Writing Conferences, or Why I Got a Suitcase for My Last Birthday

My first novel, THE BLACK HOUR, isn’t out until July, but I’ve been a part of the mystery writing community for several years. How? One word: conferences.

I went to my first Bouchercon, the annual world mystery conference, as an aspiring author. I had a book almost done, but wasn’t quite ready to submit it.

I also met mystery writer Clare O’Donohue. (Some might say that I didn’t meet her so much as stalk her and give her little choice but to be my friend.) She gave me lots of advice that day, including that I should march across the book room and sign up with the Mystery Writers of America. Which I did, and soon I had a monthly check-in with published writers in my genre. I’ve learned so much from this group, and since that day in the Bouchercon St. Louis book room in 2011, I’ve finished my book, landed an agent, sold the book, and become the vice president of the MWA Midwest Chapter. Clare is the president. Not a coincidence.

So…go to a conference, is what I’m saying. But it helps to go to a conference having a few small attainable goals in mind. Mine in St. Louis: make mystery writer friends.


My first writing conference ever was in 2001. It was the Midwest Writers Workshop, happening in my (at-the-time) hometown, and I was fresh out of a journalism graduate program with no idea what I was doing or where I was going. I didn’t know it, but I had written the last fiction I would write for another five years. The conference was great—but I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t have any idea what my goals might be, though I had some interest in freelance writing.

Several years later, I went back to that same conference with a better grip on what I wanted from it, and got that and more.

luggage full and ready to travelNow, as someone with a book coming out, I’m more focused on the conferences where I can hang out with other mystery writers and meet a few new readers.

Here’s what the year in the life of a Chicago mystery writer looks like:

Love Is Murder, Rosemont, IL…This conference was just a couple of weeks ago. I was on a panel with Clare O’Donohue and Julie Hyzy. I know, right? Watch the site for the 2015 line-up, which will include Anne Perry. Feb. 6-8, 2015

Left Coast Crime: Calamari Crime, Monterey, CA, March 20-23, 2014

Malice Domestic, Bethesda, MA, May 2-4, 2014

Printers Row Lit Fest, Chicago, IL, June 7-8, 2014

ThrillerFest IX, New York, NY, July 10-12, 2014…This is my book launch week. Eek!

Midwest Writers Workshop, Muncie, IN, July 24-26, 2014…I can’t recommend the MWW highly enough for early career writers. They cover all manner of writing, and always have excellent mystery programming—and its size is perfect for making new friends, getting to ask lots of questions, and leaving for home feeling like you may just be a writer yet. The MWW is open for registration for this summer’s workshop. They fill up, so don’t wait on this one.

Killer Nashville, Nashville, TN, August 21-24, 2014…Still considering this one. Nashville in August might indeed be a killer.

Magna Cum Murder, Indianapolis, IN, October 24-26, 2014…I used to live across the street (not figuratively, but literally) from where this conference was held in Muncie, Indiana, for five years—and never went. I wasn’t a mystery writer at the time, you see. But Indianapolis is a great conference town, and a few hours’ drive from home.

Murder and Mayhem in TBD, Wisconsin, November TBD, 2014…This small conference is going through some changes, but I know whatever form it takes will be well run and fun.

Bouchercon, Long Beach, CA, Nov. 13-16, 2014…My favorite! In future years, this conference travels to Raleigh, N.C., New Orleans, Toronto, and St. Petersburg, FL. I’m in.

This year, I’m also going to Book Expo America, New York, NY, May 29-31, 2014. This is a first for me, and everything I’ve heard about it scares me. But we have to do the things that scare us, right? I might need a conference buddy.

My annual conference schedule won’t always be this ridiculous. But being a debut author is a privilege we only get once, so I’m throwing myself out there. It’s tactical, and it’s also a great way to see friends. The best part? I might run into some of my fellow Debs out there in the real world, and finally get to meet them.

Will I see you at any of these events?


photo from http://www.kaleidoscopeadventures.com

Author: Lori Rader-Day

Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

28 Replies to “Writing Conferences, or Why I Got a Suitcase for My Last Birthday”

  1. HOLY CRAP, Lori. I thought I was doing a lot of cons this year, but you have got me beat by a lot! Some of my travel money I’m using for signings and also research abroad…but GO YOU!

  2. You’re on fire when it comes to conferences, Lori! I’ll see you at LCC, maybe KN, and B’con! I try (operative word) to be grateful about the day-job — it does pay for this stuff.

  3. I try to make it to at least one conference a year. Usually it’s Pennwriters, which alternates years between Pittsburgh and Lancaster. It’s multi-genre and attracts a lot of agents and editors.

    My one and only Bouchercon so far was in Baltimore. I loved it. I’m definitely going to Raleigh next year, since that’s about the time my debut will be out. I’m considering Malice this year, but I haven’t made up my mind yet. Decisions, decisions.

    1. It’s tough, isn’t it? I’ll probably have to make tougher cuts next year. This is a lot of travel for someone who only has three weeks of vacation for the entire year. And who likes to go to a quiet lake for her vacation.

  4. Thanks for the post. I love conferences. Just a few days ago I was at AWP in Seattle (Association for Writers and Writing Programs). It is slanted toward academia and literary writing, but I still find it very inspiring for a genre writer. It is also one of the best priced conferences around at less than $200. This summer I’m going to the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA). It’s a pitch conference where I’m hoping to find an agent for my mystery novel.

  5. I’m thrilled to know I had a stalker (however briefly). Makes me feel I’ve arrived! I absolutely agree on going to conferences. They are a bit intimidating when you first arrive. My first one was Bouchercon, San Francisco a few years back and I felt like the new girl at school. But I latched on to Ellen Crosby and Catriona McPherson (after doing a panel together) and soon I had met several other writers. The next conference more writers…. The goal isn’t to sell books, unless you’re already a bestselling author you won’t sell more than a handful, but meeting other writers/ bloggers/readers/reviewers is invaluable. Plus, it’s just fun.

  6. I up, down, left and right sweat by writer’s conferences. They’re so much FUN! They’re where we find our people.

    So far I have just a few more planned this year, but reading your schedule just inspired me to try and shoot for a few more 😉 Plus, I do love the big pillows on hotel beds…

        1. Wait, wait…what?! You just blew my mind, Lori.

          New life goal: stay at hotel with a pillow menu. (I’ve gotta shoot for more than books, right?)

          1. We stayed at an all-inclusive in Mexico that had a pillow menu, and it was adorable. Tiny little pillows lined up in a box. I already loved the pillows in my room, so I didn’t need to “order.” Just heard the words “pillow menu” and demanded to see it. You have to.

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