I won't be going to the RWA national conference this year, and I am sad! But I am so happy for those of you who are going--especially those who are going for the first time!!
I attended my first RWA conference in Atlanta a few years ago, and it was a wonderful experience. I had attended smaller conferences before, but I was a little overwhelmed when I headed to Atlanta (driving in Atlanta was enough to give me a heart attack) and saw how big of an event the RWA national conference really is! So, I thought I would give you guys a list of some things I learned from my experience...
1. If this is your first RWA conference, wear your "First Timer" ribbon with pride. Seriously. I assume they still hand these out when you pick up your registration packet (do that ASAP). The ribbon was orange the year I went to nationals, and it was great because so many people saw it first thing and offered to talk and help me out. That ribbon is your key to the kingdom as a new attendee!
2. Go to the orientation. You learn so much, and it is a great experience and a good opportunity to meet people. Everyone is excited and ready to chat. It really gets you excited about what is coming your way, too!...which leads me to my next bit of advice...
3. Don't overload your schedule. Yes, RWA nationals is an expensive event and you want to get as much out of it as possible, but if you try to attend too many sessions and don't give yourself any down time, you are not going to learn as much as you should. I tried to go to everything the first day or two, and once I eased off, it was a much more rewarding experience.
4. Be flexible. Popular sessions can be really crowded (standing room only, sometimes). After the first day, I made a list of sessions I absolutely had to attend. I made sure to be there super early so that I could get a seat. If I unexpectedly found myself faced with a really crowded session, and if I didn't want to stand or sit on the floor, I had a back-up list of sessions to attend. Just be flexible. My best advice: Find out if the session you want to attend (along with a million other people) is being recorded for download later. If so, and if you are willing to listen to the audio only later on, then go to something else. I love my audio downloads of sessions, and I find it really helpful to be able to listen to them in a clam environment. Sitting in a crowded room full of people doesn't do much for my concentration.
5. Bring comfortable shoes. You do need to dress professionally, so plan ahead and bring comfy shoes because you will be walking...a lot.
6. Turn off your cell phone. Please do this. It is really rude to have it ring in the middle of a session, and I witnessed this more than once. I also saw a woman who actually sat there and had a conversation on her phone while a session was going on. This is not cool. Remember: You are paying a lot of money to attend--and so is everyone else.
7. Take advantage of morning breakfast gatherings and other places to make connections. Talk to people. If you are shy and don't know what to say, you can always ask someone, "What do you write?" or "Who are some of your favorite authors?" You will find common ground in no time!
8. Attend book signings! These are so much fun, and you can meet so many authors!
9. Attend the RWA business meeting. I went because I didn't have anything else to do, and it actually turned out to be one of the most interesting parts of the conference for me!
10. The most important thing: HAVE FUN. Don't put so much pressure on yourself. If you are pitching, don't freak out. If you are shy, break out of your shell a little bit more each day. Do this for yourself: You deserve it. Take it all in. Attend the luncheons and the awards dinner. The speeches you hear will make you so proud to call yourself a romance writer.
And that is the key here. RWA is about professionalization and opportunities to pitch and taking time to learn about craft/marketing/etc. But it is also about community. You will come away with a new sense of pride about what you do. You will come away knowing that you must call yourself a writer--and not just any writer....a PROUD ROMANCE WRITER!
Enjoy, everyone! And post lots of tweets and Facebook updates!! I will live vicariously through you!
Susan Sierra is a historical and contemporary romance writer. She loves books and old letters, adores her dog and family, and has a deep and committed love affair with coffee. She spent time as an undergraduate studying (having fun) in Mexico, went on to work for a large regional magazine as a copyeditor, and then decided that she hadn’t tortured herself enough in life...so she went to graduate school. After many years, she walked away with a PhD and an unhealthy relationship with Charles Dickens. She hopes to complete her first full-length novel in 2015. FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER!