.

    I also know a number of long-time conference volunteer workers who have quit. The reason was they were the target of nasty and aggressive calls and e-mails, lots in some cases, from authors and publicists insisting that author x must be on a prime panel or in prime time or…..etc.etc.and refusing to accept anything other than an absolute yes as an answer.

    I refuse here to get into the discussion of rules established by various writer organizations to manage the explosion of “authors” who believe they should be included, not excluded.

    The revolution in publishing technology is largely responsible for this uproar, after years of polite gentle discussion and accommodation. A lot of people in the publishing/conference/publicizing/writing biz are nervous. Why? Because we are in the early phases of a major revolution. It would help–a lot–if everybody would simmer down, take deep breaths and adopt a more cooperative approach things will get sorted out.

    Hey, what DO you think about e-books? Are we seeing the end of publishing as we know it?

  14. Sunny Frazier Says:

    Agents, publicists and the American publishing houses now owned by other countries SHOULD be quaking in their boots. Kindle is leading the revolution. The consumer who refuses to ante up the bucks for over-priced hardbounds is calling the shots. People love to read but no longer trust the best seller lists and are tired of the same authors being shoved in their faces. Even the self-pubs are becoming a strong voice. I find more and more sites legitimizing the group.

    I think a book should stand on its own merits, an author should strive to promote, and conferences and conventions should give everyone a chance, not according to some “list” but by topic and interest.

    That’s the mojitos talking. And my gorilla is only 550 pounds, but he’s parked in the middle of the room. And he smells.

  15. Angela Wilson Says:

    One thing that amazes me is how many people in publishing refuse to see the changes coming thanks to technology.

    I think we are not too far off from a time when self published authors are not automatically considered vanity publishers. We’ve made terrific strides in nonfiction, and fiction will not be too far off.

    This seems to be a trend that is reflected at conferences, both big and small.

  16. Marilyn Meredith Says:

    Want to go to a small conference with only one track? One where you can mingle with everyone who comes? One that has a lot of law enforcement people published and not that you can ask a lot of questions? One with Simon Wood as the keynote speaker? One with Michael A. Black giving a presentation on Writing a Plot in an Hour? One that you can be on a panel no matter who your publisher might be? One where you can have your books for sale?

    Look no further, check out the Public Safety Writers Association conference June 17-20, 2010 in Las Vegas. http://publicsafetywriter.com

    I’m I prejudiced–certainly since I’m the program chairperson. But honestly it’s a great conference.

    Marilyn

  17. Patty G. Henderson Says:

    This is an interesting thread and an important topic. I cannot attend most conferences because of monetary concerns. I don’t have a job and the job I did have didn’t support travel, conference costs and room and board. Just this past year I was able to attend a small, niche conference because of their marvelous “Scholarship Program” where they offer full or partial costs for a number of authors or readers who can prove they are in need. Oh, and I don’t fly.

    But I have one burning question. The subject of the MWA strange approved publishers list and the rift it has caused in the mystery community has perplexed me.

    Why would the MWA decided to exclude authors because of their publishers? It sounds like a witch hunt. Absolutely deplorable.

  18. Pat Browning Says:

    Sorry, but I tend to think of conferences and conventions the way Ronald Reagan looked at redwood trees — see one, you’ve seen them all. Truly, the programs seems to be the same old/same old panels and same authors.

    I’ve been to Bouchercon, I’ve been to Left Coast Crime, and throughly enjoyed both, but not for panels and not for speeches and awards. I met more people and got more good ideas in the book rooms, at breakfast in the hotel coffee shop and in the signing-room lines.

    Frankly, I can’t afford cons this year, but if I could I would go to the very best — all small and all out of business. Fresno’s William Saroyan conference was absolutely tops, so small the big name authors were just part of the crowd. Same for the annual con in Albuquerque, now broken up into smaller, local meetings. Same for the Sisters con in Boise, which, unless I’m mistaken, is on hold for now.

    Partly there are just too many choices, and partly it’s the economy. People are just squeezed six ways from Sunday and things like conventions take a back seat to necessities — rent, food, car maintenance, etc. etc. etc.

    Pat Browning

  19. Tony Burton Says:

    I have to admit I wonder about those who lump conventions and conferences together, because they are very different. Thank you for using both terms, Pat!

