The Pros of Small Cons

by Pari Noskin Taichert

2006 has been the year of small mystery conventions for me. Since February, I’ve gone to Murder in the Magic City, Malice Domestic, Mayhem in the Midlands, Murder in the Grove and Con Misterio. My last convention in this cycle will be Magna Cum Murder in October. In past years, I’ve gone to Left Coast Crime and Bouchercon, too. That’s a lot of out-of-pocket expense, a lot of travel — and a lot of experience from which to draw a few conclusions.

Sure, conventions are promotional opportunities. That’s the excuse I give my husband.

On a quieter, private level, they offer community and companionship with people who share my passion.

I’ve loved every single mystery convention I’ve ever attended — including the Bouchercon in Las Vegas. As finances and time allow, I’ll continue to go to as many as I can.

But smaller cons have a special place in my heart.

The biggest difference between attending conventions such as Bouchercon (and Malice Domestic) and smaller venues  — is the members. At the biggies, you get more editors, agents and super-successful authors (an exception might be ITW’s first foray this year). But, I’ve found that they don’t tend to mix with others.

Sure, if you’ve got an NYC publisher, you’ll be invited to the parties, but don’t expect to hang out with the biggies beyond that. I don’t think this is a function of snobbery; it’s more that these people have business to do — and it’s not with you.

However, I believe that if you work large conventions right, they provide opportunities to make meaningful, influential connections.

So, why attend a small one — where you know you won’t run into that publisher who might change your life? Or that author whose blurb will propel you into the big leagues (yeah, right)?

As a fan, why would you spend money to go where all of the authors — but the Guests of Honor– are unknown to you?

1. Small conventions encourage mixing.
I don’t know if it’s because these conventions are more relaxed or because of the mix of attendees, but they always encourage cross-genre interaction. I believe one reason — especially for authors — is that many of us don’t have our usual friends around. As a result, there’s more mingling. The Boys in Black will sit with the Girls in Pink in the bar — and they’ll converse. Also, readers don’t have as much competition for authors’ attention.

2. Small conventions allow more per person, face-to-face impact.
Murder in the Magic City limits attendees to 135. However, since there are no concurrent sessions, each author who attends has an audience of 135. How many other cons provide that? Smaller conventions also tend to allow authors more than one panel. That makes a big difference, too. And, I’d argue that without as many huge names competing in concurrent sessions, attendees will try more new authors than they would if they were intent on seeing their big-draw favorites.

3. Small conventions’ per-author, per-book sales probably equal those at bigger ones.
Rarely will any convention pay for itself (for an author) through book sales. For me, I’d have to sell hundreds of books in order to cover the hotel expenses alone. But, I’ve noticed that I’ve signed basically the same amount of books at most conventions I attend . . . period.


Con Misterio
What a wonderful event! I hope attendance increases by 50+ people so that it can become viable economically for the organizers. Frankly, it’s a great addition to our mystery convention calendar — and Austin in July is lovely when you’re in an air-conditioned, pleasant hotel.

Lousy Photos Presented with Lots of Love
Apologies first: None of these authors have red eyes. Forgive me. Believe me, I spent time trying to fix them. Then, I couldn’t import those fixes into this post. Argh. Also, I realize the text wraps around the photos in an odd, erratic way; I tried to fix that, too.

Nevertheless, in an effort to promote my fellow authors, I’m including these lousy examples of photographic prowess and layout — along with author website links (or whatever I could find) — with the hopes that if someone interests you, you’ll click on his or her name and get to a location where there is a good picture.

P1010126 We had a lovely reception at Con Misterio. Here, Reed Coleman and Jane Cleland ham it up. Notice how PR savvy Reed is. He’s got his books in hand . . .

P1010127John Maddox Roberts has written more books than I thought humanly possible — and he’s still going strong. He’s embracing the lovely (her eyes are gorgeous, btw) and talented Karen MacInerney (pronounced "Mac and Ernie").

P1010128 Sean Doolittle is one of the nicest guys you’ll meet. I doubt I would have met him but for attending smaller conventions and having the time to compare notes about parenthood, our careers and life. He’s now beginning to gain some real national attention and I couldn’t be happier for him.

