“How was your trip? I know you had to catch an early train.” That’s how Margery Flax of Mystery Writers of America greeted me at the registration table for the Edgar Symposium. That could mean only one thing – she’d read my blog the day before. Yes, the post in which I’d expressed ambivalence about whether I should be going at all.
Margery’s the Administrative Manager for the MWA, and she uses a Google search to bring up new references to the MWA. I felt instantly validated, and the feeling continued throughout the day as people I’d never met in person scrutinized my name tag and said “I know you from somewhere.” We then played the traditional game with an internet twist – “Oh, I know you from CrimeSpace.” Or the Yahoo groups for Sisters in Crime or Murder Must Advertise or maybe the Poisoned Pen Web Con.
I’ve been busy building my brand online for the past year, and it was good to know my name actually has some recognition value, even though I haven’t yet hit the big time with my books. Actually I’ve been paying my dues – and my conference registration fees – for several years now. I was thrilled when I handed Laura Lippman my brand-new bookmark, she read the title Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders and said “I remember your talking about this book at Malice Domestic a couple of years ago.”
I told her I’d gone the self-publishing route and explained I wouldn’t be going to Malice this year because they no longer recognize nontraditionally published writers as “authors.” We chatted about the pros and cons of this issue and she urged me to publish my work on Kindle ASAP.
At the Baltimore Bouchercon in 2008, Laura raffled off a bottle of red wine from South Africa called “Herding Cats” with a label featuring two gorgeous leopards. I won it, and on Wednesday I told her I love the bottle so much that it was still sitting unopened on my kitchen counter. She told me it actually isn’t a very good wine, so it’s no great loss if I never get around to drinking it.
This was only one of many friendly encounters on a day that kicked off with Donald Maass’s condensed workshop on “Writing the Breakout Mystery” and ended with the traditional Agents and Editors party. We authors had name tags bordered in red. Agents had green, editors and publishers blue. Fortified by a glass of Pinot Grigio, I bravely made the rounds and introduced myself to as many green- and blue-tagged folks as possible. I hadn’t rehearsed a pitch, but I had my bookmarks conveniently stashed in my handbag so that I could instantly whip them out.
The bookmarks proved excellent ice breakers, and I told people that although I’d self-published two books, I was still hoping to land a good agent or publisher when the time felt right. And they definitely perked up when I discussed my success as a blogger. I came away with a pocketful of business cards from agents and editors open to future contact. When I arrived home and showed them to my husband, he said, “Great – now what are you going to do with them?’ In other words, I shouldn’t just stash them away in a bottom drawer and forget about them. He knows me all too well.
I chatted with other authors on the prowl, and some who were more stationary. One man had parked himself at one of the high circular tables, saying, “If I station myself right here, I figure all the agents will have to pass by eventually.” And so they did – pass him by, that is.
So what did I do right, and what would I advise for others?
- Work the room – with a little alcoholic lubrication if necessary.
- Get and use bookmarks – they’re a great icebreaker and time saver.
- Talk about your books but maybe more important, about what you can bring to the table in terms of promotion, for example blogging and social networking skills.
- Ask for business cards and an agreement that it’s okay to contact the people you meet – then do it!
All in all, it was a rewarding day. In upcoming posts, I’ll report on the Q&A with Lee Child and Laura Lippman, and on Donald Maass’ workshop and why my novel Eldercide could be a breakout mystery.