Tuesday at RWA National – 2011

Registration is a favorite volunteer assignment. Early morning, 8 or 10 of us manned the registration desk, along with behind-the-scenes RWA Staff members who efficiently ran the show. As writers, editors, agents, and librarians arrived we pulled envelopes with registration materials and handed each a tote bag filled with books, a name badge holder, flash drive, book light, and even a collapsible water bottle. Roughly 2,100 attending this year but the space was well-organized so not much waiting.

KOD Raffle Bag Stuffers

After my two-hour stint at Registration, I raced upstairs to help stuff tote bags. The fourteen bags we assembled to raffle on Wednesday night at the KOD “Death by Chocolate” awards ceremony and party. Five of us worked; coordinators had matters well in hand. Books and other goodies were generously donated by KOD authors.

Chocolate doesn’t travel well and we needed more for the raffle bags. I made what should have been a quick dash down Broadway toward Walgreens. In Times Square a huge crowd gathered, along with police and their flashing vehicles. I followed the direction of the cameras and spotted a young man in a red t-shirt who alternately sat, stood, and danced atop a light post (click for news article). Patient NYPD officers on ladders worked to talk him down. He seemed in no hurry to comply. But I was on a mission. Must have chocolate for the raffle bags! So I pushed through the multitude. Got to Walgreens, grabbed the chocolate, and left. Now sawhorses and police on horseback blocked off the Square. A large blow-up trampoline arrived. The guy was still on the post. Head down, I (and others) worked our way north through the crowds. This is New York City.

Michael Hauge at RWA-WF

In the afternoon I attended RWA-Women’s Fiction mini-conference. Michael Hauge started the program with a two-hour presentation on Six Stage Plot Structure. Using selected scenes from the movie My Best Friend’s Wedding he explained how to use screenplay structure to enrich our novels. Outstanding, invaluable info!

Next up on the RWA-WF schedule was an agent/editor panel, followed by an author panel, all talking about the market for Women’s Fiction. It is a currently in high demand among editors, if it is well done.  I heard the term “cougar club” – women in their 40’s going through an identity crisis. The books need emotional complexity and depth. Hardcovers are usually more literary. Trade paperbacks feature a more intimate setting. Three critical factors are emotional drive, connection to the characters, and to make the reader care.

Author Marilyn Brant & Son

A Librarian’s Day Luncheon was held in the Westside Ballroom and best-selling author Julia Quinn spoke. There was also a Librarian and Bookseller Networking Event where PAN eligible authors could mix with romance-friendly librarians and booksellers.

I made a quick trip to the “Goody Room” – an area where authors set out promo items including chocolates, pens, and ever popular emery boards. No “paper only” allowed this year.

RWA’s Literacy Signing was held from 5:30 to 7:30. Over 500 authors signed their books for readers. Profits from the event go to RWA’s charity. (Update: Over $47,000 was raised!)  The room was packed, more so than I remember from past years. Not sure if it was the room size, or social media to blame. Drawings were held for chapter donated raffle baskets. Three or four contained Kindles or other e-readers. Lots of fun to meet with old friends and new.

At a First Timers’ Orientation, first time attendees learned the ropes. Many online chapters also met Tuesday evening. I attended From the Heart RW’s “Meet and Greet” and met Nikki Enlow, one of 2011’s recipients of the RWA Service Award and President of FTHRW.  Also Denise Pattison (we’ve been trying to meet for years), and others. Those attending were given “conference survival kits” – a fun collection of necessities for surviving conference. An evening highlight was a talk by a Samhain editor who spoke on the state of e-publishing.

Tuesday evening allowed many online friends to socialize. Authors from The Goddess Blogs held a party in their suite, providing food, fun, drinks, and tiaras.

More fun to follow tomorrow as the Conference officially opens.

RWA’s Kiss of Death Pre-Conference

In the few years since it started, RWA’s Mystery & Romantic Suspense Chapter’s (aka/Kiss of Death) Pre-Conference Tour at RWA National has earned a stellar reputation.  This year’s tour to the Sandy Hook, NJ U. S. Coast Guard Station upheld that tradition of excellence.

Promptly at 8 am Monday, over forty KOD members met in the lobby of the NY Marriott Marquis and boarded a chartered bus for the 1-1/2 hour trek down the coast to Sandy Hook.  We were greeted by an enthusiastic team of men (aka/Alpha Heroes) who oriented us to the United States Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard formed in 1790. It is the oldest continuous sea service in the United States.  Today there are roughly 39,000 members in service, less than in the NYPD.  Among other duties they conduct Search & Rescue, monitor buoys, perform Homeland Security missions, and conduct law enforcement including fisheries and recreational boating safety.  They believe in “Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty.”

After our initial orientation, including a short film about training recruits, we split into groups to rotate through key areas of the station.  In a classroom, our group learned more facts before going outdoors to board and tour the Bainbridge Island, a 110-foot Cutter, one of the station’s “workhorses”.  The Captain of the boat patiently answered many writer-type questions, including “What weapon would be used if someone wanted to take out the bridge of a cutter?”

We walked back toward the station.  While waiting to see a Rescue helicopter in a flyover, we browsed through the station’s store, run by two CG dependents.  The store is stocked with everything from uniforms to candy bars.  We then went back into the station for a demonstration of some of the equipment used by the USCG.  Afterward, we boarded a smaller boat for a 15 minute cruise that included an unexpected demonstration of a “man overboard” rescue.

