Thursday, May 08, 2008

Traveling writers

I bought a new Honda Civic seven years ago. Right now I have 25,704 miles on it. I don't travel a lot. My health restricts me but even if it didn't I probably wouldn't be going many places. I love my life at home and after my dark years I found that I wasn't very social after all. Sitting around talking with three or four people is my idea of a good evening. Beyond three or four I tend to lay back.

Mystery Cat Bookstore in Cedar Rapids is nice enough to have me do a signing whenever I have a new book appearing. I order extra galleys and send them out to blogs I hope will review them. I get about a fifty per cent response. And that's about it. Even in the days when I was editing Mystery Scene I never went to conventions or seminars. Amazing how well the mystery world has done without me, eh?

So last night I'm reading Sandra Parshall on Poe's Deadly Daughter's and I come across the follwing paragraph about writers attending mystery conferences:

"In virtually every case, writers have to pay their own way. A lot of mystery writers out there, especially first-time authors, are spending their entire advances and much more on travel and conference fees. It seems to make sense – after all, if you don’t get a rave review in the New York Times and your publisher won’t buy big splashy ads for your book, you have to get the word out somehow, don’t you?" (Then she goes on to suggest that it doesn't make sense, that, per an agent's advice, you should pick one or two conferences a year to attend and forget the others.)

Ed here: Wow "Spending their entire advances and more." Maybe I'd be better known if I'd gotten around some in my Mystery Scene days--I'm not questioning the value of that kind of publicity--but spending your advances and more? Is this sort of thing widespread?

And doesn't this tax your writing time?

Once again, I'm responding as someone in his sixties who grew up in Iowa and didn't meet a real writer until he was eighteen. And that writer was a sad alcoholic who wrote for a few pathetic downscale men's magazines (that I would gladly write for a year later. Henry Gregor Felsen of Des Moines (a REAL writer) was supposed to come to Cedar Rapids on the day of my fifteenth birthday but something happened and he couldn't make it. I'm considering forgiving him.)

Most of you may be familiar with the syndrome Parshall describes. But to me it's surprising.


mybillcrider said...

I go to conference because I have a good time. I never expect to sell any books because of my attendance (and it's a good think I have low expectations since they're nearly always met).

Henry Gregor Felsen, now there's a writer, all right. I loved his books when I was a kid.

Anonymous said...

How much I resemble you in some ways. I'm most comfortable with two or three others, and I dread crowds. But my friendships are all the richer, given that we quietly converse. I've often noted that the shouting at stand-up cocktail events is actually a barrier to friendship and affection. I'm such an introvert, and half deaf, and have such a quiet voice that I can't converse anyway at those affairs. I basically let my books fend for themselves. For years I pushed, in all ways, with no visible effect.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I spent way too much on the first couple of novels, trying to get to the conferences and fit in like some insecure kid in high school. I never did fit, and can't see that it's ever paid off in any meaningful way. I'm also inclined to stay home with friends. And all things considered, why not?
Harry Shannon

Judi Rohrig said...

I also did the convention route, but more so to help push the works of others since I had so few of my own. The networking possibilities certainly were there, and I met lots of very nice people, but I, too, am pretty much a loner, so it was difficult and frustrating when I didn't fit in. Mostly I worked: dealers room, convention staff, whatever. I loved seeing all the different places, so it did help me grow as a person and a writer, but I'll probably never attend another convention again.

Maybe another John D. MacDonald Conference, if that ever happens again, or a Ed Gorman Conference, though. Presenting a paper is a whole different ballgame. :-)


Anonymous said...

From what I've read on agent, author and unpublished writer blogs, attending conferences is only part of the expectation for a first time author. You are also supposed to have a blog up and running with frequent posts, spend enough time visiting other blogs and commenting so you can get links to your blog, make sure you belong to numerous writing groups and organizations so they will all be on your promotional e-mail list, consider spending your advance on your own publicist (if you havn't already spent it on conferences), and of course those quaint old book signings that used to be considered enough. Oh, and if you can cultivate a relationship with a talk show host, that'll help too---doesn't have to be Oprah, do the best you can. Which makes me think one of the great things about being an unpublished writer is I have the time to write.