Attending the RWA National Conference for the first time is a bit scary and overwhelming, but some planning and research can go a long way in easing those butterflies, especially for those who have never attended a professional conference. Take a deep breath and read on to find out what to expect!
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
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.
WORKSHOPS AND EVENTS
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!
Conferences are a great way to learn about writing and publishing, make new connections, and advance your writing career. So, make the most of the experience and have fun!
When her fingers aren’t attached to her keyboard, Mellanie Szereto enjoys hiking, Pilates, cooking, gardening, and researching for her stories. Many times, the research partners with her other hobbies, taking her from the Hocking Hills region in Ohio to the Colorado Rockies or the Adirondacks of New York. Sometimes, the trip is no farther than her garden for ingredients and her kitchen to test recipes for her latest steamy tale. She is multi-published with Siren-Bookstrand and is self-publishing her foodie contemporary series, Love on the Menu, in addition to her nonfiction Writing Tip Wednesday handbooks based on her informational blog series. Mellanie makes her home in rural Indiana with her husband of twenty-eight years and their son. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Indiana Romance Writers of America, Contemporary Romance Writers, and FF&P Romance Writers. Visit her website at http://www.mellanieszereto.com for information on book signings and her upcoming release, Iced Latté. Sugar and spice and everything…naughty!