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Thomas and Mercer's On The Lam Writing Conference

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A friend of mine is a contractor at Amazon. Late last week he sent me an invitation to a writing conference set up by Amazon's thriller and mystery publisher, Thomas and Mercer. My Saturday was open, and although I have only published one non-fiction book, that has nothing to do with mystery, I decided to check it out. I was surprised to read that the event was free and open to the public. I was even more surprised when I arrived at the event to find only a handful of people who were not already successfully published with Thomas and Mercer. I suppose the coordinators wanted an intimate event for their very first On The Lam conference.

After the writers were treated to breakfast, we ventured over to the first panel discussion: Adapting Your Work to Film and TV. I was not expecting to see Lee Goldberg, Marcus Sakey, Johnny Shaw and Greg Widen on the panel. All of these men have tremendous careers. I began taking copious notes on pitching an idea, and finding the sweet spot of a book to adapt to a script.

The next session was Building Your Brand. This was an incredibly insightful and lively discussion. Authors like to write and sometimes they like to write in different styles, but this can be difficult for readers who follow an author due to genre. Barry Eisler, Max Allan Collins, and L.J. Sellers spoke about brand expectations and how to negotiate creativity while remaining true to their primary audience.

I had a choice for the third session. Since self promotion is not my forté, I decided to sit in and listen to T.R. Ragan, Rachel Abbott, J. Carson Black, and Layton Green. Consequently, there are three pages of notes I will need to sort through over the next few days. I was especially taken with Rachel Abbott who discussed setting up a marketing plan for herself and building connections with readers through social media. Finding the balance between writing and promotion can be tricky, but the key point the panel stressed was to always continue writing.

My mind was filled with ideas on ways I could improve my marketing by the time we sat down to lunch. Since I did not know anyone at the conference, I decided to sit with some friendly faces. A few were Amazon employees, a few were authors, and much to my surprise, one was Larry Kirshbaum. Most writers would assume we talked about writing, but instead we discussed childhood pets and growing up in the Chicagoland area. Ah well, maybe I was a refreshing change.

Directly after lunch was the panel for Time and Place Boundaries in Fiction with E.M. Powell, Charlotte Elkins, Dan Mayland, Jim Fusilli, Deborah Reed, and John Enright. I personally enjoy books that delve into historical events so I was fascinated when E.M. Powell spoke about how she maneuvered her book, The Fifth Knight, through the parameters of historical pillars. My greatest takeaway information from this segment was the importance of Post-It notes, and truly allowing the setting to inform the character.

Writing for a Living, was my next chosen event. Sean Chercover, Ann Voss Peterson, Simon Wood, S.G. Redling, and Howard Kaminsky discussed their dedication to craft, the importance of agents, and making sure not to squander advances. Some of these successful authors are able to pen several books a year, and are disciplined enough to write a full forty hour work week. I have a lot to learn.

The final breakout session of the day was on genre. Tyler Dilts, Andrew Peterson, A.K. Alexander, John Rector, and William Lashner mused about their experiences with crime novels, noir thrillers, and tossing in elements from other generes. From their discussion, it seems that although genre shifts slightly with each cultural swing, the basics remain the same. John Rector offered up the suggestion of maintaining a 70/30 split in writing. Remaining true to your chosen genre (70%) while allowing yourself the freedom to add pieces of other genres (30%) into your books.

By the end of the day I was completely inspired. I realize I could write a separate blog on each of the panel discussions, perhaps I will in the future. However, for now, this is a small glimpse at a world few beginning authors have the opportunity to see. Thank you Thomas and Mercer!

To set into practice some of what I learned, I would like to offer a new hashtag for authors on Twitter. #UpliftingAuthor

I use my Twitter account mostly to post uplifting quotes. As a cancer survivor, I know a good quote can help make a person's day a little easier. So authors, If you would like me to publicize an uplifting quote from your book, send the short quote, and your book's link to @Erin_Havel. I will happily share the goodness.