If you’re anything like me, you can’t wait to get to Orlando and jump in.
It’s one of my favorite weeks of the summer, but also one of the most stressful.
As an introvert, it’s hard to be surrounded by so many people, but as a writer, I love the feeling of being there.
This is my third National Conference, and I have a few tips to share with you.
Try on all your clothes before you go. Let’s face it, Nationals is a business casual conference. We’re writers. Our everyday wear is yoga pants, a t-shirt, and no bra. Or is that just me? Unfortunately, that won’t fly at Nationals. So try on your clothes. Did you buy new outfits? Wear them. Make sure they’re comfortable to sit in for an hour. Or a full day. Does your skirt ride up? Do your shoes hurt after a few hours? Is your bag too heavy?
Many people say bring a sweater also. You know yourself. Yes, some of the rooms can be chilly. But if you’re never cold in air conditioning, skip the jacket. You definitely won’t need it outside, so save the room in your luggage for free books.
My first year I packed an outfit to wear during the day and a second one to wear at night. Those second outfits never saw the light of day, or night. It didn’t make sense to change before we went to dinner, and even though we didn’t go out, I know I wouldn’t have changed before that either.
If you have something planned, like a trip to one of the Disney Parks, then yeah, pack clothes for that. If you’re sticking to the conference, bring one extra outfit if you’re likely to spill something on yourself (raises hand), and save the room for more books. Yes, you will get that many.
I also always bring snacks. You can pack anything sealed in your carry-on luggage. I bring granola bars, mini bags of pretzels, and single serve bowls of cereal so I don’t have to grab a snack from the hotel, or breakfast since I’m not likely to be up before I absolutely need to be. Water is available in every workshop room so make use of that water bottle you get in the Swag Shoppe and fill it up. In addition, bottled water is included in the cost of your hotel if you’re staying at the Dolphin or Swan if you prefer that. When you’re at workshops, bring your RWA bag from the Swag Shoppe. It’ll make carrying your snacks and water, and all those free books, easier.
Put Yourself Out There
As I said, I’m an introvert. It’s hard to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Especially because the other people who are sitting alone at a workshop not talking to anyone are usually introverts also. The conversation starts with what do you write and ends with where are you from.
Think up some interesting questions ahead of time. If your idol sat down next to you, what would you ask? If one of your friends sat down, what would you ask? We’re writers. We’re good with the written word. Write out some questions ahead of time. What do your characters ask to get to know each other? There’s no reason those questions have to stay between the pages of your book.
Find A Friend
I know what you’re thinking. You don’t know anyone who’s going. How are you going to find a friend? We’re all friends! We might not know each other, but at Nationals, you’ll find people are very friendly and talkative. Yes, it’s easier to have a plan to meet someone. So make that plan.
Reach out to someone in one of your local or online chapters. Reach out to someone you think you might connect with. Last year, a chapter mate from one of my online chapters posted that she was anxious because she didn’t know anyone. She’d gone to another conference, but commuted because it was close to her house, so she didn’t even have a roommate to hang around. I sent her an email and we met the first night. Then spent the rest of the conference together. We’re still in touch a year later.
Yes, it’s hard to make friends as adults. But we’re all scared to do it. Trade emails with your roommate in advance, and if you want, send me an email! I’ll be there. I’m volunteering at the Stiletto Party on Friday night, so grab your ticket and come cheer on the Stiletto finalists and Contemporary Romance Writers with me. Trust me, you won’t regret reaching out to someone in advance.
Set A Plan
You don’t have to be a plotter to have a plan. Why are you going to the conference? What made you sign up this year? What are you interested in learning? Know ahead of time what your goals are. For me, marketing and networking are my two big goals this year. I’ve picked workshops that speak to those topics. I’m going to chat up other authors because I’m always looking for new authors to read, but I believe in the power of networking and cross-promotion. Plus, I will never have too many author friends.
The other side of that is I’m also giving myself a break. If there’s a time when the workshops offered don’t match what I’m looking to learn, I can skip them. If I’m worn out, I’ll take a break. My first year, I didn’t give myself any downtime and ended up with an extra trip to the doctor because of it. Last year, I sat out a workshop and ended up meeting a new friend. I got a break for an hour and had a great conversation. It was definitely a win-win.
