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Conference Insider: Killer Nashville

This thrilling conference allows participants to learn about the industry, sharpen their crime-solving skills, and net a publishing deal all in one weekend.

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Killer Nashville writing conference crime scene


Years ago at Killer Nashville, a mock crime scene that featured a simulated dead body on the floor looked so convincing that non-conference participants staying in the same hotel dialed 911.

“Now, we take over a hotel,” explains founder Clay Stafford, whose conference gathers together writers, agents, editors, fans of crime and thriller literature, and forensic experts. One of the latter is Dan Royse, former assistant director/special agent from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), who hosts the annual mock crime scene. Participants try to solve the case by watching online interviews with potential suspects and filling out investigative forms.

“The FBI and TBI get frustrated with television portrayals of crimes,” Stafford explains. “They like to talk with writers about proper police procedure and help them to get it right.”


What you’ll learn

Five different tracks at Killer Nashville include the craft and business of writing, plus marketing and forensics. Attendees can also register for break-out sessions, which include information on how to find an agent and publisher, how to create a social media platform and a marketing plan, and how to find a community of like-minded writers.

“Classes aren’t just for beginning writers,” Stafford says. “[Best-selling crime] author Anne Perry goes to classes all the time. People learn new social media tools and new public relations methods. Maybe you have a U.S. demographic of readers, and you want to expand internationally. The different tracks speak to where you are on your particular journey.”


Emerging authors find endless support and unexpected success at this conference. Author Angela Crook attended one year, too intimidated by the “real” authors at the moonshine and wine tasting event to participate. Stafford saw her sitting alone and introduced her to some of the speakers.

“On Sunday, she ran down the escalator, and I swear she picked me up and grabbed me around the waist,” he says. “Agents wanted to see her manuscript. She was so excited she had tears in her eyes.”

He recounts another story about how author Jonathan Stone attended Killer Nashville with a manuscript that had been in a drawer for 12 years. Stone submitted the first 50 pages to the conference’s Claymore Award and ended up with an agent, a publishing contract, and a movie deal. “Those are the moments that are my favorite,” Stafford says.



Featured presenters at Killer Nashville

Guests of honor at the 2018 conference include New York Times best-selling author Ellery Adams and best-selling author and blogger J.A. Konrath, plus award-winning publisher Otto Penzler, who will be on hand for several public book signing events.

On Thursday, participants can take a three-hour master class in novel plotting from international best-selling author Jeffery Deaver or participate in a shorter workshop titled “The Sinking Ship: Adding Suspense by Running out of Options or Time.”

International best-selling novelist Perry will speak on writing historical fiction and how to create a writing career. Judicial biographer and law and political scholar Bruce Allen Murphy delivers a talk titled “Fourth Amendment Search and Seizure Law for Writers.” (Check out Killer Nashville’s website for a full list of presenters.)



Advice for first-timers

Organizers cap the attendance at 350 people to maintain an intimate, low-key atmosphere. “Leave your ego at the door,” Stafford says. “Our main goal is to nurture the next generation of writers. Everyone is approachable, and the speakers who come to present give out their personal cell phone numbers.”

He believes that you get what you put out at any conference, and it’s important to be proactive and mingle with agents and editors and other authors, even if it isn’t immediately obvious that your networking has paid off.

To illustrate, he points to Alabama-based author Margaret Fenton, who – a decade ago – attended all of the agent and editor round tables at Killer Nashville and received no interest in her manuscript. She went to the bar, where author Don Bruns spotted her and asked her if she was all right.


“She told him her tale of woe,” Stafford says. “Don went and got his editor, and she walked away with a publishing contract. This exemplifies that intimate feeling of Killer Nashville – you might be looking dejected in the bar, and people come up to you to ask if you’re OK, and then you’re getting published.”


Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of the middle-grade novel Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016) and an editor/consultant at Creator & Collector Services.





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