Everything You Wanted to Know About ThrillerFest and More! By Shane Gericke
Do you live for pulse-pounding adventure? When it comes to brand names, do you prefer Heckler & Koch to Dolce & Gabbana? When driving by self-storage units, do you envision dead bodies inside? If you answered yes to any of these questions, ThrillerFest is the place for you. However, like any good investigator, you’re not taking my word for it. First, you have questions that need answering. I wrote this FAQ to do just that. There’s plenty of information: dates, location, hotel, pricing, and other helpful advice.
Q: Who are you and why are you qualified to tell me about ThrillerFest?
A: I’m a bestselling thriller author and an original member of the International Thriller Writers. I’ve helped manage ThrillerFest since the first one in Phoenix: director of Charity Auctions, director of AgentFest, deputy conference chairman, conference chairman, and this year, AgentFest author captain. I’ve also been a Thriller Award judge, and I’ve hauled cases of author books into the Barnes & Noble book room. Convinced? Sure hope so…let’s get started!
Q. Is everything I need to know about ThrillerFest on the website?
A. Yes. The redesigned and upgraded www.thrillerfest.com is your one-stop shopping guide to ThrillerFest.
Q. What exactly is ThrillerFest?
A. A four-day celebration of thriller books, the authors who write them, and the fans who read them.
Q. When is it?
A. July 10, 11, 12 and 13, 2013, in Manhattan, New York City.
Q. Manhattan’s a big island. Can you narrow it down a little?
A. ThrillerFest is held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel located in Midtown Manhattan. Officially, it’s at 109 E. 42nd Street at Grand Central Terminal, New York City, NY 10017, 212-883-1234.
Q. That’s next to Grand Central Station, right?
A. Yes. The railroad station is next door, but, don’t worry, you won’t hear any trains rumbling by because the insulation is incredibly thick.
Q. Why hold ThrillerFest in New York? Why not Los Angeles or Chicago?
A. Because New York is the home of the publishing industry. That means authors, editors, agents, publishers and publicists can walk or cab to the convention (and then go back to work as needed), and so they’re happy to come over and help us out with programming and events.
Q. But I thought you were going to move the convention to a different city every year. What happened to that idea?
A. We decided to stay in New York so we could keep our extraordinary level of programming. At one point, we thought seriously of moving ThrillerFest around the country, like Bouchercon or Romantic Times. Then we realized we’d lose most of our programming: publishers, literary agencies and the like would find it too costly to fly their troops around the country. We’d lose the very people that make this conference so unique, meaning you’d lose access to their ideas.
Q. But it’d be more economical holding this outside of New York.
A. You’d think so. But it isn’t true. Convention hotels big enough to host an event of our size—whether in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, or Frostbite Falls—charge about the same amount of money. They have to, in order to provide the rooms, restaurants, audiovisual services, and staffing large events require.
Q. But I can go to ABCFest in XY, Louisiana, for a hundred bucks. And that includes my hotel room!
A. Why, yes, you can. And you’ll have one big-name keynote author, three important regional authors, and two agents to hear pitches. ThrillerFest brings scores of New York Times-bestselling authors to the table, along with editors, publishers, and over fifty world-class literary agents to hear your pitches. Me, I like small conferences. They’re fun, and I’ve been to a bunch. But if you want to hang out with the very best in the business, in big numbers, and maybe have a drink with them in the hotel bar at night, you’ve simply got to be at ThrillerFest.
Q. But the hotel rooms are so expensive.
A. Actually, they aren’t. We’re an important customer of the Grand Hyatt’s, and they treat us accordingly: the 2013 room rate was $239 a night. Yeah, it’s more than Motel 6, but breathtakingly inexpensive for New York at the height of tourist season. Without our discount, you’re talking three, four hundred dollars a night. In comparison, a single room at the Y on 47th Street is $105 a night, with a bath you share with the folks down the hall. Find yourself a roommate for the Hyatt’s other double bed (there’s two in each room, unless you choose a king, in which case there’s one), and you’re paying exactly the same price as at the Y, but you get to enjoy the incredible amenities of the newly-renovated Hyatt.
