After a heavy dose of Murphy’s Law to the trip home and 11 hours of sleep, I’m… well, to say “recovered” from the 2013 Romance Writers of America national conference might be overstating, but I’m awake, which is more than I could say for yesterday.
Short version: RWA was fun, educational, supportive, overwhelming, tiring, well-heeled, coffee-fueled, and really great over all.
Background: I joined RWA at the beginning of 2011, so I haven’t been a member very long, but in that time I have been active, joining my local chapter, attending local conferences, and, of course, getting myself elected vice president/president-elect of the Rainbow Romance Writers chapter. But this was the first year that I could afford to go to Nationals, so I went and made the most of it.
Here are 10 things I learned at my first RWA conference:
1. It’s a conference, not a convention. It’s a meeting of professionals more than a meeting of fans (like RT). People are there to do business and behave accordingly. (Well, given how much time is spent at the bar, it’s not ALL business, but you get what I mean.)
2. I found it much easier to network at this convention than I have at others, RT in particular. This is probably for a few reasons. My conference roommate (and RRW president) Damon Suede suggested it was mostly geography—the hotel at RT had a layout that was far more spread out, whereas the Marriott in Atlanta had more centralized areas where people congregated. I think also people are encouraged to network and interact with each other—that’s the purpose of a conference, after all—so strangers were more willing to talk to me. Also “What do you write?” is a pretty easy ice breaker.
3. I went all out with the wardrobe, doing a lot of pre-conference shopping and then wearing my cutest shoes and dresses around. I like clothes, though, so take this with a grain of salt, but dressing up was totally worth it (and fun!) because I can’t tell you how many people came up to me and said, “I love your dress!” and then launched into conversation. It’s good for networking AND self-esteem.
4. Nora Roberts always wears awesome shoes. Always.
5. The vibe is super positive. Aside: I went to the workshop presented by two sociologists on their observations of women in the romance writing community, which was absolutely fascinating—I couldn’t scribble down notes fast enough—and one of the things they mentioned is the supportive nature of the community and the emphasis on niceness. That’s a lot to get into in a blog post that is already getting long, but I thought of that as I realized that everyone had a very, “You can do it!” attitude. That was, in fact, the message of the week from all corners: keep trying and eventually you will find success.
Generally speaking, the workshops I attended were pretty great. If you should snag the recordings, the best ones I saw in person were, in no particular order: the one on series with Eloisa James and Sarah MacLean; The Numbers, which was full of wonky publishing industry stuff; the incomparable Jude Devereux sharing writing advice; the above-mentioned sociology panel (I’m already on line to buy that book when it’s published); and Cherry Adair’s talk about a career plan, because, though it went a little off-topic, I was completely charmed by Ms. Adair.
6. I have some kind of disease that makes me want ALL THE BOOKS. Whenever an opportunity to get a free book arose, my heart sped up a little in anticipation. I’m always going to be that kid who blew her allowance money at the local book store, I guess. I had to actively tell myself not to take too many books, and still I was desperately wedging them into my suitcase when I packed to go home. (And I was selective only taking books I was pretty sure I’d read. There were hundreds of books I talked myself out of picking up.) I, in fact, fretted all the way to the airport that I’d be over the 50-pound weight limit and have to pay the overweight bag fee. Final verdict: 49 pounds.
(As I mentioned above, that was basically the only thing that went right on my trip through the Atlanta airport with Damon. He, in fact, got stopped by security, because they apparently found it suspicious that his carry-on was full of paperback romance novels. This was after we found out that what we thought was a direct flight from ATL to LGA actually had a connection in Charlotte. Damon was like, “At least there were no cavity searches.” That was how that went. I was convinced when we got to New York that our luggage was going to be in North Dakota. It wasn’t, but still, it was that kind of day.)
7. I learned a lot about tax exemptions and bylaws a the Chapter Leadership Seminar, but you, the layperson, probably don’t care about that. That and the Annual General Meeting were interesting peeks into the way RWA is run. My takeaway was mostly positive, although there was a small scandal involving term limits for board positions as dictated by the new universal chapter bylaws, which could have negative consequences for small chapters.
8. Kristan Higgins’ speech at the awards luncheon was AMAZING. If it got recorded and you can find it online, I recommend watching it. Bring tissues. (I was off-site with other business during the Cathy Maxwell keynote, but I’m sad to have missed it because I heard it was also really awesome.)
9. Despite the fact that my badge was decked out with rainbow pins, I never knew quite how to respond when some older southern lady asked what I write. I always said, “gay romance, mostly contemporaries” and was thankfully always greeted with enthusiasm.
The big guns want LGBT romance, too. A few imprints are actively seeking it. It’s exciting, watching the progress unfold.
10. I enjoyed the RITAs. I really enjoyed the Samhain after-party. I got my dance on and it was good. I went to a few of the other parties, too, but RWA is weird in that almost everything is invitation-only. With good reason, of course. I heard that I should write a 15,000 word novella for Harlequin or Carina Press just to get into the Harlequin party next year; people seem to agree it was the best party. Guess I should polish off that secret baby manuscript.
So the conference was great all around. My mind is still buzzing. Damon gave me a plot bunny for a long book series that I guess I have to write now. I met a ton of new people, including a few RRW chapter-mates. And now I have all those books to read.
BONUS: Damon took me over to the Melia hotel to check out the event spaces for GayRomLit, and it looks pretty great. I’m now doubly excited for October!