    But it seems that they have very different aims. A convention is for fans, purely and simply. Because of that, by necessity such a gathering has to be constrained by genre. It is designed to give the fans of the genre a chance to gather, meet the authors, meet each other, etc.

    A side-effect of that, if you will, is that it gives the authors involved a chance to promote their work. Side-effect, mind you. So authors should not be irritated if they don’t get to sit on this or that panel, or be during a certain time slot. This is not their show, it’s for the fans.

    On the other hand, organizers need to realize that, without the authors there to draw people, probably the crowds would be much smaller. So it doesn’t make sense to exclude a huge group of authors and only focus on the big names. You can only see Patricia Cornwell so many times!

    Conferences, on the other hand, are primarily intended for writers to hone their craft and make business connections. Sure, it’s great to see other authors, to buy a few books and get them signed, but that is not and never should be thought of as, the focus of a conference. For that reason, conferences are going to be smaller. Sure, most authors are fans, but the obverse is not true–most fans are not authors.

    “Mystery” conferences, by giving themselves that title, are by necessity squeezing and restricting the number of attendees. Tell me something, truly: what is so different about writing dialogue for a mystery than writing dialogue for a romance, or for sci-fi? Is the technique that different? What about developing a plot, or building good story arcs? Aren’t the techniques for those the same no matter what story you are writing?

    One of the best conferences I have attended is the Harriette Austin Writers’ Conference at UGA in Athens, GA. It has tracks about writing–just writing–with some subheaded presentations that are more focused (i.e., writing historical fiction). It is always well-attended and has a great reputation. There is no genre attached to the conference, and everyone gets along very well together. Agents are there, and they get to meet with authors.

    Why would authors want to attend either conference or convention?

    Convention: to meet their existing fans, to create new fans, to sign their books and schmooze, to network (see “schmooze”) and in general promote their business: that of selling books by making fans happy and gaining new ones.

    Conference: to learn more about the craft of writing, to meet new agents and editors (with the business being like it is, it never hurts to have a good relationship with a possible new business partner!), and again to schmooze and network. Also, if an author can be lucky enough to get on a panel, to have a chance to establish him/herself as a subject-matter expert.

    My belief is that, by trying too hard to combine the two models, organizers are satisfying neither group of attendees. If I look at a con as a potential place to promote my work, but see that half the attendees there will be authors trying to meet agents or learn more about writing, I’ll think twice about attending. Other authors, while they may be nice folks, attend a con like this focused on themselves, and rightly so. Of course, if I am to be on a panel or present, thus establishing myself as an authority, that’s a different story.

    Or, if I want to learn more about writing and make some good networking connections, and I see that the primary aim of the con is to promote a lot of big-name authors, why would I want to spend good money to go there?

    Anyway, those are my thoughts. I know it all reads as very self-serving, but someone mentioned the economy. People must make hard choices, and the ones I make will be the ones that benefit me the most. I may be off base on this, but I don’t believe I am. I’ve probably said too much, either way.

  20. Sheila Lowe Says:

    It’s not just mystery cons. In my other field, handwriting analysis, we’ve had the same problem. Less than thirty people attended a recent national convention. And in a business networking group of which I’m the president this year, attendance has plummeted.

    I believe the economy is a major factor, but in addition, there are so many options, so many conventions, so many places for people to spend what convention money they have that it tends to dilute attendance.

    That’s my five cents (two cents adjusted for inflation).

  21. Sylvia Dickey Smith Says:

    Radine, you mentioned how we can help each other. I thought I’d take the opportunity to invite anyone interested in being interviewed on my Murder, She Writes blog talk radio program, or be featured in my writing column on the Examiner, an online newspaper, to email me and we’ll get dates set for you and I will send you all the details. Acutally, Radine has alread been featured in the column (hat and all!) and she will be interviewed Sept 14 on Murder, She Writes at http://blogtalkradio.murdershewrites.com 5 pm central daylight time. Hope lots of folks can cheer on one who gives back so much to the writing community. (Radine–not me!! LOL)

  22. Lou Allin Says:

    Canada calling. I’ve been attending Bloody Words, Canada’s oldest crime conference, for the last ten years. It’s usually held in Toronto, but twice met in Ottawa, including this year. They have never lost money. I’m not saying they made a pot, because that’s not the intent taxwise, but things seem to have gone well for this 200-250 person three day con.
    Keeping the cost down has been important. It’s usually been from $125 to $150 Canuck (sometimes as low as 62 cents on the American dollar) bucks. And it includes a banquet and sumptuous appies. True, it runs from Friday afternoon to noon Sunday, but for the price?