Q. How about getting to the hotel from the airport? Bet that’ll set me back an arm and a leg.
A. Nope. LaGuardia, where the majority of out-of-towners will land, is a nine-mile cab ride from the hotel. It’ll set you back around $50 (plus tip) round trip. Looking for a more economical option? New York Airport Service offers a bus for $20 per round trip. You buy the tickets and pick up the bus in the luggage area of LaGuardia, and the bus drops you off a half-block from the hotel. Same going from the hotel to the airport: pick it up a half-block from the hotel. The concierge can tell you where. Similar deals are offered from Kennedy and Newark airports.
Q. What’s nearby if I want a snack?
A. Just walk next door to Grand Central Station where there are a ton of food vendors; you could eat every meal in the railroad station and not hit every one. While you’re at it, stroll around and enjoy the view: the station is an architectural masterpiece.
Q. OK, you’ve convinced me to attend. Details, please.
A. As I mentioned, it’s a four-day celebration of thriller books, the authors who write them, and the fans who read them. It runs Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. We’ve broken it into bite-size pieces so you can pick and choose what you want to attend (and pay for):
- CraftFest is all day Wednesday and the morning of Thursday.
- AgentFest is Thursday afternoon.
- ThrillerFest Opening Night Cocktail Party is Thursday night.
- ThrillerFest is all day Friday and Saturday.
- Thriller Awards Banquet is Saturday night.
Q. I’m confused. How come the whole four days is called ThrillerFest, but so is the Friday-Saturday part?
A. A historic accident. The first ThrillerFest was held in 2006, in Phoenix. It was one big event, not broken into bite-size pieces like now. After moving to New York in 2007, we decided to assign separate days to separate events, so people could pick and choose which pieces they wanted to attend. The first two days were designated CraftFest/AgentFest; the last two days, ThrillerFest. (Plus the Awards Banquet on Saturday night.) It’s a bit confusing, but now that you’re an insider with the scoop, you can impress all your friends with the explanation.
Q. Tell me about ThrillerFest, the two-day version.
A. It starts with the Thursday night cocktail party, then runs all day Friday and Saturday. It’s a traditional conference in that the days are filled with author panels covering a variety of subjects, and the nights are full of cocktail parties and special events. Many readers attend the two-day event, as well as authors, agents, publishers, editors, the media, and other industry people. We conduct one-on-one interviews with the famous authors who are our ThrillerMasters and Spotlight Guests. (Profiles are on the website.) Coffee and soft-drink breaks are sponsored by a variety of publishers and organizations, who use the opportunity to promote their books and authors. We officially roll out ITW anthologies and other special publications. As an attendee, you get to hobnob with your favorite authors. Between panels, interviews, drinks, snacks, parties and hanging out, ThrillerFest is a real feast for eyes, nose, ears and taste buds.
Q. When can I hear the ThrillerMasters and Spotlight Guests speak?
A. Throughout Friday and Saturday. This year’s special guests include:
- 2013 ThrillerMaster Anne Rice
- 2011 ThrillerMaster R.L. Stine
- Spotlight Guest Michael Connelly
- Spotlight Guest T. Jefferson Parker
Q. Are you doing the author panels again this year?
A. A significant part of our programming Friday and Saturday is these fifty-minute panels, where four or five authors kick around a thriller-related subject. They’re fun and interesting to watch. Subjects and authors are on the website.
Q. Several are scheduled at the same time. Can I go to all of them?
A. Yes. Sit as long as you wish, then leave and visit the one next door. That way you see a little bit of everything and everyone. If something intrigues you, stay till the end. Where you go and how long you stay is entirely up to you. If you miss a workshop, you can always purchase a CD of that session.
Q. Did I get assigned to a panel?
A. Are you an author and ITW member?
Q. Yes . . .
A. Then you’re on a panel. If you sign up up by January 31, 2013, you’re guaranteed a panel assignment. After that date, no guarantees, but thanks to our miracle worker Kim, we managed to get practically every ITW author who signed up last year onto a panel—
Q. Who’s Kim?
A. That’s Kimberley Howe, the Executive Director of ThrillerFest. She handles the day-to-day challenge of making this event happen. She works hand in glove with D.L. Wilson, ITW’s Vice President of National Events and ThrillerFest, and Dennis Kennett, Registrar. Doug Lyle returns as CraftFest Director (more about him in the CraftFest section below) and Boyd Morrison is this year’s AgentFest Director.
