CrimeFest and Other Conventions by Debbie Bennett

I've blogged in the past about conferences and conventions. I've done a fair few over the years - from the early days of the Southampton (later Winchester) Writers' Conference to the many years of attending and/or running British Fantasy Society conventions. I've been as a 'guest' to Sci-Fi Weekender, and I even once went to a Star Trek convention - purely for research, you understand?

A couple of weeks ago, I went to CrimeFest - one of the annual crime festivals around the country. Harrogate is the other biggie and I'm sure there are more. When I first booked for CrimeFest, I was a little miffed to see that they really don't recognise indie writers at all; there's one small panel featuring indie writers and to be considered for this, you have to satisfy a long string of criteria.

But conferences and conventions are not all the same. Winchester for example is very much about learning. There are talks and workshops about how to do stuff - how to create characters, how to submit to an agent, how to write a short story etc. Perfect when you are starting out and great for networking and making contacts with editors and agents (far better to start your query letter When I met you the other week, than sit at the bottom of a slush pile). FantasyCon is a eclectic mix of genre writers, editors and fans and still good for networking, but it also celebrates the small press - the anthologies and collections that make the genre community what it is. Here you can actually get to know people, drink with them in the bar and go to panels and talks on different aspects of fantasy and horror - film and tv as well as books.

Crimefest appears to be sponsored by the big boys, and exists to promote their authors to the general public. Hence it's more populated by readers and reviewers, who attend panels featuring and about their favourite authors - said authors are then available at the end of each panel to sign copies of their books which you can buy from the pop-up Waterstones, which sells only the books by the authors featured on the panels - although it was selling books by the indie authors on the one indie panel; I'm curious to know how that works. Sale or return? Or does Waterstones just skim a % off each sale? It's a slick affair and I expect it generates quite a revenue for both Waterstones and the big 6 publishers.

I've rarely been to an event like this where the attendees get their money's worth by going to every panel. There was a good selection, to be fair - lots of interesting discussions going on, but I find the most interesting discussions tend to happen in the bar, which was curiously empty during the daytime! Maybe years of running conventions and chatting to (even being friends with) a fair few mid-list authors means that I'm less impressed by seeing writers in the flesh, so to speak? Whatever the reasons, everybody seemed to be having a good time and it ran like clockwork, with no hiccups that I could see.

Now I can see how it works, I totally get it. It's a shame there wasn't much space for us indies, but it's not so much about celebrating the genre as celebrating specific authors within that genre. In that context, it works perfectly. For me, it was more an opportunity to see what's happening in the crime fiction world and see what the competition is like! Plus a chance to catch up with some good friends in a convivial atmosphere with lots of books! What's not to like?*

*that'd be trying to travel by train from Bristol to Stoke on a Sunday with engineering works, and having to get a bus from Gloucester to Birmingham, whilst realising that the curry I ate on the Friday may have had a few unwelcome bugs in it ...


Chris Longmuir said…
Good post Debbie, and you are right about Indies not being particularly welcome on the panels, although you'll find a lot of them hovering about during the weekend. Strangely, or not so strangely, I was on panels every year until I got the rights back of my last book and so became totally Indie. Now, I'm not eligible. I'm the same, my books are the same, but apparently not worth as much now I no longer have a traditional publisher. Maybe it's something to do with the attitude of traditional publishers to Indies. Particularly if they are the ones supporting the conference. However, I do like the atmosphere among the people who go to Crimefest, and it does let me catch up with my annual visit to my brother and sister. Oh, and if you're thinking of going to Harrogate you'll find the same thing there, but more so. And they usually only go for the bigger names. I stopped going there a couple of years ago because I felt it got too big.
Bill Kirton said…
Your (and Chris's) assessments match mine, Debbie. My first conventions (in the 90s - long before my Indie days) were friendly, exciting affairs. I even chaired a couple of panels (Mainly because I was on the committee of the Society of Authors in Scotland, I suspect.) But when they publish their schedules nowadays, I get the feeling of 'same old same old'. Not that there's anything wrong with the big hitters who fill the slots, but it does give the idea of a privileged club, whereas back in the day it felt much more inclusive.
madwippitt said…
The really important question is ... Star Trek TOS or the upstart NG?
Unknown said…
Really interesting blog, and comments from Chris and Bill. I will be attending Harrogate this year - my first event, and I am looking forward to it. I understand it's catered more for the "big names" and less suited for indie authors as ourselves, I'm interested to give it a go.

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