I'm going to Left Coast Crime next week. Their website defines it as "an annual mystery convention sponsored by mystery fans for mystery fans. It is held during the first quarter of the calendar year in Western North America, as defined by the Mountain Time Zone and all time zones westward to Hawaii."
Notice anything missing in the title or definition? Writers. Authors. This is not a convention for writers. And yet, it is. It is a place for authors and their readers to meet and mingle.
Writers conferences are for writers, period. They are for anyone who is even thinking they might want to write. You-The-Writer are there to learn something about writing, selling your writing, or marketing your writing. You will most likely meet people who talk and think a lot like you. They will be your tribe members and you will be able to discuss your writing with them because they get it. They get you.
At a convention, You-The-Writer are there to meet readers. There aren't a lot of writing workshops. There are few, if any, panels discussing the business aspects of being an author. It's all geared toward giving fans a behind-the-scenes look at your novels. You will meet mystery lovers who want to read more mysteries, like yours. With any luck, they will become your fans and you will be able to share your stories with them because they enjoy mysteries.
When I went to my first mystery convention (Bouchercon, Indianapolis, 2009), FREEZER BURN had just been released. As far as I knew, I had no fans, except my publisher who was hoping to turn me loose in Indianapolis and watch me reel them in. I didn't know a thing about conventions, didn't know they differed from conferences, and probably missed tons of opportunities due to my cluelessness. The best thing that happened to me was meeting LJ Sellers. She has become a great friend.
For a few years after, I didn't go to conventions. I had no minions, no large flock of adoring fans. What was the point?
In 2012, I was convinced to go to Sacramento for Left Coast Crime. Somehow, I got put on a panel to talk about private investigators. This frightened the crap out of me, because I thought everyone on the panel would have actual P.I. experience and all my answers would be, "I don't know, I make it all up." Turns out, no one had experience, the moderator had read all our books and asked great questions, and it was lots of fun. I hung out with LJ again, met Maggie Sefton, and had a running joke with Elle Lothlorien because every time she and I were in a room with Alex Sokoloff, Alex kept saying, "Gayle, have you met my friend, Elle?"
I brought paperbacks to sell, but nothing sold so I had to schlep them back to my car. Here's the thing: I sold a bunch of ebooks that weekend. While I never met anyone who clambored up to me to tell me how much they love my ebooks, I still apparently met people who wanted to buy my ebooks.
LCC was in Colorado Springs in 2013. That's a long way from California, involving plane travel, which I hate. Still, THE HOT MESS had just been released. I needed to meet readers. So I got on the plane. This time, I got to hang with a lot more authors, although not a lot more readers. I'm going to blame this on the way the hotel was laid out and how difficult it was to meet up with anyone. I did get to brainstorm with people I don't see often. I didn't bring tree-books this time. I saw a spike in my ebooks, not as much as Sacramento, but more than usual and I'll take what I can get.
The point I'm trying to make here is that, with each attendance at each convention, I am gathering more readers and becoming more of a fixture in the mystery community. This year, in Monterey, I'm on two panels, and I'm volunteering to help on a couple more. I am bringing books this year, plenty of bookmarks/business cards, and I'll probably offer a special on one of my ebooks. I'll let you know how it all turns out.
If you are a writer, trying to find your tribe, I recommend writers conferences.
If you are an author, trying to find your readers, I recommend conventions.
And yes, I plan to attend Bouchercon this year. It's in Long Beach!