Please welcome my dear friend and guest blogger, Paula Matter, to Working Stiffs. Paula, as a past Pennwriters Conference Coordinator, has been holding my hand and keeping me sane during this past year. She’s also a darned fine crime writer. Welcome, Paula.—Annette
By Paula Matter
A friend attended a conference in NYC recently. I asked her to say hello to an agent I know and like. The agent responded, "That's Paula. Networking without even being here." That led me to consider the importance of networking. Which led me to start thinking of the conferences I will attend this year. Due to the economy, I won't be going to nearly as many as usual. One big event I'll be missing out on is Bouchercon. I simply can't justify the expense.
Last year was a different story. I was in better shape financially, and it was only a five hour drive to Baltimore.
2008 was my fifth Bouchercon, and I had an agenda. I attended as a reader. At each panel, instead of scribbling notes on the craft of writing, or promotion, or marketing, I wrote down names and/or titles. If panelists or moderators were funny, I jotted down their names. If they made a particularly profound comment, their name went on my list. One author, outside in Smoker's Paradise, simply smiled at me and his name was added.
I'd then make a beeline for the book room after each panel, or in the one case, after my cigarette. I learned buying lots of books in spurts didn't hurt my credit card, and I went back to the same two booksellers each time.
A highlight for me was meeting a new-to-me author. Her books, and how she switches POV in them, intrigued me. I saw her in the book room after her panel and I asked her about it. What a delightful woman. I bought her paperback right then and there. Later, passing her in a hallway, she was just as delightful when she stopped and we chatted some more. I took a chance and bought her hardcover.
I lied earlier. See above about the cigarette scenario happening once. It occurred again later that same day when, quite exhausted, I was debating whether to go take a nap, or attend another panel. I stepped outside for a smoke to help me decide. Hush, all you non-smokers who have no idea what I'm talking about. I initiated a conversation with an author whose name I knew, but had never read. The chat with this genuinely (keyword there) kind man is still too special to share, but know this: Instead of taking a nap, I went to the book room and bought one of his books. I would've bought more, but I had to eat that night and put gas in the car for the trip home. Once my credit card balance comes back down, I'll be buying more of his books.
Another author annoyed me this year. Again. The first time was during a panel a few Bouchercons ago when she, seated three seats from me in the audience, proceeded to snack on potato chips. Very crunchy potato chips. For that one act of rudeness, I've never bought this woman's books. Last year in Baltimore she practically sat on my lap due to an overcrowded room. I made nice and restrained myself from kicking her.
Which reminds me of a kick-ass writer I know and adore. Many years ago, S.J. Rozan, one of the smartest women I know, when attempting to assuage my concern (fear, actually) about being on a panel, told me "Just be yourself. And be nice to everyone." At the time I thought, "Pick one because I sure as hell can't do both." I should've known she'd be right.
I had a chance encounter with a very pleasant woman. Resting my poor feet, I sat on one of those couches in the hall between the book room and the conference rooms. Another tired attendee plopped herself down, smiled and said hello. I responded in kind. She thanked me for not being rude. Because of my obvious puzzled expression, she explained how she'd tried earlier to strike up a conversation with a stranger, and was snubbed. We agreed it was shameful that impoliteness has nearly become the norm. She and I chatted for several minutes about books and writers. When she asked if I was a writer, I hesitated then admitted that I was. Before I knew it, I was telling her about my writing. (She asked. I swear she started it!) She wrote down my name and said she'd be looking for my book when the time came. I laughed. She then told me what bookstore she works in. So, um, S.J., thanks.
Continuing with kick-ass writers, another woman I enjoy reading was gracious when I greeted her in the hallway. Later I realized I had interrupted an interview, and I apologized. She was just as gracious in her response. I'll continue buying her books.
Some pros have it, and some don't. The latter won't miss my money. I won't bother schlepping all the way to NYC, or Pittsburgh, or Baltimore to buy their books. And I also will never badmouth them in public. Or in private. But I hope they know who they are.
For the rest of you, I hope to see you at your next booksigning.
Paula Matter is a member of MWA, PWA, Backspace, and Pennwriters. Her short crime fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. She hates writing bios, so will stop here.