Help A Bitch Out

RWA National: The Insider’s Guide

So it’s one week till national, and I’m pulling my hair.
I’m still trying to decide on what shoes I will wear.
Pregnant feet get so swollen,
They’ll each want a Croc,
but with all that “business casual,”
They don’t want to be mocked!

And meanwhile Sarah, as big as a barn,
will waddle the hotel with a parka on.
She hears that the A/C in Dallas is arctic,
But with 90+ humidity, that cold is cathartic!

The FAQ online recommends tote bags and pens
and business cards and goodies and a stack of Depends.
You might not have time to go relieve yourself
while loading up on 612,573,870 books for your shelf!

So what are your tips and your gems of experience,
for those whose prep work has made them delirious?
And who’s going to National? Who’ll be at the Hyatt?
With both the SBs there? It will be a riot!

Seriously, folks – what are your tips for RWA National? What little gem of brilliance did you learn at a past conference? What do you do to preserve your feet? Your makeup? Your sanity?

While I’ve never been to National, here are my tips :

1. Download the Conference Schedule of events from the RWA site and print it out. Take it to your nearest copy machine and reduce it so that 4 pages fit on one 8×11 sheet of paper. Cut them up, staple together – and presto: a very, very small and very portable version of the RWA Conference Schedule that takes up a LOT less room in your bag.

2. If you see an itty bitty booklight or similar book light apparatus as a giveaway, grab it. I got one at the RWA-NJ conference two years ago and we use it all the time. And what do we use it for? When Freebird was a newborn and in a basinette in our room, we used it to light our way toward making his late night bottle without turning on the lights and waking everyone up. The dim light from the booklight let the other one of us sleep while we switched off on night feeding duty without getting out of bed. Those booklights? I love them so much I start crying hormonally when I see them. It’s kind of sad.

3. Make sure to identify all the nearest ladies’ rooms, keeping in mind that the closest ladies’ room may be behind you. This is probably my biggest concern, but then, I fully plan on pitching to every editor and agent that walks in the ladies’ because I’ll be in there anyway most of the time already, just for fun. They’ll dread going in in case that crazy pregnant lady is in there waiting to pitch them a book about alien sanitation workers kidnapping women bike messengers for toe-orgies in Oklahoma.

So, Bitchery conference-goers – what’s your advice for the rest of us?

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    I’ve never heard of business casual as recommended for the conference.  Good thing, since I don’t have business attire.  I wear dinner-at-friend’s house casual. 

    Go with your crocs.  The women are all in open-toed sandals (all the money spent on the pedicures must be shown off!), and nobody really cares what you wear unless you are going to an editor/agent appointment.

    There was a chocolate fountain dessert reception after the Ritas last year.  So go light on dinner before hand.

    Verif: feet65.  I guess those are yours, SB Sarah.

  2. 2

    I CANNOT wait to hear all about it when you guys get back!!

    Have a great time and I second the Crocs. Tight shoes – no fun.

  3. 3
    hollygee says:

    Take a break from one or two of the workshop times to rest. Do not try to attend every workshop that you can get into. Those breaks can be in the bar or napping in your room, but they will be lifesavers.

    Please come to the 2008 RWA in San Francisco, too. And may your pitching at this conference be very productive.

  4. 4
    Jill Myles says:

    I live in Dallas, and while I won’t be going to the conference (sob) I do have to tell you that we have had CRAZY weather this year. Like enough rain for massive flash floods.

    When it’s not pouring forth rain of biblical proportions, it’s 101 degrees and very muggy.

    So. Bring an umbrella, sturdy shoes in case of overflowing gutters, lots of cool clothing, and bring a sweater for indoors (we like to keep our AC at 70-72 around here). Normally our summers are dry heat, but this year it feels like a swamp. Be warned!

  5. 5
    Carrie Lofty says:

    I’m a conference virgin, so Dallas will be my first. Just saying hi to get these tidbits delivered presto to my e-mail.

