Friday, January 20, 2012

CONFERENCES, COCKTAILS, AND COFFEE


DEBORAH CROMBIE: Our guest today is Nancy J. Cohen, an award-winning author who writes romance and mysteries. Her popular Bad Hair Day series features hairdresser Marla Shore, who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun. Several titles in this series have made the IMBA bestseller list, while Nancy’s imaginative sci-fi romances have garnered rave reviews. Her latest book, and tenth in her mystery series, is Shear Murder from Five Star.

Who knew weddings could be murder? Hairstylist Marla Shore is weeks away from becoming a bride herself when she walks down the aisle as a bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s ceremony. Things take a turn for the worse when the matron of honor ends up dead, the cake knife in her chest. Now what will they use to cut the cake?

DEBS: I attended my first Bouchercon (Pasadena) as an unpublished writer, in 1991. Eeeekkk! I can't believe it's been that long! And I wish I'd had the advice given by our guest today, Nancy J. Cohen. I did eventually work out how to get the most out of a conference, but it would have been easier with help. And looking back on twenty years, thinking about all the wonderful friends I've made in the writing/reading business, Nancy is spot on.

(Especially about the cocktails. As most of us know, all the real business at conferences is done in the bar.)

NANCY COHEN: When you attend a writer’s conference, do you set goals ahead of time? If not, get in the habit of doing so. What is it you hope to achieve? Do you wish to further your skills by attending writing craft workshops? Or maybe you’d like to be updated on industry news and business issues? Perhaps you want to meet authors who might be willing to endorse your work. Or you could be hoping to hang out at the bar and make new friends. And don’t forget the important editor/agent appointments and the casual meets with them at cocktail parties. This means you’ll have to prepare your elevator pitch before you leave home and be ready with your log lines.

Attending workshops is a valid goal. You might focus on serious craft sessions or prefer published author seminars on marketing and promotion and career survival. Or you could check out the alternate paths to publishing by listening in on sessions about self-publishing, e-book conversion, small press, and digital first imprints. If you’re already published, any information you glean on the markets, social networking, and innovative opportunities can only be helpful.

But 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 seasoned authors should be one of your prime goals. You can learn so much from each other. Industry personnel, such as booksellers, librarians, and reviewers can be another target to approach. And if it’s a fan conference, by all means target your readers. Exchange business cards and add names to your mailing list. Offer a raffle, if the conference has one, wherein you collect the entries. Add those people to your newsletter list. And just chat up everyone you meet in line for meals, sitting next to you in a classroom, or at the bar. This is not the time to be shy. Be brave, and sit at a table with strangers for lunch or at an evening party. You’ll make new friends! A word of warning, though: Don’t brag about yourself or push your work to the exclusion of all else. Be gracious, professional, and interested in others.

Some conferences have a room with tables where you can hang out, drink coffee, and chat with fans. Frequent this place and come prepared with bookmarks and flyers. Present a friendly face and start a conversation, not so much about your books but perhaps about the conference city, your favorite sub genre, or what you’ve learned so far.

It’s wonderful to immerse yourself in an environment where you have so much in common with everyone there. Take advantage of this opportunity. 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.

(Leave a comment during Nancy’s blog tour and enter to win a set of Paua shell jewelry and a signed copy of Shear Murder.)

And be sure to stop in here on Jungle Red, say "hi", and tell us what you like most about conferences!

47 comments:

Shizuka said...

My favorite thing about conferences -- hanging out at the bar or in the lobby until the early hours of the morning talking with old or new friends. The panels and the sessions are amazing, but the talking/hanging out/laughing is the best part.

Wynter Daniels said...

This is great advice, Nancy! What I love most about writing conferences is the renewed excitement I get in the process, learning new tricks of the trade or methods of promotion. Yup, I'm a class junkie!

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Shizuka, I love hanging out, too, except that I'm an early bird. And not too many people are awake like me by 6 am. It means I'm not too late at the bar, either.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Wynter, I'm with you in that conferences inspire me to go home and get to work on my WIP. I always learn something new at the workshops, too. Our peers are our best resource.

Sheila Connolly said...

Conferences are where we get to spend "real" time with our virtual friends--the ones who we exchange emails with daily.

At Bouchercon last year, there was a brilliant panel of mainly Irish crime writers (led by the frighteningly intelligent John Connolly--no relation) that gave a whole new perspective on writing mystery fiction. No matter how well established you think you are, there's always something you can learn.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Sheila, that's so true. And yes, it's great to meet in person the people we've known online.