Going to Nationals, especially your first time, can be overwhelming. There is so much to see and do and learn. It’s a lot, but it’s also a great investment of your time and money, so enjoy it! It’ll be over way too soon!
Mary E. Thompson writes scintillating stories with a side of hope. She reenergizes every year with a trip to Nationals, and every month at her local chapter meeting. When Mary isn’t writing, she cheers on her daughter at gymnastics and her son at every other sport. Mary is lucky to have her own romance novel worthy husband to tag-team if things get too crazy. Visit her website at http://MaryEThompson.com to learn more.
Family and food play huge roles in Peggy’s stories because she believes there is nothing that holds a family structure together like sharing a meal…or two…or ten. Dotted with humor and characters that are as real as they are loving, Peggy brings all topics of daily life into her stories: life, death, sibling rivalry, illness and the desire for everyone to find their own happily ever after. Growing up the only child of divorced parents she longed for sisters, brothers and a family that vowed to stick together no matter what came their way. Through her books, she has created the families she wanted as that lonely child.Tying into her love of families, her children's book, THE KINDNESS TALES, was illustrated by her artist mother-in-law. Peggy holds a master's degree in Nursing Administration and first found publication with several articles she authored on Alzheimer's Disease during her time running an Alzheimer's in-patient care unit during the 1990s. In 2013, she placed first in two categories in the Dixie Kane Memorial Contest: Single Title Contemporary Romance and Short/Long Contemporary Romance. In 2017 she came in 3rd in the New England Reader's Choice contest for A KISS UNDER THE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS and is a finalist in the 2017 STILETTO contest for the same title. A lifelong and avid romance reader and writer, she is a member of RWA and her local New Hampshire RWA Chapter.
This past week I’ve been in the lovely city of Atlanta for my very first RT Convention. I’ve been hearing about RT for a long time, but have never had the opportunity to attend until this year, so I came without any expectations and a whole bag of nervous energy.
I’m that girl who spends a lot of time in her hotel room during conference downtown writing and blogging. I usually don’t take advantage of the parties or any networking prospects because I’m basically an introvert.
This year, though, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to “get myself out there” more at conferences and conventions. Talk to fans, publishers, agents, and other authors. Start up conversations, and ask questions – two things I’m not comfortable doing. I shouldn’t have been concerned about looking pushy or annoying to strangers, because at RT no one is a stranger! I just love that concept.
RT is, in my mind, an awful lot like Comic Con for Romance Lovers. There are themed parties, where fans and authors alike go all out dressing up in period costumes. There are scavenger hunts, photo ops with the most hunky of male cover models, chocolate parties, movie nights – you think of it, and RT is doing it. Billed as a book lovers conference, I found RT was heavily stacked with romance readers. Most romance conferences I’ve attended have been heavy on the writer end of the spectrum, so it was eye-opening for me as a romance writer to actually connect with the people who put us, and keep us, in business – the reader.
I met some of the most delightful, well-read and well-rounded people I’ve ever met this week. And I met them while waiting in line for events, at workshops, and at book signings. These readers and romance fans know what they like. They move the industry in the direction they want it to go by reading, talking, blogging about, and promoting their favorite author’s work. I had one new fan to me, who was also an independent bookseller, say she loved my book so much she promoted it at her store. You gotta love that!
A few things I learned this week that I wish I had known prior to attending RT, though, needs mentioning.
First of all, be prepared for crowds. Big crowds. Disney-theme-park-during-school-vacation crowds. This convention is held once a year and fans/readers/authors /industry people come from all across the globe. This isn’t some dinky little get together; there are literally thousands of people attending.
Because of these crowds, be prepared to wait in line for everything. Everything. Every book signing, every workshop, every author meet and greet, every giveaway. I thought I was being proactive getting to an event scheduled for 5:15 at 4:50. Nope. There were 500 people ( not kidding!) in line ahead of me.
