Hey all, I'm helping with the publicity for Left Coast Crime in Denver in '08. What I'd love to know is what elements make a wonderful convention -- and what elements make one suck?

Sure, I'm looking for ideas to use as springboards for the publicity for this particular event, but I'm also just plain curious.

Good elements:
1. strong mix of "fans" and readers
2. big name authors (GIVE ME SOME NAMES THAT MAKE A CON GOOD!)
3. emphasis on fun
4. cross-genre panels
5. unexpected panels
6. hotel with a BIG, comfortable bar
7. good restaurants in hotel and surrounding area -- BUT I think that if the surrounding area is too interesting, people won't stick around for the convention but will go discovering and that's detrimental
8. a pleasant hospitality room so that everyone has a place to hang out
9. the appearance of organization (hey, it can be insanity, but if it looks like it's all under control, that's what counts, IMHO)

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I would love to help out with LCCin Denver. Live quite close there. What do you guys needs in the way of volunteers.

I would utilize the fine bookstores in the Denver/Boulder area. Tattered Cover is a huge, world-wide draw. Murder By The Book on Pearl Street is a charming house-front store that's been an establishment for ages.

I'd keep alot of your focus on the LODO area of Downtown Denver. The Adams Mark Hotel...I worked there when it was a Radisson...is located at the South end of the outdoor 16th Street Mall. Gorgerous rooms and lobbies. Wonderful food, too. Large bar but heavy traffic in it. Loads of fine stores, Barnes and Noble, and restaurants line the street. Towards the North end you enter Lodo. Tons of bars, lounges, Jazz, rock, blues clubs, restaurants. Also Coors Field, and the Pepsi Center. The Denver Center for the Performing Arts is in easy walking distance towards the west of the 16th Street Mall and if you get really adventerous, the district with a somewhat reddish hue lies east down Colfax Ave. The entire walking area is perfect for crime folk and is featured in my WIP.
The March weather in Denver is dodgy. All this March has been low snow and 60's. But I've lived through cold, bitter ones. Warn people to dress in layers and have a winter coat, gloves and walking boots available at all times at their hotels.
Send me an email; I'd love to have your help with the PR side of things. You've got some great Denver-specific ideas.


Re: the weather
I think we'll have to tell people about it AND the altitude. It's 5,000 feet, folks! That means it'll tucker you out a bit to start.

The layering comment vis a vis weather is good advice. I'm glad LCC will be in early March -- there's more chance of those beautiful blue Rocky Mountain skies.
Also be sure to warn people who aren't used to the altitude to drink plenty of water upon arrival -- that if they don't, they may start feeling the altitude effects much faster. Both of my sons moved to Vail and my first trip there, I started with altitude sickness until we realized I wasn't drinking enough water. Made a huge difference to know that by the second trip.
I've been to a couple cons in Denver. I think the Adams Mark was where one was, and if I recall, which I can't verify, it was very, very nice. That aside...

The bar access is paramount. It needs to be central, big, and with hours that reflect the mystery writer community (in other words, it doesn't shut down at 11 or 12 or even 1. It stays open until 2 like all good US bars. Can't tell you how many cons I've been to where they didn't even think about this aspect, with the end result that many writers and friends take off out of the hotel looking for entertainment or booze or both elsewhere.

Panels. I love unexpected panels. I love walking in, not knowing what to expect and then being pleasantly surprised when I walk out. I want to think or laugh when I listen in on a panel. To me, it's all about the moderator. If you have a strong moderator, he/she can shake up things, cut in on a droning mike hog, or wake up the quiet mouse who is a great writer but maybe not the most dynamic speaker. All moderators should be experienced or attend a moderators 101. (I know this isn't possible, but we're making a wish list, right?) :-)

And there should be at least three mikes for each panel of five. One otherwise great conference was completely ruined because there was only one mike per table. It was death if you had a poor moderator, or speakers or both, because you had to wait for the mike to be passed around.

My two cents, which are worth next to nothing with inflation...
Your point about the mikes is really important. If there aren't enough mikes, the set-up is definitely that up-down-the-table crappola. That's NOT a place to cut corners.

I hear great things about the Adams Mark in Denver and am glad that's where the con will be.

And, yeah, the bar needs to stay open. Those that close at midnight leave me, um, well, cold.
You're right, Jon. Though, I went to Magna in Muncie and was absolutely delighted with the convention even though the town was quite small. In Seattle, the setting seemed a bit of a detraction because most people ended up outside of the hotel for large amounts of time.

At least that was my read.
LCC '07 wasn't at a particularly convention friendly hotel. The areas were broken up and the most open area was in the place folks were least likely to go through natural foot traffic. The bar was small and quickly got cramped, but the downstairs area had nothing there except empty space. The efforts to create events downstairs was good -- games and the like, but if you were wandering around and looked down the escalator, you saw nothing because of the way the space was designed. It was easy to miss the downstairs activity.

The main hotel needs to have common areas that are welcoming even to attendees staying at other locations. If the bar is small and tucked into an out of the way corner, folks will find other places to go in the evenings.

