Writer's Notes

Conferences: The Pros and Cons by Michael A. Black

By Michael A. Black

mike Black BloodTrails coverAs we begin this new year it’s totally appropriate that we take a look at the conference scene and ask that pertinent question: How do I get the most bang for my buck?
How do I choose a good conference? Where are the best locations? Should I choose genre over craft, a fan-based conference vs. one with a lot of authors? What should I expect out of the experience? How about the cost?

All of those are legitimate questions, but they’re fairly easy to answer. First, do a bit of research on any prospective conferences and figure out which ones are best suited to meeting your goals. Cost is always a factor, as is location. Is the conference in an interesting place that’s easy to get to? My advice is pick one that’s in a neat place, and tack on a few days to do some sightseeing. While you’re looking into it, check out the costs of travel and hotel rooms.

Genre based vs. craft based… If you’re interested in improving your knowledge and writing skills, check out what the conference program has listed. If you’re only going to collect autographs from your favorite writers, then learning something is obviously secondary. And, if you’re a writer, pick the appropriate type of conference. Don’t go to a sci-fi con if your main interest is writing romance. Pick your genre and check out what each has to offer. I can tell you right now that my main interest is the mystery/thriller genre, but I’ve gone to a few sci-fi cons and they’re a lot of fun (Imagine people walking around in costumes and discussing things not of this world.) Mystery/thriller conferences are usually less intimidating, and very friendly. Some of the nicest people go to them. It’s not uncommon to meet a bestselling author in the bar, for instance.

You should examine what you want to accomplish. The opportunities to network are very good at most conferences, but keep in mind, the bigger they are, the more you’ll feel like a small fish in a big pond. Bouchercon, the international mystery writer’s conference is held in a different city each year, and it’s pretty overwhelming, especially your first time. I wouldn’t recommend Bouchercon unless you’re only interested in getting a book signed. Even if you’re a published author, your chances of being on a panel or getting a signing opportunity at a conference that large are questionable. Smaller conferences are usually better for meet in people and making connections.
If you’re looking to learn, and what writer isn’t, check out the conference program. Usually, they’re made up of various panels on different topics, and feature some individual speakers. My high school physics teacher used to say that one hour across the table from a wise man is worth ten years study of books. See who’s attending the conference and be they writer or expert in a certain field, let that information be part of your decision making.

Okay, I think I’ve covered the basics, so let me use what time I have left to push my favorite conference, the Public Safety Writers Association Conference. It’s held each summer in Las Vegas, Nevada and is without a doubt the most writer-friendly conference I’ve ever attended. This year’s dates are July 12-15, at the Orleans Hotel.
I know what you’re thinking… Vegas in the summer? Sure, it’s hot, but it’s the desert. You’ll be inside the luxurious hotel in the air-conditioning during the day, and at night it cools down to a comfortable level. The Orleans is not on the Strip, so the rates are incredibly reasonable ($45.00 a night weekdays and $94.00 Friday and Saturday) and there’s a shuttle bus that’ll take you over to the main drag, if that’s where you want to go. Did I mention that the Orleans contains numerous restaurants, and food court, several movie theaters, a bowling alley, and lots of slot machines? You don’t even have to outdoors if you don’t want to.

But enough about that. Take it from me, it’s great.

The conference itself is designed for writers of all levels and abilities. Some of our PSWA members are published authors with impressive resumes. Others are first timers, and others are aspiring to be published. Regardless of your level, you’ll find everyone friendly and always willing to offer advice and assistance. We usually have numerous publishers on hand to listen to pitches, too.

While you don’t need a background in public safety to join the PSWA, many of our members are former police, federal agents, ex-military, or firefighters. Others are people who write about those things. The conference offers the opportunity to rub elbows with those who’ve actually done the stuff of books and movies and others who’ve successfully written about it. It’s a wealth of information, and everyone is very approachable.
The luncheon meals are included in the conference fee, which is real low compared with other conference of this type. And we have an old-time radio play that aspiring actors and actresses can participate in, if you so desire. There’s also an intensive writer’s workshop the first day you can sign up for that features three published writers giving you individual critiques and writing advice.

So what are you waiting for? Visit the PSWA website today ( and check things out. Registration is easy and the price is right. Hope to see you there.
Mike Black Book Jac PhotoMichael A. Black is the author of 29 books, the majority of which are in the mystery and thriller genres, although he has written in sci-fi, western, horror, and sports genres as well. A retired police officer with over 30 years’ experience, he has done everything from patrol to investigating homicides to conducting numerous SWAT operations. Black was awarded the Cook County Medal of Merit in 2010. He is also the author of over 100 short stories and articles, and has written two novels with television star, Richard Belzer (Law & Order SVU). Black is currently writing the Executioner series (Fatal Prescription, Missile Intercept) under the name Don Pendleton. His latest novel under his own name is Blood Trails.

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