Sleuthfest is over. I’m back home.
But for three days, Deerfield Beach, Florida, was the center of the universe. The annual crime fiction writers conference, well-organized and sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America, was held at the Hilton Hotel. All in all, it was a very positive experience for me. I made new friends, learned a lot, and made some important contacts in the business. Before I get into the nitty-gritty, however, I have to get a couple of minor things off my chest.
One, the chairs.
Some fast-talking salesman must’ve done a real number on the hotel in order to unload those chairs. They were without a doubt the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever had to sit on for any length of time. They were the official chairs of every panel, and also for the showing of Gone Baby Gone, which I skipped because I didn’t want to sit in one of them for two straight hours.
Two, the food.
Call me picky (and some certainly will), but the orange glop they put on the chicken at Friday’s lunch was inedible. And for that matter, so was the fish at Saturday’s lunch. What was the chef thinking?
Okay, enough of that. Back to the conference.
This was my first time at Sleuthfest, and I had been told that it’s one of the better crime fiction conferences out there. This one was no exception. You had the likes of heavyweights Dennis Lehane, SJ Rozan, and James W Hall turning up on multiple occasions throughout the conference, but even they were upstaged by one recurring subject at nearly every panel: the explosive rise of digital self-publishing.
Every single panel I attended, regardless of topic, eventually swerved into a discussion of self-pubbed e-books. A friend told me she had heard it talked about at every panel she attended except one. I mean, it was without question the hottest topic at the conference. Amanda Hocking, the wunderkind of the digital world who sold 450,000 e-books in January alone, was mentioned by name in no fewer than three panels I attended. She was also characterized in one other panel as a “little 22-year-old girl who paid cash for a house from her earnings on a 99-cent novel”.
This kind of backhand slap was typical of the panelists’ response to the digital maelstrom that was occurring right outside the doors of the Hilton. No one sounded any alarm bells, no one suggested that a serious revisiting of the New York business model was warranted…it was just incredible. They basically wrote the whole thing off, some even going so far as to say that these developments have provided more platforms for them to sell books.
I was reminded of the scene in Mad Men where Don Draper is on the train to work and he sees a magazine ad for Volkswagen, radically different from any ad that ever came before it, and which eventually snowballed into a mega-shift in popular culture. When he got to work, all his colleagues had seen it and were all putting it down in exactly the same manner as some of the Sleuthfest panelists dissed Amanda Hocking. Don finally said, “Yes, we may not like the ad, but we’ve just spent 15 minutes talking about it.”