I have already confessed to being a cozy writer. And reader. And I spent last weekend with 700+ like minded folks.
Malice Domestic is an annual mystery fan conference that celebrates the traditional mystery. This wasn’t my first Malice. It was my fourth or fifth–but the last time I was there was 2005. There are lots of reasons to go to a conference, but I was struck by how my experience at Malice has changed over time. My writing life has propelled me forward in interesting ways. I am more confident of my craft. I have a wide circle of published friends, and many of them were at Malice. I am also on the board of Sisters inn Crime New England, and SinC National has a strong presence at the conference.
Eight years ago I wasn’t as confident, and felt like more of an outsider. This time, I belonged a bit more. Maybe not to the inner circle, but I was definately with my tribe. Though the panels were good, what I really found interesting were the different events that the conference set up for the authors and readers/fans to interact. Since I wasn’t an active author at the conference, I went to these events to support my friends who were participating. And in the process, I learned a lot.
On Friday morning, there is an event called “Malice-Go-Round”. Attendees sit at round tables with two authors. At the sound of the bell, each author has 2 minutes to pitch her/his (mostly her) book. Then the authors go to the next table, and the process is repeated. I went because my friend Barbara Ross was participating for the first time, and I wanted to show support. But watching 60 authors (I think that is the number) pitch, you can’t help but start to think about what is working, and what isn’t. Here are some thoughts, should you ever have this sort of opportunity. (And honestly, you will, at some point, for something. Pitching is part of life.)
Don’t tell us the plot. Some authors really got stuck telling us the story, and two minutes isn’t enough time for that. Instead give a two or three sentence recap, and then turn to the characters. Why should we care what happens? What wrong is the protagonist trying to right? What is the hook? There are a remarkable number of similar plots–what makes your book different is how you make me care about what happens to your characters.
Swag. I knew that it was suggested that each author bring enough of “whatever” for everyone. This varied–some people brought candy, or recipe cards, and one person brought a pen. Most people either brought a bookmark, or a business card with a book cover on one side. So here are some swag observations.
- Make sure it is a nice piece. Well designed, with information easily accessible.
- Cute ideas (candy, for example) don’t last once they are used, so the name recognition isn’t long.
- Make your piece stand out. One bookmark had a ribbon attached to the top. It probably cost a few cents, and took time, but it made me want to keep the bookmark. And when you are collecting that many pieces of swag, a lot of it is going to be dumped. Unless it stands out.
- Have enough of whatever for everyone. I totally understand the numbers are significant, but not having information to hand out is a lost opportunity.
Smile, have fun, and be professional. Practice your pitch, and know it well. But don’t know it so well that you can’t have fun with the crowd. And remember to SMILE. It must be scary, but 60% of the attendees are fans, and they want you to succeed. They want to find a new author, or series. So help them like you.
What a great opportunity for me to learn, and one I didn’t expect. And props to everyone who participated. It was a great way to start the conference.
J.A. Hennrikus is the Executive Director of StageSource. She is a mystery writer. Her short story, “Tag, You’re Dead” was published in Level Best Book’s anthology THIN ICE. “Her Wish” is in Level Best Books’ DEAD CALM. And “The Pendulum Swings, Until It Doesn’t” was published in BLOOD MOON in November 2012.She is a social media fan, and tweets under @JulieHennrikus. She wrestles with allusions of athleticism, is an avid theater goer and a member of Red Sox nation. Her website is jahennrikus.com