Packing Checklist for a Writers Conference

SleuthFest 2020 is on the horizon March 26-29, and I’m already gathering materials for what I’ll need to bring. Writers’ conferences require advance preparation, especially if you’ll be speaking on a panel or giving a writing workshop. You’ve already determined your goals in participating, some of which may be referenced here: https://nancyjcohen.com/benefits-of-writers-conferences/

Aside from determining your objectives—i.e. attending specialized craft sessions, learning about new publishing options, meeting editors, making new author friends, greeting fans—there’s the physical prep. Here’s a checklist of things to bring. (Note – This is an update to a previous post.)

Writers Conferences

Prepare for your talks. If you’re a panelist, it can be easier because you might not have to do much prep other than jotting down some notes about the points you want to get across. Moderator-run panels in general mean more work for the moderator but less work for the panel guests, unless you are each expected to present your material for xx minutes.

If you are conducting a workshop on your own, you’ll need to compose or update your material, prepare a PowerPoint presentation if desired, and make copies of handouts. Sometimes the conference coordinators will offer to make the copies for you. Bring your laptop or thumb drive with these files and another flash drive for backup.

If you’re speaking on different topics, assemble each handout in a separate manila envelope to keep them organized.

Order business cards unless you have them already in stock. Consider updating them with QR codes or with your social network URLs.

Design, order, and pack brochures, bookmarks, and/or postcards about your books. Bring along display containers so they don’t get strewn across the promo tables. That’s assuming your conference has space available for this purpose. If not, you can hand them out at your workshop or as you meet people one-on-one.

Design, order, and pack swag for the promo tables or goody room. These are items such as magnets, pens, door hangers, candy, and other giveaways. If you are driving, toss a box of extra books into your trunk in case the on-site bookseller doesn’t get your books in time or is unable to obtain copies of a particular title.

Bring a checkbook in case the bookseller offers to sell you leftover stock at a discounted price. Bring cash for raffle tickets, drinks at the bar, gratuities and other incidentals.

Pack a book or two to display at your presentations and panels.

Bring a copy of your receipts showing your registration and any other special paid events.

If you’re donating a raffle basket, either get your materials to the coordinator ahead of time or bring the basket prepared and ready to go.

Bring a signup sheet for your newsletter to circulate at your workshop and to put out at signings.

Print out the conference workshop schedule and highlight your appearances. List these on your website and other online sites and include these papers in your suitcase.

Bring a highlighter so you can go through the conference schedule and mark sessions you want to attend.

Print out contact info for friends you want to meet at the conference.

Decide which outfits to wear to the different events. Business attire for daytime, dressier clothes for evening? Don’t forget matching accessories.

Determine which gadgets to bring along—iPad or Laptop? Kindle or Nook? Camera to take photos for your blog? Charging devices?

Pack a notebook to take notes if not using an electronic device for this purpose. Later, write blogs about the sessions you attended to share your knowledge. If you intend to paraphrase a large portion, ask permission of the presenter at the end of their session. Or send an email afterward stating your request.

Include Sharpie pens for signing books and ballpoint pens for note taking.

If you belong to a professional writing organization, bring along chapter brochures to hand out to potential members.

What else would you add to this list?

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March 2020

 

Benefits of Writers Conferences

Now is the time to consider which writing conferences you’ll be attending next year. You want to pay the registration fee before the early bird discount evaporates. With so many conferences out there, how do you choose which ones to attend?

It depends upon your goals. Here are some opportunities offered at writers’ conferences. Which ones apply to you?