Bring snacks and something to drink with you wherever you go, whether it’s to a workshop or an event. Believe me, you’ll need it.
Wear comfortable shoes and clothing. I know this sounds like common sense, but as an author, I still feel fans want to see you in a dressy, professional, romance-writer-like outfit complete with stocking and heels. Because I think this way, my feet hurt and when I had to wait in line, I couldn’t sit on the floor like everyone who was dressed comfortably because I had a skirt and stilettos on, and by the end of a very long days, my legs turned to jello. Flats and jeans are, truly, acceptable wear.
If you’re an author, always ALWAYS have some kind of author swag on you. Business cards, placards, notebooks, chapsticks, whatever has your name on it and whatever you routinely give away, carry it with you. I had more readers ask me for a business card so they could remember my name than I’ve ever been asked before. Luckily, I’d filled my purse with them, and new release promo cards.
Be approachable and open. This was the hardest one for me because, you know…introvert, here! A smile and a “how are ya doing?” went miles in gathering new readers to me. Love that.
I’m so glad I made that New Year’s resolution. RT has been one of the most intense, interesting, and rewarding book conventions I’ve ever attended. I’m already planning on being in RENO next year for RT2018.
Peggy Jaeger is a contemporary romance author who writes about strong women, the families who support them, and the men who can't live without them. You can read all about her writing journey, and more about her time at RT, at http://peggyjaeger.com
- Setting the stage - Does the reader know where they are? When the story takes place? Who is there? What relevant props or environment cues are there to paint the picture?
- Letting the scene play out - Get the basics down. What happens? Then, layer in emotion and mood with dialogue, internal thoughts/feelings/visceral responses, heightened action, and interactions with setting.
- Hooking the reader - Leave them asking questions that make them turn the page.
- 89% of all romance sales are digital
- Of those, over half are self-published
- 67% of romance sales aren’t tracked by any traditional metric (like BookScan, which tracks print sales)
- 74% of paid ebook sales (all genres) happen on Amazon.com; next is iBooks at 11%
- Top 5 genres in romance on Amazon.com by total author earnings are (in order): Contemporary, Romantic Comedy, New Adult & College, Mystery & Suspense, Paranormal
- However, the top genre earnings per title and pen name are: New Adult & College, Contemporary, Sports, Romantic Comedy, Military (with Paranormal a very close 6th)
- Handouts from every session at the conference.
- Titles of must-read romance novels recommended by people I admire.
- Titles of must-read writing workbooks recommended by speakers.
- Titles of must read romance novels written by people I met.
- Names/FB pages/Twitter handles of authors I met.
- Names/FB pages/Twitter handles of authors I should meet.
- Names/FB pages/Twitter handles of agents & editors I met.
- Names/FB pages/Twitter handles of agents & editors I should meet.
- Manuscript wish lists of the agents & editors who spoke at the conference.
- Manuscript wish lists of agents & editors I met.
- Email addresses of author, agents & editors I met who requested my MS.
- Email addresses of authors I met with whom I'd like to stay in touch.
- Ideas for new romance novels that popped into my head while daydreaming during one particularly boring session.
- A killer recipe from someone I chatted with at the opening night session.
- Detailed (and mostly illegible) instructions for how to do fool-proof plotting.
- A broken link to a website detailing how to get 1,000s of new Twitter followers quickly.
- Detailed (and mostly illegible) instructions for how to create a website in under an hour.
- Photos of old and new friends at the conference.
- Photos of every dessert I ate at the conference. (Seriously!)
~BUDGETING Besides conference registration, hotel, and transportation expenses, attendees need to plan ahead for other costs. Since RWA2015 is my sixth conference, I have five years’ worth of expenses to help create a fairly accurate budget for myself. RWA Conference 2015 (Budgeted) Conference Registration (Actual) $450.00 Transportation /Airfare (Actual) 383.70 Hotel/6 nights (Estimated) 500.00 Baggage Fees (Estimated) 50.00 Transportation to/from hotel (Estimated) 50.00 Chapter Receptions (Estimated) 60.00 Airport Parking (Estimated) 54.00 Meals (Estimated) 200.00 Shipping (Estimated) 75.00 Books (Estimated) 50.00 Total $1872.70
- Register early to get the best possible conference fee.
