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.
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! ∞
Great advice. I would also say set time aside each day for “alone time.” Even if it’s only a half hour, get away from the crowds and the craziness and just be alone with yourself. Have a FABULOUS time!
Great advice, Alexa. Thank you!
This will be my second conference and I would like to emphasize famous writers are like everyone else and appreciate you being friendly. In Orlando, my room was next to a rather famous, older author. I devoured her books when I was a teen. I greeted her every morning and she seemed glad of it. Be nice, not suck up in hopes of getting an inside tip.
@Morgan – you are so right. I was in the business center at my first conference in DC printing additional business cards when a favorite, prolific author sat at the computer next to me. I nodded and said hello, then went back to my work. A few minutes later she asked for some help. The new version of Word had her baffled. We struck up a nice conversation. She asked about my chapter, what I wrote, I told her I loved her books:) and whenever she saw me later in the conference she said hello. Mostly, it’s just good to remember to be a real person – no matter who you are.
Schedule some “down” time. Go back to your room, plot, put your feet up, brainstorm with your critique partner and just rest! If you go from one event/workshop/signing to another without breathing room you’ll be fatigued.
Here’s my piece of advice. Find the best roommate in the world–or don’t share a room. Being with anyone less than the best isn’t worth the $$. But then I have the best conference roomy in the world. 🙂
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