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Sunita reports from Bouchercon 2011, Part 2

I went back to Bouchercon on Friday and Saturday and caught as many panels as I could, given my other responsibilities this weekend (why does everything always happen at the same time? Argh).  [Check out Sunita’s report from Friday] Unfortunately I had evening commitments both days, so I couldn’t hang out at the bar (which is of course where so much of the fun is). But the panels were well worth attending and I was able to speak to authors during the books signing slots, so I’m not complaining. I promised more pictures, so here’s a shot of the free swag we got in the tote bag:

I went to all or part of eight more panels. I got up at the crack of dawn on Saturday to get to the 8:30 panel (hey! I had to commute!) because it was about epublishing and provocatively titled “Everything is Broken.” It was moderated by author Eric Stone and the panelists were two editors from New York houses, another author, and the proprietor of a mystery bookstore in Minneapolis. One of the editors was refreshingly open to the idea of ebooks. He stated that he didn’t think ebooks were entirely cannibalizing print; while print runs were definitely lower, ebook sales were increasing and that offset some of the decline. He also said that he didn’t think piracy was killing sales. His company has a lawyer who sends out C&D notices when they find out about illegal uploads, but the rate of piracy was “not enough to make a dent.” He compared it to playing whack-a-mole, which I think is precisely the correct image.

The most disappointing aspect of the panel, I’m sorry to say, was listening to the comments of the  bookstore owner. He was adamant in his refusal to stock any books published by Amazon, even by writers like Barry Eisler whom he had successfully sold in the past. He will keep Eisler’s backlist but not order anything from Amazon. When the moderator asked whether his bookstore had considered adopting Google Books’ program, which allows independent bookstores to sell Google Editions (ebooks) through their stores, he said no. He was supportive of authors epublishing their backlists, because it helped sell the newer books, but he wanted nothing to do with ebooks. He didn’t seem to realize (or he didn’t believe) that indie bookstores could benefit by selling ebooks. He acknowledged this could be self-defeating (and even used the “cut off our nose to spite our face” metaphor), but he was resolute. Handselling is the key, and handselling is exclusively about print to him.

A couple of librarians were in the audience and they emphasized how much ebooks were helping them. One compared it to the decision to embrace the internet and said that teaching people to download ebooks and the software to read them was much like that earlier experience. Another said that it allowed her library to be a 24/7 resource and ebooks didn’t require extra physical space, which was a big plus.

One of the last comments from the floor was warmly received by the rest of the audience, which interrupted her repeatedly with applause. A woman stood up and said (I’m paraphrasing here):

I’m not a writer, publisher, or seller of books. I’m a reader and buyer. I’m the one you all want. I buy ebooks, I buy print books. I’m a library trustee. When I travel I visit bookstores and buy their books. Your panel subtitle says “Friend or Foe.” I think this should be about collaboration and partnership. We’re in this together. We all want publishing to succeed.

I agree with her, but I don’t think the friend-or-foe mentality is going away any time soon.

When the session ended, Patricia Rice and I discovered that we had been sitting right next to each other, so we chatted for a while and then made plans to have lunch along with Eileen Dreyer, who is also local and attending the conference. We met up at noon and spent two hours in the Dubliner Pub (where the PCA romance group went last year). Sadly, we all had afternoon obligations so we stuck to sodas and iced tea. But it was wonderful to meet romance authors face-to-face. We romance people really are everywhere.

Right after the epub panel I went to a panel on writing mysteries with social justice themes, moderated by Sara Paretzsky and featuring Laura Lippmann, Colin Cotterill, Frankie Bailey, Libby Fischer Hellmann and Gary Phillips. Everyone on that panel was wicked smart and thoughtful in their discussion about how to write characters with opposite political views, how to write convincingly about social justice without preaching, and what issues should be written about more (Lippmann and Phillips mentioned urban black male unemployment and poverty, Hellman child slavery in Africa, Cotterill and Bailey the conditions for migrant workers). A comment that stood out for me was one from Colin Cotterill. When Peretzsky asked how the authors reconcile their political views with the requirements of the novel, Cotterill said (I paraphrase again):

I tend to write from every character’s point of view. I’m writing books that cannot be published and read in the country where they are set.  So I try to stand outside the setting, paint the picture and let you decide. I put myself very much in the middle [ideologically].

