By Tracy Clark
Well, another Bouchercon is in the history books. This year’s Bouchercon, the world’s premier mystery conference and heck of a good time, was held in sunny San Diego, and 1,700 mystery and crime readers, writers, editors, agents, booksellers, and those who love them, came out to celebrate the writing community and its mutual love for all things crime and mystery.
Bouchercon is kind of like a college reunion for writers. Most of us spend the bulk of our time in tiny rooms with laptops and legal pads and pens, with mugs of coffee or tea at our sides or dogs and cats at our feet, putting words on a blank page, hoping most of them make sense. So, when we get together at conferences, we’re like kindergarteners running across the playground toward our besties. We’re happy to see each other, anxious to catch up, we cling to one another as though we’ll never see each other ever, ever again.
But the main part of what a writer does at Bouchercon, and similar conferences, is to do the second half of their jobs – the promotion part, the business part. There are panels and book signings. Cocktail parties and meets with your editor. There are interviews to give and fans to meet and greet. All of it’s fun, all of it’s vital, all of it can seem at times overwhelming.
Many writers are introverts. We’re quiet little library cats who sit on a shelf watching people do the weirdest things. Put that group into a hotel with 1,700 mystery fans strolling around, and weird things can happen.
This last time, as I was racing from one panel to a book signing before I had to race to another panel and a book signing (Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good problem to have), I wondered about writers like Emily Bronte, Daphne Du Maurier or George Eliot and imagined they lived quite different writers’ lives.
They probably wrote in solitude out in the boonies somewhere. In small villages. Burning though shillings buying candles to write by. When they finished their books, they mailed their ink-stained manuscripts off to London, likely tied in rough-hewn string, to land on the dusty desk of some wizened old publisher in a waistcoat who sat in a dark and musty office, also lit by candles. Months later a cheque for 4 pounds, or some equally ridiculous amount, would make its way back to Bronte or Eliot. And that was it. Done and dusted. They could just chillax until they started their next book.
No panels. No signings. No sweat-inducing interviews or library appearances. Could you see George Eliot yakking it up about “Middlemarch” at the Bodleian Library? I can’t.
But the business of writing has changed since Eliot and Bronte and Du Maurier. Writing’s only the first half of the gig. There’s also the moneymaker half, the business half, the half where you actually have to get out there and talk your book up. It’s meeting readers and librarians and bookstore owners (that’s the fun part, even for this old introvert). You have to be a writer and a salesman, a carnival barker and a brand ambassador. You have to not only write the book you believe in, but champion it, press it forward, get the word out. And you must do the same for your writer friends. You’re members of a community, remember that.
But carnival barker is a tough role for quiet library cats.
Still, we learn to do it. We gird ourselves for all that face time, knowing there’s a reward at the end. What is that reward? Getting the opportunity to thank the readers who bought our books, read them, liked them, and then took the time to tell us so. Readers are wonderful.
I wonder if Du Maurier felt the same about hers?
Conferences are busy, hectic, time-pressed, especially Bouchercon because it’s the biggest, but when all the business is done, there are our friends waiting for us in the bar or lounging in the hotel lobby. We catch up. We compare notes. We commiserate about how happily exhausted we are, and then we make plans to do it all again next conference.
Writing’s a nice way to make a living. You meet the nicest people.
What’s your favorite mystery conference experience? What do you enjoy most about the writing business?
Tracy Clark, a native Chicagoan, is the author of the Cass Raines Chicago Mystery series and the Det. Harriet Foster series. A multi-nominated Anthony, Lefty, Edgar, Macavity, and Shamus Award finalist, Tracy is also the 2020 and 2022 winner of the G.P. Putnam’s Sons Sue Grafton Memorial Award. She is a member of Crime Writers of Color, Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.
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