Monday, September 05, 2005

I love Bouchercon

Bouchercon™ 2005 is over. The car is unpacked. Katrina is the utmost reality for all of us. But we’ve been with friends, and in the midst of disaster we’ve supported and celebrated one another and we all come out of mystery’s craziest weekend ready to do what needs to be done right now.

This is far different for me than a year ago when I left Bouchercon with the same feeling of camaraderie and only a pile of laundry to do. Totally jazzed I, well I went a little nuts and decided I could maybe host a B-Con. A year later it is an actuality and the pressure is on. But with weekends like this last one being your reward it’s well worth it. How do you do it? I’m not going to pretend I know the definitive answer. But if you’ve come away from Chicago with the same nutty feeling I had last year, I want to let you know how to get started. There’s time involved and a commitment to the entire mystery community. There will be months when you’re in a holding pattern and days when you’re wondering how you’re going to manage all the calls you need to make with the day job and a nighttime commitment interfering. But you can do it and you can do it anywhere. So briefly here’s what I did in the beginning…..

Why Baltimore? Yep I live in Milwaukee but the convention for 2008 had to be east coast in my opinion and several other people’s opinion. Two in the Midwest back to back followed by Alaska, it only made sense. As a collective group discussed perfect locations for it on Sunday in Toronto last year we all agreed “East Coast or Bust”. Then came the cities, too big, too expensive, too hard to get around. Eventually a group of twenty narrowed it down to Savannah or Baltimore. Baltimore is much more accessible to international travelers. Baltimore it is.

As we left Toronto the conversation rattled in my brain. As we flew towards Rochester N.Y. everything rattled on the 12 seat plane. And then the kitchen in my aunt’s house.

“Well, why couldn’t it be in Baltimore?”

“You can do it. It’s not that hard to get the process started”


I e-mailed two people. One a Baltimore resident and one the person with the closest accessibility to mystery’s heartbeat.

I don’t know Baltimore. Or I should say I didn’t….

Here’s my schedule

October 10th-Bouchercon 2004 ends

October 11th,2004 maybe I could do this.

e-mails back and forth to Baltimore people. “If we did this in an inclusive venue, which one?”

a list is sent back. Hyatt, Wyndham, Renaissance….etc. ect…

October 13th ,2004 contacting the hotels….

I started with phones. Personal contact is important.

Five hotels

Ask to speak to the director of sales.

Explain Bouchercon, be honest,

1) Bouchercon is an annual convention that is independent from year to year.

2) One date is to fall within the month of October

3) There is no money until the year of the convention, zippo, nada, none.

4) Let the hotel know the room pickup(number of rooms). I can provide numbers if you’re planning to try to make a bid.

5) Let the hotel know that although each con is independent of one another attendance is consistent, and they spend money in the hotel.

6) Ask about a large general meeting area for daytime and also if they can handle a bar they’re not prepared for. Know the time the bar closes. It may be an important factor. (This was not so in my case, all closed at 1:00 a.m, but if you’re weighing things out and one closes at 11:00 and the other at 2:00….we are a group that socializes)

7) Give them websites. Sales people will look at the websites that are up. They will contact their fellow hotels. Hotels like B-Con… a lot. There are not many conventions where the percentage of people buying food and beverage within the hotel along with the percentage of people utilizing the concierge and local venues is as great as ours is (we are a social group). Hotel employees like B-Con (we tip).

8) Let the hotel know up front that they need to hold your space for you until after the next business meeting at a B-Con. I’ll note here that convention space is at a premium, especially within the month of October. I contacted eight hotels in all in Baltimore and only two had the space and the dates. This is four years out.

9) Find the area convention and visitors association.

You’ve made first contact…… now it’s time to have everything else done…. The local convention association is going to work with you. Count on it.