  • Further your skills by attending craft workshops
  • Get updates on industry news and business issues
  • Learn the latest marketing tips
  • Increase your knowledge of social media
  • Pitch your work to editors/agents
  • Learn about alternate paths to publishing
  • Discover innovative marketing techniques
  • Meet fans
  • Meet other authors
  • Meet librarians
  • Meet influencers in the writing community
  • Get feedback on your work if manuscript critiques are offered
  • Enter a writing contest sponsored by the conference organizers
  • Get a new headshot if a photographer will be on-site taking appointments
  • Participate in an audio or video segment if available
  • Present a workshop or participate on a panel

You don’t want to be stuck in classrooms all day. Most of the benefit at a conference comes from the people you meet. Editors and agents aside, meeting other authors should be one of your prime goals. You can learn so much from each other. Industry personnel, such as bloggers, booksellers and reviewers can be another target to approach. And if it’s a fan conference, by all means target your readers. Chat up everyone you meet in line waiting for meals, sitting next to you in a classroom or at the lunch table. This is not the time to be shy. Choose a table for breakfast or lunch with strangers so you can meet new people. Be gracious, professional, and interested in others. And don’t forget to exchange business cards. Always ask permission before adding anyone to your mailing list.

Some conferences have a hospitality room where you can hang out, drink coffee, and meet other attendees. Frequent this place and come prepared with bookmarks, postcards and swag. Present a friendly face and start a conversation, not so much about your books but perhaps about the conference city, your favorite subgenre, or what you’ve learned so far.

Don’t know what to say? How about, “Is this your first time at XYZ Conference?” Or, “What do you write?” Here’s another: “What sessions have you attended? Did you learn anything new?” And if you’re talking to fans, “What do you like to read? Who are some of your favorite authors?” And remember, writers are readers, too.

So get out there and schmooze. You’ll make new friends, meet readers, and gain lifelong fans. You’ll get the scoop on the publishing biz and learn new techniques to promote your work. Be eager to learn. Be open to new relationships. Be yourself and relax, and you’ll have a great time.

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My favorite mystery writers conference is SleuthFest. Register now at http://sleuthfest.com/

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Malice Domestic 2019 – Day 3

Sunday morning, May 5, at Malice Domestic mystery conference in Rockville, MD started early with a breakfast honoring debut authors. We heard about each of their titles and learned about a few new books we might like to add to our TBR pile. Then I attended a panel on Culinary Mysteries with Ginger Bolton, Catherine Bruns, Tina Kashian, Maureen Klovers, Shawn Reilly Simmons and moderated by Cathy Wiley. It was entertaining to hear how they each incorporated food elements into their stories. At the break for lunch, I left the conference so we could meet my husband’s family for the afternoon. It was a long day and we retired early prepared for our flight home in the morning.

culinary mysteries panel

There’s quite a difference between a fan conference and a writer’s conference. This one is the former, with panels and sessions geared toward readers. As an author, I get to meet other writers and hear about their work. I don’t go to learn about marketing techniques, forensics, or advanced craft. Networking is the most important goal. That’s why I advise new authors to introduce themselves to people and sit with strangers at meals. You make friends, and next time you attend, you’ll be happy to see some familiar faces.

Catherine Bruns
Nancy J. Cohen & Catherine Bruns
Ellen Byron
Ellen Byron & Nancy Cohen

books

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Saturday at Sleuthfest – Part 2

After lunch on Saturday at Sleuthfest mystery writers conference, I attended a workshop given by Jane R. Wood on Marketing Your Books to Schools. This was a lot more complicated than I would have guessed. Your books must be appropriate for schools, have educational value, and be compatible with the core curriculum. They should reinforce what the teachers are teaching in their classrooms. Also, you should be able to enhance its value with additional educational resources. These might include vocabulary words, discussion questions, student activities such as puzzles and games. Suggest books the students might read that will reinforce their curriculum.

As an author, you should be prepared to discuss revising, editing, sentence structure, the writing process. You should be comfortable speaking to kids and willing to work with the school on payment options. Offer a discount on book sales and make up a purchase order form. Ask if you are allowed to sell books directly to students. If so, print copies of a promotional flyer that they can take home.

To approach a school, contact the media specialist if you don’t know anyone there. Check out the school website for contact info. Send a short email providing information about your school visits and direct them to your website. Offer a complimentary review book. If you are accepted, ask about school expectations for your visit, the length of each presentation, and all the logistics involved.

