Benefits of a Small Conference by Duffy Brown


Benefits of a Small Conference by Duffy Brown

I met Duffy Brown and Tonya Kappes when I lived in Cincinnati – through my old RWA writing chapter and through Lori Foster’s Reader & Author Get Together. For a couple of years, Duffy’s famous mystery parties kicked off Lori’s event and set the tone for the fun and socializing ahead. Duffy and Tonya are now collaborating on some unique “conferences” for those who want to connect with authors while having a memorable experience.

Setting up a Small Conference or Event…it ain’t as hard as you think

So the first thing is why take on this extra work? That’s a really good question as IMHO the very best bang for your buck in writing is write! The more books you put out there and I do mean quality books, the better. If you’re trying to get on with a publisher the first thing they ask after they buy your book is what else do you have and you better have that something else going. If you’re self-pub your backlist keeps your name fresh and your readers hooked. They don’t want to wait a year between books.

That said if you have the time and a really good partner you can work with and want to put on a conference, Do it! First get a partner…not lots of partners but one or two…so you can split up the work. Get someone who when they say they’ll do a chore they do it! Don’t get the person who always has the excuse I don’t care how nice they are. You need a worker bee! Get someone who is used to doing promo. Not the lazy I just write person but the person who has a street team, active on Facebook, newsletter etc. This is how you will promote your event and you need someone with a following.

So why do this at all? It creates a buzz and your name is out there as the organizer. Decide if you want to own the event and I recommend that you do so all your hard work in setting it up pays off. Tonya Kappes and I have an annual Mystery Train Event that moves around. Different location each year. We invite authors to join us BUT it’s Two Dames on a Mystery Train and we own it. It keeps the buzz going and with something other than buy my book!

Having an annual event is good in that it keeps the buzz going all year, readers start talking about it from year to year and look forward to attending. They keep the buzz going for you. Also, once you set up an event the first time the next time is easier as you have everything in place. You know how to go about doing it, what works, what you want to change.

You also make good friends with other authors by including them and when they have an event they are more inclined to ask you to join. When inviting others to join your event again you want authors who are out there doing promo so you can tap into their readers beyond the readers who follow you. Again you need authors who are used to spreading the word, have newsletters, run contests etc.

Now you have to decide what kind of event you want. There are two kinds of events, reader based or is it for authors. If you are kind and sweet and feel the need to give back you do the author thing to help others. That’s great especially if you are in an author group. If it weren’t for Romance Writers of America I would never have published. I got so much info from them along with contacts and support when I felt like jumping out the window. Sisters in Crime is another great group that fosters authors.

This kind of event includes getting in people who know something about writing. They need to be in the publishing world. For years I was with Lori Foster in her Reader & Author Get Together. When we first started off we flew in editors from NYC on our own dime. We paid for their room. Lori and I were both published and wanted to give other authors a chance to “pitch” their books to an editor. We also opened it up to readers with a book signing. We invited other authors to attend, ask that they bring a basket of their books and goodies to raffle off to the readers. We expected 35 for our first event, we had 150. Money from the book fair got donated to charity in Cincinnati.

We threw our own money at this event and split between us it wasn’t that bad. And it paid off. The next year publishers paid their own way to the get-together, more attended. The word got out fast and this was before Facebook and twitter etc.

If you have an organization this works as they usually have a budget and can fly in editors or big-name authors who then give workshops on writing. You charge for this but you need money to get the project going as you have to line up these speakers a year in advance. Maybe 9 months for an editor but for the good ones their calendar gets full fast.

Now for the social event. This is great for the published author. It gets your readers to something fun and gets your name out there. You need to decide what kind of event you want to do. Make it fun, make it unique, make it yearly! Do something that no one else does. And you want to include those other authors. Make it different authors from year to year to add to the excitement. Doing it every year keeps the buzz alive all year long.

The first year to launch is the hardest. You’re peddling something new and no one knows exactly what they’re are signing up for. That’s why it’s important to make it fun and unique. To give you an idea I’ll walk you through the latest idea Tonya Kappes and I came up with…A Dinner To Die For. It’s a murder mystery dinner where everyone has a part in solving the mystery. Limited to 10 authors and 90 readers.