    Recently I had a ball in Alaska at Bouchercon. Ditto for LCC in Hawaii.

    I’ve been crazy enough to sign on as co-chair for Bloody Words 2011 in Victoria BC on magical Vancouver Island. We started over two years ago when we reserved the hotel (Canada’s number one, acc. to Conde Nast). So we’re two years away, but we’re going strong. Our website has been up since June and we are off and running for patrons and advertisers. We have had a solid gang of five working for the last year, and fifteen people next week will be at our steering committee meeting.

    These posts have me worried, but Victoria, after all, is one of Canada’s top vacation spots. Rainforests, whale-watching, museums, gardens, wineries, and top restaurants.

    If you think I’m campaigning, of course I am. Check out http://www.BloodyWords2011.com. The Ghost of Honour, Amor de Cosmos, was my idea. I’m also plumping for banana slugs as mascots.

    I live on the strait of Juan de Fuca across from Washington State, and I’m waving at all of you Americans.

  23. Marolyn Caldwell Says:

    As Radine knows, since she has been an integral part of our success, seven years ago a gaggle of local writers, and the owner of the smallest but best bookstore in town, came together with the friends’ group of our public library to start a small mystery convention to promote the 100th anniversary of the library. We called it the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave (GMMC) and it’s held in the small university town of Manhattan, Kansas, which is 100 miles due west of Kansas City (but located in the most beautiful part of the universe, bar none).

    We had so much fun that year that we kept at it. The following year we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the town of Manhattan. Each year since we have highlighted another aspect of our town’s history. During our 6th Conclave we’ll be talking not only about quilting (Earlene Fowler is our guest speaker) but about the Underground Railway and Manhattan’s early relationship with Abolitionists–Manhattan’s founding fathers. The 6th Conclave will be held on Halloween weekend, Oct. 30-Nov. 1 at the Holiday Inn-at-the Campus in Manhattan.

    The money squeeze is on here, and attendance is down, but we know how to squeeze those pennies right back and we’re still in the black.

    We realize how hard it is for aspiring writers from this rather isolated area to get to the big city to meet people who can give them the professional help they need, and so we try to bring some of those people here, with the offer of a couple of free nights at the hotel, and many opportunities to sign and sell books. Some of the biggest names in the business have joined us these past few years. I hope they all had fun. We did.

    We have elicited the interest of Kansas State University this year, and several people from the English Department, as well as the Beach Art Museum, are involved. We have a Law Enforcement speakers’ group second to none. Our law enforcement panelists have never repeated themselves. What we have discovered is that they are frustrated stand-up comedians who finally have a venue. People who write small town mysteries would benefit from the insights of these speakers, as well as their humor.

    Everyone is welcome, whether you are published or not, and if you are published, whether your publisher is a small press, a large one, or one you run yourself.

    We have a website: manhattanmysteries.com. If anyone would like a copy of the newsletter which is going out on Tuesday, you can email me at marolync@flinthills.com or call me at 785-776-4862 and I’ll be glad to send you a pdf copy.

    Marolyn Caldwell

  24. Janice Hally Says:

    Starting a brand new con at a time like this? Is Poisoned Pen crazy? As I read this thread I’m thinking they must be. But I’m doing the website and helping to organize the first real virtual Mystery Web Con and all I’m encountering is excitement from people when they think about the possibilities.

    Of course the economy is a big issue right now, so a Web Con – with no hotel fees or air fares – is going to be attractive.

    But here’s another consideration. Unlike a hotel, which has a limited number of conference rooms for panels and presentations, if I want another room, to host another panel, or for an author to give a talk, I just create a new page!

    We’re going to have video and audio, people can text chat live or phone or skype live in to talk to authors and ask questions. And authors who don’t have audio or video connections can submit text / articles. The coffee shop chatroom will let all the attendees meet and mingle all day on conference day (24th October).

    And nobody needs to miss a thing. If two are on at the same time, no worries. After events have been on live, they’ll be available as recordings promoting authors on an endless loop! (which will remain online after the event)

    I’ll stop now, because this just looks like a giant ad for Poisoned Pen’s WebCon. But I did just want to say in the current climate, this is a ray of hope on the horizon. We’re really excited about it – do check it out.

