Friday, October 29, 2010

Post on Bouchercon

I'm stuck at home with a horrible cold, so what better time to post about Bouchercon. These are my personal impressions.

The Positive:

This was a very well run con, with only a few glitches. The absence of a map was quickly remedied, and elevating the Hospitality Suite from some place merely to rest your weary dogs into a vibrant meeting place to network was a stroke of genius. There should be a place other than the bar to congregate, and the Hospitality Suite this go around was fab.

The best panel for my money was the survey commissioned by Sisters in Crime regarding reading and buying habits of mystery readers. There weren't any surprises as far as I was concerned, but it confirmed my own sense of the market. There is a pretty strong divide between the 50+ readers and the 40- readers. Those between 40-50 straddle the market. If you're 50 and older you tend not to buy too much online, you like your whodunit, and you are very loyal to your authors. If you're 40 and under, you like dark, you like suspense, and you're not particularly brand loyal. You are buying more and more off the Internet and you're buying e-books, and you want them cheap.

Location? Well, you can't beat the S.F. Bay Area. It was nice having it at the Hyatt Regency because we could mosey on over to the Ferry Building for snacks or just some fresh air. The hotel rooms were pricey, but that wasn't a problem for me as I BARTed in.

The interviews with the stars of this con--Laurie King and Lee Child--were interesting, but I've seen them interviewed several times before (at previous B'cons, organizers take note that you need some new blood here). These interviews were not so much of a wow as that pleasure you get in listening to intelligent people talk. I'd never seen David Balducci interviewed and, man, is this guy worth listening to. What an excellent interviewee: funny, insightful, and a little brash, I could have listened to him for another hour. He writes CIA thriller stuff, which is not my cup of tea, but after hearing him I'm toying with the idea of reading one of his books. That's what these cons are suppose to do. Expose you to authors you've never read and put a bug in your ear.

The Negative

First and foremost, people need to understand that these conventions are largely fan-based. Which is both a godsend and a problem. Because you need the fans (and people arrive with suitcases of books to be signed by their favorite authors) to generate a majority of the con population. So, in keeping with this dynamic, the panels tend to be geared toward the fans. Which I understand, however, this tends to make the programming for these cons happyhappy, which is a little disconcerting, because publishing is currently undergoing some massive changes that should be addressed and weren't. Bouchercon is THE biggest of the mystery conventions and if we don't talk about these issues here, as the writing community, where are we going to talk about them? So this was irritating to me.

I've been to something like six of these cons and this was my last. Because they don't make financial sense to the small to mid-list author. Although e-books and e-readers have dominated the news for the last year (the smack down between amazon and Macmillan was fascinating), there were no panels devoted to that segment of the market. Because, well, people come to these things to sign books, and I imagine that the booksellers would be fairly peeved had there been a track on e-publishing.

Sadly that IS the big news in the market these days with e-books sales outselling hardcovers and paperbacks combined (per the latest numbers from amazon). Frankly, with authors getting dropped by their publishers (I spoke to two people whose series had been dropped), the e-book is going to be the only thing that keeps them published and available. As more and more authors are getting dropped, more and more authors are now resorting to putting their books up on Kindle or Smashwords. These authors have readers, they just don't have readers in the tens of thousands. And the current publishing model is to throw all your eggs into a few baskets and let the other authors sink or swim. Most of us end up sinking because mid-list is virtually a death sentence. Currently if you can't somehow elevate yourself to being beyond a mid-list author, you are toast.

As if to hammer home this problem, several of us from my publisher (Poisoned Pen Press) had no books to sign. And, yeah, I get that the booksellers don't want to buy books that they can't sell, but this becomes a cycle of disappointment for everyone. As an author I'm encouraged to attend so that I can generate some interest in my series, and yet there are no books for me to sell should I get people interested in my series. And, sure, they can order off of amazon, but isn't that diametrically opposed to what these cons are trying to do. Keep the independents alive?

For someone like me, being small to mid-list it doesn't make sense to attend. Yeah, it was nice to see people I haven't seen in a while, but unless the programming adds a track that informs me about market trends, and unless the book dealers start stocking my books, there's no point in me attending. I can't possibly justify the cost of registration if I don't even sell one book. Several people I talked to felt the same way.

Basically, I had fun, but at this point in my writing career it isn't about having fun. I wish it were.

No comments: