22 March 2018

Live From LCC: Three Simple Rules for Getting the Most Out of Your Crime Fiction Conference Experience

by Brian Thornton

This one will be on the short side, as I'm in Reno, getting ready for the kick-off of Left Coast Crime 2018 tomorrow. (This is also why it's being posted a little bit late. Sorry Leigh and Rob!).

For those of our readers who have never attended either Left Coast in particular or a mystery fiction conference in general (Bouchercon, Love is Murder, Sleuthfest, Crime Bake, etc.), I have to say, you are missing out.

My first mystery fiction conference was fifteen years ago at the Bouchercon on the other end of this state, in Las Vegas. I had only just gotten serious about my writing (my first book deal was still a couple of years away over the horizon), and I was nervous, not knowing what to expect.

As it turned out, the overwhelming feeling I experienced that first time was the sensation of coming home to a place that I didn't even know was home, in a community more welcoming than most on this planet.

Mystery writers are an eclectic bunch: with their share of habitual introverts, carefree spirits, hard-working professionals, gadflies, humorless grinds, and many hardy souls who embody all of these archetypes to varying degrees at different times.

And they made me feel like part of the party.

I have never not felt that way in any gathering of writers anywhere, since.

So you can imagine how much I'm looking forward to diving into LCC beginning with tomorrow's panels!

While each of these conferences is unique in its own way (And that's particularly true of Left Coast!), they do tend to share any number of similarities. So I thought it might be worthwhile to give the discerning reader (and potential future attendee) a list of tips intended to help you get the most out of your Crime Fiction Conference Experience(tm).

Here they are:

1. Risk.
2. Pace.
3. Wander.

1. Take one risk per day.

With this one I'm not talking about crossing a busy street without looking both ways first. Nope. Always look both ways before crossing the street!

The type of risk I'm talking about is the sort of thing that terrifies so many people: reach out and make some connections. Attend a panel that interests you. If any of the authors on that panel impressed you (as is so often the case!), approach them and talk to them when they're at the signing tables afterward (time at the signing table can crawl by, take my word for it. Or better yet, if we're ever at a conference together, ask me about it in person. Especially if you see me languishing at the signings tables after my panel!).

After all making connections is the whole point of these things. This is literally the main reason everyone who comes to a crime fiction conference does so: to connect with fans, other authors, industry professionals, etc.

2. Pace yourself.

Conferences start early and run all day (and that's not even counting what so often goes on in the event bar at all hours). Don't be obsessed with "getting your money's worth" by making sure you attend something every hour of the scheduled day.

How you "get your money's worth" in this instance is value quality over quantity. So who cares if you pass on that panel about what kind of shoes Sherlock Holmes may have worn, as long as you get the opportunity to indulge your interest in Nero Wolfe's obsession with yellow shirts? Build in breaks, and pace yourself.

And don't be surprised if some of the best memories you'll have of this experience took place in or around the event bar.

3. Let the current carry you.

Maybe you're a planner, someone who finds comfort in relentlessly scheduling your day. Or maybe you're a go-with-the-flow type of person. These events favor people who take the latter view. As an avowed go-with-the-flow type, I have to say that some of the best things that have happened to me at these kinds of conferences came about as a result of allowing myself to be drawn into situations I had not anticipated happening.

Whether it's debating about which Beatles' song is the best, or talking about Scandinavian noir, discussing the nature of evil, or questioning the notion that all irrational actions are borne of a fear of death. Maybe it's listening to an author friend recount how her printer ran out of paper as she was printing off the final draft of her latest book, only to have her car break down on the way to the conference, or it could even be meeting a writer whose work has greatly impacted your life.

The point is that all these things (and infinitely more) are possible at a crime fiction conference.

You can take my word for it, or you can walk up to me at the next conference we're attending together, and ask me how I know.

One's more fun!

See you all in two weeks!


  1. Very jealous, Brian. Good advice. Have afun and if you see Seattle's own Andi Schechter say hi for me.

  2. Brian, I'd tell you to have a good time at Left Coast Crime, but you always seem to have a good time wherever you are, whether it was Bouchercon Las Vegas or Edgars NYC.

  3. Brian, first of all thank you for taking the time to mentor me through my first Bouchercon - you were great!
    And someday I hope to attend another conference (so far they all seem to happen when I'm doing workshops at the pen...)

  4. I've only attended one LCC (in Santa Fe), but a few days ago Temple and I registered for next year's LCC in Vancouver, and I hope to meet the Northwest contingent of SleuthSayers while there.

    Anyhow, Brian, you offer great advice for attending any of the mystery conventions, but I'll add two more bits of advice:

    The first is specific to me and may not apply to anyone else, but: I have difficulty approaching people I don't know and initiating conversation. I've been like this my entire life. On the other hand, I don't have stage fright. Put me in the front of a room, give me a topic, and I'm fine. So, I try to participate in as many panels and other events as possible (including the infamous poker games at Bouchercon and LCC) because then people approach me to initiate conversations (or the situation, in the case of the poker games, forces conversation). And, once someone else has broken the ice, I'm more comfortable.

    The second idea: Plan in advance to meet someone (or several someones) you only know online. Because you're on the lookout for one another, the ice is broken before you physically meet.

  5. Brian, I'm like Michael. I have trouble reaching out to others– possibly something about not wanting to intrude– but I don't get stage fright. Weird, huh.


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