P1010129 These three would probably always run in different crowds than little ol’ me, but thanks to smaller cons I’ve met them all.
From l to r: Anthony Neil Smith, Victor Gischler, Harry Hunsicker

P1010130 Oh, this is a terrible picture. I want to hide . . . but, it contains some of my favorite people. Troy Cook at the far left is a new author who is already getting tremendous kudos. Next to him is the deceptively gentle Lono Waiwaiole. And, in the foreground is Troy’s dad, Bruce Cook. Don’t let daddy Cook’s nice demeanor fool you. He knows more about the L.A. movie scene — about the inner workings of movies and their production, than most of us could ever learn.

P1010132 Mr. James Crumley in his office.
Actually, I got to spend some quality time with Jim. He was totally unassuming and could drink most of us under the table. (I hope the link takes you to an article about him.)

P1010135 l to r: Dean James, Lillian Stewart Carl, Karen Macinerney.

They’re all much better looking than this photo indicates. Hey, I’m a writer, obviously not a photographer.

Notice the lights emanating from Karen’s head? Could it be her aura? Or, maybe it’s because all of these fine authors deal with the supernatural?

P1010138 l to r: authors Kaye George and Marilyn Meredith. Kaye is also a violinist. I’ve known Marilyn since my very first panel at my very first con — LCC Pasadena.

P1010139 Ah, the lovely bar. Great conversations happen just because of proximity.

l to r: Laura Elveback, Leann Sweeney, Sara Weiss. I couldn’t find any url for Laura — darn it. P1010144

Um, welcome to the bar again. On the left is Keith Raffel — a brand new author from Sillicon Valley. Next to him is a pro — Mark Troy. I had the honor of being on a panel with each of them.

P1010145 Should I identify them from top to bottom? The lady in the back is Katharine Eliska Kimbriel — author of both science fiction/fantasy and mystery. Because this convention was small, I had the joy of dining with Margaret Maron more than once. What a kind, intelligent woman. Jan Grape (seated) also generously shared her experiences as an author with me.

P1010146 The wild-worded, wild-minded author Jim Nisbet and Con Misterio organizer and tireless worker Karen Meschke.

P1010134 What would any convention be without food? Con Misterio fed us very well (the hotel was great, too). The hospitality room served its purpose with elan. We also had fresh fruit and veggies, good drinks and other wonderfulnesses throughout each day. Wow.

This is a box of breakfast treats from author Sharon Wildwind (oh, I hope I have the right url!) who was unable to attend the con but found a way to have an impact on our grateful stomachs one morning. I really liked those cookies with the powered sugar.

Well, that’s enough for today.


18 thoughts on “The Pros of Small Cons

  1. Pari

    Naomi,Thanks for stopping by. Can you divulge about whom you’re writing? I can tell you if they looked healthy or if the camera just made them seem so . . .

  2. Beatrice Brooks

    It’s not nice to include the dessert tray, Pari, especially when I’m writing my series about a diet club leader, and at the same time, trying like the devil to follow my fictitious “Weight Winners” food program :::grin:::

    Seriously, and playing Devil’s Advocate, the only “negative” I’ve found at smaller, regional cons, is that those cons tend to be…well, regional, with an almost idolatrous emphasis on “local authors.”

    Having said that, I sign tons of books when I’m in Colorado.

    My only annual MUST [God willin and the crick don’t rise] is Left Coast Crime – except when it’s held in the UK – because it’s truly a fan con [fans actually outnumber authors].

    Hugs, Deni

  3. Robin Burcell

    Pari,I so have to agree with you about the smaller cons. The atmoshpere is so much more relaxed. The authors you meet are more inclined to remember you, and thereby converse with you at the bigger cons, because you will be, by then, a familiar face in a sea of a gazillion unfamiliar faces. And the bigger cons are, as you said, mostly all about business. They might be fun after hours in the bar, but during the day, it’s one appointment to the next. You want to meet up with your friends, you have to contact them in advance and coordinate schedules, often relegating a visit for a quick bite to eat or drink between other events. Exhausting to be sure.

    But you are right about the expense. You have to pick and choose. It wasn’t until I’d attended some of the smaller cons that the bigger cons became more fun.

  4. Pari

    Hey, Deni,That wasn’t dessert. Can you imagine? Just extra breakfast yummies. What a great, cost-effective idea for promotion.

    Robin,You’re right about the smaller conventions playing into the larger ones. That’s a great observation. From attending so many different events, at this point, I know many people and have enjoyed just about every one of them.

    I doubt any convention from here on out will feel too foreign to me.

  5. Naomi

    Among my personal favs–Sean, Lono, and Marilyn. I haven’t seen Marilyn in ages. We got to know each other better in Omaha; she and her husband are fantastic. Lono and I are basketball buddies–“screen out, screen out.” Hope to make it to a Bouchercon soon so I can get back on the court.

    Hey, maybe Robin or other Northern Cal folks can tell me–but do you all know of any regional cons in California next year? Sisters in Crime going to have a Hollywood special this November (eligible writers will get their registration reimbursed by the Author’s Coalition) and the San Joaquin chapter of Sisters in Crime will have their inaugural event next April. And I imagine No Crime Unpublished will again be produced by Sisters in Crime L.A. next year. But any others?

  6. Elaine

    Wonderful report (as usual), Pari! I’m worn out just thinking about all the cons you’ve attended this year. I wish I’d been able to join you – but this year has been a bit ‘eventful’ for me. And then living on the West Coast (at least where I am) makes hitting some of the smaller one and two day cons – in the midwest-tough to arrange flights that aren’t 9-10 hour days each way with multiple stops. So, it’s the bigger three to four day events that I have to justify to my husband! He hates flying, and hates it more when I’m the one flying.

  7. Pari

    Naomi,Sean is such a sweetie. I really like him. And, Marilyn has always been so kind and supportive.

    The first time I met Lono, I was all perky about CLOVIS. He said something to the effect that he wrote a very different kind of series. Boy, he wasn’t kidding .

    Elaine,Getting anywhere from Albuquerque can be a real pain as well. And, at this point, my husband is looking askance at all this travel. I’m going to have to cut way down . . . or produce many, many more books.

  8. Iden Ford

    Pari, the Kieth Raffel and Mark Troy photo is terrific. Look at the shadow you created out of Troy’s profile, especially his nose. Go for the unusual in photography. I like that one the best. The donuts are great, but I find it amazing people eat those things. I’d have to go to the gym for two hours to alleviate my guilt. I will catch up with you camera in hand at B’con.

  9. Lillian Stewart Carl

    Thanks for the con report, Pari. And congratulations to you for getting a photo of me that looks halfway human. There’s nothing like an approaching camera to make my face collapse into a gargoyle’s leer.

    Con Misterio was indeed a great convention. The people in charge are old friends of mine from the f/sf community and have convention-running down pat.

    I’m amazed you can do so many conventions and still manage to write! You go, girl!

  10. Pari

    Iden,You’re a dear to encourage my photography. Thank you. I won’t be at Bouchercon . . . but will see you at Magna. I can’t wait to meet both you and Maureen.

    Lillian,Believe me, I’m working hard — and won’t be traveling for some time in order to produce. That’ll make me feel better . . . and my husband, too.

  11. Peg

    Thanks for the information on small cons, Pari, and for the photo of my Malice Domestic and Guppy friend, Kaye George. She’s been talking up Con Misterio and now with the perspective that small cons help start relationships that carry over to the bigs, I will start looking at them differently. Thanks also for Murderati – first on my list of favorite group mystery writer blogs:

  12. Naomi

    Robin, you must be doubly excited! Hey, it’s about time for a San Francisco convention–don’t you think? I know there’s the Book Passage writing conference, but how about something less expensive?

  13. Karen MacInerney


    What a great report! (And I’m printing your kind words and taping them to my bathroom mirror.)

    I had a wonderful time at ConMisterio — and getting to know you was definitely one of the big highlights. I’ll see you there next year — and before that, I’m sure, at Malice!



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