This week authors J. Thorn and Crys Cain discuss J’s experience at ThrillerFest and the pros and cons of attending trad focused events as an indie author.


Episode 67: Is it worth it for indie authors to attend trad focused events?

Crys: Hello and welcome to The Author Life Podcast. I’m Crys Cain here with my co-host, J Thorn. How are things going?

J: Great, Crys. It’s been a while since we’ve talked.

Crys: Yeah. This recording once a month thing is weird but good. And you’ve had another big conference. Is this your last big conference of the year, or do you have another one lined up in just a few weeks actually?

J: I do. Yeah. I’m going back to New York City in a few weeks.

Crys: For one of the more like emerging technology events, right?

J: Yeah, it’s NFT NYC. So it’s the world’s biggest NFT conference thus far, started in 2019. And it’s all industries, so it’s everything, entertainment, publishing, real estate. It’s pretty wide scope. I’m really looking forward to it.

Crys: Rocking. So we’re just gonna jump right into the questions because I don’t think either of us can remember everything that has happened in the last month. The question is tied into you going to ThrillerFest, and that is: can indie authors still benefit from going to more traditional publishing events? The ones that come to the top of my head are ThrillerFest, Bouchercon, there’s a horror one…

J: StokerCon.

Crys: StokerCon. And then there’s like a police procedural one in Nashville, Killer Nashville, I think.

J: Something like that.

Crys: Yeah. Those are the ones that pop to the top of my head. They’re certainly not the only ones, but they’re the ones that pop to the top of my head. And probably WorldCon, the sci-fi fantasy ones, the ones we know of tend to be genre oriented.

And you’ve gone to ThrillerFest this year and then before the pandemic. So as a now seasoned veteran of ThrillerFest, I’m curious on your opinion?

J: Yeah, I’ve attended two. So I just wanna be clear on that. 2019 I went, and then there wasn’t a ThrillerFest until again this year. So yeah, I think the big answer to the question is it depends, which we tend to say a lot here.

Can an indie benefit from going to a conference that is focused more on traditionally published authors? It really does depend. It depends on what you hope to get out of it. So I think what I can do is I can objectively discuss what is valuable and maybe what’s missing. I think that would be a good way to frame it.

So what’s valuable? The traditionally published conferences tend to focus heavily on craft. So I think if you’re an indie author and you wanna up your craft game, you wanna get a better handle on conventions and obligatory scenes, you wanna identify trends in your genre, I think these are fabulous for that.

ThrillerFest has what they call CraftFest, which are a few days before. It’s an add-on, it’s an upsell. But JD, for example, did like a masterclass in Craft Fest. You can identify an author whose style or voice you like, and then you can take their class in a smaller setting, whereas most of the ThrillerFests are panels.

So I think there’s a lot to be said for craft. Like I literally ran into Donald Moss, who’s a big deal in the traditional world. Like I did, I ran into him like knocked into him which is fun. And he ended up taking a picture of JD and I which was interesting. But that’s for the other side of it, even if you’re an indie, if you are interested in some networking, if you wanna make connections, if you wanna broaden your circles, if you want to meet other authors who are not necessarily doing the same thing you are, then I think it’s also a great opportunity.

 There’s cocktail hours, and there’s breakfast gatherings, and there’s many opportunities to interact and engage with other authors. And I think for a hardcore indie, I think it’s good to talk to traditionally published authors and hear what their perspectives are and just get a sense. Like it’s a good exercise in diversifying your opinions and your knowledge. So I think those are the upsides. Questions about that before I talk about the omissions or what’s missing?

Crys: No, but like my comment is, so the closest thing I’ve come to a trad pub event is I’ve attended the Writing Excuses Conference twice, and that’s very much focused on craft and I love it. But one of the exact same things, there’s a lot of trad authors who have attended that, particularly the one on the cruise ship because they could fit more people, and it’s just lovely to have those contacts whether you are on the same path or not.

J: Yeah. And that’s absolutely true. And I think it bears repeating, and I know we’ve talked about this before, but we’re saying trad authors and indie authors as if it’s a binary choice, and it clearly isn’t, right? There are many trad published authors who I talk to who are also self-publishing. And I think that if the opportunity is there, most authors these days are hybrid. They’re not necessarily only traditionally publishing. Now there are authors who do that and that’s all they do, but again, I think there are many traditionally published authors who are publishing short stories or even novels on their own.

