With close to 1,000 attendees this year, the Eighth Annual ThrillerFest—the annual conference hosted by the International Thriller Writers association—at the Grand Hyatt in New York July 10-13 surpassed last year’s record-breaking attendance. The four-day conference kicked off with CraftFest, two days of practical classes for aspiring writers taught by some of the genre’s biggest stars.

Two of the year’s Spotlight Guests of Honor, Michael Connelly and T. Jefferson Parker, led classes on topics as varied as “Off on the Right Foot: When to Outline and When to Write” and “The Series Character: How to Do it Right," respectively. In addition to the CraftFest classes, Thursday’s AgentFest gave new writers--both those with finished manuscripts and those with the kernel of a great idea--the chance not only to learn the ropes of pitching their projects but also to meet real agents in a two-and-a-half hour marathon event that many compared to speed dating. Successfully landing an agent is almost always a challenging task in the writing world but ThrillerFest alum, and a presenter this year, Jamie Freveletti is an example that it’s not impossible to land an agent during the frenetic AgentFest. In addition to her own series featuring chemist and marathoner Emma Caldridge, Freveletti is continuing the work of Robert Ludlum, most recently with 2012’s Robert Ludlum’s The Janus Reprisal.

With self-publishing on the rise all over the book world, a growing number of panels addressed questions related to getting one’s book online (and making a profit). The panels ranged from “What are the New Rules of Digital Success?” and “What are the New Rules of Social Media?” to a presentation by author Larry Thompson and author and publisher of Story Merchant Books Ken Atchity entitled “Direct versus Legacy Publishing: The Pros and Cons.” The v-p of Kindle Content and Kindle Direct Publishing, Russ Grandinetti, also gave a presentation on the growing number of resources for self-published authors using Amazon.

Other panels illuminated several of the key elements of thrillers—action, strong heroes, diabolical villains—and posed questions not only about what makes these books so fun to read but also how aspiring thriller writers can best make their mark. Topics ranged from the Law & Order-saluting “Ripped from the Headlines: The Pros and Cons of Using Actual News Stories in Your Plots,” moderated by Tom Sawyer, to ‘Does Speed Kill? When to Slow Down Your Pacing,” moderated by Andrew Gross and “Did His Mama Love Him? The Psychology of Villains,” moderated by Anthony Franze. In addition to teaching their sessions, Spotlight Guests Connelly and Parker, as well as additional Spotlight Guest Michael Palmer were individually interviewed throughout the weekend. Just as Michael Palmer was interviewed by his author son, Daniel, this year’s ThrillerMaster, Anne Rice, was interviewed by her own writer son, Christopher Rice. Known best for her vampire novels, particularly Interview with a Vampire, Rice is currently writing a series revolving around werewolves; The Wolves of Midwinter will be released on October 13, 2013, coincidentally the same day that Christopher’s latest novel, The Heavens Rise, hits shelves.

The conference culminated with the awards banquet on Saturday evening, which paid tribute to 2013 ThrillerMaster Rice, who was presented her award by 2011 ThrillerMaster R.L. Stine, as well as honoring this year’s Silver Bullet Award recipient Steve Berry. Presented to authors who promote and further the literacy cause, the Silver Bullet was awarded to Berry for his work helping aspiring writers through his workshops, Lessons from a Working Writer. Berry, along with his wife, Elizabeth, also work to preserve historic landmarks around the country and all the money raised (Berry pays all his own expenses and charges no fee for the workshops) goes directly to preserving historical gems such as Hartford, Connecticut’s Mark Twain House.

The 2013 Thriller Awards were also presented at the banquet, with John Rector’s story “Lost Things” from Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint winning Best Short Story; Matthew Quirk’s The 500 from Reagan Arthur Books winning Best First Novel; Sean Doolittle’s Lake Country from Bantam named Best Paperback Original Novel; False Memory by Dan Krokos from Hyperion winning Best Young Adult Novel; C.J. Lyons’s Blind Faith receiving the Best E-Book Original prize; and Brian Freeman winning Best Hardcover Novel with Spilled Blood from SilverOak.

Now a staple in the circuit of mystery and thriller writers’ conferences, ThrillerFest IX is already on the books for 2014. If your July schedule is free, pencil in next year’s conference Ju;u 9-12, since it promises to be a thrilling good time.