I am very, very excited to be attending this year’s New England Crime Bake, a mystery/crime writing conference in Dedham, Massachusetts. It’s an annual conference hosted by the New England chapters of Sisters In Crime and Mystery Writers of America, and celebrates New England crime fiction and non-fiction.
This year’s guest of honor is Craig Johnson, author of the excellent Longmire mystery series, which you may have also seen on TV. (According to Johnson’s website, Longmire is A&E’s most-watched original drama series of all time).
I have a limited budget to spend on things like workshops and conferences, particularly those that require travel, so why did I choose Crime Bake?
Here are some of the more personal reasons:
- Most of my projects are set in New England, so the setting and focus of the conference were an obviously good fit. (The decision to set my work in the US rather than Canada, where I live, is a whole ‘nother post for another time, but it is a conscious decision).
- The cost wasn’t prohibitive, as Massachusetts is reasonably close to the East Coast of Canada.
- One of my online critique partners is planning to attend, so I’ll finally get to meet her in person.
- Enrollment is capped at a low number (250), so chances are better that I’ll make real, personal connections with other authors/readers/agents/etc. than at a big, “anonymous” conference (this will be my first writing conference!).
Aside from these logistical pluses, I’ve never been to Boston and am hoping I can make time to check out the city for a couple of days while I’m in the area. My first completed book, Fury’s Kiss, takes place on Cape Cod and in Boston, and while I’ve done extensive research online, there’s nothing like seeing the real thing.
I have also entered the short story contest associated with the conference, the Al Blanchard Award, and have just started work on a novel featuring the same characters, so the conference date in November gives me a deadline to finish it. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be able to talk about the book and pitch it at the conference.
So in the spirit of first-time conference attendance, here are some of my favorite online tips for getting the most out of a writing conference:
- Arrive early to scope out everything, get settled and make friends.
- Strike up conversations with faculty (those presenting/organizing), but don’t focus on your projects and what you think they can do for you – make it your goal to learn from these conversations.
- Focus on what you want to get out of the conference and come up with a specific goal. This could be something like “learn about police procedure”, or “come up with a better first chapter”.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions.
- Don’t feel bad about cutting your losses – you don’t have to attend every session if you’re not getting something out of it.
Things to have ready and on-hand at a conference, from Scott Hoffman of Folio Literary Management:
- A one sentence explanation of your book. For example: “It’s a literary retelling of the Noah’s Ark story.” Or: “It’s about a young Japanese-American man and woman who fall in love on the eve of World War II and are torn apart by the war.” Hoffman cautions us to expect an agent to ask what your book is about when you’re not expecting it.
- A one-page synopsis of your novel.
- The first three chapters, double-spaced.
- A complete manuscript.
Chances are, Hoffman says, no one will ever ask for the chapters or manuscript, but it’s better to have them and not need them than vice versa. (And I have seen author accounts of situations where this sort of preparedness has led to representation and publication).