by Erin Mitchell
As we gear up for Bouchercon in a couple of weeks, I’ve read a bunch of great “advice” posts. Alex Segura’s guide for cons at Do Some Damage is terrific. Kristopher at BOLO Books has a series of Countdown to Bouchercon posts that is invaluable. The Bouchercon 2014 blog is running posts from people on all different aspects of the event.
Except one, which I’m going to address today. Forgive me if I sound a little like the “you’ll shoot your eye out” mom in A Christmas Story—it’s not my intention to suggest you dampen your fun!
So here goes:
If you’ve read anything or talked to anyone about Bouchercon, you’ve probably heard reference to The Bar. And for good reason: people hang out in The Bar, and it’s a great spot to relax and socialize. The Bar refers to the main saloon in the main hotel, so this year it will be in the Hyatt. The Bar will have some Bcon folks in it during every opening minute, but obviously it’s much busier at night, and there are always some who wear Closing Down the Bouchercon Bar as a badge of honor.
Every year, there are incidents of people behaving badly in The Bcon Bar. These stories take on a life of their own; I heard another just this week from way back in 2008. Believe me, you don’t want to be part of one of these tales. If there’s such a thing as bad publicity, this is it.
So…if you’re not a good drunk, consider limiting your intake in the bar. Don’t know whether you’re a good or bad drunk? If you have to ask, you’re a bad one. If you’re inclined to become an attention hog after five beers, have three in the bar and save the last two for your room. If you develop the need to badmouth anyone (see below) after that third martini, stop at two.
And don’t even get me started on hitting on people. You’ll probably meet lots of new people at the Bcon bar, but save your slimy seduction lines for elsewhere.
The Smoking Section
Perhaps because smokers share a common vice that so much of the world holds in utter disdain, the atmosphere in the smoking section is decidedly different from everywhere else at Bcon (this applies to every other convention or meeting I’ve ever attended, too). It’s more relaxed. It feels entirely non-judgmental. People laugh a lot. Discussions ranging from the serious to the absurd take place.
So if you can handle being around people smoking (and really, don’t even think about lecturing us), spend some time out here. You won’t regret it.
Is good a vice? I dunno…I guess it can be. The only thing I want to emphasize about it is this: food can be hard to come by at Bouchercon, and it can also be expensive. If eating on a schedule is important to you, plan ahead. Scope out the locale of the hospitality suite early-on.
Also, the hospitality suite is an excellent spot to meet and chat with readers, particularly ones who might not be inclined to spend time in The Bar. Many authors miss this terrific opportunity!
It’s absolutely true that authors generally—and crime fiction authors specifically—are wonderful, humble people. It’s also true that events like Bcon can make you seem arrogant, even if you’re not. To avoid this…
Don't assume everyone will recognize you. I was 10 minutes into a lovely conversation with a guy at the above-mentioned smoking section before I realized I was talking with Lee Child (yes, he looks just like his author photo, but he was backlit by bright sun and I didn’t have my sunglasses).
Don't look past the person you're talking with to see if there's someone more important over there. This happens to me all the time, and I remember every single person who’s done it.
Don’t ever assume that someone isn’t worth your time. Us readers can be a weirdly bizarre group, and some of us are annoying as all hell. But every single one of us has spent good money to be a Bcon, and so chances are good that everyone you talk with has some level of influence when it comes to books. There is no such thing as “just” a reader.
Don’t think you have to be the Center of Attention all the time. If people aren’t talking to or about you, don’t feel you need to break into song or something. Try listening instead. If you tend to be a bit tone-deaf (be honest…if you are, you know it), pick someone who’s doing it right and follow her or his lead.
Classes and Cliques
Yes, there are both classes and cliques at Bouchercon. That’s just a fact. And yes, it’s much like high school. And yes, it’s stupid and frustrating, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
So knowing your tribe will be helpful. I’m not saying you shouldn’t interact with that table of hardcore noir folks if you write cozies, just that trying to pretend these lines don’t exist is pointless. Not all authors are created equal in the eyes of readers. There’s a reason Michael Connelly has a spotlight interview while the vast majority of authors are on panels of 4-5 people.
The thing is, if you ask, someone within your clique will probably introduce you to people in other cliques. I recommend this because it’s how I’ve met some of the most interesting people I know. Going to panels and signings is also an excellent way to cross class and clique lines. Ask someone about a comment. Buy a book and get it signed.
In the end, Bouchercon—and any con—is about doing unto others as you would like them to do unto you. Have fun. Just not at anyone else’s expense.
I’ll close the same way Alex did in his post, which is the best possible advice in so many scenarios: Don’t be a dick.