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How to Make the Most of Your First Visit

K.L. Romo

By K.L. Romo

Yes, I know exactly how you feel. Frustrated? Possibly. Desperate? Maybe. Excited? Hopefully. Persistent and determined? Definitely. You’ve vowed time and again not to give up.

You are a writer. You want to be a published author. You’ve struggled to get eyes on your work, especially by sending queries to your favorite literary agents. Or 200 of them. You might feel like a failure, the invisible man, or a wannabe. You’ve thought about throwing in the towel, but…you just can’t.

That was me five years ago before I attended my first ThrillerFest conference in 2018.

Attending the first presentation of the day, I was star-struck. How could anyone not be impressed by the likes of R.L. Stine, Lee Child, Lisa Gardner, and a whole host of thriller authors whom I’ve been reading for years, sitting right in front of me, and talking to me like they were just ordinary people? And as an extra bonus, they were so approachable—shaking hands and taking pictures with me.

Although technically, I was there to write an article about ThrillerFest for Library Journal, I also had personal goals for the conference: I would meet as many authors and ThrillerFest hosts and presenters as possible. Even though I’m an introvert, I realized the most important thing I could do at the conference was make connections. So, I put my big-girl britches on and did.

…it was apparent that most everyone acknowledged we are all in this writing biz together, and we have a responsibility to help each other navigate the journey.I introduced myself to as many people as possible—ThrillerFest and International Thriller Writers (ITW) staff, authors (both famous and those “not yet”), and publishing professionals. The kindness and patience of most everyone I talked to surprised me. Everyone seemed to realize the treasure trove of benefits available at ThrillerFest. Not only did attendees receive useful information from the panel discussions and presentations, but it was apparent that most everyone acknowledged we are all in this writing biz together, and we have a responsibility to help each other navigate the journey.

I decided ITW was the organization I would join (even though I technically didn’t write thrillers, I did write suspense—doesn’t every story have suspense?). After meeting as many ThrillerFest organizers and staff as possible, I volunteered for whatever they needed. I also asked a staff member who specializes in book reviews how I could secure new releases to review; he kindly introduced me to a senior public relations expert at HarperCollins, who added me to her email list.

At the awards banquet, I sat next to Meryl Moss (president of Meryl Moss Media and creator of BookTrib—a booklover’s site where writers can discover books and authors). We talked about book reviews, and I volunteered to review for BookTrib.

After the conference ended, I sent emails to the editor of ITW’s magazine, The Big Thrill, to volunteer as a book reviewer, and I also joined the awards team (to read submissions for ITW’s “best of” awards). I emailed the ThrillerFest Director as a reminder that I wanted to volunteer at next year’s ThrillerFest.

Since 2018, I’ve become a ThrillerFest staff member, I direct the QueryFest program, I’m a writer and editor for The Big Thrill magazine, and I’m a judge for the Best Hardback competition. I’ve gotten to know so many people and made so many friends through ITW. I remain amazed at their kindness and willingness to help, and the lack of competition between them.

And guess what? I met my agent at ThrillerFest through my volunteer work.

If this is your first time attending, here’s what I suggest to take full advantage of ThrillerFest:

  • Even though you might be an introvert, convince yourself to talk to as many people as you can, then do it!
  • If you have calling cards, bring them and share.
  • Make notations about people you talk to so you don’t forget who they are (presenters, panelists, and TF staff are listed in the TF program, so it’s easy to make notes by their names).
  • Pack as many panels and classes into your schedule as you can.
  • If you like what you see at the conference, consider joining the ITW community (it’s free to join if you’re published, and if not, you can still join by paying a small yearly fee). It’s important to belong to an organization that will support and nurture its members. You can then access member benefits, including the new upcoming interactive website with forum discussions.
  • If you’re so inclined, volunteer for both ThrillerFest and ITW. You’ll get to know so many people by working with your organization, and it’s fun.
  • Always remember to “pay it forward” to other writers who might need your support during their writer’s journey.

Hopefully, we’ll see you there!

K. L. Romo
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