To con or not to con?

by Alexandra Sokoloff

There’s nothing like packing for Denver in March to make you realize you have no clothes suited to temperatures under seventy degrees.

Nevertheless, conference season is kicking in and I’m off to Left Coast Crime this week, with a suitcase full of clothes much more appropriate to cruising the Caribbean. Setting aside that I’m jonesing for some author company and for some serious dancing, which actually is on the menu this year, I have been wondering why exactly I decided to go again so soon. And then I remember that there’s a special occasion simultaneous to the conference which makes the whole thing make sense.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Left Coast Crime – it’s a big conference for a small conference and one of the friendliest out there. But the business has changed so much, I have to wonder if conferences as we know them are on their way out.  When you can reach tens of thousands of readers and sell thousands to tens of thousands of books with one free Amazon Kindle promotion, and when you can reach thousands to tens of thousands of readers with some concentrated Facebook posting, all pretty much for free, then how much sense does it really make to take five days to a week (what with packing and all the attendant readying, pedicures, pet sitting and all) away from time that you could be writing or promoting on line? Even the upcoming LA Times Festival of Books – I’m thinking that that day would be better spent just working it on Facebook – I’d sell more books and make more money from the books I sold.  Without having to fight traffic, either.

Now, I know, online connections will never be as meaningful as the personal contact you can make with a reader in person. But do I really mean that?  Really? I have readers who have been great about regularly interacting with me on Facebook, and here, of course, and my own blog, who I am getting to know… in fact, whom I feel I know much better than a lot of people I’ve only met briefly at conferences. But I DO enjoy the personal connection that conferences offer, and doing all the usual stuff – a panel, a Screenwriting Tricks workshop, the established authors breakfast where you pitch your latest book to a room of people who are always more awake than you are, given that it’s seven-thirty in the morning ON SATURDAY.  At a CRIME CONFERENCE.

It’s going to be especially great to sit down with some of my e publishing friends to compare strategies and results, the kind of summit that’s a lot more productive in person than on line. And just the camaraderie – well, I’ve written about this here before, but it’s a relief to be around other writers because we KNOW each other. We know exactly what all the rest of us do just about every second of every day, we know how we feel about it, we know what makes a good day and what makes a bad day, we know each other’s exact fears and our exhilarations – we all have the same operating system, basically. There’s nothing like a conference to reconnect with the tribe, and too much alone in our heads isn’t good for us.

So no, I could never give up conferences entirely. And most of the ones I go to I get paid to go to, anyway, if I teach a Screenwriting Tricks workshop. I’m not complaining.

But when I look at time and effectiveness, the quantifiable results I can get from online promotions compared to the much less tangible benefits of conferences, I have to wonder, and I doubt I’ll be doing as much running around this year as I used to do.

Having said all that, here’s one conference I would never miss.  Registration for Lee Lofland’s Writers Police Academy, held September 5-8 in North Carolina, opened this weekend: a marathon of forensics workshops; hands-on training in firearms, building searches, jail searches, handcuffing techniques; demonstrations of police/criminal shootouts; lectures in court proceedings and the life of an undercover cop – all conducted by top experts in their fields.

There are only a few slots left, which will sell out this week, and I would not be doing my job here if I didn’t say to all you crime writers out there – DO IT.  Now.  Register.  Do the extra workshops, the FATS training and driving simulation. You will never, ever be sorry. 

Here are a couple of blogs from my WPA experience last year, to drive the point home.

The Writers Police Academy and pre-emptive research

Getting Real – The Writers Police Academy

And when next September I post about how transcendent it all was, I don’t want to hear any whining from anyone who read this today and didn’t go for it.

So readers and writers, what are the cons you would never miss? Or are you shifting your writer/reader interaction to online, these days?

And here’s a big question: do you find you are making real connections on Facebook? Not to replace in-person relationships, of course, but deeper than you thought you could on line?


7 thoughts on “To con or not to con?

  1. Larry Gasper

    So far I'm finding Facebook more a way to keep in touch with people I either meet at cons or in classes I take on-line. This is handy, as living in Saskatchewan means there aren't a lot of cons that are easy to get to.
    As for which cons I go to, it's usually whatever looks interesting. Left Coast Crime in Hawaii looked interesting for a bunch of reasons, so that's the only LCC I've been to. This year I'll probably pass on going to cons as I'm focussing my holidays on finishing my book. LCC in Monterey next year looks like a great option.

  2. Jake Nantz

    I have to second what Alex said. I went to WPA about 3 years ago, and it was fantastic. SOOO worth it (and I stayed with my folks, so I could actually afford it…even more awesome). I learned so many different things that might never end up in any of my writing, but will help give authenticity to my writing simply because they lead me to things that WILL end up there.

    And the FATS training is awesome. Just awesome.

    And the community of writers is awesome. Even more awesome. I was (and am) an unpublished nobody with a couple of shorts to my name and that's it. The writers treated me like I was one of the gang (C.J. Lyones especially. To a shy guy who sucks at working his way into a group, that woman is a fricken' SAINT).

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Jake, this sentence proves you a writer: " I learned so many different things that might never end up in any of my writing, but will help give authenticity to my writing simply because they lead me to things that WILL end up there."


    And yes, CJ just radiates… I don't even know how to describe it. Loveliness.

  4. Sarah W

    I've met a lot of wonderful people — writers, readers, editors, librarians, hotel staff — at Bouchercon and made some good friends.

    I was really hoping to go to WPA (I subscribe to the newsletter, which is amazingly helpful), but the timing is off and even Bouchercon is a little out of my reach this year — I'm really disappointed about that, because it's like a big face-to-face reunion for me.

    But a friend — whom I met online, through Betsy Lerner's blog — and I are going to room together at the MWW, where a few other friends are teaching or attending, so that should be fun, too.

    I wasn't sure about Facebook, but several acquaintances have become real friends — and it's easy, as Larry said, to keep in touch with people. Much easier than Twitter.

  5. Reine

    Hi Alex,

    I do find myself connecting and reconnecting on Facebook. I think that's a tricky business, though, for a professional. Too much self-promotion and FB friends will run away. Too much concentrated FB time means flooding everybody's notifications, newsfeed, and sidebar. That annoys people who then change their FB settings and reduce the amount and type of posts they want to see from the overabundant annoying source.

    I am grateful for FB and online connections, however. It is a great way to connect!

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