At the Coming of Age panel with authors Alison McMahan and Sheila Sobel

At the Coming of Age Panel with Alison McMahan and Sheila Sobel

Every professional author on the planet hears the consistent message that publishing has changed. Gone are the days when we can spend all our time doing that writing thing. Nope, we have to get out there and market our babies. Promote, promote, promote! A big part of that is creating and publicizing what makes our work special, unique, and worth paying for—what marketing specialists call “developing our brand.”

I have to admit that I never really thought about writing conferences as having “brands” as well. But after attending my first Killer Nashville conference, I’ve come to appreciate that they really do. Founded by Clay Stafford, Killer Nashville, now in its 14th year, is devoted to supporting and nurturing writers of mystery, suspense, and thrillers at all stages of their careers. This year’s honored guests were Alexandra Ivy, David Morrell, and Joyce Carol Oates—not exactly shabby literary company. All three were thoughtful, down-to-earth, and much more interested in talking about writing than how to sell lots of books.

And that in a nutshell is what I loved about this conference. The emphasis was on the work, not on sales, awards, number of reviews, or likes on Facebook. As Stafford pointed out, “Write because you love it… if you love what you are doing, then that sustains and nourishes you no matter your career highs or lows.” He advised all of us to support and encourage one another and focus on what really matters, “bliss and contentment in the act of creation itself.”

It wasn’t that the conference ignored marketing and the business of writing. There were book signings galore, five agents available for roundtable pitch sessions and individual critiques, and breakout sessions on topics like, “Reviews and How to Get them” and “Book Marketing Tips.” Additionally, there were networking events and a special dinner where award finalists and winners were announced. (For me personally, being named a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award in the juvenile/young adult category felt great!)

But the major conference real estate went to the craft of writing and information about crime and detection that would help writers improve their stories. Out of a total of 63 panels and breakout sessions, only eight were specifically addressed to marketing and publicity. A whopping 55 were devoted to helping writers grow and develop their work.

I was thrilled to moderate a panel on “Coming of Age: Writing YA Mysteries, Suspense & Thrillers,” as well as to participate in three other panels: “Loving to Read: Writing Children’s Tween (Ages 9-12),” “The Theme and Why It Matters,” and “Finding Your Voice.” What fun to meet wonderful authors, published and pre-published, and talk about what really matters—the writing!

For introverts like me (and most writers I know), conferences can be totally exhausting. But I came away from this one feeling re-energized and inspired. Sometimes I need to be reminded that all the external stuff, the inevitable failures and disappointments, are ultimately noise. When I shut the door and focus on what really nurtures me, writing, life is good. And when I open the door and encourage and support other writers, life is even better.