As I left the room In awe of the preparatory work needed to propose a school visit, I meandered toward the editor/agent appointments. Since I wasn’t needed as an usher, I went upstairs to rest until the evening cocktail party. At Sleuthfest, we always include enough food for dinner, and tonight’s pasta station and passed hot appetizers were no exception. The raffle basket drawing was held at the conclusion.

Sunday Morning, March 17, 2019

I participated on a panel on Independent Publishing this morning along with David Wind and Tara L. Ames. We discussed the importance of a professional product before seguing into book marketing. As David said, about forty percent of a writer’s time is spent on writing, while the remainder is spent on marketing. This critical element applies whether you are traditionally published or indie published. We had lots of material but ran out of time.

Brunch included a talk by esteemed author Les Standiford in the ballroom before the conference ended.

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Saturday at Sleuthfest – Part 1

Saturday morning at SleuthFest mystery writers conference, I spoke on a panel about Ending Your Book with Susan Sussman, Cheryl Hollon and myself, moderated by Lynnette Austin. We discussed if we are plotters or pantsers, how we approach the end of our books, how to make it satisfying for the reader, tying up loose ends, what turns us off as readers, and how to ramp up the action in the middle. Also, how do you avoid predictability while remaining true to reader’s expectations? We got some great questions from the audience.

Next, I attended a workshop on Writing Mystery Short Stories with author faculty Elaine Viets. “Think small and think twisted,” was her advice. Avoid having too many characters, lengthy descriptions, background information, and subplots. More than four characters are too many. Your story needs a twist or a surprise at the beginning or at the end. Story length should be 3000 – 7000 words.

What editors are not looking for are spouses who killed each other, a main character who wakes up from a dream, cruise ship murders, and oleander poisoning.

The story should have a singularity of purpose and a type of movement or trajectory. This is likely to be how the characters respond and grow. Put in roadblocks that could derail the story. Lay the groundwork for the plot twist. Its purpose is to reveal character.

Lunch followed with keynote speaker T. Jefferson Parker. FMWA President, Diane A.S. Stuckart, received the coveted Flamingo Award for her service to the chapter.

GIVEAWAYS

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Sleuthfest 2019 – Day 2

On Friday morning at SleuthFest mystery writers conference, the editors’ roundtable was held. Guest editors included Anna Michels (Sourcebooks), Chantelle Aimee Osman (Polis Books), Stacey Donovan (Hallmark Publishing), and special guest Neil Nyren. Conference co-chair, Michael L. Joy, moderated. Here is the gist of what I learned. Any errors are due to my misinterpretation.

editors panel editors panel2

Sourcebooks has acquired Poisoned Pen Press and its entire backlist. Anna is acquiring for this line. She’s looking for mysteries, thrillers, and suspense. Their books run 75k to 110k words.

Hallmark’s core audience likes print books. These would be sweet and wholesome stories, same as their movies. Mysteries should be a regular series and not a Christmas setting. Character arcs and motivation are important elements in their stories. Their books run 75k to 90k words.

Polis Books is looking for new and unique voices for their Agora imprint.

All of these editors (except Neil) take unagented manuscripts, but they recommend you have one to negotiate a good contract in the author’s favor. Check their websites for submission requirements. Hallmark has open calls for submissions on certain dates.

“You’re buying the writer. You’re not buying the book.” As soon as they buy your book, they’ll want you to be working on the next one.

I cut out of this workshop to see what my friends were saying about being orphaned by their publisher. Diane A.S. Stuckart moderated this panel with Marty Ambrose, Debra H. Goldstein, Alyssa Maxwell, and Dr. Lenore E. Walker. After you pick yourself off the floor from hearing the publisher dropped your series, you recover and reinvent yourself. This could end up being the best thing for your career.

Getting Orphaned panel

Next I gave my workshop on “How-To Become a Hybrid Author.” I discussed the reasons for going indie, the pros and cons, and the exact steps to take from manuscript preparation to production to marketing. Look for further blogs on this topic here.