There are more than a dozen volunteer committee chairs, who handle everything from event planning to marketing to selling ads in the program books to getting the posters in the right place at the right time. Be sure to volunteer when you come to ThrillerFest as it’s a great way to meet people.
Q. When will you post the panel schedule, so I know where I should be?
A. Closer to July.
Q. What’s CraftFest?
A. Our writing school. So many writers—from beginners to the more experienced—are eager to learn the secrets of bestselling success that we decided to pull together more than a dozen top authors, editors, and agents and start a school. We call it CraftFest.
Q. When is it?
A. It runs Wednesday (all day), and Thursday (until noon), ending with the big closing luncheon.
Q. What can I expect?
A. CraftFest is an intensive series of hour-long classes taught by some of the biggest names in the thriller business. These courses cover everything from your opening sentence to marketing your finished product. You’ll learn how to pitch your manuscripts to agents and editors. You’ll get tips on working efficiently and smoothly. You’ll be taught everything worth knowing about writing thrillers. And then, we throw a nice cocktail party for attendees Wednesday evening.
Q. Who organizes this event?
A. Dr. Doug Lyle, MD, a cardiologist who’s also a professional thriller writer. He’s been the director of CraftFest since its inception, and does a crackerjack job with it.
Q. Who are the teachers?
A. Instructors are generally NYT bestselling authors, such as Steve Berry, Ken Follett, Lisa Scottoline, Eric Van Lustbader, David Morrell, Gayle Lynds, Douglas Preston, Lee Child, John Sandford, Ann Rule, Catherine Coulter and countless others. Like the ThrillerFest schedule, the specific list of classes and instructors will be posted closer to July.
Q. Can I sign up for CraftFest and nothing else?
A. Yes. The writing school stands on its own, so you can register just for CraftFest.
Q. What exactly is AgentFest?
A. The world’s largest gathering of top literary agents looking for the Next Big Thing.
Q. Does that mean I can bring my manuscript and find an agent for it?
A. A number of our authors have gotten representation from this event, and several of their manuscripts have become real, published works. AgentFest is designed for authors who want to pitch their work to the over fifty literary agents who volunteered to hear the pitches.
Q. Are these real agents, or the kind that say they’re real but charge me to read my own manuscript and then steer me into vanity presses or self-publishing?
A. Our agents are the genuine real deal. They all have clients you’ve heard of, they all sell to major publishers around the world, and they all are highly respected in the field.
Q. Are they taking new clients?
A. Every attending agent is actively seeking thriller manuscripts, and many are looking for other things in addition: mystery, romance, nonfiction, whatever. Check their bios on the website; they generally spell out what each agent does and doesn’t represent.
Q. When is AgentFest?
A. Thursday afternoon from 2-4:30pm after the CraftFest luncheon.
Q. A buddy who went through it last year says it’s like speed dating. Yes?
A. Yes, except you don’t get kissed. Here’s how it works: You sit in front of an agent, pitch and discuss your idea, get a yes or no from the agent, then move to the next agent and make your next pitch. The event runs two hours, with a bathroom break in the middle.
Q. It was three hours last year. Why only two this year?
A. To make things easier on everyone. It’s been three hours since the start, but we saw over the years that many agents and authors get glassy-eyed after two—pitching and listening are incredibly intense activities. We trimmed the event by an hour to preserve everyone’s sanity and keep the agents coming back.
Q. Do you assign me to agents, or do I pick?
A. Who you pitch is entirely up to you. Depending on the length of the lines, you’ll have enough time to pitch a dozen agents, maybe more. Pitching that many agents traditionally—i.e., snail mail or even e-mail—would take months, perhaps years. This is a much more efficient process.
Q. Is this an intense experience?
A. You’ll feel like you’ve sprinted a marathon. But you won’t need plasma and foot rubs afterwards.
Q. Do I have to stay the whole two hours?
A. Nope. We don’t take attendance. You can stay for one agent, or stay the whole time. It’s entirely up to you. Many authors have their list of six or twelve agents, and when they’re done, they head out. Many more stay till the bitter end. Funny story about that: last year, one of the agents told me he was so drained at the end of the day he couldn’t hear one more pitch. But an author sat and he said, “Aw, what the hell.” The manuscript was so electrifying that the agent made an offer then and there. That’s not atypical, either. Pitching is a numbers game—the more agents you see, the more likely someone is to say yes.
