04 November 2015

Bouchercon 2: I whine, others talk

by Robert Lopresti   Updated 11/4/ 7PM PST.

photo (at Bcon) by Peter Rozovsky

When I wrote recently about the World Science Fiction Convention I talked about the controversy over the Hugo Award.  What follows could be considered my attempt to gin up a kerfuffle at Bouchercon.  But I think it is worth mentioning.

Ready for the controversy?  They gave away too many free books.

Yeah, I know.  Too many free books sounds like a contradiction.  But hear me out.

Those of us who write books are supposedly trying to sell the damned things.  If everyone is handing them out for free like campaign brochures, who's going to buy them?

Every registrant found six or so books in their bag.  The several hundred people who attended the librarian's tea each collected seven more.  And Sisters In Crime Smashwords - (see the Comments below) gave everyone a flash drive with - seriously - over 400 free books on it.  I suspect a lot of those were stories or novellas, but when the total is over 400 that hardly matters, does it?  No one is likely to buy books if they have hundreds of freebies on a stick, even though when they get home they may find that most of them are ones they have already read, or don't care to try.

Full disclosure: I had books on consignment with one of the dealers in the book room, and none sold, so you can call this sour grapes.  But really I am most concerned about the dealers themselves, some of whom traveled thousands of miles for the privilege of competing with people handing out free copies of the same books they were trying to sell.

At some point, enough is too much, and the Tragedy of the Commons takes over.  I understand that the people working on next year's Bouchercon in New Orleans are already thinking about this issue.  I wish them luck.

Finally, and if you read this blog at all you knew it was coming, here it is:  my quotation file from Bouchercon.  All of these were jotted down on the fly so apologies for any misattributions or misquotations.  And as for context, sorry.  I left it in my other suit.

"If I could write one book in first person it would be The Big Sleep." -Bill Crider

"The amateur sleuth restores the social order."  -Leslie Butewitz

"You are everybody in your book."  -Don Bruns

"I'm the most Jewish atheist you'll ever meet."  -Reed Farrel Coleman

"I dream about Philip Marlowe.  That's really embarrassing, which is why I'm telling this large group of people."   -Megan Abbott

"The best experience for someone who wants to write is not reading the masters but reading works by amateur, inferior writers."  -Lawrence Block

"I don't like Harry Potter.  I wouldn't have minded if  Voldemort got him on page three."  - Chantelle Aimee Osman.

"If I have one skill as a writer it is that I am really good at thinking of bad stuff."  Diane Chamberlain.

"Second person narrator isn't modern.  It's radio."  - Bill Crider

"Getting a thesis on Agatha Christie past the people at Harvard is not simple."  -Julianne Holmes

"Always invite dead authors to dinner parties.  They have no allergies or other dietary problems."  -Lawrence Block

"The best characters could go good or bad depending on the circumstances."  -Rhys Bowen

"I still haven't finished reading Orlando, and a teacher in college is waiting for the assignment."  -Karin Slaughter

"In hardboiled fiction you have the psycho ex machina."  -Reed Farrel Coleman

"When I started writing all the southern books were southern gothics, and the pigs ate mama."  - Margaret Maron

"Don't steal the reader's crayons."- Chantelle Aimee Osman.

"It took me about five minutes to sell out."  - Bill Crider

"I'm reaching the age where I can read a book again for the first time." -Lawrence Block

"Diehard is an example you can use for almost anything in life."- Chantelle Aimee Osman.

"You might say I'm on a mission to show that not all Canadians are as polite as we're cracked up to be." -Rob Brunet

"Some short stories make the mistake of thinking a short story is just a novel, but shorter." -Sean Doolittle

"While writing my novel in the library I felt a strange kinship to the man at the next desk who was talking to fictional characters."  -John Hart

"What causes despair and desolation in an academic setting?  Accreditation."  -B.K. Stevens

"I got a letter a long time ago complaining that I put a period after the Dr in Dr Pepper."  - Bill Crider

"Mysteries are worried about the past.  Thrillers are worried about the future." -Alexandra Sokoloff

"Quebec is not in the south?  Maybe you can  draw me a little map."  -Hank Philippi Ryan