- Reduce hotel expense by finding a roommate(s). I have two roommates this year to cut my expenses.
- Compare flying vs. driving expenses and advantages/disadvantages
- Flying—gas to/from airport, meals, long-term parking fees, airline tickets, baggage fees, transportation between airport and hotel, less travel time. Share a cab or car service to reduce that expense.
- Driving—gas, wear and tear on vehicle, meals while traveling, tolls, hotel parking expense, more travel time; rideshare to reduce expenses.
- Avoid hotel room internet expense by bringing a portable wifi device.
- Avoid going over budget on book purchases by choosing Literacy Signing authors ahead of time. In addition to the free books in the conference bags, more will be available from publisher signings and at the Indie Book Signing. Shipping books home adds an additional expense.
- Spend less on meals by researching nearby food options ahead of time. Remember to budget for coffee/drinks with friends. Three breakfasts and dessert at the RITA/GH Awards are included in the registration fee.
- Budget sightseeing expenses by checking out local attractions online before the trip.
- RWA National Conference is a professional event. Attendees should dress business casual to business professional for all workshops, spotlights, chats, and functions, except for the case of costume parties. The Literacy Signing is more casual, but remember that publishing industry professionals will be attending as well. The GH/RITA Awards Ceremony is dressy to eveningwear. All rooms will be air-conditioned. Bring a sweater, blazer, pashmina, etc., if you get cold easily.
- Business casual consists of khakis, casual skirts and dresses, capris, etc. paired with nice tops, work-appropriate shirts, sweaters, etc. Do not wear T-shirts and jeans if you expect to make a professional impression. Wear comfortable shoes, but avoid athletic shoes if possible. Dress flats, walking shoes, and sandals (not flip-flops) are fine. If you prefer heels, go for it! For guys, khakis and button-down shirts work well.
- Business professional consists of pantsuits, skirts and jackets, dresses, etc. for women or suits and ties for men. This is my preference for daytime conference events like workshops, the AGM, etc. because I’m comfortable in this look—and I like to wear nice shoes. :)
- Downtime—Unless you’re in your room, headed to the exercise facility, or away from the hotel, plan to be “on” at all times. Industry professionals will be in the restaurants and bars and at parties and other functions in the hotel. Sweats and ratty jeans are not a good choice if you’re in the conference area.
- If you want to be viewed as a professional, present yourself as one.
- Again, if you want to be viewed as a professional, present yourself as one.
- Wait times at the elevators may be long with about 2500 other conference attendees in the hotel, so be polite and patient. Plan ahead and allow an extra 10-15 minutes, especially on Wednesday evening for the Literacy Signing and Saturday night for the RITA/Golden Heart Awards Ceremony.
- Some editors and agents are receptive to pitches outside the scheduled pitch appointments, but interrupting conversations or cornering someone in the restroom is rude and can leave a lasting (negative) impression. If asked what you write, you can safely assume you’ve been invited to pitch. Otherwise, ask first to be on the safe side.
- After a day of workshops, many attendees congregate in the bar area to socialize. If alcohol makes you say/do stupid things, consider the consequences before you order that fourth margarita!
- Private conversations are not private in public areas during the conference. If you need to rant about a workshop, editor, agent, author, etc., do it in the privacy of your room where you won’t be overheard and cause hurt feelings or a grudge.
- If you notice an attendee who seems to be alone, introduce yourself. Conferences can be overwhelming to first-timers and those who are by themselves. This event is a great way to make new friends and connections.
- Do not leave your room keys in the envelope with your room number. Memorize your room number and discard the key envelope in your room trash. Lost keys could mean someone knows which room they open. Don’t give anyone the opportunity to endanger you or steal your belongings.
- Remove your nametag when leaving the Conference hotel.
- Know the way to the nearest emergency exit.
- Use the safety latch when you’re in your room so hotel employees and/or guests inadvertently assigned to your room can’t enter without knocking.
