Wednesday, July 6, 2011



Scottish mystery author Quintin Jardine celebrated a birthday last week (I won’t tell you which one) and one of the neat things on Facebook is that it automatically reminds you so you can send your friends a birthday greeting. I mentioned to Quintin that financial circumstances have caused me to no longer be able to travel anymore, especially to Bouchercon and as most of you know I ran two of these World Mystery Conventions in Toronto in 1992 and 2004.

He said that he no longer goes to Bouchercon himself anymore because most of the organizers don’t treat the authors with any respect. His actual words were:

“Your great gift as an organiser was to realise that without authors it wouldn’t exist, and that since most of us actually pay our own $199, we deserve a little respect. In my experience, that’s a minority view.”

Running a convention for 1-2,000 people isn’t rocket science. It isn’t even re-inventing the wheel. It’s also not a walk in the park either. OK, no more clichés. What a chairman needs is to surround himself with is about six really smart people willing to work WAY harder than he is prepared to. Each member of this “executive committee” will handle individual departments: programming the panels, autographing room, social events and banquet, booksellers’ room, liaison with the media and registration (now done on-line).

Each of these people in turn recruit people to populate their own sub-committees, people they have to get along with not you. You have contact only with the sub-committee chairs, (the executive committee) and the chain of communication goes both up and down. The main thing that a chairman has to realize is that these conventions run on several different levels all at the same time.

The authors are the stars of the show and they are there not only to participate on panels, sign books and generally ‘be’, they also like to socialize with other authors, meet publishers and their reps, talk to their agents or look for another one and get interviewed by the media. In short, it’s a working convention for the authors and while most of them pay their own expenses through their “company” like James Lee Burke Enterprises” or whatever, some authors get part or all of their expenses reimbursed by their publisher as part of that author’s promotional budget for the year. Agents are looking for new authors. Publishers too. Booksellers are getting books signed and then hopefully sold. The media are scurrying around cornering authors for interviews. All of these people use Bouchercon and other large conventions as working events.

Only the ‘general attendees’, the readers and fans treat Bouchercon as social events only. They are there to listen to panels, get autographs, buy books and generally enjoy the city they’re in, meet with other friends and fans and yet, organizers seem to think that they are the most important part of the convention. While without attendees Bouchercon and other conventions wouldn’t exist, the key to everybody is the author.

Without the authors there are no books, no publishers, no agents and the media are interviewing each other. So while current economic situations prevent the conventions from picking up the author’s costs, the very least they can do is to give the authors, especially those authors who have considerable backlist, the respect they are due.

Al Navis is the owner of Handy Book in Toronto for the past 28 years, a used and out-of-print independent bookstore. He was chairman and host of Bouchercon: The World Mystery Convention in 1992 and 2004. He has also been on and off Toronto radio for over 30 years. Books are his business and first passion. Other passions are most sports (except basketball), most music (except C&W and rap) and radio. More recently he has gotten back into editing and writing as well as appraising book collections for insurance or for loss.

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