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.
The chapter was well represented at the RWA National Conference in New York City!Congratulations to Sonali Dev on her RITA nomination (Best First Book, A Bollywood Affair), to Abigail Owen, our Chapter VP of Communications, on her Prism Award (Andromeda's Fall, Shadowcat Nation #1, RWA Fantasy, Futuristic, & Paranormal Chapter, 1st Place in Dark Paranormal) and to Caro Carson on her RITA win (Contemporary Romance: Short, The Bachelor Doctor's Bride)! Here are some highlights from our members. If you've got your own stories to share, please leave them in the comments. Enjoy!
Pen Name Problems ~ Sophia Henry I admit, it's taken me awhile to get used to my pen name, because I joined RWA and my local chapter under my real name first, and changed to a pen name when my publisher asked me. But I was awesome at RWA. I remembered to introduce myself as Sophia and everything. Until a late night dinner after the Rita/Golden Heart Awards... A group of friends and I walked over to Junior's across the street from the hotel, and I put my name on the list "Sophia - Party of 9." We waited and waited. After about thirty minutes, I heard the host call, "Jane (My real name) - party of 9!" Ok, so Jane is not my real name - but you guys aren't gonna trick me this time. Anyway, when I heard my name party of 9, I gathered my troops and we marched back to "our" table. Within seconds of sitting down, the real "Jane" comes to our table saying, "This is not your table. I'm Jane. I'm Jane, party of 9." And the embarrassing realization of what I did clicked. I did not put our reservation under my real name, Jane. I put it under Sophia. So we gathered our stuff and trudged back to the front to wait. Needless to say, my friends were laughing at me, I was laughing at me, Jane was laughing at me (thankfully--since I really wasn't trying to steal her table.) When we got to the front, I had to explain the story to PJ Ausdenmore from The Romance Dish blog, who had been sitting waiting for a table through this entire debacle.A lady from Mississippi, who watched the entire thing go down, even asked to take a picture with me as the person who got kicked out of her table! And I did. Funny publicity is good publicity. We all shared laughs and "Sophia, Party of 9" was called a few minutes later. Pen Names. Gotta love 'em!! From Karen Ellard Chadwell via Facebook: "Just met a new friend and probably the only person who got kicked out of a table here. --with Sophia Henry at Junior's Restaurant and Cheesecake."
~ PJ Sharon As far as workshops, my favorite was Investigations 101 with Margaret Taylor, a veteran in law enforcement who was very knowledgeable, and hysterically funny. I learned a little about a lot of things, most of which is how Hollywood gets it wrong! Never put DNA evidence in a plastic bag. Apparently this degrades the sample and can lead to mold. A paper bag would be used instead. She also talked about surveillance, undercover operations, and setting up the bad guys. She touched on use of informants, and the difference between a CI-Confidential Informant (usually mercenary and “disposable”) and a CRI-Confidential Reliable Informant (someone who is protected by police and whose info can usually get a warrant served faster). All very interesting.
~ Win Day Had a terrific time at the conference! Missed the meetup -- actually, I was in the bar but got into a conversation with some other folks and never made it back into the corner where the group was supposed to gather. Favourite workshops: "You Think You're Funny" by Tracy Brogan & Kristen Higgins; "How Not To End A Series" by Jaci Burton, Marie Force, Jill Shalvis, and Shannon Stacey; and the "Spotlight on Entangled". Two successful pitches: agent Linda Scalissi of 3 Seas Literary Agency wants to see 3 chapters and a synopsis, and editor Stacy Abrams of Entangled wants to see the full manuscript. Whoohoo! Oh, and gave my card to about a dozen writers who need help with their websites. All in all, a successful conference!
~ Casey Clipper I also took MA Taylor's workshop, along with Liliana Hart & Scott Silverii, & Lt. Jamie Prosser, all three were fantastic research workshops on police procedures. There was, of course, the fantastic self-publishing advice given by Bella Andre & Barbara Freethy, who also had a great keynote speech. Their fantastic advice: quit panicking. And they're right. There's this panic mode right now in the industry that's unwarranted. It hadn't occurred to me until they pinpointed it. I even find myself in a "panic" type state at times about SP my work. It was great to hear someone say, "Calm down." and put it all in sane perspective. The elevator system was something that took me a day to grasp. (For some reason you can't get on or off the 9th floor by elevator.) The big "oops" of the workshops was Michael Hauge's was put into a small conference room, and it was packed, so if you didn't get in early, you didn't get in at all and it wasn't recorded so you were left out in the cold. Myself and one of my roommates ended up in the elevator with actor Michael Emmerson. Yep, totally had a freak-out moment. Apparently, I'm not one of those cool people when they run into a Hollywood actor. Aaannnnd am too much of a chicken to say hi to him. Nope, just waited to have a meltdown when we exited the elevator. I loved that the awards ceremony was live streamed. I asked on my author page who watched it and was surprised to find a handful of fans did and loved it. They were shocked over the grandeur of the ceremony, having no clue such a thing existed in the romance book world. This small post doesn't come close to all the events that took place.