Lunch was in the station’s mess.  The cooks served a wholesome meal of chicken breast, French fries, broccoli, assorted salads, corn bread, and deliciously fresh baked cookies and brownies.  No carbonated beverages, just juice, iced tea, coffee and water. Good coffee. Great price.

After lunch we were escorted back to the artillery range for an indoor presentation of various guns and artillery training conducted by the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard’s purpose is to save lives.  They use only the necessary force to stop a situation.  Weapons and bullets were explained and they passed around mock representations of two guns so we could judge their weight.  Again, as in the station and on the boat, the young men and woman professionally answered numerous questions.

Our tour concluded with a brief talk about some real life situations at the main station.  Debbi Ward, KOD tour coordinator, passed out red and black “thank you” gift bags of authors’ books and chocolate to those of the Sandy Hook U.S. Coast Guard who’d so graciously shared their time and knowledge.

Back at the Marriott, members of the Kiss of Death gathered for an evening dinner of pasta, roast turkey slices served with a delicious blend of seasoned sliced brussel sprouts and mushrooms, and some outstanding desserts.  The Annual General Meeting followed chaired by President Melba Moon.

Our evening concluded with a fine speech by KOD member Nina Bruhns, award-winning author of over 25 books.  Ms. Bruhns discussed her own writers’ journey and the emergence of the Kiss of Death chapter to the present day. “What a great time to be a writer,” she said.  Over the next few days, she added, we would be hearing things such as “Smash words” and “Kindleize.”  “Writers can now be in charge of their own publishing,” she said.  “A whole new world of possibilities is opening.”

My personal thanks to men and women of the United States Coast Guard at Sandy Hook, and to the Board of KOD for an outstanding and well-organized day. 

RWA Conference Talk

Next week, Romance Writers of America (RWA) kicks off its 31st Annual Conference in New York City —  Bright Lights, Big Stories. As I pack, my home office resembles the back room at Macy’s, filled with assorted tops, capris, slacks, dresses, and skirts. Lots of black, of course.  Black goes with everything. It’s also slimming.  This year I’m adding a splash of turquoise.  Found a darling Laura Ashley top on clearance and couldn’t resist, especially given the comfort factor of the travel ready top.  Comfort is important for conferences.

Editors & Agents answer questions at WisRWA's Write Touch 2011

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the WisRWA Write Touch Conference in Milwaukee.  Wisconsin is my home state so it’s a favorite.  Betsy Norman and her minions did an outstanding job organizing the event.  While there I learned, bought some books, met up with old friends and made a few new ones.  I also placed second in the FAB 5 contest, and came away renewed and refreshed.  Been writing hard ever since, at least when I’m not refurbishing my wardrobe for RWA National. 🙂

I love RWA Conferences — smaller regional ones like WisRWA’s Write Touch and NJRW’s Put Your Heart in a Book, and the queen of conferences, RWA National. Writing can be a lonely profession.  Conferences let me mingle and talk passionately about writing to others who understand.  They provide an opportunity to learn about the craft and business of writing, to network, and hopefully to take the steps needed to sell books.

Here are some tidbits I’ve learned about conferences. After you’ve read them, I hope you’ll share your own conference  lore and wisdom.

1 – Choose a conference wisely. Consider the speaker/s, topic/s, editor & agents attending, reputation, location, size, cost, and convenience.  Start out with a smaller conference or all-day workshop then work your way up.

2 – Set a conference goal. Do you need help with story conflict?  Motivation to finish your novel?  Do you hope to connect with an agent?  Connect with other writers?  Make your goal specific and achievable.

3 – Look professional but dress comfortably.  Wear clothes that make you feel good about yourself.  It shows.

4 – Wear comfortable shoes.  At larger conferences, you’ll be on your feet a lot, in line or walking between workshops.  Aerosoles, Easy Spirit, or Naturalizer are all favorites.  Flats.  Not as sexy as 4-inch heels, but more comfortable.

5 – Act professional. Everyone’s heard “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  That’s not necessarily true for conferences.  You’ll meet people who could have some influence on your chosen career. Keep a positive, friendly attitude.  Smile.  Be helpful.

6 – Meet new people.  Strike up conversations in line. Ask if you may join a table with an empty seat where you don’t know anyone.  Skip a workshop and find a chair in the lobby or the bar and look for other writers.

7 – Bring business cards and offer to others you meet.  If it’s too late to have them printed, print your own.  See this link to an earlier post with some suggestions.

8 – If you can afford the time and expense, plan to arrive a day early, or leave a day late.  It will let you see a new city, or give you uninterrupted time in your room to write.

9 – Bring nutritious snacks for your hotel room.  Fruit and granola bars are my favorite. And of course, a few pieces of dark chocolate never hurt.

10 – Volunteer.  Conferences take a lot of energy to organize; many hands are needed.  If you haven’t signed up in advance, ask at registration to talk to the volunteer coordinator.  Tell her when you have some free time, and offer your services for an hour or two.

Questions?  Comments?  What advice do you have to share about conferences?

Now, it’s time to fill my suitcase!  I’m off to RWA National!