- Use the designated driver rule if you’re drinking. At least one person in your group should be sober enough to get everyone back to the hotel/their rooms safely. Only accept drinks from the bartender or wait staff and don’t leave drinks unattended.
- Be careful when sharing your number. Don’t shout it across the ballroom or lobby. See the first tip in this section!
- Use common sense. Other guests besides RWA attendees may be staying in the hotel. Don’t assume you’re safe in the company of romance writers, agents, and publishing industry professionals.
- The conference is offering 136 workshops on career, craft, industry, marketing, research, self-publishing, and writer’s life topics as well as six special topics this year. In addition to workshops, attendees can also participate in four author chats and learn more about publishing with fourteen publisher spotlights. A complete list of all workshops, chats, and spotlights with dates and times is available on the RWA Conference Workshops page.
- An RWA2015 app is also available for viewing the schedule, creating a personalized calendar, and much more. For more information, contact Erin Fry at RWA (email@example.com). Users must have a login ID and password to download and use the app.
- Workshops are first come, first served to registered conference attendees, so be sure to plan ahead for high-priority workshops. While many will be recorded for the conference recordings, some will not. PAN sessions and a few other workshops noted in the conference program will not recorded. Only PRO members may attend the PRO Retreat and only PAN members may attend PAN sessions. Conference ID badges are designated with PRO and PAN, when appropriate, to allow entrance to these workshops.
- Many events are held during the conference, including annual meetings for online chapters and their members, publisher parties for their authors, and the RITA/Golden Heart Awards Ceremony. The Literacy Signing takes place Wednesday evening and is open to the public. This event draws a very large crowd, so line up early to see your favorite signing authors. All monies raised will go to local and national literacy charities.
- The Indie Book Signing is open to registered attendees, as are numerous publisher signings. While these books are free, remember that they have to be carried or shipped home!
- bright pencil skirt
- white jeans
- pretty silk blouse
- nice t-shirt graphic t-shirt
- button down (chambray, cotton, whatever)
- cocktail dress (2 of them)
- linen blazer
- neutral heels (or flats)
- evening heels
- and whatever fun jewelry you have
- day 1: bright pencil skirt, pretty silk blouse, scarf, neutral heels
- day 2: bright pencil skirt, nice t-shirt, linen blazer, neutral heels
- day 3: white jeans, button down, neutral heels
- bar: white jeans, pretty silk blouse, neutral heels or sandals
- party 1: cocktail dress 1, evening heels
- party 2/dinner: cocktail dress 2, evening heels
- bar: white jeans, pretty silk blouse, neutral heels or sandals
- playtime 1: white jeans, nice t-shirt, scarf, sandals
- playtime 2: bright pencil skirt, graphic t-shirt, sandals
- playtime 3: white jeans, button down, sandals
Here are tips for BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER to get the most out of your next conference:
- Plan your outfits. Will it be hot outside? Cold in the AC? What does the FAQ site for the conference recommend for attire? Most conferences are business casual, with allowance for jeans – sometimes. Use your best judgement on an outfit.
- Pack your best, snazziest, most comfortable shoes. Shoes get noticed! Believe me. I read this before I went to RWA the first time and my shoes (they had cat ears) and the shoes of others were the beginning of a conversation starter many times. But keep in mind you’ll be walking back and forth between workshops all day.
- Prepare your pitch. You never know who you’ll meet, and one of the most common questions you’ll be asked is, “What do you write?”
- Have an action plan. Use the time before the conference to determine which workshops you don’t want to miss and how to plan your day for them. If there are two you want to go to, go to the one that doesn’t offer a recording of the event later (many workshops have recordings you can purchase during or after the conference).
- Bring an extra suitcase. At RWA specifically, you’ll receive SO many books. No joke; tons. I had to ship about 10 to my friend and I still barely fit the rest in my suitcase, even though I prepared extra room.
- Talk to everyone you meet; smile, engage, be friendly. You’ll meet people when you’re in line at the bathroom. It could be an agent. It could be your next critique partner. A new friend. I know things like this seem daunting to many, especially to introverts, but keep in mind the more you talk to others, the easier it gets. And the more you’ll get out of the conference.