  6. 6
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Don’t overbook yourself.

    My first conference I had every minute booked. I had spreadsheets. I had secondary workshop choices. I was insane.

    My second workshop I tried to remember that most of the workshops are taped, so I only needed to worry about making it to the ones that had some kind of visual or hands-on element. I had a much better time.

    Don’t worry about what you’re wearing.

    Friday office casual is fine unless you’ve got an editor appointment. Nice jeans and a blazer are perfect.

    Carry a killer purse.

    A really cool purse that catches people’s eye is the perfect conversation starter.

  7. 7
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Apparently I’m too sleep deprived to use html. *sigh* neighbors + illegal fireworks + dog freaking out = non-functional.

  8. 8

    Take time to rest, and by rest, I mean go to your room and put your feet up.  Nothing is as important as taking care of yourself and the little person.

    I go to a number of conferences each year and it’s easy to overdo it even when you’re not waddling for two.  And absolutely dress comfortably!  You’re Sarah of the SBs!  (Kind of like the Green Lantern Brigade)  You are the fashion icon others will follow!

  9. 9

    You’ll get a full program at check in, along with a book bag and some freebie books.  There will also be a folded, condensed program, which neatly fits in your purse.

    Don’t skip the luncheons.  The food may or may not suck, but the speakers are usually interesting and entertaining.  Meg Cabot kicked ass last year.  You also get yet MORE free books.  Go early to get a good table.

  10. 10
    Caro says:

    Definitely take time to rest.  Your brain will hit a point where it starts whimpering and says “No more! No more!”

    I would go ahead and make a grid of which workshops you want and secondary choices; it’s one less thing to think about.  Don’t live and die by it, though; my best moments at conference have happened spontaneously.

    Wear comfortable shoes.  Your feet will thank you.

  11. 11
    Nora Roberts says:

    Expentant Bitches must wear comfortable shoes. And yes to a sweater or jacket. Hotels are always freaking cold in the summer.

    Scope out the bathrooms, again yes, and expect to see at least one men’s type with a temporary woman’s sign over it. We take over, and since the Mary Kay people will also be there, it’s a horde of women.

    Expect slow elevators and plan accordingly.

    Rest is good. Even a half hour of quiet in your room.

    Also scope out the restaurants. Eating is also good.

    The bar is where you’re likely to hear the most interesting stuff. I’ll be there as often as humanly possible.

  12. 12

    I just saw the news about your BOOK DEAL! Congratulations.

    Seconding all the advice for comfortable shoes and taking time to rest. 

    And remember, everybody is pretty overwhelmed.  Just keep chanting that to yourself.

    Oh, and Dallas. Hair products.  Even if you’re not a hairspray person, bring hairspray.  And my southern girlfriend says loose powder is a godsend.  I’m bringing it, though I don’t know how to use it.

    Most of all—enjoy it.


  13. 13

    My advice: Don’t spend a ton on a formal dress + designer shoes for the RITAs. It’s in the dark. And nobody’s looking. I’m wearing black pants and a dressy top this year.

    That is unless you really love dressing up, and if so, have at it.

    Afternoon naps are key (at least, for me). All that schmoozing can be draining.

    And yeah, don’t skip the luncheons. You’re paying for the food anyhow, and it’s always an interesting experience. You can always sneak out after dessert. ;-)

  14. 14
    Wendy says:

    I always bring an extra tote bag – not for myself but for some other poor slob I take pity on.  Hey, I’m a librarian – I seem to attract tote bags and have more than I’ll ever need.

    I would also recommend boxes.  If you’re driving, throw a couple in the trunk of your car.  I stole some smaller boxes from work, collapsed them, then plan to lay them in the bottom of my suitcase.  Last time I went to RWA (Reno 2005) I was SOOOO happy I had boxes as I ended up hauling back a lot of goodies.

    Business cards – again the whole librarian thing.  I usually only pass out a couple but they just make life easier if I want to give someone my contact info.