~ Samanthya Wyatt
I found some great workshops, but several of the ones I wanted were already full. Sitting on the floor, standing room only, or could not even get in the door.Learned some great tips on all sorts of material. Hated I missed Jude Deveraux's workshop !!!! Keynote speakers were great. I too took the workshop with Bella Andre & Barbara Freethy. Write more books and don't worry too much about marketing. People don't believe the grandeur of the ceremony, when I mention it is just like the "Grammys". Met a lot of authors I've only chatted on line with. Wonderful to put a face with a name. Time's Square was - different. Every dress up character available for a picture "I work for money!" HA. I told my friend when she went to take her photo with the statue of liberty guy, it's not free. It will cost you.! Loved walking the streets and seeing the sights. Broadway theaters, lots of shops, lots of eating places. Fun. Private taxi drivers were a hoot! Starbucks made a mint off of the authors! Chuckles. And I stayed wired, but crashed in bed each night when my head hit the pillow. Missed the literacy signing cause RWA didn't notify me in time to order my books for the signing. Would have loved to do that. [gallery ids="6124,6123,6122,6121,6120"]
~ Deborah Blake [gallery ids="6051,6052,6053,6054"]
~ Callie Amo[gallery ids="6103,6102,6101,6100,6099,6098,6097,6096,6083,6065"]
~ By Celia Lucente
(This aerial photo of the wonderful San Antonio was shared by my friend and fellow writer with Soul Mate Publishing, Jaye Garland.)
The 2014 RWA conference took place in two buildings: on the left is Marriott Rivercenter, the building with the twin spires and to the right slightly forward the upward flat rectangular building is the Marriott Riverwalk. In between the two is the Riverwalk Canal, which begins at the point of the Riverwalk hotel and continues for fifteen miles of total coolness.
From the moment, I down loaded my RWA Mobil App I madly filled every hour with craft courses, guest speakers, author book signings, and even cocktail breaks. The hardest part was figuring out how I could maximize my time to squeeze in as much as possible and make it between the Riverwalk and Rivercenter properties to get to the class on time. And get a seat.
This was my second conference. I didn't get in as many pitches as last year but I got a few and received requests, but mostly I gained important pearls of wisdoms from the agents and editors I met with.
I was so happy to see my friend Laura Drake get the RITA award for her book entitled Sweet Spot. Yeah for Laura!!
There just isn't enough time to catch all the classes you want so you have to order the conference recordings. However, with your registration you get a flash drive of workshop handouts, which you can use along with the conference recordings and attend at your leisure, virtually.
Between running from classes, attending the WF mini conference, and touring I missed many workshops. But, no worries, just today I got my conference recording MP3 flash drive. So now, I can catch up.
And the books. Oh, the tons of books you get. Instead of shipping them, I took someone’s suggestion and brought empty suitcases. The planned worked perfectly as I packed, repacked and balanced them to weigh exactly fifty pounds. They made it back without an extra charge.
I brought my fiancé along for the trip. At night, we climbed down the stairs to the wonderful, “cool” Riverwalk, which boasts many great eating and drinking spots. Plus, it’s a great escape from the hundred-degree Texas heat. Filled with ducks and throngs of people milling about. And plenty of shopping too.
We toured the Alamo, rode a double-decker recorded “voice” guided tour bus, floated up seventy-two floors to the Towers of Americas to enjoy happy hours, snacks and listen to the brawny Texas basketball coaches in town for a convention of their own. We journeyed on a “live” guided river canal cruise boat and spent a day with a cousin who lived nearby tubing the Guadalupe River in New Braunfels about a half-hour ride from downtown San Antonio.
Next year the conference will be held in the city of all cities, New York. And I’ll have my first book signing about singles girls in guess what city? Taitinis’ anyone? Until next year, I’ll reflect often on the people I’ve met, the lessons I’ve learned, and swag possibilities I’ll need to tag along as a debut author. Until then, fellow contempories, write often, keep building your craft and most importantly have a fun while you’re at it!
Celia Lucente is a full-time writer of contemporary romance and women’s fiction and is seeking either an agent or acquiring editor for her finished works. She is a PRO member of RWA, and a member of the RWA Contemporary Romance, RWA-WF, RWA Romance Critique Group and her local chapter of Space Coast Authors. She is a participant with several critique groups and CP’s and enjoys working on her craft by helping fellow writers.