  25. Janis Susan May Says:

    Radine, a lot you say is true. My critique partner and I, both members, volunteered to work on HHCC. My crit partner’s profession is PR amd she was terribly frustrated that there was never anything concrete to promote. Nothing seemed to get settled.

    And in a way I can understand, because no sensible organization would want to commit to a lot of stuff it couldn’t pay for if there were insufficient attendance, but on the other hand one can’t get attendance if there is nothing concrete to draw attendees. It’s a vicious circle.

    My portion of work was to have come at the conference itself, so I never got the chance to suceed or fail at my job. I did send in my money though – which was fully refunded. I’d rather have had the conference, as it was just about the only mystery conference I could attend.

    There are so many conferences I would love to attend, but, quite frankly, it’s the money. Usually the fees themselves are fairly reasonable, but unless said conferences are in my home area, there are the costs of transportation, lodging, eating out, and more, plus I would have to leave my family and my responsibilities here. And I know that’s just the cost of doing business, but there is only so much time and so much money and we all have choices to make in this life. Sometimes those choices aren’t pleasant.

  26. Michael Bracken Says:

    I chaired a non-genre writing conference back in the 80s, I’ve been a speaker at writing conferences (including HH&CC and Harriett Austin, which Tony mentioned), and I’ve been a panelist at conventions (Bouchercon and some SF conventions).

    And Tony’s right.

    There is a significant difference between a conference and a convention. Unfortunately, these days many organizers don’t comprehend the difference and conflate the two, thus creating an event that serves neither audience properly. HH&CC was a good, one-day, one-track conference where mystery writers taught mystery writers how to write and sell mysteries. It seemed to become something else when it moved from Houston to Dallas. (I say “seemed” because I did not attend after it moved and have only the promotional material upon which to base my judgement.)

    A writing conference does not need “big names” to succeed. What they need are presenters who are good speakers/teachers, and the organizers must emphasize to the presenters that this is NOT a self-promotion forum. Damn near the last thing the audience wants to hear at a writing conference is the standard “and then I wrote” speech that most writers have tucked in their pocket to whip out whenever they have an audience of fans/readers.

    • Tony Burton Says:

      Michael,
      Wish I had been there when you were presenting. I presented at HAWC in Athens twice, and had a blast both times. Harriette is a dear person, and I quite frankly don’t know how she keeps going!

  27. Marilyn Meredith Says:

    PSWA doubled it’s attendance from last year. Because I’ve gone to all sorts of conferences big and small and enjoy them all, I can tell you that PSWAs is fun because it is small and you get to hangout with everyone. Last year Betty Webb and Sheila Lowe were among our group and both were delightful to spend time with. This year Simon Wood and Michael Black are two of the biggies.

    I’m not happy with MWAs rules about publishers either. My publisher doesn’t give advances but does pay royalties on a monthly basis with an accounting of where the book sold–bookstore, Amazon, e-book, Kindle.

    I’ve also heard big name authors make disparaging remarks about the number of writers from small presses being the reason “legitimate” writers didn’t show up–which I don’t think is really true.

    I have good friends who are published by “big” publishers and small independent publishers. I don’t think remarks like that help anything.

    I would never badger anyone about being on a panel or where I was on a panel. If they don’t want me, I won’t come. If I get put on a panel I’m happy with the placement.

    Mayhem in the Midlands is another favorite of mine.

    Marilyn http://fictionforyou.com

  28. carl brookins Says:

    Tony is right about word usage. Most of us are too careless about using convention and conference interchangeably–a bad idea. But most of us who work on them do know the difference. We could certainly help clear up uncertainty by being more accurate. Bouchercon, Left Coast Great Manhattan, to name just three are, all aimed primarily at fans. They are conventions, not conferences. Magna and Mayhem, two of my personal favs are also conventions. Then there’s that one day affair in Muskego every year that pretty much defies definition. Understandable when you realize who puts the thing together!

  29. Beth Groundwater Says:

    I really don’t think the death of mystery cons is a problem internal to our industry. It’s just another aspect of the effect of the worldwide economic downturn on the travel industry in general. Travel for both pleasure and business is being dropped or delayed by individuals and companies all over the world with huge impacts on airlines, cruise lines, hotels, etc. We’re all tightening our belts, and discretionary travel is one of the easy things to leave out of the budget, compared to food, toilet paper, and keeping the lights on.