  15. 15
    Nora Roberts says:

    ~My advice: Don’t spend a ton on a formal dress + designer shoes for the RITAs. It’s in the dark. And nobody’s looking~

    I am.

    Captain Roberts, Fashion Police

  16. 16

    Barbara:  Loose powder is loved by Southern ladies ‘cause it absorbs shine, and our heat and humidity produce a lot of “glowing” faces.  To use it, take a poufy makeup brush (large head, rounded), dip it in the powder, tap the brush to remove excess and lightly stroke all over your face, especially the T-zone.

    No, I’m not a makeup artist, I’ve just used the damned stuff for decades and as I remind the girls behind the counter, “Putting it on isn’t brain surgery, no matter how the magazines make it sound.”

    Oh, and my favorite loose powder is Amazing Matte by Jane Iredale. 

    Have a great time at the conference, ladies!

  17. 17

    Oh, and Captain Roberts’ comment reminded me of one of my favorite lines from Worldcon, the annual World SF Convention:

    “Being in fandom means never having to say ‘But where would I wear that?’”

  18. 18
    Phyllis says:

    Oh, I just had a vision of La Nora creeping around with a giant police-type MagLite, accosting strangers in Crocs.

  19. 19
    desertwillow says:

    I’m taking notes here. Looks like I’ll have to buy a whole new wardrobe if I ever plan on attending conferences out in the world.

    My one and only conference experience was here in Albuquerque. Everybody was wearing blue jeans or varying versions of khaki/denim. That’s what New Mexicans do. Even a couple of the agents were in jeans. (Capt. Nora would be taking everybody in…)

    And the pitches were going at lightning speed. I’m not sure anybody was looking at attire.

    And I was wandering in and out of the workshops – so was everybody else.

    So I am of little help, except:

    SB Sarah, keep water handy – seriously.

    But even better – network, network, network and have loads of fun.

    Advice from a novice-conference goer.

  20. 20

    Like enough rain for massive flash floods.

    Gosh, that *will* bring back fond memories of my week in Newcastle…

    Depending on the layout of the hotel, the masses of people (not to speak of the noise we’ll be all making) can get rather overwhelming. So taking a break and once in a while and sitting down somewhere quiet is a really good idea.

    Expect to get many books. And I mean MANY! Last year I dragged home 70-something books. And I wasn’t even trying hard!

    The bar is where you’re likely to hear the most interesting stuff.

    Not to speak of seeing people behave in the most interesting ways…

  21. 21
    DS says:

    No experience with romance conferences but I do two major professionals a year—4 day ones—and I learned long ago that if I am not trying to impress someone go casual.  Better to be comfortable than well dressed. 

    If I am flying I mail everything back rather than try to fly back with twice as much stuff as I brought with me. The weight limit on checked suitcases is annoying. 

    Make friends at the concierge desk.  It never hurts.

    Have fun.  Have lots of fun.  And come back to tell us about it.

  22. 22
    P.N. Elrod says:

    Well, *I* will be there on Friday and Saturday with Rachel Caine.  We will hang in the hotel bar, chat with our mutual agent, and schmooze with pals for the duration. Come say hello!

    Here’s help from a local who’s been there:

    CHECK THE LOCAL WEATHER before leaving. has on-line radar for the region and Dallas County. 

    Go to Mapquest and print route maps of the area from the airport to your hotel.  Chances are you’ll be in one of the blue bus vans that run people around, and they’re fine, but some cab drivers might pretend to misunderstand you and take you on a tour of the county.

    Print a close-in map of the immediate hotel area along with the locations of venues like restaurants, post offices, drug stores, and hotels where friends might be staying.

    I have a friend staying at an overflow hotel only 2 miles from the event, but a patch of neighborhood in between is a DMZ zone with skanky bars, gangs, and drug scum roaming about.  She thought she could walk to the main hotel, but changed her mind!