Q. Are the agents paid to be there?
A. No, they’re volunteers. Like you, they’re looking for manuscripts to sell to publishers. A win-win day for everyone. Please thank them at the end of the day. Everyone likes to feel appreciated, and they are going waaaaay out of their way to help you sell your book. They could just as easily stay in their offices and work.
Q. You say folks have actually gotten representation?
A. Yes. One author who launched his debut thriller in 2010—in hardcover, e-book, audiobook, and large type simultaneously—found his agent at AgentFest. Another who got her agent with us in 2010 just sold her book to Random House, with publication set for 2012. Check out the success stories on www.thrillerfest.com and click on the Success button under the AgentFest heading.
While there’s NO GUARANTEE, REAL OR IMPLIED that any agent will like your work—I made that all-caps to impress upon you that you might not get even a single nibble—the opposite is equally true: they may all love your work. But, even if you don’t place your manuscript, you’ll have met the top agents in the business, gone through the pitching process, and learned a great deal.
Q. How does the AgentFest day work, exactly?
A. After the CraftFest luncheon, you walk to the rooms where we hold the pitches. There are four rooms, each containing a dozen or so agents. Each agent has a table and two chairs—one for you, one for the agent. They’re spaced along all four walls, in alphabetical order for A-Z finding. You will already have decided which agents you want to see, based on their bios contained on this website. (You DID do your pre-pitch prep and figured out who you wanted to see, right???) When the signal is given, everyone walks into one of the rooms and finds an agent. Each table has a nameplate with the agent’s name.
Q. So that’s the moment I land my agent contract, right???
A. Mmm, not quite yet. You get into any line you want and wait for the signal to begin. At the signal, the first author in line sits in the chair and makes his or her pitch. There is a three-minute limit for each pitch. The agent says yes, no, or send me some chapters so I can read, then dismisses the author and takes the next person in line. Newly freed, you go into another line and make your next pitch.
Q. Will I be able to hear in a room full of people?
A. Yes. If everyone does their part and doesn’t talk other than while pitching, you’ll hear loud and clear.
Q. But what if I don’t? What if I need to—
A. Please, don’t worry about any of this. Just relax and concentrate on having a nice discussion with the agents. They’ll let you know when they’re finished, and if they want anything further from you.
Q. Should I have a stack of manuscripts in case they want one?
A. No. Keep your manuscripts in your hotel room or at home. The agents will ask you to ship one via mail or Internet if they’re interested. They don’t want to haul 101 pounds of manuscripts on the subway when the day is over.
Q. How about business cards?
A. It’s always a good idea to have business cards with you. They’ll ask if they want one. Make sure your contact information is on them. You do have e-mail, right? If not, get it. That’s your prime means of communication with everyone in this business, since we’re spread across the world.
Q. So, pitches go till the midway break?
A. Yes, straight through, one after the next. You pitch, move, pitch, move. Then you take a break at the halfway point, then get back to pitching again.
Q. Can I hop lines if mine is too long?
A. Absolutely. If your agent line is long and you see a short one, feel free to hop over. Pitching agents is a numbers game: the more you talk to, the likelier you are to find one who wants what you’re selling. By all means, have your list of agents you want to talk to. But try the others, too. You never know who’s gonna love your work so much they’ll get into fistfights to sign you. Only one rule for the lines: no cutting in front of others.
Q. What happens during the midway break?
A. Everyone gets a chance to relax, hit the bathroom, check e-mail, Twitter your thoughts, whatever.
Q. Can I go to the bathroom during the event, or do I have to wait till the break?
A. Time and tides wait for nobody, so the minute your lunchtime coffee starts pounding on your bladder, get thee to the bathroom forthwith. When you come back to the room all refreshed, join a new line. Remember: no cutting.
Q. My buddy who attended in 2009 said he followed an agent into the bathroom and shoved his manuscript under the stall. Should I try that?