Colin Cotterill was my biggest discovery and author-crush of the conference (and he beat out some stiff competition). Keishon has been pimping his books for ages and now I totally see why. I picked up his first Dr. Siri book as well as his new release, and he was charming when he signed my book. He thought he was terrible on the social justice panel. So he’s modest, too. Here he is taking pictures of the audience before the “Cranky Streets: What’s So Funny About Murder?” panel, with Eoin Colfer to his left (sorry for the horrible quality, I was in the back so I could sneak out midway through):

Some of the other highlights: I attended part of a western mysteries panel. Lori Armstrong was there, as well as historical and other contemporary writers. They agreed that the western setting allows them to write interesting and strong women characters. I sat in on part of a historical mysteries panel with Tasha Alexander. She was just as insightful and thoughtful as you’d expect, and I was sorry I didn’t see and hear more of her, but I’m definitely picking up one of the Lady Emily books. I went to the Q & A session with Robert Crais. My notes say “Handsome, witty, charming, thoughtful, intelligent. Too bad he’s a Dodgers fan.”

I discovered a lot of new authors who sounded so smart and funny and thoughtful that I want to read all their books. There were some boring moments on some panels, but for the most part, I felt fortunate to be able to attend. I was reminded over and over that authors are storytellers first and foremost, not just in their fiction but in their daily lives.

I also attended an LGBT authors’ discussion and book-signing session at my local independent bookstore, but this post is already long enough so I’ll write that up at my VacuousMinx blog, along with some more tidbits about the convention and thoughts about the mystery genre.

Every time I went to a panel I wound up buying books by an author. Thank goodness we just picked up some more bookscases. Here’s some of my haul:

Finally, I attended a panel chaird by Colin Cotterill on Amazon reviews. He had requested the panel, and as he is one of the International Guests of Honor, Bouchercon agreed. I wasn’t sure what it would be about but I hoped it wasn’t just about bashing online reviewers. There was a little bit of that, but mostly directed at the genuinely stupid and thoughtless reviews, and mostly done with humor. Authors shared some of their favorite negative reviews, but they also read from reader emails that had especially touched and moved them. Linwood Barclay read an email from a teenager in a care home in England who hoped he would write more books because “there isn’t much to do.” Lisa Lutz said she loved the idea that her humorous Spellman series mysteries were not just “beach reads” but “hospital reads” that made people feel better in tedious and difficult times.

Cotterill closed the session with his favorite negative review, of an edition of the King James Bible:

It’s almost preachy in tone.

I cannot top that. Next year, Bouchercon continues its tour of past-their-prime US cities and takes the convention to Cleveland. No Arch, but the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame!

Sunita has been reading romances almost as long as she has been reading. Her favorite genres these days are contemporary, category, and novels with romantic elements. She also reads SFF, mysteries, historical fiction, literary fiction, and the backs of cereal boxes. As of January 2015, all the books she reviews at Dear Author are from: (1) her massive TBR, (2) borrowed from the library, (3) received as gifts from friends/family, or (4) purchased with her own funds.


  1. Kim in Hawaii
    Sep 19, 2011 @ 05:25:38

    How cool that you hung with Patricia Rice and Eileen Dreyer! I’ve had the same privilege at RT in LA.

    Interesting feedback from the librarians about ebooks. I volunteer with the Friends of the Library who support the base library. The librarian wants to go “electronic” but surprising has no funds to do so … hopefully the FOTL can help out.

  2. Ros
    Sep 19, 2011 @ 05:43:40

    Hahahaha!!! I love that review of the bible.

    Also, I came across an article yesterday about book cards. The idea is that bricks and mortar stores could sell eBooks through something that looks and feels like a gift card. You get the back cover blurb and an extract of the book, and then a code to let you download the book later. It would let indie booksellers do their hand selling thing, and help them get past the problem of people browsing in bookshops and then going home to purchase online. And it also makes giving eBooks as gifts easy and fun. I thought it was a terrific idea. And I definitely think that the indie bookseller who hates Amazon is going out of business soon.

  3. Sunita
    Sep 19, 2011 @ 07:04:27

    @Ros: That’s what Patricia Rice and I were saying too; just have a copy at the store and then sell cards. Here’s a story about the Google ebooks program and here’s Google ebook’s site, which links to the list of indie bookstores, sorted by state.

