I’ve attended four Left Coast Crime Conferences, a conference started for mystery writers and readers, as an alternative to the existing conferences like Malice Domestic and Killer Nashville and New England Crime Bake which take place on the East Coast. These are nothing like the writing conferences I usually attend. There is no discussion of craft or publishing trends (unless that happens in the bar where I rarely set foot). Instead the emphasis is on promotion.
The first time I attended LCC, in 2002, I took the train to Portland along with my writing friend, Martha Crites. I don’t remember where we stayed. But I do remember learning that some mystery writers did not figure out their plots ahead of time but just figured out what was happening as they wrote, which is the way I’ve written all my novels. So that was very encouraging.
Once I had written and published several humorous mysteries (starting with Dial C for Chihuahua) about a talking Chihuahua with my writing partner, Curt Colbert, I started attending Left Coast Crime conferences again. 2014 in Monterey where I cracked a tooth on the first day (note to self: do not eat the toffee left on the pillow in the conference hotel). 2015 in Portland (where Pepe, my daughter’s Chihuahua, who inspired the series, got to meet his fans—after she drove down with him on the second day of the conference). And, most recently 2017 in Honolulu, Hawaii, which was also my first visit to Hawaii.
Every time I go to one of these conferences, I totally forget what I learned at the last one and repeat my same mistakes. So I thought I’d make a checklist for myself.
- Sign up under your pseudonym (Waverly Curtis), not your actual name (Waverly Fitzgerald), so that if you have any fans who want to meet you, they will be able to find you.
- Attend every social event, including breakfasts (yes, you have to get up at 7 am), lunches and banquet dinners.
- Find the sign-up sheet at the registration table and sign up to be seated at an author-hosted banquet table.
- Propose to host an author-hosted table (but then you won’t be able to sit at the table hosted by Diane Vallere and Gigi Pandian, but since you didn’t do #5, that won’t matter anyway).
- Read every email from the planning committee to make sure you don’t miss this opportunity.
- Donate books to the book giveaway bags, then trawl the exchange table to make sure the books don’t pile up on the table (they didn’t! only two out of 80 showed up and both vanished within an hour).
- Ask your favorite authors who write mysteries about dogs (Tracy Weber, Sparkle Abbey, Sheila Boneham, Dori Hillestad Butler) to donate books and put together the most popular silent auction item (a Dog Mystery package) which gets more bids than any other item and sells for more than any other single package (except perhaps the jewelry). The money raised goes to charity but you will still feel triumphant.
- Volunteer. The registration table is a great place to meet people. It’s also fun to get to hold up those little numbers that tell the panelists how much time they have left to talk. Try to sign up for panels you would attend anyway.
- Attend the author speed dating event on the first morning of the conference. You should have asked someone what this was (an opportunity for authors to describe what they write to readers in the hope that readers will rush out and buy their books at the bookstore) instead of assuming you weren’t invited.
- Count the number of your books the bookstore has ordered on the first day of the conference and count them again at the end of the conference, just out of curiosity to see how many sold. This will make you feel good even though it doesn’t particularly matter since even your publisher (Kensington) probably doesn’t know how many copies Barnes and Noble bought for this particular conference.
- Put together an author meet-and-greet for your fans (see #5).
If you have a dog, and that dog happens to the one of the protagonists in your novel, take the dog with you. Everyone will be so happy to see a dog, they will talk to you and buy your books. (Alas, you cannot easily bring a dog with you to Hawaii but a Chihuahua does fit under the seat so he can go to other conferences).
- Write mysteries about Chihuahuas.
- Do not adopt a rescue Chihuahua who turns out to be more of a Jack Russell than a Chihuahua as she will not fit under the seat in the airplane and cannot go with you.
- Do get a great dog-sitter and bring her back a ukulele as a thank-you gift for the superb job she does watching both dogs.
- Talk to everyone who sits beside you in the audience at a panel. (Check)
Talk to the other authors on your panel (Check), especially the moderator (Rae Franklin James) who asks smart questions and has actually read your book and tells the audience twice how much she enjoyed it.
- Buy her book (The Fallen Angels Club) as a thank you. (Check)
- Be sincere and cheerful on your panel. (Check)
- Make a list of all the books you hear about that you want to read but don’t buy them (sorry Barnes & Noble) until you get home because you don’t want to pay extra to ship them or check your bag, which actually you end up doing anyway because of the ukulele (see #15).
- If at all possible, and I know this is difficult since her seat was empty when you sat down, do NOT sit next to the vegetarian former librarian at the awards banquet who complains about the food and never asks your name and refuses to shake your hand when you introduce yourself and says she has 10,000 mysteries in her house and when you ask how she organizes the books she says there is only one right way to organize books (by author’s last name) and when you ask what kind of mysteries she likes says she likes all except the kind you write and then never speaks to you again (even though she still doesn’t know what kind of books you write). Meanwhile your guest sits next to and spends the banquet talking to the handsome young lawyer from Iceland (Ragnar Jonasson) whose first book (Snowblind) has already been optioned for a TV series.
- Hang out in the bar. You can always pretend to be drinking a gin and tonic if you ask for soda water with a lime. It might be practical to have one real gin and tonic first, since you are shy about talking to strangers.
- Make sure the email address on your business cards works (or spend an hour on the phone with Blue Host to fix this after you get back).
- Instead of taking photos of hotel carpets, take selfies of yourself with all the famous authors you meet, like Lefty nominees Diane Vallere and James Ziskin.
- Don’t take your family and friends with you to the conference (I love you, Shaw, Cathy and Kim, but it was more fun hanging out with you than networking).
- If the conference is in Hawaii, definitely go!
- Stay in the conference hotel, so you can talk to people in the elevators. It doesn’t matter if that hotel is the really ridiculously silly Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort in Honolulu and the rooms cost $209 at the conference rate.
- Do not spend your time in the swimming pool, when you could be networking. (This will never happen as you prefer swimming to networking.)
- Stay an extra day (even though you miss your dog who doesn’t miss you–see #15), time you will need as an introvert to recover from all the networking you did or didn’t do. Swim. Read. Take photos of palm trees. Eat an extravagant and expensive and delicious dinner of macadamia-nut-crusted mahi-mahi.
Waverly Fitzgerald is the author, with Curt Colbert, of five humorous mysteries about a talking Chihuahua, published by Kensington. The first book in the series is called Dial C for Chihuahua. Waverly also writes historical fiction and non-fiction and teaches writing classes for Hugo House and online for Creative Nonfiction. She also presents–usually on craft topics–for writing conferences internationally (San Miguel de Allende), nationally (AWP) and regionally (Chuckanut Writing Conference, Write on the Sound, PNWA).