A. No. Leave the agents alone in the bathrooms. The career you save may be your own.
Q. After the break, what happens?
A. Same as before the break: pitches, pitches, pitches till the end.
Q. Can I practice my pitch while I’m in line?
A. No. Every room will contain more than 50 people at any given moment, simultaneously hearing and making pitches. That’s a whole lot of noise, and the rooms don’t need more. If you want to talk, please go into the hall. When you’re sitting in the chair and can hear the agent saying clearly, “Fascinating! Can you overnight me the manuscript?” you’ll thank me.
Q. What happens when it’s over?
A. You go on your merry way. There’s a bit of down time between the end of AgentFest and the start of the ThrillerFest Opening Night Cocktail Party, so you can go to your room and change into your struttin’ duds. Or, stand and chat with your new friends. Better yet, attend the “Buzz Your Book” program that starts immediately afterward. It’s presented by M.J. Rose and Douglas Clegg, two of the hottest book marketers (and talented authors) in the industry today. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to learn how to get the word of your great new novel out to the whole world.
Q. Can I sign up only for AgentFest? You know, fly in Thursday morning and fly home Thursday night?
A. No. In order to attend AgentFest, you must also sign up for CraftFest. They’re joined at the hip. You don’t have to do AgentFest to do CraftFest, but you must do CraftFest to do AgentFest. A lot of thought went into the way we set up our registration process. AgentFest has become a huge success, in large part because it has been coupled with CraftFest. At CraftFest, we’re fortunate to attract NYT-bestselling authors to teach attendees how to hone their craft and create blockbuster thrillers. We also offer a fabulous course by Kathleen Antrim and Jon Land that teaches authors how to create a compelling pitch. We are able to attract top-drawer agents because the agents know about the effort we put into making sure that attending writers have great pitches and solid writing to back them up. This year, I’m the author captain for AgentFest, and I’ll be working closely with attendees before AgentFest to make sure you are able to put your best foot forward and make the most of the opportunities presented. ThrillerFest is also a wonderful learning environment, but it is CraftFest that best prepares you to achieve success at AgentFest.
Q. What should I wear that day? Suit and tie? Heels? Should I rent a tux?
A. Business casual is best. There’s no dress code, but consider that you’re trying to sell your work to a major literary agent. You want them to take you seriously—dress like you respect them. Dresses and full suit-and-tie are pretty and all, but they won’t give you any particular edge over business casual, and will be less comfortable. I recommend business casual with sensible shoes.
Q. Sensible shoes?
A. You’re going to be on your feet a long time. Do yourself a favor and skip the ladykiller/mankiller shoes during working hours. Save the good stuff for the cocktail parties, where everyone’s puttin’ on their Ritz.
Q. Is this where they announce the Thriller Awards?
A. Yep, it’s the Thriller Awards Banquet, and it’s held Saturday night. There’s a cocktail party before the dinner, and an after-party following the dinner. During the banquet, we introduce the key people who make this organization work. Then we dive into a sumptuous feast, and make announcements, and give out the Worst Review of the Year Award for, well, the worst book review printed that year, and then we announce the winners of the coveted Thriller Awards, which are given every year for the best thriller books in hardcover, paperback original, debut, and other categories. The nominees for each category are on the ThrillerFest website.
Q. What’s that about two cocktail parties?
A. Yeah, I thought you’d like that. On Saturday night, we throw a pre-banquet cocktail party, host the banquet, and then throw an after-party—and it’s all included in the price of the banquet registration. It’s a tremendous evening of fun and excitement.
Q. Do I purchase this event separately?
A. Yes, you must buy a separate ticket for the banquet.
Q. Do I have to dress up?
A. You certainly don’t have to. Some people wear jeans or other casual clothes. But the vast majority of folks do dress up. Most men wear suits and ties, and a few wear tuxes. Most women wear cocktail dresses, and a few wear gowns or pants outfits. It’s an opportunity to look as good as you feel, and most people take advantage. Again, there’s no dress code, but be forewarned that only a few will dress casually.
Q. And then it’s over.
A. Yes. The four-day event ends with the post-banquet cocktail party Saturday night, leaving Sunday as your go-home day.
Q. Where do I sign up?
A. Right on this very website: www.thrillerfest.com. Click the Registration button and you’re on your way. We’d love to see you there. Thank you for reading!