Jan Brogan said...

Welcome Nancy,

I'm fascinated about how you started writing sci-fi romance, did it come before or after the mysteries?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

OH, the idea of planning so SO brilliant! It's so frustrating to get on the plane how and realize--I din;t do x y or z.

But you never know what little unplanned encounter is going to be a game-changer--that's one of the delights, isn't it? Something wonderful and unexpected always happens.

In fact, I'm off to Dallas--where Rosemary and Lucy and Debs are already--to attend the ALA convention. Reds on Parade!

Anyone else going? Let's plan--see Nancy? I'm listening--to get together!

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your tips and visiting - I always enjoyed the meeting and sharing with other writers and friends even more than the workshops, also enjoy interviews and blogs like this. Hope 2012 is a great year for all of us,
Jackie Griffey

Hallie Ephron said...

Love these tips, Nancy -- I so remember my first Bouchercon, I was SO overwhelmed. Fortunately I'd volunteered to help out with registration so I had something to DO and I started to meet people. Boy was I star struck when I started to meet the mystery authors whose names I'd only seen in print.

The thing about Bouchercon and other conferences is that you never know who you're going to meet or what's going to happen that will help your career. Get you invited somewhere, or interviewed, or reviewed, or or or... Once you can relax and surrender to the unpredictability, it's actually fun. And it helps once you start to know people.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Jan, I wrote sci fi romance before the mysteries. If you check my blog tour schedule for interviews, I talk about why I switched. I still love writing in both genres and have a new paranormal romance series about to launch with Wild Rose Press.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Hank, I'll be at SleuthFest and Malice, and next January, on Florida Romance Writers Cruise with your Muse on RCCL's Liberty of the Seas. Talk about a tax deductible conference! Will you be at Malice?

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Jackie, thanks for stopping by. As I answer these posts, I realize I am speaking at next weekend's Space Coast Writers Guild Conference, and I'd better get ready. That means packing flyers, bookmarks, and all that swag, in addition to handouts. Yikes! I need to follow my own advice.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Hallie, volunteering is a great way to meet people. And you're right, it's the unpredicability that's fun. I just go to meet other writers and fans and shmooze, although I do like the workshops on marketing, ebooks, etc. these days.

Sharon Arthur Moore said...

I've attended quite a few conferences, and this is the most succinctly stated advice I've encountered. I love the energy at conferences, and the unexpected. Maybe you WILL be in the elevator with that agent you've been stalking! Thanks for some great ideas.

Deb said...

Deb Romano, Diesel picked up to get a copy of File M for Murder! If you'll email me-deb at deborahcrombie dot com--with your mailing address, I'll pass it on to Dean

Deb said...

Shizuka, which B'con was it where we stayed up until about 4 talking in the bar? I'd lost my voice the next day, but so much fun:-)

Baltimore?

Anonymous said...

Hi Nancy,
This is great advice. I've attended several conferences where I felt lost and overwhelmed only to run back to my room which was such a waste of money. Now I'm on the other end of the spectrum and I'm planning a writers conference for the FF&P chapter. (Fantasy On The Bayou) I hope to drag all the shy writers out of their rooms...lol

And if you are scared of BIG conferences, attend the smaller ones. I find I get more out of those, and I'm not so lost. :-)

Dawn
www.fantasyonthebaou.blogspot.com (March 2-4, 2012 New Orleans)

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Dawn, that's a good idea for writers starting out in their careers to begin with the smaller conferences. Then they won't feel so overwhelmed. It also helps if you go with a roommate. Then you have someone to get in line with at meals, etc.

Sharon, I'm glad you find these suggestions to be useful.

Joyce Henderson said...

Hi Nancy...
You always have sage advice on most any subject in the writing game. Sharing is one way seasoned writers give back to whatever writing community they may be a part of. And you are a one-woman sharing machine! LOL

Occasionally, I go to RWA National, and I will this year since it's in Anaheim and I'm once again living in CA. But local, smaller conferences are my favorites. Not to mention, poneying up the bucks for national is now approaching an amount to fund a small country for half a year.

I hope to see you in sunny CA in July. Well, I recall the "sunny" part when I lived in Southern CA. Here in Northwest CA it's cold and WET. We got up to a dusting of snow on the ground a few days ago, and it's been raining day and night since.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Joyce, you're lucky you get to go to RWA this year. We have to attend a wedding that same weekend, so I won't be going. And as you say, cost is definitely a factor in making these decisions.

Mary Ricksen said...