Nancy J. Cohen   Nancy workshop

Lunch was a sobering talk by E.J. Wagner on the Evolution of Forensic Sciences. It was fascinating to hear how bodies used to be sold to medical schools in merry old England. Table decorations were lovely, and I was happy again to sit with good friends.

I missed the afternoon sessions since I had an hour and a half of volunteer duty as usher for an editor during the pitch appointments. Since I was barely able to walk after my mishap yesterday, I went to rest my foot afterward until the Volunteer Appreciation Party. Free snacks and drinks flowed as we all complimented each other on another great conference.

volunteer party   volunteers

Dinner followed in the ballroom with the author auction, where famous authors auctioned off an hour phone conversation, or a chapter critique, or a character name.

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SleuthFest – Day 2

Friday,  March 2, 2018

Friday morning at SleuthFest mystery writers’ conference offered a choice of three workshops. I attended the talk on “Why Marketing Can Sometimes Yield Little to No Results” given by Maryglenn McCombs. See my workshop recap below. After this talk, I gave my own presentation on “Audiobooks with Amazon’s ACX.”

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Lunch came next with guest forensic specialist Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D, who spoke to us about serial killers. It was a chilling topic to hear during a meal.

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Friday afternoon, we had to choose from four workshop tracks. I went to the talk by Patrick Kendrick, thriller author and Fire Rescue Training Consultant. He spoke on USAR or Urban Search and Rescue as part of the nation’s disaster preparedness. The goal is to train the armed forces in fire-fighting and rescue techniques.

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Topics covered include technical rescue skills, site surveys and recon, mass decontamination procedures, personal protective equipment, atmospheric monitoring, and incident command organization. What do we expect in terms of domestic terrorism? CBRNE stands for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive. Patrick defined each one and made us glad we have people working to keep us safe.

The formal dinner this evening included the Freddie Awards Banquet. The winner in the Mystery category was Laura Brennan for The End of All Things. The winner in the Thriller category was Howard T. Konig for The Serial Killer’s Brother. Our infamous author auction followed until the evening’s conclusion.

You can view more photos on my Facebook page. Look for the SleuthFest 2018 album.

 

 

SleuthFest – Day 1

SleuthFest 2018 began on March 1, 2018 with “Third Degree” Thursday and a full day of writing workshops at this premier mystery writers’ conference held in Boca Raton, Florida. I arrived in time to give my presentation on “Developing a Mystery Series.” It was well attended and attendees asked a lot of good questions. That afternoon, I did my stint at the registration desk while greeting old friends and making new ones. In the middle photo is Steve Brown and Jeffrey Philips. Then to the right is Marty Ambrose with me and Michael L. Joy.

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Panelists from earlier that day had a booksigning in front of the on-site bookstore run by Murder on the Beach. We had the chance to buy raffle tickets from the boa ladies. Here I am with James R. Benn and Hallie Ephron.

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After a welcome speech by conference co-chairs Michael L. Joy and Victoria Landis, we heard guest publisher Neil Nyren from G.P. Putnam’s Sons give his presentation on “Myths and Truths, Part IV.”

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Thursday evening provided an occasion to eat dinner in the lobby for those of us not attending the SleuthFest 101 banquet dinner. A mystery trivia game followed. On the left are Ann Meier, Vincent H. O’Neill, and Susan Brandt. To the right with me are Kell Levendorf  and Dr. Chris Jackson.

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 You can view more photos on my Facebook page. Look for the SleuthFest 2018 album.

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SleuthFest 2015 Crime Lab

News From SleuthFest 2015
February 26 – March 1, 2015, Deerfield Beach, FL
James Patterson, Dave Barry, James W. Hall, & Ric Gillespie
www.sleuthfest.com


Lab Lock Up

Lab & Lock Up Tour Special Pre-Conference Event
Wednesday February 25, 2015
Palm Beach County Detention Center & Crime Lab

Full tour and transportation $45
Sign up Now! Limit 25 People

***An insider’s look at a 2,156 bed high-security correctional facility housing high-risk, federal, & special medical/mental inmates.
***Then visit the Crime Lab, including the Forensic Toxicology, Chemistry, & Biology (DNA) Units, the Firearms & Forensic ID Units (Latent Prints), and the Evidence & Crime Scene support units.
***A chartered bus will take a group of 25 people from the DoubleTree by Hilton in Deerfield Beach
at 1 pm on Wednesday February 25, to the Palm Beach County Detention Center & Crime Lab in West Palm Beach, and return to the DoubleTree by 6 pm.

