As I draft this, I’ve been home from RWA for just over 24 hours, and I’m still not recovered. That’s one of the things I wasn’t expecting last year, and even though I was expecting it this year, it didn’t lessen the effects. The utter exhaustion is no joke. RWA is a fun, amazing conference. It’s work, but it doesn’t feel like work. It’s workshops and meetings and lunches and pitches and signings and laughing and dancing and socializing. Not everyone will do all these things, of course, but probably some combination of them. And doing them? Is tiring. Doing them for four days straight will exhaust you. Doing them for four days straight in fabulous heels from 8am to 1am will flatten you.
And revitalize you, if all things go according to plan.
Last year, I did a very brief recap, mostly because I was so overwhelmed with what happened that I didn’t even know where to start. This year, mostly because I have no direction at all about what people want to hear about the conference, I’m going to post about the differences of attending in 2013 and then again in 2014.
In 2013, I’d just finished drafting CAGED IN WINTER and was planning to pitch it at the conference. In 2014, I wore my SOLD! ribbon on my badge, and only a week before the conference, I turned in my third novel to my editor. The differences a year can make are staggering–and hopefully encouraging for those of you who are in the pitching trenches now.
I’m a schedule girl. I like to plan. It makes me less frantic and helps me relax. (Shocker to know I’m a total plotter, huh?) Last year, RWA had the schedule up with a scheduling tool and you were able to pick and choose what workshops you wanted to attend in each time slot. My schedule was filled with workshops, and I went to a lot of them. (I actually wish I had numbers to compare, but, sadly, I don’t.) This year, RWA had this awesome app that let you see all of that–workshops in the designated time slot, events happening, etc–all in your mobile device. It also let you put in your own events/meetings you might have. It was a godsend, especially when plans get changed on the fly as they often do at RWA.
Last year, with the exception of the Harlequin party and the RITAs, my schedule was open. I had workshops I wanted to go to, of course, but nothing was concrete. Nothing that I had to do. This year, my schedule was 70% things I had to do, 30% open. Now, I suppose ‘had’ is a strong word, because, really, you don’t have to do anything at the conference. Your time is yours. But when your editors want to have dinner or lunch, you say yes. When one of your publishers invites you to an ‘authors only’ session, you go. When your publishers invite you to cocktail parties, even if there are three of them all on the same night, you show up to all looking super fly. When your publishers have signings, you swing by, if only briefly, to offer support to your fellow authors.
This year, I felt like I learned less, but not that I got anything less out of the conference. The things I took away were different, but equally important for my career. I got face-to-face time with both my editors. I got to meet people ranging from my publicist to people on the marketing teams to the actual publisher, and all those meetings were invaluable. I got to talk and mingle with authors I’ve admired for a long time and authors I’ve never met or read before, but now consider friends. So what’s my point on this one? Each year, your time will be spent differently based on where you are in your career. Differently does not mean you have an awesome schedule one year and a shitty schedule another. Differently means just that. Embrace it.
Last year when I went, I spent a majority of my conference worried about pitching. My editor and agent appointments were Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, so yeah. The majority of the time before that was spent wondering what it’d be like, worrying that I’d say the wrong thing (or vomit all over the editor/agent) and, oh yeah, actually writing my pitch. Several people, including my wonderful CP, as well as other random authors, all gave me pieces of advice that basically boiled down to: you’re going to be fine; don’t sweat it. Totally easier said than done.
But they were right. My first pitch was a clusterfuck. I mean, really. I talked so fast, I’m surprised the editor understood a word of what I said. But she requested the full, and I felt like I was flying. My next pitch went much smoother. We started out with small talk, and that naturally evolved into discussing my book. It came about organically, and I didn’t speed-talk once. That also resulted in a full request.
This year, I didn’t have any pitch appointments. Instead, I was the one offering advice to nervous writers, working up the courage to do their first pitches. And I gotta tell you, it was awesome to be able to offer a tiny bit of knowledge and encouragement. Pay it forward, since I had been on the receiving end of it last year.
