Conference Virgins! Get the most out of your “first time”…

Any conference virgins out there? Whether you’re going to a huge industry-wide event like RT or RWA Nationals, or just a local get together, I’ve got some tips to share. A few years ago, I was in your shoes. (Ah, shoes… a favorite topic of mine, see below!) The first big writing conference I went to was RWA Nationals in New York City. I was overwhelmed and under prepared. Kim over at SOS Aloha blog invited me to do a re-cap on what I learned and I posted the following pearls of wisdom on her blog back then. After reading through the post recently, I think it still applies. So, in an effort to prepare introverted first-timers everywhere, here’s my top advice:

Sleep with Strangers – In an effort to do things on the cheap I offered to share my room with three other women. We met through the forum and exchanged a few emails. What could go wrong? My husband thought I was crazy. I called it being adventurous and resourceful. They were writers like me, how bad could it be? As soon as we met, I knew I’d made the right decision. I couldn’t have asked for three better ladies to share my room and my first RWA experience with. (Hi, Elizabeth, Kathy & Nikki!) Although we all come from different backgrounds and have different styles, we bonded over New York pizza and discussions over the difference between straight up erotica and erotic romance. (I still think I’m right on that one.) Moving on…

New York Pizza! Four meals in one slice!

Find Your Own G-Spot – My first “What the hell have I gotten myself into” moment hit me as I walked into the author literacy signing. Lines of tables filled the entire ballroom. As an author attendant, I was told to pick a row. I snagged a spot within the “G’s” and for the next three hours became a water wench for a handful of the most grateful, fabulous authors. The number of people who turned out in support for the event and the romance industry in general overwhelmed me. It was a great way to start the conference and I highly recommend volunteering as much as you can. It’s a fantastic way to meet other people and I kept running into my “G-spot” authors over the course of the next several days. It was fun to see a familiar face and a few of us have connected via Facebook and Twitter.

Books from the literacy signing and the giveaways.

Go Down Early – As in, go down to breakfast first thing. I’m not typically a morning person. But as soon as the buffet line opened at 7:30am, I was ready to fill my plate with whatever yummy breakfast food the hotel had ready. By being one of the first people in the ballroom I had my pick of seating. Though my group usually gravitated to the right side of the ballroom, if I’d wanted to sit front and center and get starry-eyed all over the keynote speaker, I could have snagged a seat right under her nose. Same goes for the workshops. A few times I ended up standing in the back of the room or even (gasp) settling in my new business casual clothes on the floor. If you want a good seat, get there early and stake your claim. Oh, and wear good shoes. I know there isn’t really a spot for this piece of advice, but I highly recommend Aerosoles wedges. After four days, not one blister. Sorry, shoes have always been a major distraction for me. Let’s continue…

Award ceremony. I did NOT get here early and ended up in the tardy seating in the balcony.

Be Your Own Pimp – Talk to everyone. You never know who you’re going to be sharing an elevator with, standing by in line for the bathroom, or sitting next to at breakfast. This being my first RWA, I was in a unique situation. Besides the few members of my local RWA chapter who were all busy with agent/editor appointments and book signings, I didn’t know a soul…well, besides the people I’d been sleeping with. I talked to everyone. And when I say everyone, I mean EVERYONE. In the process I met editors, bloggers, agents, authors from overseas…and made many connections and hopefully some lifelong friends.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better – Well, sometimes it’s better (wink, wink) but when you’re attending RWA and you get to spend time around your idols, the authors who have shaped our industry and inspired you to strike out on your own writing journey, it’s easy to become star struck. Such as, I was almost rendered mute when Sylvia Day told me she loved my dress. Yeah, she did. I said something stupid like “I love YOU.” We’re BFF’s now, really. Here’s the picture to prove it.

Me and the incomparable Sylvia Day.












Sure I fangirled over my favorites at the book signings (don’t even get me started on the free books…it was like “Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Happy Kwanzaa” for four days straight.) But as many of the keynote and workshop speakers pointed out, it’s important to make connections with other authors who are at the same place in their journey. They’re the ones who will crawl through the trenches with you, become your cheerleaders, your fans and your pillars of support as you make a name for yourself in this industry. And you’ll do the same for them. Let’s face it, having Sylvia Day as a BFF would be a great thing. But she probably wouldn’t have time to chew me out over another spliced comma or the overuse of the word “stroked” in my steamy scenes. (Can you really overuse the word “stroked?” Probably a conversation for another time.)

Hopefully my experience and perspective have given some of you that gentle nudge (giant shove) to sign up for a conference. It’s an experience like no other and you’ll learn so much from the workshops, the speakers and the other attendees, it’s priceless. And if you run into someone who looks familiar at the buffet as soon as it opens, who’s sporting a new pair of Aerosoles wedges and pimping herself to anyone who makes eye contact… well, make sure you say “Hi” to me!
Until then, Cheers!