11 Things I Learned at RWA National Conference

I’ve been to a few RWA National Conferences and picked up some things along the way. I’ve written about a lot of these before, but since I know a lot of you are going to the conference this year (I’m not– cue weeping), I thought I’d share some of my best tips.

11 Things I Learned at RWA National Conference

1. If you sit in the front row, you can see a whole lot better. Duh, but I mean sometimes it takes one of my overachieving buddies to make me sit in the front row for me to figure that out. (As Caren pointed out, though, don’t sit in the front if you might have to leave during the session.)

2. There’s some author who’s come up with some anal plan of action for every piece of the craft of writing that you can possibly think of.

3. I love the people that come up with these anal plans of action and share them at conference because then I learn them and steal them. (Learn all of them that you want to, but be careful with your knowledge. You cannot possibly apply everything you will learn – there’s just too much! But you will definitely gain a few nuggets that will totally change your writing process.)

4. There are several definitions of “conference head.” The one I’d heard before was the “my brain is full” mentality, when you’ve gone to so many workshops and spotlights and stuff that you just start shutting down. (The cure for this is to schedule some alone time. Take a nap when your roommate’s not there, or skip dinner one night in favor of rotting in front of HGTV in your room.)

The other definition I heard had more of a professional jealousy bent. “Her editor is better than mine. Her agent has more clients than mine. Her book has a better cover than mine. Her shoes are hotter than mine.” I can honestly say I didn’t suffer from this, mostly because I did not have an editor, agent, or book cover, and also because my shoes were the hottest. Seriously, though, know that these feelings are natural. Acknowledge them and then let them go. Do not dwell. Do not wallow. There’s too much fun to be had at conference to waste time feeling sorry for yourself or jealous of someone else’s success (or shoes).

5. Pitching isn’t for everyone. When I first joined RWA, I felt obligated to pitch at every conference even though it made me so nervous that I’d get stomach cramps for hours before my appointment. I hated doing it, and one day I decided I actually didn’t have to do it at all. That’s what query letters are for, after all. Now, if you’ve never pitched before, you should do it a few times just to see if you can get over the nerves. My friend and critique partner loves pitching in person and hates writing query letters. So you never know. You might find that you like it. But don’t feel like it’s a requirement.

6. Being a writer should be fun! Fun, I tell you! Yes, you have to treat it as a career if you want to be taken seriously, but it’s also fun! Don’t forget the fun. There will be lots of opportunities for you to engage with other passionate writers at the conference. Soak up all that passion and fun and bring it home. One of the best things about RWA conference is how inspired I always feel when I come home.

7. The romance author wears many hats: the author hat, the marketer hat, the workshop presenter hat… and sometimes the large, tacky black swan hat. (Yes, this actually happened. At the literacy signing, so it’s not like she was walking around with it all day, but still, she was the talk of the conference. See Caren’s lesson from Tuesday for more on costumes at RWA. They are generally not done.)

8. Sometimes, sitting and chatting with an experienced author for a few minutes is more beneficial than your hours upon hours of workshops. Don’t be afraid to make friends and chat people up. You never know with whom you might end up sitting at lunch.

9. La Nora gives impromptu lectures on her smoke breaks. Perhaps you should take up smoking. (Kidding. Sort of.)

10. There will be some sort of drama, and it will probably get blown way out of proportion. See black swan hat above. See also any drama from any conference ever, like the whole self-publishing debate from a few years ago, or when E.L. James identified herself in a room full of people… (Ok, that one was at RT, but it was recent, so I threw it in.) DO NOT BLOG ABOUT IT. Do not tweet about it. Do not be part of the rumor mill. Stand aside from the fray. You will be glad you did later, even if it seems too juicy to pass up now.

11. For the love of sweet baby Elvis, don’t forget to bring a sweater (preferably that goes with your outfit). Hotel conference areas are always cold.