Last year, I stalked the signings. After all, it was my (probably) first time meeting several authors I looked up to. I dutifully went to them, got starry-eyed, got lots of books signed, and smiled. This year, I was able to attend three, and two of those were simply me going in to support my friends. Only one was for me (and I left with only one signed book for myself, but it was JILL FREAKIN’ SHALVIS, come on!). While I wanted to go to signings, it just didn’t work in my schedule. I had to choose editor meetings or publisher meetings or workshops because I had so little time to attend them. Something had to give, and it was the signings. Next year, I’m hoping I don’t have as many meetings clashing with these, because I missed going to them. I missed getting to talk–if only for a minute–to the people I’ve looked up to, in many times, since I started this adventure.
You’re probably seeing a pattern by now as to what last year held for me versus this year. 2013’s RWA didn’t hold a single meeting for me. I wasn’t yet agented and hadn’t yet sold CAGED IN WINTER, so I didn’t yet have an editor to swoop me off to a dinner or lunch. I was published with Carina, but the editor for my novella wasn’t attending, so I didn’t have anything going there. This year, I had two different editors with two different publishers, both of whom I wanted to meet since I didn’t know when I’d get another chance. Are the meetings crucial to your career? No, of course not. But they gave me valuable time with both my editors that I wouldn’t exchange. There is something wonderful about sitting down face-to-face with someone and being able to put not just a face, but their inflections and body language and everything else you see in person, to their e-mails and phone calls.
Last year, my motto was: SOAK UP EVERYTHING YOU CAN. GO TO EVERYTHING! SEE EVERYTHING! DO ALL THE THINGS! And I got burnt out. Even more so than this year, which is saying something. But with how much I invested in the conference (and blindly invested as I was in the querying trenches without a sale), I wanted to get as much as I could out of it. I wanted to absorb any and everything people who knew more than I did wanted to teach me. So I went to workshops on craft, on marketing, on career. I went to everything that I thought would be pertinent to me at some point in the next twenty years.
This year, I narrowed that down a little. Partly because my time for workshops was so much less abundant, and partly because I wanted to focus. I thought about things I didn’t know all that well, things I wanted to know more about, and, most importantly, things I thought I’d use within the next year. Because neat thing about these conferences: there’s one every year. And where you are from year to year will change, even if subtly, as will the training you need.
It’s a sad truth to say it, but last year’s parties took the cake for me. We had the lovely Georgia Romance Writers who threw the party on Thursday night, complete with a rockin’ DJ and a dance floor. Then there was the RITA after party Samhain threw on Saturday. We danced. We mingled. We made connections.
This year, none of that happened. Or if it did, I wasn’t lucky enough to get an invitation. 😉 Sadly, there was no after party for the RITAs, so we made our party happen in the hotel bar (as one does at RWA). I was still lucky enough to go to the Harlequin party both years, and both years it took the prize as Most Amazing Party Evah!
And while I love to go and dance and have a good time, I really love spending time with my friends and fellow writers–some of whom I’m introduced to as we shake it on the dance floor–and talking with them. Having fun and letting our hair down. Writing is such a solitary career that it’s nice to get this time together once a year (or twice or however many times a year you head to a conference). Here’s hoping someone throws a couple parties next year to bring everyone together. Anyone wanna chip in five bucks?
Last year, I went knowing one person. One person whom I’d met IRL previously, and that was it. It was terrifying, and I’m an extrovert. But everyone is so friendly. I know people say that all the time, but it’s true. Everyone is eager to meet you, to hear your story, to get your card and connect with you on Twitter. I met a lot of people last year. More than I realized, because this year when I went? I saw people I knew everywhere. I was waving and chatting and running off real quick because, oh! I see someone I know!
The connections you forge at the conference will last much longer than Wednesday through Saturday. They’re going to carry over into the following week, month, year. They’re going to carry over into the next conference and the one after that, and they’re going to build on one another until you’re surrounded by friends. And not just friends but cheerleaders. Romance writers as a whole are so generous and giving–of their time, their advice, and their support. They want to see you succeed, and they want to be there cheering you on as you do.
And the really awesome thing about that is a lot of those connections start out as a glance in the bathroom mirror, commiserating over painful shoes, or worrying about pitching, or striking up a conversation as you wait ten minutes for an elevator. The connections are there to be made, and they’re powerful. Don’t go to a conference with the sole intent to work, work, work. Some of the most important work we do is in forging friendships with fellow writers.
Because next year when you go, won’t it be nice to see more than one familiar face?