I was a newbie at the Romantic Times Convention in New Orleans this year. I wandered around the convention hotel proudly sporting a green “aspiring author” tag on my badge. I went to the convention with high hopes. I returned feeling like I had experienced both the best of times and the worst of times.
When you live on the west coast, you forget there are parts of the United States that has history you can see, feel, touch, and (in the case of Café Du Mond’s beignets) taste. The French Quarter is romantic and mysterious. I don’t write historicals, but every time I turned another corner and came face-to-face with an Eighteenth Century architectural marvel, I wondered why not? The RT Convention offered activities from sunrise until well after sunset. I went to some wonderful seminars. I reconnected with old friends. I made some new friends, and I learned a lot about the business and craft of writing.
The RT Convention was overcrowded and the staff (both convention and hotel) seemed overwhelmed by the number of people they had to deal with at any given time. The biggest snafu I personally came across was at the Agent/Editor Pitch meetings. They were poorly organized and staffed by two people who were equally surly to the agents, the editors and the nervous writers waiting to pitch. They were also purveyors of false information. I was told the agent I was scheduled to see was a “no show” only to enter the room later to find her waiting for me! I was so thrown off by the chaotic setting and unprofessional behavior surrounding the pitch appointments, that I didn’t do my best. It was heartbreaking and embarrassing.
With my RT experience fresh in my mind, and the RWA Convention but a few weeks away, I’ve put together a few tips that you might want to remember when you’re preparing to go away for a convention.
DON’T lose your confidence. No doesn’t mean “never”, it just means they’re not buying what you’re selling “right now”. No matter what anyone says to you, you have a project to sell, and sell it you will. If you are writing something new – fresh – different – that perhaps isn’t the zeitgeist right now, you may have to wait for the current trend to change. But it will change, and you need to polish your writing and be ready with your project.
DO make lots of time to talk to strangers. You will meet the most interesting people at a convention. You’ll never know who is going to sit down next to you in the lobby bar. You will meet writers, editors and agents at every stage of their career. Ask questions. Show interest in their work.
DON’T feel like you have to participate in every activity on the agenda. I feel strongly that I would’ve been less stressed out when I was faced with unprofessional behavior at the pitch meetings if I had spent a few minutes the night before practicing my pitch. I couldn’t control how the pitch appointments were being handled, but I could control my preparation. Don’t leave pitch prep to the last minute. You’ll need that time to freak out!
DO take some comfortable shoes. Yes, you should also take the four-inch heels that make you feel like a million bucks when you walk through the lobby on your way to grab a skinny latte at Starbucks. But you’ll be grateful to be reunited with your favorite pair of comfys at the end of a long day.
DON’T stay in an overcrowded room to save money. Choose your roommate(s) wisely. Pick someone you can confide in. Keep her informed about where you are and when you’ll get back to the room. Tell your roommate before the conference if you are an early riser or late owl. If you plan to party hardy, let her know. Make a plan about how to share the bathroom. Everyone wants to look their best and needs quality time in front of a mirror.
DO have a strategy. Everyone has an agenda when they go to conference. Some people go to party, some people go for business, some go just to get away from the daily grind of their lives. Make sure you know what you want out of the conference before you leave home, and remind yourself of why you’re there when you get tired. This will happen throughout the conference. You don’t want to have any regrets on the flight home.
DON’T forget to bring business cards. Don’t be shy with them. Pass them out to everyone you cross paths with – even if it’s only a connection for a few moments – you may have found a new resource and not know it until you get home.
DO play fangirl to your favorite authors. If you’d written a book that someone has enjoyed, you’d want to know about it, wouldn’t you? Feel free to gush. I had a lovely, giggly interaction with E.L. James at RT. She was open and friendly and everything that an aspiring author (like me) hopes an incredibly successful author (like her) would be. Maybe some day I will be just as gracious to an aspiring author.
Sarah Vance-Tompkins received an MFA in Film Production from the University of Southern California and went on to work in feature film development at Lightstorm Entertainment, The Ladd Company and USA Films, among others. Prior to film school, she wrote and produced radio and television commercials. She has worked as a reporter for a weekly entertainment trade publication, as well as a freelance journalist and movie reviewer. She has been paid to write obituaries, press releases, the directions for use on personal lubricant bottles, and descriptions of engagement rings for an online jewelry store. She works in social media marketing. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org