  4. Jane
    Sep 19, 2011 @ 07:53:41

    @Sunita I think one thing that can save the actual bookstore can be POD. With POD, you have the convenience of digital (every book ever published) and the artifact of paper. We explored that idea here prompted by a suggestion of Mike Briggs.

    Symtio makes those digital cards. For a while, HarperCollins used them for digital arcs.

  5. jmc
    Sep 19, 2011 @ 08:11:22

    Hmm, Cleveland? I missed the HoF when I was there for a conference a few years ago…

    Oh, you have a copy of Hallowed Ground! Very good book!

  6. Keishon
    Sep 19, 2011 @ 09:56:17

    Enjoyed reading your conference notes. I love Colin Cotterill, his books are excellent and I will get to meet him tomorrow! I hope he leaves the camera at home though. Oh and my plans are to go to this conference next year, so Cleveland huh?

  7. Barb in Maryland
    Sep 19, 2011 @ 10:02:53

    Robert Crais–yum! He is, indeed, everything you said. And I, for one, find his allegiance to the Dodgers to be NO drawback at all. Plus I just love his Elvis Cole/Joe Pike books.

  8. Patricia Rice
    Sep 19, 2011 @ 10:11:19

    It was cool running into you at the conference, Sunita. I always love having a face to put to the names I see on-line. And hi Kim! You know it’s always easy to seduce me and Eileen over food and drinks.
    I love the gift card idea for indie stores if we can come up with a good distributor. My fear of POD is that it would only be cost effective for bestsellers, but I think a place like Amazon Createspace might give us print copies for indies to stock to use as magnets for e-book purchases. But this will all take time to evolve. I’m praying we can all hold out until a working system is in place.

  9. Ridley
    Sep 19, 2011 @ 11:42:45

    Everyone on that panel was wicked smart…

    I like how you worded that.

    Keep that up, and you’ll soon be wearing bobos, putting jimmies on your ice cream and ordering a frappe at McDonald’s.

  10. Sunita
    Sep 19, 2011 @ 13:17:27

    @Jane: Thanks for the link! I was sure you had written about it somewhere.

    @Ridley: TheHusband has strict instructions to Take Action if my accent changes.

  11. jmc
    Sep 19, 2011 @ 16:04:14

    @Ridley: Jimmies on ice cream!

    Growing up, in the summer we would go to the local ice cream stand (Custard’s Last Stand) and get soft serve twists with jimmies. Everyone in my adopted hometown calls them sprinkles. No, I don’t want sprinkles on my cone, I want jimmies.

  12. Cynthia Orr
    Sep 19, 2011 @ 16:27:43

    You may be pleasantly surprised by Cleveland. Most people are. We get a lot of bad press from lazy reporters who make jokes about things that happened decades ago. Look here for some of the things being planned:

  13. Darlynne
    Sep 19, 2011 @ 18:20:10

    My admiration for Colin Cotterill’s books, both series, is high and wide. You are going to love his characters. Thank you for taking us to Bouchercon vicariously, Sunita.

  14. Janine
    Sep 19, 2011 @ 22:03:27

    Even though I don’t read many mysteries, I really enjoyed these posts. Thanks for reporting on the conference!

  15. Sunita
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 06:22:42

    Thanks for reading my posts, everyone! It was great fun to attend and to share it with DA’s readers.

    @Cynthia Orr: As a resident of St. Louis I am in no position to throw stones at Cleveland. My comment was somewhat tongue-in-cheek (although only somewhat, after driving through north St. Louis a few times this month). They are both cities that have undergone rough times and are doing their best to overcome that. I have no doubt that it will be an enjoyable venue.

  16. Bouchercon 2011 report, LGBT edition | VacuousMinx
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 14:49:55

    […] time, I snuck away and went to panels on three of the four days. I’ve written a couple of posts over at Dear Author, but there’s a lot more to cover, so I’m continuing the […]

  17. Kerry
    Sep 25, 2011 @ 12:28:02

    Cleveland is also an excellent restaurant/eating town. And has some beautiful architecture. I know the librarian who is organizing that conference; she’s really excited about the opportunity.

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