(Originally posted over at Teatime Romance Blog back in July of 2013-I've made a few minor updates and corrections)
Many of us in the romance community are gearing up for the Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) national conference in Denver, CO in two weeks. Thousands of romance writers and industry folks (bloggers, librarians, editors, agents, etc) come together ever year at the annual conference. It is an opportunity to meet up with old friends, make new friends, network, learn, hone your craft, and get tons of free books and swag! During the four days, there are workshops, book signings, and lots of social events to take part of. The two main highlights are the GH and RITA ceremonies on Thursday, and the Literacy Signing Saturday afternoon. I attended my first RWA conference in Anaheim, CA in 2002. It was an amazing experience and I haven't missed a conference since. I got to meet and speak with some of my favorite authors (many of whom I’d only previously known via Twitter and Facebook) learn some basics about the publishing industry, meet tons of new-to-me authors, attended many informative workshops (including one on the ins and outs of writing love scenes!) and come home with a suitcase full of books that barely made the weight limit.
That being said, attending RWA for the first time can be a bit daunting and intimidating. There’s a lot of people there, there’s a lot to do, and it can be overwhelming, especially if you’re new and don’t “know” a lot of people. So here are some of my tips, based on my experience last year.
1 DON’T BE SHY The romance community is made up of the nicest and most supportive people you can imagine. Everyone I met was very incredibly welcoming and didn’t make me feel like an outsider, at all. (That was all my own doing, in my head, lol). So don’t be shy! Everyone will have badges so you’ll know who’s who. Don’t be afraid to say hi and introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you at a workshop, or the people standing in line with you. Remember, you already have one area of common interest-romance! I was talking with a lady in the elevator about how my RITA shoes were killing me. She then recommended a great product for me to use, and I ended up waiting in front of her room while she went in and showed it to me. It can be something as simple as that to break the ice and get the conversation going. Sarah MacLean always recommends first-timers display their ribbons and for good reason. We've all been the newbie before, and know what it's like. Many of us take the time to reach out to those wearing the First-Timer ribbon to check in with them and see how they're doing.
You see your favorite author walking by? If she doesn’t look busy, and it looks like an appropriate time and place to approach, go up, say hello, and introduce yourself! A good opportunity to maybe get some time to meet and chat with them is after a workshop , or at one of the free publisher’s signings. Romance authors are very gracious and kind, and love a chance to chat and interact with readers/fans/fellow writers. If I hadn’t had the guts to approach Julie James and talk with her, I wouldn’t have had the amazing opportunity to sit out by the pool with her, having drinks. (Yeah, still pinching myself to make sure it really happened!) But, if the author looks like she’s rushing to get somewhere, or having an in-depth conversation with someone, probably best to wait for a better time. Many authors use RWA as an opportunity to meet up with their agents and/or editors face-to-face, so if it looks like a business meeting, again, step away and wait for a better opportunity. Other than that, the RWA conference is meant to be a social/networking event, so go socialize and network! More likely than not, if someone sees you and know you, they’ll call out and wave you over to join in on the fun.
2. PACE YOURSELF
A few weeks before my first RWA, I realized it hadn’t even started yet, and my schedule was already filling up (And it's gotten worse every year since)! I had plans with friends for most of Wednesday (before and after the Literacy Signing). I had two events planned Thursday evening, met up with different groups of friends for lunch Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and a breakfast date Friday morning. Basically, I ended up going non-stop once I landed in California Tuesday afternoon. So remember, RWA is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t overwhelm yourself and jam pack your schedule the whole time you’re there. Take some downtime when/if you need it, and remember to hydrate. That last bit is especially important for those of us who aren't used to Denver's high altitude and might not deal with it so well.
I ended up having dinner in my room alone Friday night, and got some much needed peace and quiet. It helped rejuvenate me and gave me the push I needed to make it through the final stretch. If possible, leave the hotel/conference site and clear your head. Disney Land was very close to the Anaheim Marriot, so many RWA attendees took advantage of that. The year prior, when RWA was in NYC, I know many people went to Broadway shows, checked out Central Park, visited museums, etc. So, if you need some time away, explore the city and surroundings.
Plus, if your schedule is jam-packed, it doesn’t allow for any fun spontaneous invites and encounters. The only reason I got to meet Mani Bates in Anaheim was because she sat down with Sara Lindsey and I during the Awards Luncheon Friday afternoon. We hit it off, and the three of us spent the next hourchatting. If I had been in a rush to get here and there, that would never have happened. One tip Isobel Carr gave me was that everyone passes through the lobby and bar, so that’s a great place to meet folks too.
3. PACK WISELY
It’s wise to dress in layers. It may be summer and in the 80s in Denver, but the temps can drop dramatically in the evenings/at night. Summer also means the AC will probably be going full blast in the hotel, so it’s a good idea to have a sweater or shawl in case you get chilly. Comfy shoes are also a must. Hotels are big, there’s lots to do, and lots of real estate to cover, so find cute shoes that won’t kill your feet after an hour or two. Also, make sure you have an extra suitcase or bag to take home all he books you’ll be getting! I will now defer to my friend, packing expert extraordinaire Erin Knightley. Soak in the wisdom, boys and girls, and be amazed and awed!
Go into the RWA conference knowing that you will likely no be able to get to do everything you want and/or see everyone you’d like. It’s inevitable since there’s so much to see and do in a limited amount of time. So go over the events and prioritize. Figure out which ones are MUST DO and which you can live with skipping. Top priorities for most people are any editor and agent pitch appointments, business meetings, workshops they’re speaking in, etc. If those are in the cards for you, make sure you’re prepared. Also remember that you can get podcasts/recordings of most of the workshops. I tend to cull through the list of workshops and starred which ones I definitely wanted to go to. Workshops that aren't being recorded would go at the top of the list. And yeah, I also prioritize some of the free publisher signings.
5. HAVE FUN!!!
Most romance authors look forward to RWA every year, and for good reason. It is the one time a year when we can all come together to celebrate romance and our love of the genre. There is nothing like being in a hotel full of positive women who all support and uplift each other. It is empowering beyond belief.
I will always be grateful to Isobel Carr, my roommate during my very first RWA, who took me under her wing, introduced me around,and took such good care of me and everyone who made my first RWA experience so welcoming and wonderful. Tessa Dare, Julie James, Courtney Milan, Carey Baldwin, Maya Rodale, Wendy LaCapra, Marni Bates, the list goes on and on and on. I can't wait to head to Denver to catch up with everyone, meet new friends, and create more memories!
So, there you have it! My two cents for how to enjoy and get the most out of you RWA experience. Relax, enjoy, and hang on for the ride!