Two years ago I attended my first Thrillerfest as a debut author. International Thriller Writers celebrates new authors as if they have just discovered a cure for cancer. So although I felt a little intimidated by all the honchos at the conference, I was in a haze of delight.
Bay Area Thriller Author Alan Jacobsen and me
Last year that changed. I thought the big time authors held themselves aloof from the peons and were inaccessible, and there was a certain cliquishness to the conference. It was clear who was in the inner circle. The rest of us were wannabes—even those of us who have well-established crime fiction books.
One of the problems is that at other conferences the big name authors are sprinkled through the panels, so that they hobnob with everyone. For some reason at this conference the big names tend to be packed into panels together, which gives them an air of invincibility and leaves panels held in parallel to theirs sadly lacking in audience. And it makes the name authors seem unapproachable.
It looked like this year was going to be the same. Even though I am self-confident and feel like I can talk to just about anybody, I felt intimidated and unable to approach authors I admired. And then I remembered the first rule of conferences: wade in and talk to everyone. Find people to converse with that you have something in common with. Are you both writing about small towns? Is the author writing something you are intrigued by and know nothing about? Are you curious about their background? Find something to talk about. Introduce yourself to people, even if it’s just to say hey, I enjoy your books.
The second rule: Don’t wait to be invited to a meal—invite someone you want to get to know better. For some reason, I always assume everyone already has plans. I was happily surprised to find that people were thrilled to be asked. Suddenly the conference became intimate and more interesting. Here’s the strange part: when I was talking to people I found common ground with, suddenly I became more interesting. Writers I had felt intimidated by stopped to chat. A few even shared some of their current challenges.
The last rule was for me alone. Last year, I drank too much. I took the “see you in the bar,” too literally and ended up feeling fuzzed headed and grumpy a couple of days. This year, I decided that water was my friend. Sure, I had a glass of wine or a drink, but that was it. And I discovered that the next day I remembered what was said the previous evening. It also meant I slept better and I felt more energetic and upbeat. And one unintended consequence is I came away with a heavier wallet—those NY drinks can be expensive.
This is a cautionary tale for everyone attending conferences of any kind. Did you notice the questions I gave as examples? They were all “you-oriented,” not “me-oriented.” You’re going to have more fun if you see it as a voyage of discovery.