svance_4X6_72dpi~ By Sarah Vance-Tompkins 

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.

THE BEST

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 WORST

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.

THE LESSONS

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 sarahevance@gmail.com

5 comments to “HOW TO SURVIVE A CONVENTION: LESSONS LEARNED AT RT 2014”

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  1. Kerri Carpenter - May 28, 2014 Reply

    What a great article! Sorry about your experience during pitching – yuck! But this got me really excited for RWA Nationals (and a little nervous)! 😉

  2. Jessica Ruddick - May 28, 2014 Reply

    Hi Sarah,

    I was also appalled at the lack of organization, especially with the editor/agent appointments. In fact, after my first appointment, I almost canceled my other ones just so I wouldn’t have to deal with the chaos and unprofessional way they were being handled. Luckily this wasn’t my first pitch experience, but I remember feeling sorry for those who were pitch newbies–the RT pitching experience was not a positive and encouraging one. Things got less chaotic with the appointments as the conference went on, but how they were handled is my biggest complaint about the conference. As expensive as the conference is, I feel like they need to have things better organized.

    All that being said, I’m sorry you had a negative pitching experience. I guarantee that your experience at RWA will be better. They are super organized and professional.

  3. Heidi - May 28, 2014 Reply

    I went to RT last year and my pitch experience was similar — but I have to say that the editors and agents didn’t seem fazed by the “chaos,” so I went with it and had good conversations. I found RT much looser about rules than RWA … maybe that led to less organization but it also allowed for a ton of fun! The book signing on the last day was amazing. I worked the area where we checked whether books had been brought in or purchased. People had SUITCASES of books — and I mean steam-trunk sized suitcases! Can’t wait to go next year!

  4. Asa Maria Bradley - May 29, 2014 Reply

    Hi Sarah,

    I’ve never been to RT, so this was really good information. When I do go, I’ll know what to expect and be prepared for less organized events than at RWA.
    Looking forward to seeing you in San Antonio. 🙂

  5. Caroline Hanson - June 1, 2014 Reply

    RT is crazy and disorganized it’s true. RWA is worse (IMO) because although it’s organized people are insane. There is a definite feeling of competition and stress, that if one doesn’t leave without a contract they’ve wasted money and are worthless. Just keep that in mind if you start feeling overwhelmed. RT is more fun, RWA is work. And remember that half the flair people have on their badges probably came from a Girl Scout Store not because they are nearly as impressive as they want you to think they are. Good luck and I hope you have a more positive experience at RWA than RT!!!

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