I posted conference tips on the Writing Playground blog when we were still active, but it’s information for conference that’s timeless. So I wanted to share it here for any of you who are going for the first time.
I enjoy the RWA conference. I just don’t like all the stress of getting ready to go. You have to pay your registration fee right after Christmas. Then, most years you monitor airline fares and pounce the moment you see a great deal. You have an email loop with you and the others in your chapter who are going too so you can all obsess over baggage fees and how to get enough clothes for a week into one suitcase — especially when you have to have not only business casual but sightseeing clothes and formal wear as well. You have to all get together at least once for a pre-conference fashion show to make sure you have things matched up right, have all the right accessories, loaned someone the top that matches their new skirt just perfectly and given each wardrobe the Good Friend Seal of Approval.
This year RWA is practically in my backyard. It’s in Atlanta, a mere 4 hour drive from here. So no airline tickets. No baggage restrictions (though I’m sure the friend I’m riding with will appreciate me not carrying everything I own).
But once I’ve pared the clothing down to bare minimums, squeezed it all into the bag along with shoes, toiletries, jewelry, et cetera, traveled to the conference city, negotiated that city’s transportation system (if necessary) and checked into the hotel, the stress falls away (mostly) and I’m ready to learn and see old friends and make new ones too.
And then there are the workshops. I’ve poured over the listings and decided which ones I want to attend. I’m even moderating one of them. On Friday night, I’ll be attending the Boroughs Publishing Group Open House and hopefully I’ll hear my name called as the winner of the What’s in a Name novella contest ( VOTEFORBETTERASAMEMORYATWWW.BOROUGHSPUBLISHINGGROUP.COM). Saturday night is the RITA awards ceremony and that’s always loads of fun. You get to dress up and see people win golden statues. It’s our version of the Oscars.
Anyway, I thought I’d borrow from a previous blog and offer a few tips I’ve gleaned from both past experience and some of my ever-so-helpful writing friends from around the world.
* Volunteer because it’s a great opportunity to meet other writers. And you’ll be giving back to the organization that gives us so much. AND, in past years volunteering has put your name in a drawing to get your registration fee paid for next year’s conference. I don’t know if that’s the case this year, but even if it’s not, volunteer because it’s the thing to do.
* Wear comfy shoes. This is especially important for me after my foot fracture 18 months ago. I have two new pairs of shoes that will accommodate my orthotics (that makes me sound sooooooo old), but are also attractive (or as attractive as orthopedic shoes can be). I have no choice. It’s this or pain. So I plan to have lots of cool necklaces and earrings so folks will all be looking at that and not my feet. Also take some Band-Aide or Dr. Scholl friction stick and gel shoe pads to help shoes keep from rubbing and to add extra cushioning. If you’ve purchased new shoes for conference, WEAR THEM AHEAD OF TIME to see how they fit, where they might rub, etc.
* Take a jacket or shawl to wear in the conference rooms. They keep the temps at a level comfortable for a man in a wool-blend business suit, which means a woman in a sleeveless dress will have blue lips and goosebumps before you can spell Antarctica.
* The workshop schedule is online at the RWA site. Take an afternoon or evening and go through it. Make a chart with Word or Excel for every day you’re at the conference. Write down the workshops you want to attend. Add the get-togethers with various groups of friends you only see once a year. With a schedule, the whole affair seems a little less overwhelming, especially if this is your first conference. And remember that most workshops are taped (the schedule will indicate this) so if you have to choose, go with the untaped one. You can always get the conference CDs and hear the taped one later.
* Do not, I repeat, DO NOT do as I did at my first conference and try to attend a workshop during every slot of every day. By Friday night I felt as if I’d slammed into a concrete wall. I had major brain overload. Select the workshops you really want to attend, and if it’s a popular one, arrive early to assure you get a seat. Then when there’s an hour where no workshop really calls to you, visit the Executive Conference Room (ECR) AKA the hotel bar or the hotel coffee shop and rest. The RWA conference has been described as 2000 introverts all pretending to be extroverts for 3 days. That’s pretty much true. And if you’re not careful, all that pretending will suck the life right out of you. Even if you are careful, you’re likely to come home exhausted and feeling like every brain cell died, but you’ll recover and will benefit from the conference experience.
* If you are targeting a particular publisher, be sure to attend their spotlight session. You’ll get a world of information straight from the horse’s mouth.
* Speaking of mouths, be careful what comes out of yours. You never know who may be at the back of the elevator car. It could be the editor who has your manuscript or her best friend. Be especially careful not to enjoy the ECR too much because loose lips sink ships — and writing careers too. When I first wrote this blog years ago, I spoke of not becoming next week’s blog fodder. But with Twitter and the wide availability of smartphones, you’ll be Twitter fodder (would that be Twodder?) in SECONDS! And it’ll be retweeted until every person in the universe knows what you did. There. Have I scared you enough???
* If you see someone who looks lost or scared, walk up to them and say, “Hi, my name is _______ and I’m from ________. Is this your first conference? What do you write?” Invite them to sit with you at lunch. Introduce them to your friends. A big part of this business is networking, and just saying hello may lead to something big. I cannot overemphasize the importance of networking. If you don’t already have business cards, get some. With the fast shipping option, you could get them by conference from VistaPrint. Or you can print your own from your computer. All you need on the card is your name and contact info so the person you give it to can get in touch with you.
* One of my writing friends is really big on goals — even at conference. She doesn’t leave home without a goal in mind. I try to do this too and come up with something that is tangible and can be measured, such as networking with five new people or learning about several publishing houses you were not familiar with before the conference.
* I always take a new bottle of over-the-counter pain reliever. I carry it with me everywhere for my own aches and pains or for the editor in the elevator who complains of a splitting headache. This is a great way to make a new friend too. And remember to drink plenty of water. It’s easy to get dehydrated and that will lead to a headache. You don’t want that to spoil any of the conference for you.
* Remember to take your camera and remember to use it so you can take home memories of the week. I have photos of myself with favorite authors and love to go back and look at conferences from years past. Remember the charging cable too! That’s me and Janet Evanovich at the 2009 conference in Washington, DC.
* If you take your cell phone, be sure to TURN IT OFF during workshops. Put in on vibrate and stick it in your pocket. You’ll know when someone calls but it won’t disturb the speaker (unless you shriek when it vibrates). And remember the charging cord for it too.
* The conference hotel has a Starbucks in it. I enjoy an afternoon cup of tea, so I plan to pre-load a Starbucks card and take it with me. Then all I have to do is order my tea and hand them my Starbucks card. It just simplifies things for me a little. You may want to do the same if you’re a coffee, frappe, tea or whatever lover.
* Leave your favorite perfume at home. Many folks have allergies, and even if they don’t, fifteen women all wearing different perfume in an elevator can be olfactory overload.
Did I forget anything?