Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a mystery convention? Shaking your head no? That was my initial response in March, 2009, when Robin Burcell asked me to co-chair LCC 2012 in Sacramento. I don’t know whether it was a lack of caffeine or too many piña coladas but I said yes, and raced off to share the good news with my agent. She immediately responded with something unprintable which boiled down to “Are you nuts?”
Chairing a convention provides unique insights and mass quantities of emails. For instance, it took at least 250 emails before we discovered that dessert choices for a banquet should not be democratically decided by committee. This, of course, forced Robin and me to submit to a dessert tasting. A tough job, we know, but those carbs kept us fueled for weeks, and just in time to begin the huge task of preparing the program which means moving panelists around a huge matrix in order to provide the best panels for them as well as the attendees. Our program chairs, Marlyn Beebe and Elaine Yamaguchi, worked night and day, and despite a deluge of 2:00 AM emails, maintained their sense of humor.
Determining the price of a convention is always a challenge. Initial registrants lucked in with an early bird fee of $150 and the price gradually increased to the 2012 rate of $225. It might surprise people to know that the meals that were included (2 breakfasts, one reception and an awards banquet) ran $168 per person. Then there are the free book bags, books, cool LCC promo items and program books.
You don’t need to be a math whiz to see that the bottom line for a convention can easily turn into something resembling the national debt (minus a few zeros.) Fortunately sponsors such as the MWA, the Sacramento and NorCal chapters of Sisters in Crime, and HarperCollins stepped in to share some of the expenses. A number of publishers graciously donated a truckload of books to fill the book bags to overflowing and to ensure shoulder dislocations among the weak.
I could go on and on (we all know my babbling skills are excellent) but the bottom line is that running a convention is like strategizing a military campaign. And the real bottom line is represented by the incredible group of people who were willing to put in thousands of unpaid hours to make this a wonderful event. Shout outs go to Sue Trowbridge, our webmaster; Noemi Levine, Treasurer and Fan GOH; Toby Gottfried, official book snarer; Janet Rudolph, publicity chair and master tweeter; Verna Dreisbach, who brought in ad revenue; and Vallery Feldman, who skillfully displayed the ads in the program. A personal thanks to Volunteer chairs, Pat and Larry Morin who worked through the duration of LCC, and without whose assistance, I’d be locked up in a padded cell. Stan Ulrich and Lucinda Surber not only handled awards, signs, and room monitors, but also took care of everything I forgot.
The financial benefactor of our convention was the Sacramento Library Adult Literacy Program. Library Director Rivkah Sass provided a stirring tale of the people benefited by this wonderful program. Jean Utley’s auction committee wrapped and tied ribbons for 75 donated silent auction items. Between those items, the raffle for the beautiful quilt created by Pam Dehnke and Vallery Feldman, and excellent auctioneering by Donna Andrews and Harley Jane Kozak, almost $8,000 was raised for this program.
Running a convention means you’re exposed to the good, the bad and the annoying. What never ceased to amaze me was the number of volunteers who not only paid the registration fee but also worked tirelessly and cheerfully. Putting on a convention is a labor of love and these folks, and there are many, will hold a place in my heart forever.
I’ll always be grateful I had this opportunity to work with Robin, to make new friends, to create a congenial networking atmosphere for mystery authors and fans, and to leave everyone with wonderful memories.
Plus I lost 4 lbs. in 4 days running up and down those darn stairs. Heck of a fitness program!
Some folks say e-books will make conventions disappear but based on our 600 attendees, I disagree.
The bigger, burning question is whether you attend conventions and if so, what do you get out of them? And if by chance you’re interested in chairing one, please let me know. I have a bridge I’m looking to sell.