Week of October 17th 2004

The Hyatt- my first choice because it sits directly on the inner harbor in Baltimore, writes back, No dates. However, their sales rep cc’s the Convention association and says she’s done the research. The con will be great for Baltimore. I start to work with Jason Lusk.
What do you need Ruth?
Explain the con as in above. They are going to flip. And be enthusiastic and help in any manner possible. What kind of space do youneed? This is where attendance and opinion is going to start to help you and begin to formulate an identity for your convention. I need5,000 square feet for the dealer’s room. I choose to run x number of panel tracts and use the food and beverage minimums for …. Opening ceremonies, live auction, Anthony awards………

This is when I contacted the beginnings of my executive committee.

Mystery Mike for dealer’s room- I needed someone who could look at space and foresee what needed to be done, and had a history of the room.

Panel Tracks- how many? What format? I went through previous programs. What did well , what didn’t. Room capacities …. And worked on number of break out rooms, the schedule, how many seats…. (again, I’ve numbers available if they’d be helpful.)

Jason and I work up a proposal together and we send it to all of the hotels including the Hyatt. Will they be interested?

November 1st

We wait.

Too small, too far out of town…. But proposed contracts come in. And I have to shoot them down. Room rates too high, location too poor, space not appropriate. I do however write nice letters back explaining…… I am an individual who is part of the membership but
only the standing committee can say yeah and ney. I’m certainly not willing to sign any contract until a bid has been approved, nor do I have the right to. And if you can do this and this send another proposal.

February 2005

Jason becomes my biggest ally. Finally I’m down to two proposed sites and fly to Baltimore. Look at the spaces…. And … the Wyndham it is.

Now it becomes to feel a bit real. I have friends who are lawyers look over the contract, I talk with members of the standing committee and people who know this convention. I read the words of Anthony Boucher over and over again. This is a huge financial responsibility.
But you know what? I love Bouchercon and I love the mystery community. I know they’ll fill those rooms for me. Proof is Washington , 2001 and Chicago 2005.This is my opportunity to step up. To further Boucher’s ideas. I cannot tell anyone. Oh, I do tell a few and I hear murmers of whispers… but you’re not supposed to tell anyone. And I’ve selected a few more members to my executive committee. Beth for website, Patricia and Soren for registration…. Brigid for local liason….. Sandy for press.

I come back from Baltimore and realize this is too big for one person. I call Judy B. Before she can say no she’s said yes…. And…. I’ve got a co-chair, a hotel, an executive committee, and doodle a dream list of g.o.h. I contact them and they all say yes. I contact Jason at
the Convention association, let him know I have the contact info for my committee and the contract for the hotel and he puts together the rest of the proposal package. The binders (you need thirteen for the standing committee and others for your chief executives) come in the mail and are sent out to the committee.

And then you get an e-mail from the chair of the standing committee. You’ve been vetted… and you wait for the bid to be approved at the business meeting. In between you’re going to get requests to sign the contract. Warnings that the hotel has other offers. We’re taking up sales space with no commitment. But you’ve explained from the beginning and there is personal contact. Hopefully there’s a sense of commitment and you’ve relayed your love for the community in an a way where everyone will protect you and your bid…..

Here’s the waiting……

And I found out on the 11th of July that I’d get the convention. It’s sad it was that early really…. There were no other bids. While it was good for me, it may have been bad for our membership. I haven’t gotten far on the path to hosting yet. I do however have a new appreciation for our community and have now typed up these pages because 2009, 2010 and 2011 can all be bid on next year. If you’ve the beginning of a desire to do this and an idea for a venue that will be a great place for us to have our annual convention I’m more than willing to help. I am not an expert. I may be able to lead you to other help sources however and I’d love to be able to. Each
Bouchercon™ starts with one person. His name is Anthony Boucher. He loved the entire mystery community. He saw each book for what it was and time after time found brilliance that was receiving no respect. For 36 years we’ve been honoring this commitment to the genre. Readers, writers, publishers, agents…. We gather together in a large mass once a year to show the literary community we are a presence and we have buying power and talent that needs to be recongnized. We do it for Boucher and we do it for one another. For this convention may be many things for many different people but we all have a love for mystery and a desire to know this convention will be here year after year….

Are you worried about financials?

I’ve spent 400 on airfare, 30 on telephone calls, 200 on brochures and mail,

And I’ll spend more, but not a lot….. it’s entirely doable. So do it. If you want to.