Top Ten Tips from a first-time writing festival attendee

By Eileen Hammond

Buckeye Crime Writers member

I recently had the good fortune of attending the Magna Cum Murder writing festival in Indianapolis. As I reflect back, here are some takeaways from the conference.

  1. Book the conference hotel as soon as you know you will be attending. You will feel more a part of the action, as you will be having conversations in the elevator, in line for coffee, etc.
  2. Practice the elevator pitch for your book or for the project on which you are currently working. There were quite a few occasions where someone asked me what I was writing. It’s a great opportunity to share the great stuff you are doing.
  3. Order bookmarks or cards for your books, if you are published. (Thank you to board members Kandy Williams and Connie Berry for that suggestion.) After giving your elevator pitch you will be happy to be able to have something to give out as a reminder. It also makes you look more professional. I used vistaprint.com and was quite pleased with the results.
  4. Go to all the sessions you can. I got something out of nearly every one I attended. Bring a notepad and a pen. You never know when your next best idea will be triggered.
  5. Go for the weekend, if you can afford it, especially if it is a smaller conference. You will run into people repeatedly: they will get to know you and you them. According to some of the authors with which I spoke, this is a more intimate conference. It was a true family-like atmosphere.
  6. Get the complete experience. If you are an author or hope to be one someday, buy at least one of the books for sale and have it signed.
  7. Bring your laptop. There was an impromptu time-bound writing contest sponsored by the Indianapolis chapter of Sisters in Crime. (Two hundred and fifty words centered on or based on a Christmas carol.)
  8. Engage with the other attendees. Even if you go by yourself, you will feel like you are part of the community. Plus it’s a great opportunity to learn. At the lunch table a New York Times bestselling author suggested aspiring writers attend the Penn Writers conference, which is in Pittsburgh next year. It sounds like an intensive three days.
  9. Ask questions. The panel authors are grateful to get them and you can get answers to writing questions that may be vexing you.
  10. If you are a published author, let the organizers of the conference know (yes, even independent authors). When I signed up in May, I wasn’t, but by mid-October I had two books out. They are always looking for people to be on panels. And they had a place for readers to purchase panelists’ books and specific book signing times.
    Panel discussion, Old FriendsParnell Hall (left) and John Gilstrap meet in a panel discussion at Magna Cum Murder.
Guest of honor interview
Guest of honor John Gilstrap (right) with honoree Reavis Z. Wortham.
Lost in Translation panel
From left, Albert Bell, Ethan Cross, Elena Hartwell, Charles Todd and Larry Sweazy participate in the Lost in Translation Panel at Magna Cum Murder 2018.
Magna Cum Murder banquet
Keynote speaker Peter Lovesey was honored at the Magna Cum Murder banquet.