This is fun, unique, and gets the hype going right away. So how did you do this? First off you got to talk money. Where are you going to hold this event? We contacted the Marriott here in Cincy and sat down with the event planner. With 100 people coming we decided to do a bistro lunch with soup and make-your-sandwiches, cookies and brownies for dessert. Dinner is buffet. The room is ten tables with ten at each table. We’ll have a book fair and B&N will put it on. Indy author can sell their book. We got the final cost from the Marriott, divided it by 100 and it’s $85 per person to attend. Remember to get a “final” cost from the hotel. Include all taxes, tips, everything. A walk out the door price.

This is not a money-making endeavor. This is to get authors and readers together and have fun. Do build in a few dollars per attendee for those things that pop up. Also, it gives you some money to buy totes etc. Or you can ask your guest attending authors if they’d like to do this.

Cake at one of Duffy’s Mystery parties

Try and keep the cost down as many of the attendees will have book a room as well and you want them to have money to buy books. The Marriott cut a deal on a block of rooms for us. You can get all this info on rooms, seating etc in about an hour sitting down with the hotel event planner. The hotels are used to setting this up so they have the info you need right there.

You will have to put down money to secure your event. It will probably have to come out of your pocket. In setting up Murder to Die for we charged each of the 10 authors $100 instead of the $85. They had to pay when they committed to the event. No backing out at the last minute. This gave us money for the down-payment at the Marriott to hold our date.

Start a year out to get things together. Hotels book up fast, authors book up fast. When to launch your event? It’s up to you but eight months out works well for the initial launch.

Once you decide on the type of event, invite your authors, get your hotel and dates you come up with a logo. Something fun you can put on FB etc and on postcards. Whenever someone sees the logo they think your event.

That’s pretty much it on planning an event. It’s not hard, it does take time. Collecting money via PayPal works best. Have one person do this. If you use the friends and family code you don’t get slapped with a $3.50 processing fee for each transaction.

Is holding an event worth the trouble? If you have the right partner it’s great. Tonya and I work well together. Getting too many involved in working on the event is a bad idea. Too many cooks and all that.



Do you have an idea for a small event? Something fun and unique? Any idea where you want to hold it. Remember this is a win/win for everyone so just Do It.

Hugs, Duffy Brown


In Savannah there two things that get folks talking…weddings and funerals, especially if bodies go missing and wedding plans get hijacked by everyone with an opinion.


Duffy Brown loves anything with a mystery. While others girls dreamed of dating Brad Pitt, Duffy longed to take Sherlock Holmes to the prom. She is a National Bestselling author and now conjures up who-done-it stories of her very own. She has two series the Consignment Shop Mysteries set in Savannah along with rescue pup Bruce Willis and the Cycle Path Mysteries set on Mackinac Island with judgmental cats Cleveland and Bambino.


Two Dames on a Mystery Train 

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9 Responses to “Benefits of a Small Conference by Duffy Brown”

  1. Great being here at Romance U. I’ve learned so much from the articles. The small conferences are great in that you get to really know everyone and share ideas more easily. If it’s a writing conference attendees are more likely to get their individual questions asked and answered. If it’s a social event bonding is easier and more lasting. Everyone fees more comfortable.

  2. It’s great to have you here! I used to have so much fun at your mystery parties – my daughter even went to one with me and she had a blast. And the Reader & Author Get Together was my all-time favorite place to meet authors, editors and agents and to pitch stories. I haven’t been to any conferences since I moved to Chicago but I’m really tempted by your TWO DAMES ON A TRAIN event, as well as the dinner party!

  3. Plus (I forgot to mention) it would give me an excuse to visit all my writerly friends in Cincinnati!

  4. Well, I’ll miss the dinner party for sure, but the event next spring might work. Fingers crossed!

  5. Hi Duffy,

    Your post is primer on DIY conferences! Your event is a great way to engage readers on a different kind of platform, too. How did you decide on the number of authors participating in the event and did all of the authors write the same genre? Would you consider adding more authors for future conferences or is ten the magic number?

    • Hi, Jennifer.
      We decided on 100 total as that fits the Marriott space. And I’ve already written a mystery party for 60 where everyone was involved so 100 isn’t that much of a stretch…I hope. LOL We intend to change up the authors every year so we won’t increase the number.

      POSTED BY DUFFY BROWN | SEPTEMBER 17, 2017, 11:06 AM