I was a volunteer at Thrillerfest this year. I would recommend anyone attending Thrillerfest for the first or second time and feels he is an outsider to consider volunteering at this event. I can vouch that it was a lot of fun. Yes, a little work was involved and a small commitment to do certain things at certain times is necessary, but the plusses far outweighed the minuses.
The volunteer process is quite simple. When you register for Thrillerfest, you check a box saying that you are willing to volunteer, and the head of volunteers, Jen Kreischer, will contact you by email with a listing of volunteer opportunities and brief descriptions of the responsibilities. Like everything associated with Thrillerfest, the volunteer process is well-defined, and very specific volunteering slots were offered in four categories:
- Timekeeping during the sessions
- Working at the Registration and Volunteer Tables
- Working at Pitchfest
- Assembling items on the day before Thrillerfest
They do allow the unregistered significant other of a Thrillerfest participant to volunteer at the Registration Desk, the Volunteer Table, or at Pitchfest. It is actually a nice way for the significant other to feel like a part of the event and absorb some of the atmosphere at Thrillerfest.
Since this was my first run at volunteering at Thrillerfest I volunteered for something in three of the four categories. I also volunteered Mrs. Writerunderconstruction for the registration table at the same time as my own volunteering gig on two evenings, just before the Craftfest cocktail party on Wednesday, and just before the Thrillerfest Opening Reception on Friday. I also volunteered her to work at Pitchfest, so she could catch a glimpse into the hard facts of the thriller publishing world.
My first volunteering gig included acting as a timekeeper for F. Paul Wilson on “Conveying Characters”. I was also timekeeper for Carla Buckley and Jenny Milchman’s session on “Bad Guys, Villains. Keeping time was really pretty easy and involved holding up cards at 10 minutes to go and 5 minutes to go and also signaling the end of the session. The advantage of timekeeping is that you do get to attend the session, and you do get a chance to meet the panel participants. I volunteered for timekeeping duties in one other session on Friday as well.
The Reception Desk was probably the most entertaining volunteer opportunity. It was pretty easy work at the reception desk, since there weren’t a whole lot of people registering just before the Craftfest cocktail party, but there were more people registering right before the Thrillerfest Opening Reception on Thursday, so that time slot was quite busy. We did meet Dennis Kennert, the registrar for the whole event, and he helped us through the process. The time there went by pretty quickly, and we met many interesting folks as they registered. The registration packets were all arranged in alphabetical order and the registration bags were already stuffed with the needed material. Each one was stuffed correctly already, so the process went by without any serious problems. We attended the two cocktail parties after our volunteer stints.
Our duties at Pitchfest involved escorting the agents to their assigned rooms and desks, and handling any special issues or requests as they came up. The rooms were assigned in alphabetical order to the agents and it was quite clear where we should guide them. No agents were injured or lost in the process. It was a fairly tense operation,
however, since this was serious business both for the agents and for those pitching. I have to take my hat off to the organizers of Pitchfest. It was obvious that they had done this many times before, it went off with no noticeable glitches. It is a big operation, with many moving parts, and it ran smoothly. A volunteer does get a glimpse into the lay of the land of Pitchfest, and that might help with future butterflies in the stomach when the volunteer turns to pitching.
Volunteering at Thrillerfest was a great experience, and I highly recommend it. It felt good to give a little back to a really good organization, and you get to meet a lot of great people.