  30. radine Says:

    Difference between CON vention and CON ference? I don’t know, but am guessing most of us are aware the vention one is a gathering of authors and their fans, the ference is, as Tony says, a place for honing our craft and perhaps making important contacts with agents and editors. My own problem with what to call these gatherings comes from the fact that many events have programs fitting both types. There may be agents and editors, talks on some aspect of honing our craft or publicity ideas, and so on. There can also be, at the same event, panels or chats about how we create secondary characters, how exciting locations are chosen, what factor weather has in our novels, or whatever. Anyway, that’s the reason I often revert to the term “Con” though I know most may think of CONVICT when I do this. Sorry!

    Besides, fans would of course be welcome at both types of meetings and I’ve never been to one that didn’t host signings. We authors are also avid fans. Aren’t we? Aw shoot, I think I may still say “con” and escape any need to figure out which is what. 🙂

    Suggestion…if you are posting to promote your own, uh, con, it might be a thoughtful idea, given some of the posts here, to mention any restrictions on writer selection for panels or talks. Okay?

  31. Tony Burton Says:

    You know, I don’t think fans are necessarily DISinterested in things like how we come up with plots, how secondary characters come into being, etc. Lots of fans are so into mysteries that these things fascinate them, even as they say, “Oh, I could NEVER write a book!”

    I think the primary thing any organizer has to keep in mind is the focus of the con, whatever that may be. Is the purpose, the focus, of the con to allow fans to meet their favorite authors as well as introduce them to some new authors? Then it’s a conVENTION, and should be planned as such.

    If the focus of the con is to help authors meet editors and agents, help authors become better writers, educate each other and network, then it’s clearly a conFERENCE. That makes the planning absolutely different, or people will not be happy with the results.

    You know, about signings at any event: I have twice presented at the Great Southern Book Show in Atlanta. It’s a very interesting event, a real eye-opener if you have not seen what happens to hurts and remainders. Most of the attendees are authors, editors, publishers, or wannabes of these persuasions. My presentations were accepted happily, and I always had a lot of audience interaction. But book sales for me were dismal! Why? The attendees wanted *nonfiction* books on “how to” and “what not to do” as regards writing, getting published, publishing and editing. As much as they valued my presentation, they didn’t want my novels. It was disappointing, to be sure, but after a couple of times as a presenter I learned my lesson, so I backed away from that one.

    (Of course, now I could market THE WRITER’S JOURNEY JOURNAL there, but they moved the show up to the Northeast this year, so….)

  32. Poison Pen's First Ever Virtual Mystery Convention | Market My Novel Says:

    […] Radine's Weblog has an interesting discussion going about why conferences are dying, possible reasons for it and how the landscape must adapt for the future. […]

  33. Carol Buchanan Says:

    My main reason to attend is writers conference is to meet agents who might be interested in what I write. Four times in the past 5 years I attended conferences to meet agents & editors. Four agents and two editors asked for my work. I sent what they wanted, and they did not buy. Both a short story and a rejected novel went on to win a national award — after I self-published it. My conclusion: writers conferences do not make business sense any more for me. The writers conference is just one part of an outmoded publishing model.

    • Lou Allin Says:

      I agree. I have been liaising with another conference and advising them to scrutinize agents who come for the free flight and hotel but never pick up new authors. There are many like that.

  34. Lou Allin Says:

    I’m going to update my own comment from a few years ago. We STILL have money left over from our Bloody Words Conference in Victoria 2011. We started five years ahead of time. Got a super hotel and bargained the rate down later. Charged a reasonable fee that included the best banquet I’ve ever had: local lamb chops and fresh salmon. Got Tess Gerritsen and BC writer Wm Deverell for guests, had a free ghost walk, pulled in tons of free books. For this we had a five-person core, a larger fifteen-person group for things like the Arthur Ellis Awards Dinner, and another twenty-five volunteers. We later gave our leftover money to Cops for Cancer and sponsored ads for Canadian mystery writers. We still have over a thousand bucks left to pass on to another our-of-Toronto Bloody Words. Why did it work? Great city, great tourism, great guests, and a lot of hard work. Most of our mystery lovers come from Toronto and Ottawa. We still got them to come out.

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