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I want to talk about writing conferences in this post, specifically The Mystery Writers’ Conference at Book Passage in Corte Madera. It’s the 22nd annual conference they’ve had at the internationally known bookseller and it’s a big deal. And if you’ve never been to a writing conference before, let me give you some tips.

First off, there are some fantastic authors who are going to be there, like Cara Black (the Aimée Leduc mysteries), David Corbett (The Art of Character), John Lescroart (The Fall), Joe Clifford (Junkie Love, Lamentation), Don Winslow (The Cartel) and many more. In addition, there will be literary agents such as local Bay Area legend Andy Ross (former owner of Cody’s Books on Telegraph Ave) and Elizabeth Kracht (senior agent with Kimberley Cameron & Associates, a classic Bay firm). Also, in the case of this conference, there will actually be district attorneys and judges and ex FBI members and private eyes. So, in other words: It’s going to be intense.

So, if you’re new to this—and especially if you’re a new writer—here’s the scoop: Don’t trip. Stay calm, drink a lot of water, take a deep breath, bring a lot of business cards and some of your best written material with you, and make sure you have some fun! Because this IS supposed, believe it or not, to be fun. Trust me. I have been to conferences in San Francisco, New York City and Canada, as well as other parts of the greater Bay Area, and it’s always the goal to have fun.

But on the flip side of that coin, if you are a serious writer, and you’re trying to make connections, this is the time to be prepared. Editors of big magazines and potentially of publishing houses will be there (though I’m not sure they will be at this particular conference), as well as agents and big-name authors. In other words: people with power. You never know who you’re meeting, sitting next to at dinner, or bumping into in line waiting for your next session or class, so try to be careful. Don’t insult anybody, be polite, and try to smile as much as you can. Stash the lonely, bitter writer inside of you as deep as you can and allow the open-minded, sunny, happy social animal to come out and say hello for a few days. Again: trust me.

Bring a yellow legal pad or something to write on. Bring extra pens (though often this stuff is provided at conferences and might be this time as well). Take copious notes, but listen, too. Ask questions that have been bugging you for months, years, decades, a lifetime, about writing or about crime or mysteries. Challenge yourself to start engaging, interesting conversations with new people you normally wouldn’t start conversations with; be bold and brave. Get out of your comfort zone. Take social risks. After introducing yourself to people and talking constantly and hearing “So what do you write” 85 times in one day you’ll be so wiped out after 72 hours that you’ll nearly want to weep. But you’ll be inspired, as well, and ready to finally tackle that Great American Novel, whatever it may be, no longer so elusive or scary, because you’ve now met others who are in the same literary boat, floating in the ocean, alone, afraid of the same waves you are.

So take my word for it. Show up, bring that notepad, that pen and those cards, and that smile, and be ready to listen and learn, and you’ll get the feeling that you’re not so alone after all, that maybe, just maybe there are others out there who feel just the same way as you do, and knowing this is freeing, it allows you to move easily through the rest of your life because now you know, at least in terms of writing, there are others like you out there.

That’s why conferences matter. That’s why they work. That’s why people keep coming back to them year after year after year. Because they hook and hold and caress, just like your first fiction sentence should do.

Know what I mean? See you at the conference. If you see me, come say hello. I’m hard to miss: 5’7, 32 years old, tattoos down my arms, shaved head.

Write on.

“You said it. Let’s edit.”

Michael Mohr

I do developmental book editing. If you want a free test edit I can do that. Have an adult novel (no sci-fi please) or memoir? Email me:

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