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