I’ve spent the past two days setting up panel discussions for the Poisoned Pen Web Con, billed as “The World’s First Virtual Mystery Convention.” I registered for this online October 24th event as soon as I learned about it last month, and when the e-mail arrived asking for authors interested in moderating panels, I jumped at the opportunity. The organizers chose me to host two panels: “Social Issues: Do They Elevate or Detract?” and “First Person? Third Person? The Rewards and Pitfalls of Points of View.”
Pulling together both panels before the September 30th deadline, I’m now experiencing the first-person rewards and pitfalls of this daunting assignment. I’ve moderated local authors’ panels, but never before a national one. The organizers sent me an enormous spread sheet indicating which authors were interested in which topics, and leaving it up to me to contact and choose my panelists. This part was fairly easy, and I had four confirmed panelists for each topic within a day.
Next I created an e-mail group for each panel and sent them instructions and a list of possible questions for discussion. This is a “text panel,” meaning that all the discussions will happen in writing. Answers are now starting to arrive, and I have the fun of compiling them all into a document the organizers will post on the site for viewing the day of the Web Con. I’m communicating with mystery writers from all over the United States, only one of whom I’ve met personally, and all of whom are more established writers than me. I’m having a ball, but I feel a bit as if I’ve been drafted into a three-ring circus without the requisite training. I can’t decide if I’m a juggler, a high wire artist, or a lowly clown – maybe some of each.
At least I had the good sense not to volunteer for any of the high-tech panels. There are opportunities for blog talk radio, recorded audio, and recorded video, but judging by the spread sheet, the majority of the authors steered clear of these options. Some of the Blog Book Tours folks are registered, including Dani Greer, Helen Ginger and Jean Henry Mead, and I’ve seen scary online chats about the problems they’re having with Skype and other esoteric modes of electronic communication.
So why am I doing all this? At $25 for registration, it’s a bargain. I’ll save over $1,000 by choosing this over Bouchercon for my fall conference, and that’s not even counting the new clothes I’d want to buy in order to feel successful. Then of course there’s the exposure and the networking opportunities. Each author will have an individual web page with a biography and book descriptions, and all the material will be available online for a year. And there’s the opportunity to sample and learn about all sorts of cutting-edge technology. It’s an excuse to buy the new Mac laptop I’ve been craving so that I can join in live feeds and other options. (Dang – there goes that $1,000, and then some. But I think it’s a better long-term investment than a three-day conference.)
For me, the real puzzlement is why so many authors I know aren’t signing up. Is it technophobia? Sheer laziness? Whatever the reason, there’s still time to register right up until the conference, a month from today. The window of opportunity has passed for getting onto a panel, but authors have until September 30 to submit individual text, audio or video contributions. First you have to register, though – you have to pay to play.
This conference takes place under the auspices of Poisoned Pen Press, but the organizers aren’t PPP employees. Rather, they’re authors who’ve published with this excellent independent press. I’ve never submitted to PPP, in part because they want an exclusive look at manuscripts and in part because I’ve felt my work is probably too edgy. But soon after taking on this volunteer assignment, I looked up their submission guidelines just for the heck of it. Right away, I learned I was wrong for them on two counts: my books have already been published elsewhere, and Eldercide features a serial killer who’s a point-of-view character – a big no-no for them. He’s an artistic, compassionate serial killer, but even so, I guess that lets me out.
But I believe in paying it forward, encouraging other authors to sign up for this opportunity even if nothing comes out of it for me personally. On the other hand, one never knows – who’d have guessed that reading my poetry at open mics would have helped me earn a “Local Book and Author of the Year” award. As they say, a rising tide floats all boats – as long as it’s not a tsunami.