JD is a perfect example. He publishes in every shape and form. Don’t think that if it’s ThrillerFest that you’re only talking to authors who traditionally published. That’s not necessarily the case.

Now are there things that are missing? Yeah, for sure. For an indie author. So I’m trying to be somewhat careful with how I say this because I don’t wanna offend anyone, but the traditionally published authors are really not good at marketing or promotions. And I think it makes sense when you think about it, like that’s one of the attractions of being traditionally published is that you have a marketing department behind you. You have a team of professionals whose job it is to promote your book.

And because of that, traditionally published authors who are not self-publishing are really clueless about it. And many of the panel discussions, it wasn’t even brought up. Like there was one where a mailing list was mentioned and I saw everyone in the room like scribbling it down as if that was a new tactic. And I was kind of like, wow, indies have been doing that for 13, 14 years now. That’s just like a given now. But again, if you’re traditionally published and you’re just realizing this, that’s a revelation for you. But I don’t think in indie, especially a romance author, I don’t think you’re gonna get anything out of those conferences because they’re just not talking about that stuff.

There was a question raised in one panel about Patreon and crowdfunding, and there were five people on the panel and none of them had any experience and they punted on the question. And I’m like, again, Patreon, crowdfunding, not new. But these are just not things that they’re talking about, that many of them have to talk about. And I don’t know if that’s gonna change all that much. I think if you’re an author who’s really angling for an agent and you wanna be traditionally published, I think, again, part of that is that you don’t wanna have to do that stuff.

And I think the cold reality, and this is something that JD has mentioned a number of times privately and publicly, is that you’re gonna have to do that stuff anyways. Unless you’re a James Patterson or JK Rowling, the publisher is not gonna put a ton of energy behind your debut novel. It’s really gonna be up to you. So if you’re thinking, well, I’ll just get trad pub, then run off to my cabin in the woods and write, not worry about the marketing promotions, like I think you’re gonna be in for a shock.

Crys: Indeed. I was reviewing something, because recently Amazon marketing services has become available to traditionally published authors, before they could not advertise on their books because they didn’t have them on their Kindle dashboard. Right now they claim them on their author profile and they can advertise them. And I look at that and get physically angry.

 I feel like as an author, it doesn’t make monetary sense to me. Like you get how much per book as a traditionally published author, and you need to spend more than that per click, which doesn’t equal to one sale. And I just get like really angry, not at the authors at all, it just doesn’t make sense for them. It just feels to cash grab. And if anybody has positive experience with that as a trad pub author, please let me know, because I’m just offended on your behalf and I may be wrongfully so.

J: Yeah, it doesn’t feel fair, does it? Like you might be getting 10%, 12% if you’re lucky, on a trad pub book and now you have to pay for ads. Like it’s different if you’re publishing through KDP and you’re gonna get 70% royalty on it. But yeah, if you’re trad pub, you’re already getting a third of the lowest royalty rate you’re gonna get as an indie, and now you’re gonna have to pay for ads too. It’s like a kick in the teeth.

Crys: Anyways, that’s my contribution to the new things for traditional authors.

J: There’s one more element, I think that it’s a bit of an intangible, you’re not gonna be able to draw a direct ROI line to this, but you occasionally will get legacy authors who attend these. And if you’ve always wanted to meet like your favorite author, like that author you were reading since you were a kid, you might have that opportunity.

Like at ThrillerFest, Diana Gabaldon was attending as part of the panel, which is weird because she even said I guess I write thrillers now. Like she doesn’t really write thrillers, but I think there was some marketing in play there. But Outlander has been out for decades, so if you started reading Outlander as a kid and you’re like, wow, I get to meet Diana, that would be cool. And I don’t think you can discount that. I think that can be a really cool experience and I don’t wanna minimize it. But that’s a bit of an intangible, like are you gonna spend the money for the ticket, and in the ThrillerFest case, the hotel was shared in Times Square. So you’re looking at $300 a night for the hotel, and the airfare, and is it worth that? Each individual would have to make that decision on their own. But in many of these conferences, those people are walking around, so if you ever wanted the opportunity to walk up and introduce yourself, it’s there.

Crys: Yeah. Excellent. My question for our listeners is: what conference do you really want to go to and haven’t been to yet? Or that you have been to and really enjoy? So please do let us know.

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