- Business cards are great for keeping in touch with people you meet. When you meet someone, jot down a couple notes on the back of their card to remember them. One thing I liked doing was connecting on Twitter immediately if their handle was on their business card. This way we could easily keep in touch and stay active in the writing community.
- Use the conference hashtag to Tweet while you are there. This is a great way for followers to learn new things, and to connect with other conference goers. For RWA this year, the hashtag is #RWA16. Those staying home, I encourage you to follow along!
- At the workshops, take notes! I like jotting down quotes the instructor says that I plan to tweet or share in a blog post later. Consider what type of note taking is best for you…do you better retain by hand or by computer?
- Set up downtime if you need it. These events are a flurry of activity. I’m an introvert, like many writers, and I gain energy by being alone and regrouping. If this is you too, be sure to work that time in. If there’s a period when you aren’t really feeling any of the classes, then take the time for yourself so you’ll be more energized for workshops later.
- Planning to see a specific author or speaker? Get there early!
- Volunteer! Help set up a luncheon or workshop, or awards ceremony.
- Drink responsibly. Do NOT overdo it on the alcohol. Yes, there is a hotel bar, and yes half the conference will be there every night including editors and agents, but it’s very important you stay alert and professional, no matter how much you want to let loose. Know your limit, pace yourself, drink tons of water.
- Remember that going to a conference isn’t writing, so write when you can. Staying in a hotel by the beach might be the perfect writing retreat for you. Exploring might get those creative juices flowing, so if you are in a new area, take time to see the sights.
- Remember at a writing conference you are surrounded by others who love writing and reading as much as you do. This is a place where you can be YOU. This is the time that writing doesn’t have to be lonely.
- Talk to your local or online chapter about events or opportunities to meet other chapter members. This can be a great opportunity to meet others before the conference is in full swing. My first trip to RWA, I met two ladies from the local LA chapter (that I was not yet apart of) on the plane. It was great to connect—and we’ve since kept in touch (and I’ve joined the chapter)—but it was even better for those ladies because they knew each other already ahead of time. They had others to talk to about the conference, to know how to prepare.
- Put yourself out there. When I arrived to RWA14 on the first day, I knew no one. So I literally walked up for four women and asked to join them for lunch. They accepted me and we ended up getting together a bunch throughout the event. Not only do I recommend you take risks, but also recognize when others are putting themselves out there.
- Things to keep on you: Band-Aids, mints, WATER. ALL the water. Over the counter pain meds. Notepad. Pens. Business cards.
- Wear your Fitbit/step tracker. OK, this is for all the fitness lovers out there, but I personally love when I look at my Fitbit steps and feel super BA. If you meet others wearing theirs, you could even set up a friendly competition to see who gets the most steps.
- Work in at least a day to spend time doing whatever gets you back in the groove. That might be spending time with your family, lounging in bed, cleaning, unpacking – but take the time for yourself (if you can). Writer’s conferences take tons of mental and physical energy, it’s OK to take a day off.
- Organize all of the business cards you gathered and reach out to those you want to stay connected to.
- Put together a blog post, or a personal list for yourself, on the things you learned. It’s important to realize what part of the conference or workshops helped you the most. What do you want to apply to your writing? Was there something that inspired you?
- If you received a request from an agent or editor, take a couple weeks and apply everything you learned to your current manuscript, and then send it off to those agents.
- Read all of the fun, wonderful books you received.
~ By Deborah Blake
I’ve been to three RWA National conventions, each of them falling at a different point in my career, and I was particularly aware when I went this year of how different the experience was depending on my perspective at the time.