Perhaps the thing to do is arrange for a cash bar in the main convention space and encourage authors to spend their evenings there. So long as there are comfortable chairs and ready access to libation, it might work.
Actually, I messed up in the response, but Toni is right about drinking water. This altitude can really get to you. Albuquerque is also at 5,000 feet and when visitors come, we always warn them.

Professional marathon runners come here all the time to train.
A note on the bar: Not too noisy. The hotel bar at B'con last fall turned up the music in the afternoon. Other hotel bars bring in bands. You want to be able to talk comfortably and I had to kill an interview in the bar at B'con because of the volume of the music in there.

#2 will always be subjective. There are some authors who are always funny and entertaining. I've never seen Mark Billingham be bad on a panel - he's brilliant. Same goes for Rankin, Bruen, McDermid, Denise Mina... in part it's experience.

Mainly - and we've heard it all before, but since you asked - good moderators. Panelists who understand that they're there to talk about a TOPIC not how everything relates back to their latest book, just out now and available in the bookshop upstairs. I don't care how pretty your bookmarks are.

And leaflets on every chair in the room the panel's in? What is this, church? Just what I need going home from a convention - more junk to lug on the plane. Not.

If an author is engaging, interesting and good on a panel I'm much more likely to check out their book. If they're more interested in promo and gadgets to sell their book, I'm not.

If non-authors are going to be on panels they should have something to contribute, beyond their personal anti-male anti-US agenda, and yes I am thinking of someone in particular. Go to a feminist peace rally not a mystery convention.

Really, the biggest impact will come from those you have the least amount of control over, because even if everything else for the convention is perfect if the panels suck... well...

Here's my 2 cents:

1. Let the moderators have enough notice to get the books by the people on their panel. I didn't have enough time to do that for LCC.

2. (AUTHORS will HATE me, but...) Kick people off panels if they do not participate in the panel prep discussions prior to a convention. If you want to be on a panel the expectations aren't solely on the moderator to make it good. Lord knows the moderator carries much weight there, but when you don't interact at all it's unprofessional and unfair. I've had the experience of being on a panel where we didn't know if someone was going to show up because they didn't participate in the prep discussions. I've known other moderators faced with the uncertainty over an author - no responses to emails and in some cases, no information available about the person. Sometimes no website, so the moderator doesn't even know how to introduce them. If you think you get on a panel and will show up five minutes before the panel and expect the moderator to figure out who you are, how to introduce you and how to tailor some of the topic to bring out what you can best contribute to the subject, you're dreaming.

I think it's completely reasonable for a moderator to report a month prior to a convention that they've made half a dozen attempts to contact an author over a one month perior with no response and to ask for them to be replaced. (Send your hate mail to sandra@sorrybutyoutrymoderatingonce&thenseeifyoudisagreewithme.com)

3. Have enough microphones for each panelist. If you want the panel to be interactive and lively you can't expect five people to share two microphones.

4. Have someone giving time warnings to the moderators. It's a simple thing, but it keeps people moving.

There is one thing I'll say offhand, and I'm not sure if there's anything you can do about it, but it's my observation. I've gone to Harrogate in the UK twice. I've gone to B'con and LCC. There is one stunning difference with Harrogate - the overwhelming majority of the authors seem to stay on site at the hotel bar and mix and mingle with the fans in attendance. I was shocked at how accessible they were the first year I went. The few publisher parties were limited to one night out of the three, and there was evening program later, following those, which drew everyone together.

By comparison, with both conventions I've been to in the US, the publisher parties etc. happen every night of the events and I found myself elsewhere every evening... be it at LCC I was sick, but even then the few things I went to happened elsewhere.

It's an observation that didn't fully hit me until I saw readers discussing it on a list, about why all the authors disappeared in the evenings at Bouchercon and how much of a bummer that was for them. I know we all like to catch up with each other, but readers spend a lot of money going to these things (yes, we do to, but we're also hoping to raise our profile, sell a few books - they're deciding who they'll try reading) and without the readers the cons wouldn't happen. Harrogate includes the live play and the quiz night that get everyone involved and interacting, and are a lot of fun. Those entertainment components do a lot to enhance the community atmosphere and afterwards most people head off the bar.

I feel like I see more people there, I guess, and I think that's a good thing. It would be nice to find a way to foster the interaction of all attendees a bit more, particularly in the evenings, for some fun events.
I second Sandra's list, and I'd also personally like to see more author Q & A type of panels. For the Austin Film Fest, they took the bigger named authors and had them on panels for topics, but then also scheduled them for a separate Q & A, and both fans and writers alike enjoyed being able to have a full hour just for their questions. Those rooms were often standing-room only.
That's also good because it gives their fans a specific place to address them, instead of having one person's fans dominate the question time for a group panel.
I agree with most of this, but not all. A panelist who doesn't participate prior to the panel isn't necessarily a lost cause. It's not pleasant, but as a moderator, you do the best you do. That non-participating panelist may or may not be a gem. And, yes, I've moderated more than one panel.

I do agree it's nice to get the panel list well in advance so that you can prepare and read as many of the books as possible.

Mikes? -- absolutely.
Publisher parties? Absolutely. For those of us with publishers who won't ever be represented at a mystery convention, it's kind of difficult to see all your friends disappear. I always have a good time with readers . . . but it feels kind of odd, off-putting.


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