Available only to registered and paid SleuthFest attendees.
Sign up NOW!
At SleuthFestInfo@yahoo.com

Space is limited to 25 people only.
Email us at SleuthFestinfo@yahoo.com by November 15 to put your name in the hat.
Lucky participants will be notified by November 30.

Not registered for SleuthFest yet? Go to www.SleuthFest.com

And if you haven’t made your hotel reservations yet, you’d better get moving!
The DoubleTree is filling up fast, and we are already making arrangements for an overflow hotel.

 

Crime in the Keys

View the Photos Here: http://bit.ly/1lzhqPt

The last panel of the day at Mystery Writers Key West Fest was on Crime in the Florida Keys. Panelists included Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsey, Key West PD Chief Donie Lee, U.S. Coast Guard Captain (ret.) Jim Filton, true crime writer and journalist Terry Schmida, and Jim Linder from the Joint Interagency Task Force (ret.). Moderator was radio news director Bill Becker.

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The report that follows is based on my interpretation of what I heard. Any errors are mine alone.

In the 80’s and 90’s, most crimes involved drug smuggling of cocaine and marijuana via boats. Now it’s alien smuggling. Often the instigators will steal a “go-fast” boat and charge the migrants $10,000 per head to smuggle them ashore. Once a Cuban refugee touches U.S. soil, they can stay. Today there’s also an influx of Miami-based crime such as burglaries and prescription drug abuse plus related crimes by addicts who need to buy their fix. There are more online crimes with credit card fraud and sexual predators.

Another panelist spoke about “amusing” crimes in Key West, such as the case of a cat abduction and custody battle over the animal. “The Keys have crimes that you can’t make up.” But serious crime is rare. It’s normal for law enforcers to greet crooks at the bar. He told more illegal migrant stories. Other crimes might involve animals or a piece of machinery being used in an unexpected manner.

Fantasy Fest is ten days long and about 80,000 people come down to Key West for this event. It’s difficult to police. People have sex in the streets, roam without their clothes on, do stuff here they’d never do at home. For example, there was the airline pilot who stole a pizza car because he was hungry. A bank robber was caught because he gave away $2 bills at a strip bar.

We heard about the ingenious vehicles that migrant smugglers used to cross the water from Cuba, like cars and trucks. When the Coast Guard approached one car plying the waves, the miscreants rolled up the windows so there wasn’t any way to board. The Coast Guard guy opened the gas cap and poured in sugar. When the vehicle stalled, the occupants surrendered.

Then there was the airplane modified with a bed in back for a “Mile High” club. Two customers tried to hijack the airplane to Cuba. A struggle with the pilot ensued, and he ditched in the ocean. You can read about it here: http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=92667 Since the customers didn’t survive and there wasn’t any paper trail, the speaker questioned the truth of the story. Was it for real or a case of insurance fraud?

Then there’s the “Yamaha Drift.” These are people who claim their boat drifted south toward Cuba. They should know the current doesn’t run south.

Crocodile poaching is another crime in the Keys. The Russian mob may also be an influence. The speakers told about the “gray-haired” burglar and the air smuggler who kept a parrot on his shoulder. Certainly the Keys are home to colorful characters.

We heard many more interesting stories from this panel of experts. After the panel concluded, we trooped to a room near the pool bar for a group book signing.

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Rather than attend the noir film at Tropic Cinema, my husband and I opted for dinner at La Trattoria, an Italian restaurant with a water view just down the street from the Doubletree Grand Key Resort.

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Coming next: Key West