"The woman I interviewed called herself a sociopath, rather than a psychopath, because it sounded less stabby."  -Mark Pryor

"Three out of four readers of my first book did not know who done it after they finished." - Catriona MacPhrson

"I write fantasy because I like doing the research."- Karen McCullough

"The author who started creating antagonists as rich and colorful characters was Ian Fleming." - Don Bruns

"This is the third panel at this conference on pace.  Are we not writing fast enough for you?"  -Alexandra Sokoloff

"I usually have a dead body in my books, but they've usually been dead for a few thousand of years." - Elly Griffiths

"I'm trying to find a properly smart-ass way to answer that."  -Lawrence Block


  1. You make some good points about the giveaways, Rob. I see the point of doing it, to promote various authors. But I also see the other side where we lose money. If, as you say, they're considering this issue for the next B'con I hope they come up with a good compromise.

    And thanks for the quotes -- they're great!


  2. I hadn't been to a Bouchercon for several years, but I was surprised at how few free books there were this time. In the past, the publishers have been even more generous. (Not counting that flash drive here, of course.) I hadn't thought about the free books discouraging purchases, but I guess that's possible. It doesn't work that way with me, but it might with others. In fact, my book bag is still where I put it after I got back from Raleigh, and it's unopened. I've bought several books since then, though.

    I may actually have said those things you attributed to me. At my age, it's hard to remember.

  3. A good point. As my husband always says you can't both sell something and give it away.
    One of my peeves is that artists of every persuasion, among the least well paid folks, are continually asked to donate work to worthy causes

  4. Bill, I was going to make sure you saw this, si ce you are quoted so often in it. I believe you said all those words of wisdom.

    Janice, in folk music people are always inviting you to perform free "for exposure.". The usual response is "people die of exposure."

  5. Rob, I enjoyed all the quotes from Bouchercon, but I also loved your "exposure" quote in the comments. I may have to borrow that one.

  6. I, too love your "exposure" quote - AMEN!!!!
    And I am sooooo sick of 2nd person POV.

  7. Good blog, even if fiction.
    Unable to attend again this year, but I have been wondering about that conflict between freebies for "exposure" and trying to entice booksellers to the convention. My faulty recollection says we restricted the number of freebies when we did Bouchercon here back in '96, much to appreciation from booksellers.

  8. Forgive my ignorance, but I am a little confused by this. Does B'Con get the books that they give away from the publishers for free? What is the policy? How many freebies does the publisher give to the various organizations? I was under the impression that B'Con bought the books, (at a discount of course), that they put in the bags.

  9. Herschel, I assumed the publishers donated the books. If aomeone knows better, please let us know.

  10. Robert, at Crime Writers of Canada, we actually sent an email stating our alarm at Bouchercon suggesting that authors work had no value (if 400 books are free, that is the assumption.)
    We came to understand that this deal was reached with Smashwords, which is used by self-published primarily. So most of the books on there would have been from self-published, or small indie publishers. (Someone correct if I'm wrong, but this is what I was told two weeks before the con.)
    What I can tell you is that Bouchercon 2017 will not be doing such a thing. I'm on the committee and we have discussed this. In my opinion, it gives the wrong optic. Authors' work should always be worth something.

  11. Great quotes as usual and good insight.

    It is wonderful to get a material reward for vesting in attendance fees, but Melodie is on the right track.

  12. "Always invite dead authors to dinner parties. They have no allergies or other dietary problems." -Lawrence Block

    But they'd smell so bad!

  13. Fabulous post. And Robert, at the Debut Authors Breakfast, where we were given 60 seconds to pitch our books to the audience, there were free books on every table from the publisher. There were 2 readers at my table and they snagged all 5 between them.

    I also had my book on consignment. Managed to sell 3 out of 20 copies. Not exactly a home run. But I had people say to me, "would love to get your book but I have too many to take home already." Now, they might just have been saying that, but I doubt it.

    I had about 8 books in my free bag. I took all of them to the swap table as none of them really screamed "Read me." How jaded is that?

    Mel is right, it was Smashwords not SinC doing the giveaway. Most were probably self-published authors. I didn't keep my flash drive. I suspect a lot of people just tossed it. We do not value things that are free. Simple as that.

