Thursday, May 28, 2009

Are Mystery Conferences in Decline?

by Barbara D'Amato

Several previously popular mystery conventions and workshops canceled this year, and others, like Malice Domestic, one of the best-run and best-liked, almost didn’t happen. Love Is Murder on Dark and Stormy Nights is taking a year off. I won’t list the ones that have closed down—I just hope they bounce back. But things are looking bleak.

It’s the economy, stupid? Well, yes, but I don’t think it is entirely the economy.

Some say the conferences are competing with each other, drawing from the same customer base. Too many conferences with, too often, the same speakers and same panels. And it is certainly true that conferences proliferated in the last ten or fifteen years.

I think there’s something else going on, though.

When I first joined MWA in 1982, the chapter meetings were the only place I could chat with fellow authors. Who else was going to sympathize with complaints about covers? Who else cared whether your publisher was a hyphen-phobe or hyphen-phile? Those were days when the only other ways to chat with fellow writers were to telephone or to send a letter. On paper! So real discussions were obtainable only at chapter meetings or Bouchercon, one of the very few conferences in existence then. Of Dark and Stormy Nights was the first mystery-writing workshop.

For years I went to every single chapter meeting and enjoyed them and learned a lot.

Now it’s DorothyL or Murder Must Advertise, or any of a dozen socialnets and hundreds of blogs, let alone the websites of the organizations and even of the conferences. I feel part of a large, chatty, opinionated, vigorous world of writers without leaving my keyboard and monitor.

Really, I still enjoy conferences. There’s something exciting about the gathering-of-the-clan feeling you get when you belly up to the check-in desk and see friends from California and Virginia and the U.K. checking in, too. But attendance is down.

I’m wondering how people feel about this. Do you think virtual fellowship is enough? Has it replaced some of your conference-going?

Is this blog diminishing the delights of meetings?


Dana King said...

I see your point, and I can't find grounds to disagree, though your hypothesis doesn't apply to me. I went to my first Bouchercon last year almost solely because of acquaintences I made online, through commenting on blogs and joining Crimespace. I doubt I would gone otherwise. (It's entirely possible I would not have known about it.)

I think the truth combines multiple points you raised. The recession is making some think twice about how many competing, inevitably similar, conferences they can afford. With the internet available as a fallback position, they're staying home.

I think (hope) that will reverse itself when the economy looks up again. There's nothing like face-to-face contact with a large group of writers and readers.

James O. Born said...

This is an extremely well thought out position. I agree about the same panels and panelists.

I had to think it over, but when I got an offer to speak to a convention of College English Instructors during Bouchercon week, I decided to accept.

I'll miss my friends but hope to make it up by seeing them somewhere else.

Jim Born

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Barb, I remember one panel that was completely different. But even Magna Cum Murder was smaller than normal last October.

Our chapter of SinC is trying to put together a little conference we've called Mysteryfest. It's primarily to learn about the crime in crimewriting. I'm of the notion that we need new fresh speakers from outside the community to draw in attendance.

See you in Chicago in a week and a half.

Sean Chercover said...

We will miss you at Bouchercon, Jim.

College English Instructors, indeed.


Libby Hellmann said...

SO what's next? A virtual Bouchercon? A Twittercrimefest? A panel via Skype? Actually, I'd love to see some of that happen...:)

Barbara D'Amato said...

My guess is that several conferences will survive and do well after the present financial unpleasantness is over. But there will be some pruning. There is nothing on the net that compares with hanging out with cronies at a conference. I attended every MWA chapter meeting for well over ten years and many of my best friends to this day are people I met there.

jnantz said...

I sure as hell hope they aren't in decline, seeing how I haven't been able to afford one yet, but will be going in the next year or two...

abbourgoin said...

I too hope they are not in decline. I would love to go to Boucheron, Thrillerfest, but like Nantz, can't afford one yet. Maybe if I have success with my writing in the near future, I can go to them next year...

Picks By Pat said...

Despite the explosion in the number of blogs and sites available (and they are useful), I find the conferences I've attended well worth it. Meeting someone you've chatted with is a real thrill.
As a bonus, I've been introduced to the work of many writers I'd never read after meeting them in person at a conference breakfast table or panel discussion.

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

I think there are just too many conferences. Most of the smaller ones try to be big by having three days of panels with a limited number of panelists when they could be just as effective in one day or two.

Meeting with fans and authors face to face is still the best and I think it's a matter of getting the most for your buck.

Tanya said...

Hmmm, that was interesting. Looks like somethings will always remain mystery.

I myself has been trying to solve the mystery of the legend that forces you to have "earn it before

having it", for a wile now. Could not understand much though.

Let me know in case you get to understand the mystery of the Old Hound and the Legend

By the way, good writing style. I'd love to read more on similar topics

Shalini said...

Man, I followed that the dark truth link, and was completely in the story. Damn exciting. The latest post talks about a friend of him who's gone missing . Somewhere on his way to Leh, India. And the guy is asking for help find it. Soundss like an online game . This looks interesting. M already hooked on.

Hey, btw, nice post you have there - keep rocking - ;)