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ThrillerFest First-Timers Tell Us

By K.L. Romo

In May, I wrote an article about my experience attending ThrillerFest (the annual conference of the International Thriller Writers – ITW) for the first time, including some suggestions for fuller participation. So, now that you’ve gone to your first ThrillerFest (TF), how was it? Playing roving ITW reporter, I interviewed several attendees to get their post-conference comments.

Several attendees thought TF not only met their initial expectations but exceeded them. Bob Riccio said he “left with 40 pages of single-spaced notes, answers to his questions from the famous authors he’s read and admired, six new debut/aspiring friends, and five agent/editor/publisher contacts.”

With so many classes, panels, and programs going on during TF, attending them all is impossible, and it may be even harder to choose those they enjoyed most. But one of Vicky Oliver’s favorites was the seminar on the mind of a serial killer. Her principal goal in attending TF was to “meet editorial and agent contacts and make some writerly contacts as well.… ThrillerFest was particularly well organized for networking.”

The most satisfying part of TF for Daniel Rhone was PitchFest, a success for him. “That made the rest of the conference gravy.” But his favorite panel was the Indy Publishing panel, “which gave me the most practical information.” Wendy Bradford’s favorite part of TF was the MasterClass she attended, and “the instructor and participants…made me feel very comfortable.”

And did going to a huge conference with famous thriller writers and people they didn’t know cause anxiety? Yes, it did. But they got through it. Vicki Montet’s goal was “to find an agent that would invest in my work, and me on a larger scale.” She loved the QueryFest program (in which agents and editors provide feedback on the query letter) because “there was time to get a little more in-depth [feedback] with the agents and editors.”

And did going to a huge conference with famous thriller writers and people they didn’t know cause anxiety? Yes, it did. But they got through it. Bob Riccio was nervous about talking to his favorite thriller “celebrities,” but he pushed himself and was pleasantly surprised that writers like Lisa Gardner, Michael Connelly, and Karin Slaughter (among others) were so gracious and approachable.

Vicky Oliver was nervous to pitch, but while in line, she eased her anxiety by practicing her pitch on other writers. She was also grateful for the “practice pitch” sessions held via Zoom a few weeks before the conference. Vicki Montet also combatted her anxiety by talking to others and helping them with their pitches. Daniel Rhone had conversations with ThrillerFest staff in between pitching that made him more comfortable about the process.

Even though we received many compliments about the conference and how it was handled, we received suggestions on what we might do better in the future. Bob Riccio suggested we provide a map in the welcome bags to help everyone navigate the hotel. Vicki Montet suggested we might assign a mentor to first-timers to get them more comfortable and answer questions they might have. Wendy Bradford thought having a happy hour for first-time attendees and unpublished authors would be a great way to get to know other conferencegoers. Daniel Rhone suggested having a panel discussion on different writing approaches authors could use based on their situations (those with ADHD or younger writers or writer parents with kids).

Finally, I asked some of our first-time participants what one word describes their ThrillerFest experience. “Inspiring” from Bob Riccio, “fabulous” from Vicky Oliver, “fascinating” from Daniel Rhone, “overwhelming” (in a positive way) from Wendy Bradford, and “exposure” from Vicki Montet.

So, there you have it: opinions about their first ThrillerFest experience. I agree with their one-word descriptions, but I would also add experiencing a sense of community. The big bonus I get from volunteering at ThrillerFest is the opportunity to engage with my fellow writers and get to know them personally. We all need a writing posse to help us through the hard times and celebrate with us through the good times. For me, ThrillerFest does all that and more.

Thank you to all the first-time attendees who contributed their opinions to this article. We hope to see all of you again next year! And we welcome any readers who are considering attending next year.

Regardless of the horror, murder, and mystery created by thriller writers, they’re not scary at all. They want you to succeed!

K. L. Romo
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