Bouchercon was fabulous. The whole time, I kept thinking: I cannot wait to write about this. Yet now that the time has come, I’m finding it difficult to articulate just how incredible it was to meet writers whose work you admire–and to discover that they are not only gifted but also kind and encouraging (thank you, lovely people). It was surreal, to be honest. If I start listing all of the wonderful writers I met, I will surely miss naming someone, so I won’t even try. Instead, I will offer Some Things It May Be Helpful To Know Before You Go. (And if you’re an experienced Bouchercon-er, please add your suggestions at the end!)
Panel Hop: There are so many panels scheduled that choosing among them seems impossible. But at Bouchercon 101, the first panel I attended (highly recommended), they said it was acceptable to come and go as you please. So you can theoretically hit multiple panels during the time allotted for one, if you so choose. All of the panels I attended were great, with panelists talking in vibrant and compelling ways about their work and the genre! But I will give a shout out to the Bloody Murder panel, which was unique in that some of my favorite mystery writers were talking about their favorite mystery writers—and because Sisters in Crime posted the list here so you can see the recommendations for yourself. Tip: don’t miss the Author Speed Dating and New Author breakfasts, where you’ll meet many writers and hear all about their books. Your To-Be-Read list will overflow with goodness!
Prepare For Swag. The conference bags are full of free books (squee!), there are promotional materials everywhere, and most authors have a bookmark for you. Also, publisher reps will sometimes give out books. Also, there are books for sale. Also, you can bid on books in the silent auction. Also, you can win books at certain events. So here is something important to know: the conference arranged for a UPS table so that shipping your newly acquired goodies home could be a snap. Here’s another tip: check in at registration and pick up your book bag the night before the conference begins so that you won’t have to lug around a heavy bag the whole first day.
Use The Bouchercon App. Attendees received a beautiful archive-worthy large program and handy pocket program, both of which I used and will treasure, but there is also a downloadable Bouchercon app listing all events and panels, along with times, locations, and maps. You can go through and choose what you’d like to attend and make your own personal schedule, then set reminders that appear on your phone ahead of time so you won’t miss anything! There is also a Twitter feed embedded, providing attendee responses in real time, which is quite fun to read. (iTunes version is here. Google Play version is here.)
Talk To Everyone. At the Bouchercon 101 panel, they emphasized that you should talk to whoever you found yourself with, including The Authors. As a shy person, I was wholly prepared to ignore that advice. Yet everyone was so friendly and willing to talk! And I do mean everyone. You could be just standing there and suddenly it’s Oh, Hi Sue Grafton RIGHT NEXT TO YOU. And then you’re chatting. (Maybe fangirl/boying out a little. But that’s okay. Most people were, in one way or another.)
Find Group Members. It was thrilling to meet so many Sisters in Crime and Guppies and Mysteristas in real life! Many attendees will wear identifying bling on their conference badges. And you should wear your membership pin, if you have one, so they can find you, too! But most importantly, if you recognize someone who is a member of a group to which you belong, go up and introduce yourself. Just do it.
Consider Additional Events. Sisters in Crime offered a full-day “SinC into Great Writing” event the day before the conference began and a business meeting breakfast during the conference, both of which were extremely worthwhile (register for those before you go to the conference and make hotel reservations accordingly). The Guppies also had a meet-up, which was so much fun!
Make Contact Cards. In the past, I’ve invited interesting writers met at conferences to visit Mysteristas, then was always scrambling around for a pen to jot down the URL. So I planned ahead this time and had cards made up with the blog address, email, etc. But when I met people and gave them a card, they would want to jot down my name, too. Thus, I was still scrambling around for a pen. The lesson here: even if you don’t have a book out, create a business card with your contact information on it. You never know who you’ll be talking to, so be prepared for everything. Which brings me to the following…
Have Your Pitch Ready. I was asked, in passing, to pitch my WIP. I think my response was something like, “Uh, you mean, like, right now? [choke].” Oops. Live and learn.
Offer To Help. Bouchercon needs volunteers during the conference. In helping out, you will meet more people, so it’s fun and good karma at the same time.
Bring Comfortable Shoes. Cannot stress this enough. I thought my shoes were comfortable—I wear them every day, after all—but somehow between not staying at the conference hotel and lots of walking around beautiful Long Beach, it was blister-city. So maybe this should be: bring two pairs of comfortable shoes in case your first pair doesn’t work out.
Sign Up Early. The conference offers a reduced rate for early birds and the conference hotel sells out fast. Both of those = reasons to register now!
Thank you to the fantastic conference organizers and attendees for making Bouchercon such an inspiring place.