The Swag From A Writers Conference

A contrast in what I took home from two writers’ conferences I attended recently: the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA) conference in July 2016 in Las Vegas;





And, Bouchercon 2016 the worldwide mystery conference in New Orleans in 2016.





I’ve been to quite a number of writers conferences all over the US and Canada since I took up writing murder mysteries. The intent of these two conferences is quite different. The Public Safety Writers Association meeting I’d call a craft conference. Bouchercon is a fan conference.

It’s easy to lose yourself amid roughly 2000 attendees at Bouchercon, catching glimpses of Harlan Cobden, Michael Connelly, and Sara Paretsky. The panels are chosen to entertain, not instruct. Usually the conference is held in cities that have a lot of sparkle and interest.  Okay, PSWA was in Las Vegas, but Las Vegas in July.


PSWA was the conference I should have gone to first, back when I was writing my first police procedural No Dice in 2009. The one where I could have learned the most.

Half the writers registered are law enforcement types of one kind or another, most retired: fire fighters, EMTs, and forensic specialists. The other half are mystery writers who want to get it right. Right in the sense that the law enforcement aspect of your work makes sense.

The first day of the conference offered an intensive session on improving writing skills led by Mysti Berry.  Public safety types are moving out of their comfort zones and learning new skills. Imagine how difficult it is for experts in their field to become novices. The conference was limited to 50 participants. That way probably everyone got to be showcased on a panel.  For the writers it was a chance to pick out an informant you thought you might connect with.

I also liked the good mix of information on the publishing marketplace, the ever-present dilemma of point of view, writing short stories, and the many different types of editing. If you kept your ears open, no matter what your perspective and breadth of experience, you could learn something.

I don’t want too many more people to apply to this conference. Please. I like that it’s small. Over the course of three days, I could have talked to anyone. I just plain ran out of social energy at the end. I boldly suggested going out to dinner with people I didn’t know. I didn’t feel that intimidating force field of energy around big names and cliquish groups that scare me off being myself. We were all there to learn. And have a good time.  We all have war stories to share.


Bouchercon in New Orleans was great as well, but in a very different way. I could have chatted up Charlaine Harris in the lobby.  I didn’t because I don’t like intruding on strangers, but I could have.  You’re at Bouchercon to network, promote your latest book, see and be seen.  I came away full of good food and memories of the French Quarter: I met some terrific new people.

But if you’re careful of your travel budget, make sure before you register that you know which way the conference is tilted: fan or craft. It will make a difference what you take home besides a lot of books, bookmarks, and a tote bag full of swag.


PS   I came home to find my new book, 5th in the series of Writing Your First Mystery, proofread and ready for the next phase of production. Check out the boxed set of the series.







This entry was posted in Bouchercon, Facebook, Mar Preston, Mystery Conferences, Mystery novels, Police, Public Safety Writers Association, writing craft and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Swag From A Writers Conference

  1. M.M. Gornell says:

    Good comparison! I’ve never been to Bouchercon…but one day. But have heard many tales from other authors. I’m sure New Orleans was grand! See you next July.

  2. Hi Mar,
    It was very nice to meet you at the 2016 PSWA Conference. I appreciate your perspective on our conference and have to say you are spot on in reference to our intention of keeping our conference about craft and making it an intimate, non-intimidating affair with much to offer any writer-novice or experienced wordsmith. I do want to point out that we are not limited to 50 participants, but we aren’t focusing on increasing our numbers by thousands just for the reasons you mention in your post. Again, thank you for the shout out and if anyone is interested in learning more about the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA) and the conference visit our website or send me an email.
    Michelle J.G. Perin
    President, PSWA
    Firefighter I/EMT, South Lane County Fire & Rescue

    • M.Preston says:

      I’ve been to Bouchercon 4 or 5 times now. Each time I say it will be the last, but like childbirth, you forget.

      I shared a room with a perfectly nice roomie but never had the time to regenerate alone. This swarm of interesting people left me realizing what a loner and introvert I am.

  3. LD Masterson says:

    I’ve not been to Bouchercon but I’ve attended the PSWA conference a couple times. It’s a great weekend, especially if you’re new to conferences or easily overwhelmed. For a larger, crime writer focused conference, I recommend Killer Nashville. More classes/panel discussions, top name guest speakers (this year was Janet Evanovich), plenty of networking opportunities, and the chance to pitch to a number of agents and editors.

  4. Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime are mystery conventions–the place to see the super star mystery writers. I’ve gone to lots and enjoyed them, but when it comes to writers conferences (also been to lots) I like PSWA the best and why wouldn’t I? I was the program chair for years and have now turned it over to capable hands of Mike Black.

  5. M.Preston says:

    What do you know about Killer Nashville, Marilyn?

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