Don’t get me wrong. All the Nationals had much in common: they were loud, overwhelming, and a lot of fun. And I learned something from each and every one. But depending on where I was on my writing path, the convention took on a very different shape. Maybe you can learn a little something from my experiences, and what I figured out in hindsight.My first RWA National convention was in Washington, DC in 2009. The only reason I was able to go was because I was granted one of the organization’s scholarships, funded by successful authors wanting to give back. I will be forever grateful. I was published in nonfiction then, but still searching for my way into the fiction world. I didn’t have an agent, and finding one was one of my major goals. I also took a number of fabulous Craft workshops, including one (Turning Points) by author Jennifer Crusie that ended up literally changing my life. I got to meet some authors I’d been talking to online, like Candace Havens and Mindy Klasky, which was really exciting. They ended up being friends and cohorts I still treasure to this day. My main focus at this first convention was trying to find an agent, and I wound myself into knots worrying about my pitches to agents and editors. In fact, the folks I pitched to all requested partials and fulls. And I never heard from any of them ever again. It turns out that this is pretty normal, and while I still recommend pitching, I would advise people not to worry about it too much. While it isn’t unheard of to be discovered this way, it turns out to be fairly unusual. The part of the conference that ended up making the most difference was that lecture on craft, which made a huge impression on me and lifted my writing to the next level, so that the book I wrote next actually got me an agent. My suggestion to other first-timers is to try and relax, pitch if you want to, but mostly learn all you can while you have all those great authors sharing what they’ve learned from years of practicing their craft. My next Nationals was in 2011, in NYC. By then I had signed with my agent, the lovely Elaine Spencer from The Knight Agency, but we hadn’t managed to sell a book yet. My focus that time was in trying to make all the right connections, establishing a name for myself, and again, hanging out with author friends and talking shop. I was still stalking Jenny Crusie at every workshop she gave. That Nationals was the first time I gave a workshop (as part of one I organized with TKA authors and agents). I spent lots of time networking and finally got to meet my agent in person, which was the main reason for attending the conference. It was well worth it. Among other things, I learned that making that personal connection can move your professional relationships to the next level. Personal connections are important, and I suggest you make as many as you can. But again, try and relax and enjoy the conference. Sometimes having fun is the best way to meet an unexpected future ally. [caption id="attachment_6053" align="alignright" width="240"] With the amazing Jennifer Crusie[/caption] This year was my third conference, again in NYC. This time was very different in some ways, since I finally had that book contract (my second) and got to participate for the first time in both the Literacy Signing and the Berkley signing (my publishers). I also got to meet my Berkley editor in person, hang with my author pals and compare publishing stories (the good, the bad, and the ugly), have lunch with my agent, and continue my tradition of stalking of Jenny Crusie. (I bring her chocolate every time. It has become a tradition.) I still go to every workshop she gives, because she knows more about Craft than I ever will, including her updated version of that Turning Points workshop from years before. It was still helpful. This time around, the conference was both more relaxed and more stressful. It was a relief not to be worried about finding an agent or having to pursue a book contract. But I still spent most of my time running from place to place, meeting up with author/agent/editor friends, my own agent and editor, and giving a workshop. I discovered that while it was a lot of fun to be participating in book signings, in some ways I missed being able to run around and grab all the books for myself. (Although my groaning TBR shelf was probably relieved, and I still managed to get enough books—most of them for my cat sitters, I swear!—that I had to mail them home.) I think that my biggest take-away from this year’s conference was the realization that there is a different kind of joy to be had from every level of the writing career. I’m enjoying my success, such as it is, of course, but there are some aspects of “pre-success” that I didn’t fully appreciate until I’d moved past them. I wish, for instance, that at my first conference I’d spent less time worrying about pitching and more time just enjoying myself. One thing is true no matter what level you are at, whether you are a newbie still trying to learn the craft, an almost-there seeking an agent, or a multi-published author greeting your fans and networking with your peers. The people you meet at Nationals are usually kind, interesting, and can become an integral part of your writing path. It is definitely worth doing at least once. Maybe even three times. As soon as I recover from this one, I’ll consider number four. You know, as soon as I finish writing the next book. Deborah Blake is the author of the Baba Yaga paranormal romance series, including Wickedly Magical, Wickedly Dangerous and Wickedly Wonderful (Berkley) as well as eight books on modern witchcraft from Llewellyn Worldwide. She has an ongoing column in Witches & Pagans Magazine and was featured in The Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction. She can be found at www.deborahblakeauthor.com.