I just returned from a week at SleuthFest, the Mystery Writer’s of America Florida chapter’s annual conference. A self-confessed ThrillerFest fan, I was skeptical how this conference would compare. ThrillerFest has nearly one-thousand attendees and almost forty editors/agents who participate. You can get lost in the ThrillerFest’s endless sea of workshops and author panels. At around two-hundred attendees, SleuthFest is miniature in comparison with only eight editors/agents who participate and four workshop tracks.
Despite these stark differences, I couldn’t pass up the chance to hear C.J. Box and P.J. Parrish share their writing secrets. And besides, how could I turn down a trip to South Florida in the middle of winter? So off I went, and I am so glad I did. SleuthFest didn’t disappoint.
Here are the five things I took away from the conference:
1) Size Matters
The intimacy of SleuthFest is unique. It still attracts the same caliber of authors, craft masters, forensic experts, agents, and editors as ThrillerFest, just on a smaller scale.
From the structure of the workshops to how the lunches are designed, conference organizers create an event that facilitates the exchange of ideas, optimizes learning, and maximizes networking.
2) Be Ready to Discuss What You Are Writing
Whether it’s agents, editors, or fellow conference attendees, you need to be ready to discuss your writing. It’s the one thing everyone at the conference has in common. People will ask about your work in progress. It’s a natural conversation starter. One night I sat at the bar and talked to author Michael Sears, and I shared a dinner table with the amazing John Connell. And they both asked me what I was writing.
3) You Will Get Feedback on Your Writing
At Reader’s Corner, you can read a ten-minute piece from your work. The format simulates the experience of presenting your novel at a bookstore or library and you receive short written critiques on the spot. You can also submit ten pages to an editor or agent for feedback. There is even a chance to craft, practice, and receive feedback on the pitch for your novel. And to round things off, there is a writing contest called the Freddie. Entries are submitted before SleuthFest and winners are announced at the conference. All Freddie participants receive written critiques from judges. I took advantage of everything and feel the experience really helped me grow as a writer.
4) Promoting Yourself Is Encouraged
Bring business cards. Whether you are pre-published or you just published your tenth book, people will ask you for your contact information.
If you have a book in print, Murder on the Beach Bookstore will sell your novel for signing sessions. Joanne Sinchuk, the owner and co-conference chair, even manages to recreate her store’s intimate vibe by including couches, upholstered chairs, and coffee in the conference room where books are sold.
There is also a table for promotional materials and space in the SleuthFest program to advertise your newest release.
And as far as being limited by the number of agents/editors in attendance, this assumption is wrong. The Flamingo Pitch Tank gives you a chance to pitch every agent and editor at the conference. Or if you prefer a one-on-one session, those are available as well. I participated in both and walked away with four requests to see my work. I’m still walking on cloud nine.
5) You Are Part of a Tribe
If you attend SleuthFest, it is hard not to become part of the mystery writer tribe. They are a sweet and inclusive bunch, and they are all there in full force waiting to embrace you.
Volunteering is also a great way to forge a deeper connection to the group. Just offering to work the registration table one morning gives you more chances to meet and mingle with everyone. Organizers even offer an exclusive cocktail party for volunteers and industry professionals.
SleuthFest packs a mighty punch and is a conference worth attending. In the end, I left the conference feeling like I had a deeper connection to the writing community and was part of something greater than myself. It is definitely on my conference wish list for next year.
By the way, if you are interested in CJ Box’s and PJ Parish’s SleuthFest sessions, you can purchase recordings from the conference at VWTapes.com. How cool is that?!
What Conferences have you attended that you really loved? Answer in the comments below, or on social media, using the hashtag #5OnFri!
Stacy Woodson is an Army Special Operations veteran and mother of two. She writes suspense and loves a good conspiracy. On the weekends, you can find her in a local coffee shop plotting her next story.