    Thanks for such an insightful post, and Rob Brunet's post made me laugh out loud. He's a fellow Torontonian, and yes, we Canadians often say "I'm sorry" when someone steps on our foot. But sometimes we say two other words that aren't quite as polite :-)

  14. Backing up what Melodie said here.

    I was president of Sisters in Crime at the time (I handed over *at* Bouchercon) and the thumb drive giveaway was by Smashwords. The SinC board voted, after discussion, to pass the news of Smashwords' offer along to our members, to let each one decide for her/himself whether to join in.

  15. I should have said this too - I made a beeline for Don and Jen Longmuir (who'd come furthest) on the Wednesday before Bcon to ask them how they felt about the thumb drive. Don's take was that he didn't think it would make any difference to his sales.

  16. Thanks for the info about Sisters in Crime. I will fix it. I talked to a bookseller there who complained about the giving away of free books in general but I do not recall the drive being mentioned.

    Melissa, showing off your superior medical knowledge again.

  17. I've now been to Left Coast Crime twice and Bouchercon once. I think I have yet to read any of the freebies. Most of the time, I can tell by the cover I'm not interested in the book. The one or two books I would be interested in, I've already bought.

    With the number of authors at these events, the number of freebies can't make that much difference. Heck, I buy authors who make an impression on me and that I am interested in reading. In other words, I buy books by authors I want to read. Just because I got a book for free doesn't mean I will read it or am interested in reading it.

    And I don't feel guilty about that since I didn't go out of my way to get it.

  18. Great column, Rob--I love the quotes. (Bill Crider always has words of wisdom.)

    As for the conflict between freebies and books-for-sale, I agree in principle and don't like the idea of free books at conferences like this, but I also agree with Mark in that I seldom read the freebies anyway. They certainly didn't keep me from buying the books of others at B'con. And Don and Jen Longmuir sold all five of my books that I left with them, so I can't complain too much.
    But I'm glad to hear, Melodie, that it won't be an issue at the 2017 B'con.

  19. I love the quotes. I am very conflicted about the free books at conferences. It's nice to get a free book but I find that I don't read those authors, so I give the books away, usually to my local library. I also don't want a lot of freebies at a conference because they're a pain to carry home and expensive to ship. I'll buy what I'm interested in from the booksellers and find the rest at the library.

  20. What a pleasant surprise to find something I said on your list of quotations! I'm used to having everyone completely disregard everything I say. (That's another cause of despair and desolation in academic life.)

  21. B.K., I have served on some accreditation committees, so I sympathize - and I enjoyed your story, especially the Nachshon reference!

    As for donating unwanted books to the library, you might want to be aware that most libraries will neither sell nor add to the collection books that are marked as Advanced Reader Copies (as many of the freebies are). Of course, many libraries have swap shelves, and they can put the books there.

    I have mentioned this before, but at the last day of the San Francisco Bcon I found on one of the freebie piles an ARC of Lawrence Block's new Matt Scudder novels and as I grabbed it up I wondered: who the hell didn't want it? (Turned out to be one of BLock's best, A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF).

  22. I also attended Bouchercon San Francisco and grabbed a copy of LB's A Drop Of The Hard Stuff - loved it!

    I seldom read the free books, but do occassionally find one that is subsequently raved over and am very happy that I carted it home and do not have to try to borrow a copy at the library or buy it.

    Zoo Station was the latest. I was not as impressed as others, and would not have wanted to purchase a copy as it is not a keeper for me.

    One of the selling points I use to get people to attend conferences for the first time is the bag of free books and the opportunity to hear some of their favorite (or soon to be favorite) authors on panels.

  23. One more word on this: I was the 'Book Wrangler' for the Bloody Words mystery conference (in Toronto, last year). Yes, the publishers give us books free for the book bags. I went to the usual suspects (big 5 and mid size Canadian publishers) with an ask that stipulated "books published before 2013," so that our vendors who carry the latest releases would not be competing with free books. As well, we asked for the books of authors attending, only. We limited our books to five or six a bag. I think it's a lovely perk for attendees, but I feel very strongly that it should be limited to just a few books each.


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