Mystery Conferences and Conventions

The controversy about mystery conferences and conventions using Mystery Writers of America’s approved publisher list to decide who should or shouldn’t appear on their panels continues.

Most people discussing the issue agree that MWA has every right to decide the criteria for membership. What authors continue to be upset about is the cons who have decided to use this list to screen authors for whether or not they can appear on a panel. Many have said that the cost of the cons are far outweigh the number of books sold to make them productive for promotion. What they don’t realize, it’s not how many books you sell at the con, but how many people you meet and talk to and may interest in your books.

Over the years, my attendance at Mayhem in the Midlands has gained sales, many new friends who are authors and readers, and eventually fans of my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series. Since Mayhem has decided to use MWAs list to screen authors, I’ve made the decision not to attend. Committee members have stated the reason for using the list is to weed out self-published and those published by small presses whose books weren’t up to New York standards and/or have been demanding and obnoxious to the Mayhem bookseller and about what panels and times they were on.

I’ve attended Mayhem every years but the first one, and I’ve purchased and read quite a few books that were self-published and published by small presses that were excellent and the authors were personable and fun to be around.

I’ve also purchased and read some New York published books that weren’t all that good–and been snubbed by one or two of those authors.

Some of authors have argued that using the MWA list is the only fair way to figure out what authors should be on panels because reading the books would be far too time-consuming. I’d never expect the conference volunteers to read all the books by the authors paying to attend. But what they certainly could do, is just not offer a panel to anyone who has been obnoxious. It would be easy enough to tell said author that they wouldn’t be on a panel this year and offer to refund the conference fee. It wouldn’t be necessary to say why.

On some of the lists I’m on, New York published authors have suggested that I should have kept trying to be published by a bigger name publisher rather than small, independent presses. Believe me, I tried. Over the years I had several agents who tried too. When I found Mundania Press, I was thrilled to have my Tempe series published by them. They don’t meet MWAs criteria for approved publishers because they don’t pay $1000 advances or print 500 books at a time. They meet all the other criteria however such as paying royalties, not charging writers anything, taking returns, and using Ingram as a distributor.

When the Bouchercon committee met after the latest con in Alaska, they came up with some recommendations for future cons, stating that only “legitimate” authors should be allowed on panels.

So what constitutes a “legitimate” author? Someone published by an MWA approved publisher?
I’ve had over 20 books published, only one by an MWA approved publisher. I’ve got contracts with publishers for the next two in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series and one in my Rocky Bluff P.D. series.

For ten years, I taught novel writing for Writers Digest School. At Border’s Book Store’s request, I taught a writing class in the store for three years. I was an instructor for the Maui Writers retreat. I’ve given presentations at many writing conferences including those put on by colleges, given talks at schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade, libraries and many book stores.

But somehow, I don’t fall into the category of a “legitimate” author. If I can’t be on a panel, I won’t be going to future Bouchercons or anyother mystery conference with this mindset. It makes me sad, because I’ve got many fans that I get to see at these conferences.

What is the solution? I don’t have one that will change the minds of the cons who’ve adopted this policy. All I can suggest to mystery authors is to find conferences and cons who are not adopting this rule and attend them instead.

One I can suggest is the Public Safety Writers Association’s conference this coming April in Las Vegas. This is open to any author who writes fiction or non-fiction concerning any aspect of public safety. For those with published books, each author will have the opportunity to give a five minute “elevator pitch” about their book. If you bring your books to the conference, they will be offered for sale.

For more information, visit

You just might learn something and I guarantee you’ll have a great time.

Marilyn Meredith

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