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Crossing Genres, Part One (Left Coast Crime)

March 24th, 2008 5 comments

Being a cross-genre kind of girl myself, I seem always to be preaching to other authors to think more broadly about other genres their books might fit into, and about how to promote themselves in other genres. This kind of thinking and marketing is particularly important for authors in the horror genre because, let’s face it, horror is not exactly a popular book genre these days. In fact, I’m not sure it could be any LESS popular. I don’t know how many of the rest of you have considered the fact that with Borders potentially being sold and the most likely buyer being Barnes & Noble, there soon be be NO bookstore chain with a horror section. B&N maintains no horror section whatsoever, and even Borders’ horror section is rarely more than one shelf. Not one row, one shelf.

Yet you browse around in bookstores and you see rows and rows of, oh, science fiction and fantasy, paranormal romance, mystery and thrillers.

I’m sure eventually there will be a horror renaissance… we all know these things go in cycles. But I’m writing NOW, and I need to be making a living NOW, and I know I’m not the only one. It’s interesting to see how many cross-genre, cross-promotional panels that are scheduled at WHC – I’m glad to see it, because I think that’s a conversation all of us in the genre need to be having.

I’ll be doing a report on WHC with that slant next month (and also reporting on the Public Library Association, which is the reason I’ll be late for WHC, but for my money, in terms of promotion, PLA is unmissable.)

But this month I’m posting a report on Left Coast Crime.

I love conventions and maybe my cross-genre talk is really just an excuse for me to go to more of them. But since my books do easily fall into other genres (we don’t even use the H-word at St. Martin’s – I write “supernatural thrillers”) I spent a lot of time in my debut year exploring conventions in all the genres I fall into: horror, mystery, thriller – and (though admittedly this is stretching it) paranormal romance. And you can turn up your nose at the last all you want to, but guess where I sold more books last year than at any other convention – and I mean, ten times as many books, in hardcover?

Romantic Times.

Those readers buy books, emphasis on BUY.

But before I get all radical with the talk about the romance market, I’ll try what might be an easier sell to this crowd: the mystery conference.

This month I attended Left Coast Crime in Denver: http://www.leftcoastcrime.org/2008/

Left Coast Crime is primarily a fan conference, so if you’re writing dark and suspenseful and more psychological horror, or horror with a police procedural or investigative element, it’s a very viable conference for you to pick up new fans (and also get yourself into a Western market, if you’re based in the East). I’ve only been to two LCCs but I’ve been to a very wide variety of conferences in the last two years and I think LCC is probably the second best mystery con out there for me (Bouchercon is first – it’s HUGE and in Baltimore this year in October, really something dark suspense authors should think about attending…)

I love LCC because: it’s so casual and friendly, it’s very inclusive about sub-genres and again, it’s very, very, very fan-oriented. The organizers are great about putting all published authors on panels, so as long as you register in good time, you are guaranteed to have a nice spotlight.

I’ll set the stage: Denver is a fairly good-sized city in a great bowl of plains, surrounded by a ring of very high snowy mountains. Gorgeous. The airport is quite a ways away from downtown, where the con hotel was – a 45-minute car ride through a lot of open plain.

Downtown is very funky – there’s a Gold Rush feel to it and an instant sense of eccentricity – in the layout of the streets (narrow and veering wildly all over the place, coming to strange triangles everywhere), in the buildings (many of which are built in strange triangles to fit the strange triangular intersections), and the overall dress is Wild West: lots of cowboy hats and boots and fur vests. The people – well, the people were a trip. As in San Francisco (another Gold Rush town, come to think of it, Denverites cultivate their eccentricities. One of the first things I saw when we got off the freeway downtown was a homeless guy perched on a bridge with a sign that read: SPACESHIP BROKE DOWN – NEED MONEY FOR PARTS. And from the look of him, he wasn’t kidding.

So my top three things about LCC:

First – at the risk of beating this into the ground, LCC is a FAN conference. This was more true in Seattle last year, but the fans tend to outnumber the authors by a wide margin (more and more rare at conventions) and they are very much there to find new authors. They go to the new author showcases and all the panels and they take notes… then go home and report on the conferences and the authors to their book clubs. It’s fantastic word-of-mouth.

Here’s my specific tip: I’ve been to two LCCs now and for some reason the hospitality suite is the place to be. LCC is great about providing pretty full breakfasts and lunch, all complimentary, and coffee and snacks throughout the day. The suite wasn’t as packed as it was last year in Seattle, but I still had some of my best con experiences just sitting around drinking coffee, stealing coconuts from the catering decorations, and getting to know a lot of readers who I know will go out and get my books. It means that you will have to forgo some hanging and drinking with your author friends, but I really think you might have the most fun and useful conference experience just planting yourself in the hospitality suite and never leaving. It’s one-stop shopping, with free food and caffeine.

Second, if you’re an author, ALWAYS hit the local bookstores. On Friday, my friend Pari Taichert and I rented a car and drove around to eight Denver bookstores to meet managers and sign stock. It took about four and a half hours (because of Friday traffic and because Denver is much more spread out than you would think). We got to visit both Denver Tattered Covers, which are absolute cathedrals of books, each in their own way, one in a great old downtown building and another in a grand old theater – and the completely charming Murder By the Book, in a house in a funky little walking area – as well as make the rounds of the B&Ns and Borders. You get much more of a sense of the town driving around (renting a Garmin GPS helps!) and you are establishing a relationship with another book market.

Third – always try to hit the forensics panels, which are an entire track at LCC. You will always get your money’s worth in the forensics panels. Mystery Writers of America veteran and forensics expert Jan Burke did a stellar job assembling law enforcement and forensics professionals, and it’s always gold to hear her and Dr. Doug Lyle talk about their work – you can get a year’s worth of research in in an afternoon. And I love hearing forensics and law enforcement experts from the specific region – you get a much better sense of the whole region in general.

LCC is once a year in the late winter, and yes, always West of the Rockies… but I hope some of you will think about coming over to the Left side.

http://www.leftcoastcrime.org/2008/

Alex