Nancy, it's hard to believe that murder can come from the mouth of such a sweet and gentle person like you!
Good luck with what I am sure will be another wonderful success!

Reine said...

Nancy, I love good advice. I need good advice. So thank you. I only hope I can follow it!

Hank, "Reds on parade," ... how cute! :)

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Mary, you're so kind. And Reine, we can all use good advice.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Great advice, Nancy!

My first mystery conference was last year's Malice. I had won the first novel award but couldn't say anything about it till after the awards banquet. My mystery-writer friends (Nancy Pickard and Sally Goldenbaum) weren't arriving for another day and neither was my editor, so I knew no one.

Then, one of my favorite authors, Monica Ferris, kindly introduced herself and took me under her wing. Thanks to her, I met other authors and attendees, got tips on which panels to attend, all sorts of kindnesses. I'll never forget what a sweetheart she was to someone sitting alone and looking lost.

Wish I'd had your advice then, Nancy. But failing that, the famous generosity of mystery authors stood me in good stead.

I'll be at Malice (with Ben) and hope we can all get together while there!

Reine said...

And Nancy, just the idea of sci-fi romance is intriguing!

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Linda, thanks for sharing and hope to see you at Malice this year!

Reine, writing my sci fi romances is a blast. If you're in the mood for a fast-paced romantic adventure, try one!

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Deborah, I'm an early to bed and early to rise kind of person, so I'm retiring for now. Please keep leaving your comments, folks, and I'll reply in the morning. Thank you again for having me here!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Nancy. I haven't been to a conference yet, but when I finally make the plunge, you'll be that angel over my shoulder urging me to mingle instead of returning to my room. Dawn, I so understand.

Edi

Deb Romano said...

Deb:

I am so excited about winning Dean's book! (Gotta love that Diesel!)
I will send my contact info on Monday via my work email. My alternate email account is a little cranky so I'd rather wait a couple of days to use a program that doesn't have an attitude problem.

Thanks again!

Deb Romano

Deb Romano said...

Nancy,

I enjoyed reading your contribution today. I read the blog first thing this morning but have not had a free moment to comment until just now. I have been thinking of attending Malice as a grateful reader and fan, and you have me more and more excited about it. (I need to check my pennies and see what I can come up with!) Looking forward to reading your books; thanks to blogs like this one, I am always adding new - to me - authors to my list of favorites.

Reine! You changed your picture again! Showing off the Smaller You - and you are looking good!

Deb Romano

Reine said...

Thanks, Deb. xo

Kathryn Koller- UFR said...

I've been considering going to conferences lately, so this is great advice for when I take the plunge and go to one, thanks a bunch :)

Shizuka said...

Deb, that was B'con in Baltimore! I woke up the next morning mostly voiceless, but it was worth it! I wish they'd have a B'con in New York so we could hang in my hometown.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Anonymous: Yes, don't be shy when you attend a conference. Remember that everyone there wants to make friends.

Deb R: Look me up if you go to Malice. It's a great conference for fans of cozies and not as overwhelming as Bouchercon. another smaller con for mystery writers is Sleuthfest, being held March 1-4 near Disney in Orlando.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Kathryn, a writers conference will really stimulate your creative juices. It's just fun being with other people who share the same hopes and dreams. And fears. Meeting readers, booksellers, and other industry personnel is icing on the cake. If you have a finished work, this is the best way to meet editors and agents.

Maryann Miller said...

You are so right about the mingling and visiting and what you can gain from meeting seasoned authors at your first conference. I remember thinking that I shouldn't bother them, but guess what? They love to talk books and writing with other writers, even new writers.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

MaryAnn, as you say, it doesn't hurt to walk up to a bestselling author and introduce yourself. Remember, image is everything. Although on a different rung of the ladder, this person might share the same hopes and fears that we do.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Deb R., I'll second Nancy about Malice. It's smaller than Bouchercon, so I think a good one to start with. You'll love it. It's where I first met some of the TLC & Jungle Reds--like Margaret Maron & Hank. and you won't have to go alone the way I did--you'll have all of us there to welcome you.

Misty MacRae said...

Nancy:
It was a pleasure finally being able to put a face with the name today. My question is this:As a novice, how do you know what questions to ask? How do you make a plan or goal for a conference if you have never been to one before?

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Misty, think about why you're going to the conference in the first place. Do you hope to meet more seasoned authors to get their advice? Attend basic craft workshops? Learn more about marketing your work? Have you signed up for an agent/editor appt? Do you want to meet readers? So determine what are the main things you want to accomplish at this event.

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