With Bouchercon 2018 looming this week, and all the social media buzz that comes along with the conference, crime writers large and small have been discussing the pros and cons of, well… cons, across social media.

No doubt writing conferences carry a high price tag. After all, the kind of hotel that can accommodate 500-2000 crime fiction authors and fans generally runs in the $150-$200 per night range, regardless of host city. In other words, it probably costs more to attend Bouchercon for the weekend than most low-to-mid-list writers collect in royalties over a six month period.

Yeah, it can get that bad. But it doesn’t have to. I believe the networking and connections made at high profile conferences like Bouchercon are crucial to building the kind of career where you can make more in royalties than the conference costs to attend.

And hopefully much more than that, in the long run. Which creates a bit of a catch 22. If you don’t make enough to cover the conference costs, doesn’t that make your writing career occur at a loss, financially speaking? That depends on how you look at it. Which we will get to later.

Having been to several Bouchercons, as well as a Left Coast Crime, I wanted to share some of the insights I’ve learned on how to make ends meet while attending conferences.

Bouchercon will still require significant investment, keep that in mind. But with a little foresight and pre-planning, you can do Bouchercon on a budget without maxing out your credit cards. And, if your experience is anything like the ones I’ve had, you’ll be glad you did.

Here are 3 tips for Bouchercon on a budget.

1,) Find a modest offsite hotel using Hotels.com

Hotels.com has long been my go-to for budget traveling. You can use the site to quickly compare prices and amenities between hotels, weeding out the dumps in the process. By digging into the reviews, you can find something comfortable and clean at a much cheaper rate than the conference hotel.

I use Google Maps to determine the distance between the discounted hotel and the venue, looking for something in the 10-12 minutes away range. Even after factoring in the cost of Ubering or Lyfting back and forth from the hotel, you can save a ton of cash.

Not to mention you don’t have to pay for the hotel up front to reserve it through Hotels.com, you just have to provide a credit card. The rooms can even be canceled at no charge up to a few days before the stay.

My room this year costs 65% less per night than the convention hotel and is only an 8-10 minute ridesharing ride away. It even has an outdoor pool and a bit of a mid-century vibe, which I dig. Not to mention free breakfast, which goes a long way.

Though I won’t have the convenience of retreating up to my room throughout the day between panels, I actually think this increases the value I derive from my registration investment. After all, registration is STEEP at $225 a person. Being stuck on site means I will attend significantly more panels, which helps me discover new books and new approaches to writing while making new friends in the process.

My savings staying offsite this year will amount to somewhere in the $350-$400 range for the hotel alone. That’s nothing to scoff at.

2.) Set price reminders for plane tickets on Kayak.com, then be patient

Timing is everything when purchasing air travel. And you’ll probably be tempted to reserve your airfare as soon as you sign up for the conference. But don’t get ahead of yourself. There are several theories on the best times to purchase airfare. However, I recommend you do a little research, then wait.

I use Kayak.com to search the initial airfare. This gives me an indication of what airlines fly from my home city to the host city, and what to expect in connecting flights etc. From there, I will often explore the tickets directly from the airlines, to see if they are cheaper. Then I go back to Kayak and set a price alert, which will notify me by email whenever the prices are getting set to either go up or down. It even alerts me of the ideal time to buy.

Using Kayak, (and traveling on the bloodsucking discount brand Spirit Airlines), my wife and I were able to find airfare for less than $250 total for the TWO of us this year. And we didn’t book it until five weeks out from the conference, having had the patience to wait until the ideal time to purchase. The flights are at normal hours and nonstop to the destination.

Hard to do much better than that. By sharing a single bag we are only getting charged a $30 checked bag fee. Keep in mind you will want to read the fine print with a company like Spirit, and be prepared for a somewhat uncomfortable flight. But the important thing is getting to the conference at an investment level you can afford.

3.) BYOL (Bring your own liquor)

Like most writers, I work a day job for my daily bread. You’ve heard of bring your own beer. And you’ve probably heard that most of the socializing and dealmaking happen at the bar while at Bouchercon. All true. And the drinks at these fancy hotel bars? Expensive. Like, ridiculous.

My solution this year is to purchase a bottle of bourbon upon arrival and bring a flask. I can get a 750 ml bottle of my preferred brand, Wild Turkey, for around $18. That should last most of the conference, and combined with a beer or two per night, I can have all the fun I want without breaking the bank.

I’ve done it the official way in the past, buying my drinks from the hotel bar out of convenience. It cost me as much as the damn registration to drink for the weekend. Ridiculous. I’m on vacation, so I want to have fun. And I want to wheel and deal and look for new publishing opportunities while I’m there, too.

But that doesn’t mean I’m in the position to spend an arm and a leg to do so. This way, I’m invested for less than $100 in bar tab for the trip, including the bourbon. That cuts my bar tab by about 65% as well.

Bouchercon on a Budget

I’d estimate that this year the above-mentioned tricks will save me in the neighborhood of $600-$700. Sure, I won’t have the fancy hotel room. But I write noir and hardboiled fiction, so that’s more my speed anyway.

Throw in a few dinners and other incidentals and you can see that the experience isn’t cheap. However, it will be worth it to grow my personal brand and further my career. At least, that’s the goal.

If you get lucky, Bouchercon will arrive in your home city sooner or later, like it does for me next year in Dallas. But either way, don’t sleep on conferences. Above everything else, they’re a blast. And you might even ink that big book deal you’ve been dreaming of…

Posted by Michael Pool

Michael Pool is Crime Syndicate Magazine's Editor-in-Chief, as well as a crime fiction author of three books:Texas Two-Step, Debt Crusher, and New Alleys For Nothing Men. His next novel, Rose City, will be published by Down and Out Books in April 2019. Find him online at www.michaelpool.net.

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