Left Coast Lessons Learned

by Sarah M. Chen

As I write this, I’m still trying to sort through all my emotions and thoughts about the crime writer conference that is Left Coast Crime – Honolulu Havoc.

Every conference leaves me feeling both drained and exhilarated. As an introvert, I need my alone time. I think it’s safe to say most of us writers are like this. In the past, I’d go to my room one night for dinner by myself or I’d play hooky and explore the city on my own for a day. However, as a Lefty nominee, I quickly realized these options didn’t help my chances of winning. If nobody sees me, nobody is going to know who I am or what I wrote.

Granted, I had no preconceived notions that I would win. And to get it out of the way now, I did not win. Alexia Gordon won for “Murder in G Major.” I knew my chances were slim given that this is basically a popularity contest and I really didn’t know a majority of the attendees. I’d like to think it’s all based on the merits of the book and perhaps a lot of it is. However, I think people vote for their friends, just like in most campaigns.

So I went into campaign mode both in preparing for the conference and during the conference. I made buttons with the help of my writer group and signed up for every event that would get my name and face in front of attendees.

Author speed dating

I signed up for author speed dating and the debut author breakfast.

Short story panel

I agreed to be on three panels. I attended the opening ceremony and awards banquet, something I usually either skip or pay little attention to. I forced myself out of my comfort zone and introduced myself to people. I smiled or at least tried to look friendly and make eye contact with strangers (usually I look away or zone out).

What I learned was that people are friendly and want to meet you. They want to read your books. They want to know more about you. It helps even more if you’re funny or at least able to laugh at yourself. We’re all there because of our love for books and crime fiction so unless you are rude or rendered mute because of extreme shyness, we’re bound to have a pleasant conversation with one another.

Debut nominees – Nadine Nettmann, Marla Cooper, and me

I’ve been to many writer conferences before but going as a nominee is a different feeling and experience entirely. It’s both good and bad. Okay, it’s mostly amazing. I felt like a celebrity. People I’d never met before wanted to talk to me. Everyone kept saying congratulations even though I hadn’t done anything. I encountered a little bit of “oh I loved your book” at Bouchercon last year but this was multiplied by a thousand. It was a fantastic feeling.

I learned some rookie lessons as well. Like if you’re a nominee, make sure you bring enough books to the conference. I’ve never sold more than one or two at these things so I didn’t want to lug a bunch of books all the way to Hawaii. Huge mistake. I sold out on the first day which sounds great until I tell you I only brought six (and one was part of a giveaway). I was scolded by several friends, other writers, and even the bookseller. It’s a missed opportunity that I’ll never get again. When else am I going to be a “debut author” nominee? I let my “oh no one’s going to buy my book” fear get the best of me. Big wake-up call.

Overall, I’m thrilled with how things went and it’s because of all the incredible writers and readers I met.

After party on the 2nd Floor

I have my whole life to lock myself in my house or avoid social functions, but these writer conferences are not a time to do that. I’d say 99% of the time it’s totally worth it to push myself, even if right now, everything inside me wants to crawl into a hole and stay there. I should be ready to come out by October, though, just in time for Bouchercon.


Sarah M. Chen juggles several jobs including indie bookseller, transcriber, and insurance adjuster. She has published over twenty crime fiction short stories with Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Betty Fedora, Out of the Gutter, and Dead Guns Press, among others. Cleaning Up Finn, her noir novella with All Due Respect Books, was a 2017 Lefty Award finalist for Best Debut Mystery. https://sarahmchen.com/


19 thoughts on “Left Coast Lessons Learned

  1. Good for you. When it comes to books, ship them early and then you can ship the remainders back…not that you would have any. (We do it all the time at my work, ship stuff early, etc. )

    Congratulations on the nominations and for getting out of the comfort zone. I’m glad is was a good experience. Here’s to more great moments in your career. Doris

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Doris. What’s even worse is that my books are quite small (literally pocketbook size) so it would have been no big deal to stick 10 or 20 in my suitcase. Ugh. Oh well. Live and learn. Thank you for the kind words!


  2. I’m SO EXCITED for you, Sarah! Bloom where you’re planted, the saying goes, and you certainly did. Congratulations on your nomination and for the recent release of your children’s books. You’re doing great, and it’s okay to “hole up” for awhile, process, and keep writing. Then, come back up to meet your adoring fans and do it all over again! 🙂


  3. Congratulations on being nominated. If I were you, I wouldn’t feel bad about not having enough books. If people really want to buy your book, they can find it online or in a local bookstore. If that’s too much trouble for them, it’s their loss. I wonder if next time, you can ship a bunch of books ahead of time so you don’t have to haul them with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wearing that jacket in Hawaiian weather must be a metaphor for your shyness. Seriously, I do like how you push yourself so you venture beyond your comfort zone. I like my ‘alone time’ too. My days as a news reporter helped tame shyness. In my working days, I sometimes attended journalism conferences and seminars where I knew nobody. I can see where it might help to approach things like you’re playing a D&D style role-playing game… just immerse yourself in your character… Lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I think being a newspaper reporter would have been a hard career for me but probably would have helped me with my shyness. It forces you to get over it, I’m sure. I wore that jacket a lot because the hotel rooms were freezing! Thanks for commenting, Mike, and I appreciate the support.


  5. Yes, we’re definitely opposites. It takes me weeks to recover from being surrounded by so many people, I have to hide in my house for a while! 🙂 Thanks for the support, Cher’ley.


  6. I’m very glad the experience had many positives, Sarah. You’ve got some great photos to look back at! I went to my first ever conference recently (which I’ll update on sometime) but came back with only one photo because I forgot to charge my phone. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh no, that’s too bad about your phone and pictures! I’ve had things like that happen too and it’s frustrating. Thanks for reading and commenting, Nancy. Hope you had a great time at your conference as well.


  7. Thanks for the push. I was debating about attending the WV Writers conference. You gave me the push I needed. Then I looked up the workshops that were being offered and I am thrilled I decided to go. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad, Sue! I think that’s great! No matter how nervous or uncertain I am before attending a conference, I always end up having a wonderful time and come away feeling rejuvenated about writing. I bet you’ll have fun and meet so many great people. Can’t wait to hear about it.


  8. Congratulations on your nomination and on pushing through introversion into campaign mode. I know how hard that is–well, actually, I don’t, because at conferences I still sort of sidle around the perimeter. But people really do want to meet and speak with authors. Have fun at Bouchercon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kathy. I have to keep reminding myself that yes, people want to meet authors and almost everyone at these writer conferences are awkward, nervous, or introverts to some degree. Although a few writers I’ve realized are most definitely not! Thanks, I’m looking forward to Bouchercon.


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