Almost a week since I flew back from Malice Domestic, and I'm still ambivalent about the experience. I enjoyed myself on the whole, although the fact that the hotel managed to lose a carton of my books till Sunday morning didn't help. But I came back somewhat drained and disspirited, wondering if it was even possible to make a dent in the mystery community. All those hundreds of authors and thousands of books!

On the Myers-Briggs, I'm an introvert, meaning that I'm more energized by the solitary creative experience than by intensive socializing. I suspect the same is true of many writers. Yet this conference seemed to favor the extroverts. At least from my perspective, those who could toss off witty one-liners and keep people laughing during their panels sold the most books.
To some extent, this is a learned skill; to some extent, it's dependent on things like sleep deprivation and levels of caffeine in the blood.

This was my first major conference as a published mystery writer, and it taught me several valuable lessons, among them: Don't hang out so late in the hotel bar on Saturday night when your panel is bright and early Sunday morning. What do others think? What lessons have you learned at conferences?

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Eat a huge breakfast, most other meals are caught on the lfly.

Don't judge a conference or convention by books sold. You're building a fan base which should grow with each appearance, even if its a little at a time.

Meet people, one at a time, in groups or where ever you can. But introduce yourself, don't sell yourself. I can't tell you haw many people start off with "IMy latest book" and kick into sales mode. I tune out fast. Just be yourself and let people meet you, not your books. If they like you, they'll find the books.
I would have loved a big breakfast, but the line at the hotel restaurant was too long, so I had to make do with high carb, high sugar Danish. Another moral: bring nuts, trail mix or energy bars for when you can't find decent food!
Yeah, that's a problem with conferences. Everybody's making a bee-line for the restaurant in the morning. I make a point of ordering at least a pot of coffee from room service the night before to be delivered in the morning. Yeah, it costs more than a cup you'll get downstairs, but you can get something into your system before you have to deal with the ravening hordes.
I hated my first Bouchercon because I tried too hard to sell myself. My second Bouchercon I enjoyed thoroughly. I had a panel and, because of excellent panelists and a great chair, that went off well. As for book signings: they are depressing because there are always the big names there and they have the longest lines. Those two events and some visits to book sellers were all I did for promotion. I had fun with friends and with sight seeing the rest of the time and the whole experience was good.
Julie, Malice last year was my first conference, and I was scared to death. I'm still not comfortable introducing myself to strangers (I dread that "You're who? And why should I care?" look), but I'm not scared anymore. I honestly don't know how much difference conferences make to a writer's sales, but they have helped me feel connected to the mystery world, and I'm beginning to feel as if I might belong. So although conferences, book festivals, and even two-hour signings exhaust me, they also provide valuable reinforcement that I could never get by sitting alone in my study, typing.

Sandy
I've been in energy sales for many many years. I can speak in front of large groups without batting an eye, spur of the moment stuff. People look at me as an extrovert but I'm really not. I value my downtime and prefer to be in my own head most days. Yet I had this job to do, negotiating sales with large entities and making cold calls on the phone and face to face.

It helped me to get to my appts early and visualize how the meeting might go (yet without having any real expectation my visualization SHOULD turn out exactly that way) then I'd muster up my persona for the day and hit it. Pretty soon, this became second nature to me and I can turn it on and off. This doesn't mean that my so-called persona is fake. It's just a different facet of me that I've learned to tap into when I need it. But having said that, it really is about reaching out to people and not making sales. I look at my energy client list as my list of friends now. And they do too. Many are on my Christmas card list and are on my mailing list because they want to keep up with my next venture. I've grown to love them over the years, like my extended family.

I've been to many many conferences, of all types, and I get the most out of it when I go to meet people and not sell anything.

Plus, eat a good breakfast. I'll buy that, Jon. Who can argue with anyone named Jordan?
I've had the benefit of an unusual experience. I'm not going to say much about specifics, but more about what I learned. I got to hang out with a famous, best-selling author on his home turf for a healthy chunk of a day.

A few days later I got to see them in conference mode. I saw different aspects of the same person, some of which were learned skills.

We writers spend a lot of time on our own, whether we're introverts or not. One of the most critical things for authors to learn is how to have a public persona. I often think that authors should take a healthy chunk of their bookmark money and spend it taking some public speaking lessons. "At least from my perspective, those who could toss off witty one-liners and keep people laughing during their panels sold the most books." I agree with this. I will try new authors if I'm impressed with them on a panel. That means being interesting, and being funny certainly helps.

George Pelecanos is a shy person. He and Michael Connelly are both incredibly shy. But George was engaging on the panel he did at Harrogate last year and sold out of every copy of every title of his books in the bookstore. And I have watched poor Michael squirm through interviews - anyone who knows anything about body language knows he's not comfortable being a spectacle. When I went to see him last fall, on his own, I wondered how he'd do. Brilliantly, actually. He was just so down to earth about saying he didn't want to bore people just rambling on, read a short bit, said a few things, then opened it up to questions. And was a very good event.

An author said to me once it was interesting watching the newcomers, seeing them learn how to tell their stories and such. Being a natural in front of a crowd is a rare thing. However, people can learn skills that will enable them to not only survive but thrive in the social environment.

The funny thing is the emphasis is put on promotional materials, when I truly believe one of the best investments you'll make is learning a bit about public speaking. Every author can volunteer to read in hospitals, libraries - not even their own work, but other people's stuff. If you're going to spend hundreds going to a convention the prep time involved is crucial. I can't believe how many people think they'll just go wing off a panel. Believe me, as someone who went two years in a row to the UK strictly as a 'reader' it shows when people are prepared, and those people do sell better.

Besides, it won't just help you on panels. It will help you chat casually at the bar as well. Something I need to work on. I'm fine if I know people, not so great if I don't.
Sandra,

You kicked ass and took names last year at Bouchercon.
Lots of good points, Sandra, from you and others. I agree it's possible to develop a public persona even if you're basically shy. Public speaking lessons are a good idea; others have suggested Toastmasters, which has chapters all over the country, and I believe they're free, too. Personally I've gained a lot over the years by teaching and leading workshops (in art therapy, not writing). I also belong to the Mental Health Players, an improvisatory theater troop that does scenarios about mental illness and related topics at all kinds of public settings. That's really helped me loosen up and relax in front of groups. But while I'm fairly comfortable winging it on other topics, talking about my own book is trickier, I guess! And being on a panel was a different experience, more difficult for me maybe because I had to talk in shorter bites and respond to someone else's prepared questions. I preferred the author go-round where we had 90 seconds to pitch our books before moving on to the next table.I found I made a different pitch at each table, rather than delivering a canned speech, but I felt I came across better than on the panel.

I think I'll suggest to my SinC chapter at our next meeting that we have practice and critique sessions for promoting our books, with feedback from the group. Cheaper than hiring a public speaking instructor.

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