Essay – Bouchercon 2023

This past weekend I went to Bouchercon, down in San Diego. Bouchercon is a mystery con. It is all about readers and writers.

I want to start by saying that I enjoyed Bouchercon. I met some really cool people and talked with both readers as well as writers. I’m still pretty feral—not used to being around people AT ALL—so I also spent time alone in my room or out walking along the water. (The hotel was the Marriot Marina, right on the water.)

Bouchercon reminded me of an old-fashioned SFF con. It took me a while to process why that was, exactly.

First of all, there wasn’t much media. There might have been a couple of panels on it. But the focus was on books, writers and readers, not on movies or TV. There wasn’t a room showing mystery movies. Though there are some great TV detectives, conversations weren’t revolving around those. It was so very book-based.

For example, the dealer’s room. Now, at an SFF con, you’re going to have a lot of different types of things for sale, such as T-shirts, earrings, artwork, clothes and accessories that you can use for your cosplay, stickers, mugs, and oh, by the way, books.

At Bouchercon, we joked how the dealer’s room seemed a little one-dimensional. Pretty much all it had was books. There were a couple of tables selling other things, and a few of the bookstores had some T-shirts. But 95% of the room was books.

All of the “famous” people who attended the con were big-name authors and their handlers. (Actual publicists walking around with their clients.) There weren’t big mystery actors, or voice actors, or anything like that. (Though Eric La Salle did show up for a while—seems he’s written a mystery book.)

One of the things that we noticed was how friendly even the big names were. There is frequently a chill at the SFF cons, where the big names and the SMOFs hold themselves separate and above all you little people. I never caught that vibe from Bouchercon. Everyone was really friendly.

Because this con was so book-focused, it was also very traditional publishing-focused. There weren’t any panels on indie publishing, except the one we created ourselves, a side track as it were. (More about that later.)

There were indie authors there. I heard more than one panelist talk about how they’d been traditionally published and were now striking out on their own, particularly with the cozy authors.

The board of Bouchercon isn’t stupid. They’re not about to bite the hand that feeds them. (We attended the free lunch where they put up the numbers of what the con costs. Quite a lot of money to pay for the con came from sponsors.) So the board is going to stay focused on traditional publishing.

The dealer room was held in a very large ballroom. One side were the stalls for the booksellers.

The other side of that dealer room contained what in SFF would have been called the consuite. It was hotel-provided coffee and tea service, with pastries in the AM and cookies and cakes in the PM. There were big signs posted about who was sponsoring that service, such as from 9-11 was Hachette Group, while from 1-3 it was St. Martin’s Press.

So trad pub was putting a lot of active money into the con.

In addition, there was the free book room. Trad Pub provided boxes and boxes and stacks of books to be given away. Every attendee got four free books. At the end of the con, they were selling off the books for one dollar each. I figure that was so much cheaper for the publishers rather than having to pay to ship those books back to warehouses someplace.

One of the highlights of the con, for me at least, was meeting Pamela Stack, the head of Authors on the Air Global Radio Network. (

Pam is great people. We had so much fun hanging out with her, listening to interviews, learning from her. Pam knows everyone. So we met a lot of people via Pam.

One of the things that we did while at the con was talk a lot (A LOT) about how to break publishing. And publishers. Because we’re indie authors, running our own businesses. We talked with a few indies. It was good. Pam introduced us to people who were interested in going indie, and we talked with them as well.

But we also met quite a few of the big-name authors, NYT bestsellers, who still need day jobs. They were quite frankly amazed that we were making our living from our books. Not editing. Not coaching. But from our fiction.

Blaze wants a T-shirt made that says something along the lines of, “Indie Publishing Patient Zero.” We were there to infect as many writers as we could with the indie spirit.

How long will Bouchercon survive in its current form? Before traditional publishing stops supporting them? I don’t know. I figure they’re fine for the next two to three years. Then, we’ll see.

The con com struck me as being intelligent. I think they see the writing on the wall. I don’t know what plans they’re making, if any, for when the future arrives.

Because the future will arrive for the mystery genre at some point. The number of indie authors making a living from their fiction will outnumber the number of trad pub authors. So we’ll see.

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