Top 10 Tips for Enjoying RWA

I still remember my first RWA National Conference with great clarity. It was longer ago than I care to admit  and I’d been at editor for slightly over a year. I wasn’t completely sure what to expect but what I remember most is the high I felt on the plane on the way home.  I had met so many super smart women all passionate about romance novels. I was thrilled to be part of this industry, and it can help explain why I am here twenty years later!

The national conference can also be overwhelming, confusing and frustrating. A few of my tips on how to survive:

1 Pack heavy!

There are many, many times when traveling for business means all black, one pair of shoes, and minimal cosmetics  all cleverly packed into a carry-on bag. This is not that time. For RWA, the woman at the luggage carousel with the biggest bag or the most suitcases wins. I don’t know if this is because the conference is mostly women (we dress for other women, after all, not men) or because we all want to be a Regency heroine who changes outfits at least three times a day, but many outfits, shoes, purses, jewelry are absolutely necessary.  Don’t be embarrassed.  Enjoy this opportunity to wear your fabulous outfits.

2 Meet people

This conference is about people like you who love romance novels, so make every opportunity to smile and start meeting people. You never know if that woman sharing the airport shuttle with you will be a lifelong friend, one of your favorite writers or an editor who may publish you. Be nice. Be friendly.

3 Make sure you have some alone time

I have never been as tired as after an RWA. I recall staying in New Orleans after my first conference and spending most of Sunday spread eagled across my bed watching golf on TV. I despise golf on TV. I’d rather watch Bowling for Dollars. The TV remote was about 5 inches from my hand. It took me two hours to work up the energy to move my hand to grab the remote and change the channel.

Several years later in Denver there was a movie theater next to the hotel. I had several free hours on Saturday afternoon and rushed to the theater and picked whatever movie was about to start. Sitting in the cool dark with a large pop (soda to my American friends) I watched the first thirty minutes of Reign of Fire convinced it was one of the best movies I had ever seen. Really, at least thirty minutes of bliss before I realized the futuristic dragon movie stunk. I was so thrilled because I finally had some time to myself. Sitting in the dark no one was watching me. Make some time for yourself and enjoy your bliss.

4 Go the literacy signing and buy a book from an author  you don’t know

Bonus Karma points if you buy from an author who has a short line of fans. Think of the author who has put herself out there and is next to someone really popular and is not so popular herself. Is it going to kill you to stop and chat and buy her book? Try to buy a couple of books that are new to you – you may find a new genre or author!

5 Editor Interviews are not another form of waterboarding

When I was an editor I remember coming back from lunch late and running down this long hallway to where I would be holding interviews with aspiring authors. I was ontime but I had cut it much closer than I usually do, which is why I saw the hallway of terror. Several writers were pacing and flipping through their cue cards mouthing their pitches. One had her head between her legs. Several just looked faint. It was awful. I wanted to shout, “Don’t worry, I’ll ask to see your book!”

I didn’t. Nor did I ask every aspiring author to send me her manscript. But here is an editor secret: we start off 100% willing to ask to see your manuscript and only say no if your manuscript is so clearly not the kind of story I buy. In other words, when I bought short, sexy contemporary series novels, if you pitched horror, or inspirational, or historical then I would say no. But if you pitch me something appropriate I will say yes. Because I can only know if I want to buy your book by reading it.

Your pitch only reveals that your manuscript is the kind of story I could buy.

Take a breath. Say hi to the editor. Make your pitch. Breath. It’s over!

6 Leave husband and children at home. Babies too

This is a conference for writers. Period.

7 Don’t hide your nametag

I’ve gotten over the uncomfortable factor of staring at other women’s breasts years ago. I always check out writer’s nametags because I am bad with names. I know I know you but I usually have three names for everyone (and your real name is not necessarily one of my mental choices) so I need to check your nametag. Past experience has revealed that I will have completely erroneous conversations: I think I’m talking to Mary Smith and have that conversation when it turns out I was chatting with Joan Jones. So, please make sure your name tag is front and center and that your name is legible. Don’t put those pins over your name.

And, if the person you are talking to has the panicked look cross her eyes, introduce yourself. Thank you.

8 Congratulate the Nominees

“It’s an honour just to be nominated,” is a lie and we all know it. Winning is better. But for the few days leading up to the RITAs make that honour truly special!

9 Workshops

I know many multi-published writers who attend no workshops while at the conference. I agree that hanging out with friends, meeting publishing professionals is important, but is there really nothing new that you could learn?

Beyond the craft of writing is publicity and promotion. I work in digital, and it is the hot topic of publishing (not only romance publishing) right now and there are various panels and rogue panels.

If there isn’t a workshop that suits your needs then please share that with RWA.

10 Hang out at the bar

Self explanatory but do stop by and hi — I’ll be there!

Are seven pairs of shoes too few?

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9 Comments

  1. Oh heavens yes! Please wear your name tag! I’m just awful when it comes to remembering faces. Names I never seem to forget, but putting the name to the face? I’m not as sharp. So name tags are a god send!

    I like chatting with first-time conference attendees. How they’re enjoying themselves, what workshops they’re attending etc. I also love meeting the Golden Heart nominees. In my experience they’re the happiest people at the conference 🙂

  2. You make me want to attend! What a fabulous opportunity to meet and learn from great women!

    I must say that your description of post-conference fatigue resembles the wave of exhaustion that envelopes me after a day with my 14-month old. If only C was similarly unsure of my name (“Mama Mama Mama…Mama Mama Mama”).

  3. Wear your name tag and stuff a handful of business cards behind the tag — it makes it easy to hand them out when you meet new people. And believe me, if you don’t have them, you’ll wish you did.

    I’m all for packing lots!!!

  4. Malle Vallik

    Great idea about stuffing business cards behind your nametag. I use this tip a lot at conferences. It’s so much easier to grab a biz card than from your purse. And it’s a great place to put the cards our receive.

  5. Malle Vallik

    Tamara,
    the conference is beyond fun — especially the Harlequin party. And it’s a little bit like a secret club made of women who like romance novels. The fact that you can put names to the book titles you see in your bookstore and on the NYT list is beyond awesome. As some would say: Squeee!

  6. RWA is like one big slumber party for me. I have something in common with 99% of the people there, and I usually come back half-dead with exhaustion and exhilarated, ready to write until my fingers are bloody stumps. I look forward to it every year! 🙂

  7. Jenny

    Great tips! Especially Nos. 1, 3, and 4.

    RE: #1: Amen! Also, you can never bring too many handbags. 🙂

    Ideally though, you should bring one nearly-empty suitcase for all the books and goody room swag you’ll go home with!

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