    The last two weeks here have been wetter than a duck’s arse.  That could change, but see if a folding umbrella is needed.  Some events might not be in the convention hotel or you may want to dine off premises.

    Along with the rain it has been VERY humid, which raises the heat-index.  That’s what makes a 90-degree day feel like it’s really 110.  Stay indoors and enjoy the AC.

    Wear those comfy shoes (or I will get my flying monkeys to buzz bomb you with used gym socks).

    Those people in business casual will understand that you require tootsie-room.  If you need to put your feet up on a chair, do so!  No one will mind.

    Between events, sit. Join us in the bar and have a nice cold juice or a smoothie.  The bartenders at the last event were most easy on the eye.

    Do NOT stuff your suitcase when you leave home.  I have a bad habit of laying out what I know I’ll need, putting it in, and then thinking I *must* fill up the remaining empty space. 

    At the last event I put all my clothes into a small rolling suitcase, then put IT into a larger rolling suitcase.  Leaving home with one case, I returned with two—both full!

    Tote bags that fold flat are good to carry at the convention, but you might not be allowed to have them as a carry-on if you’re flying.  Check to see what is allowed. You may only be able to take your purse aboard.

    If necessary, ship stuff home.  The hotel concierge can help you with that.  Once on a trip I mailed home my laundry, making space in my bags for books.

    The post office has a 2-day flat rate box that holds a lot of stuff.  You can buy postage ahead of time, packing the box flat in your suitcase.  Once full of books, you mail it from the hotel facilities.  The long flat boxes have self-sealing strips so you need not bring strapping tape.

    Check hotel amenities for your room.  You won’t need an iron or blow dryer.

    Check your room for non-freebie items.  We’re all aware of the snares of the mini-bar, but sometimes they leave out bottled water that will set you back 5 bucks.  Some of my friends gobbled up what they *thought* were free cookies only to find them on the bill later to the tune of 20.00!

    That’s all I can think of for now, but if you have more questions, just e-mail me.

  23. 23
    Bron says:

    I’m a conference virgin, too, so am taking notes on all these tips. Only 2 more sleeps before I leave and start the long trek to the other side of the world.

    My main worry is books – how successful am I going to be at not ending up with a gazillion books?? Postage back to Australia is probably horrendous, and the little plane I fly between Sydney and my home town on has serious weight limitations, so I’m wondering will I have the willpower to refuse most of the free books…

  24. 24
    Dee says:

    LOL, I sincerely doubt that Nora will remember this, but my tip is to bring mascara and carry it with you at all times. Last year, I happened to be in the bathroom where the lovely Ms Roberts was lamenting that her make up needed a touch up and did either of the women with her have any on hand? They didn’t, so she left to go back to her room.

    The lady in the stall next to me, once the door closed behind them, did a little lamenting of her own: “I wish I had some, I’d have lent it to her.”

    Jokes aside, speaking as a recently preggie girl and a hypoglycemic, always make sure to carry small snacks in your tote bag—fruit snacks, small candies. Food is spaced far between there and honestly, the post-Rita dessert lines are hella-long. They’ve been every year before. And buying snacks all the time is too expensive.

    Also, when you go to the book signings, if you have a small carry-on bag with wheels, empty it and take it with you to put your books into. You can get a LOT more books that way and not have to fumble in front of the author to collect the book from her. Plus, then you’re not that scroungy chick carrying a cardboard box on her hip, thinking she’s outsmarted everyone.

    Also, last year I spent the whole time moving snail speed and with a cane, which is roughly pregnancy speed. Give yourself PLENTY of time to get to an event. You’d be surprised how many people will run you down because they’re faster than you. (Although, generally, everyone at Nats is great and kind—a pair threatened to go after one chick for me—, some people are just flat rude, so be careful.)

    Definitely take the crocs. If you’re not comfy, you’re not going to enjoy yourself. Oh, and definitely bring an extra suitcase. I usually use my carry on and fill that with books because it’s not weighed when you get on the plane!

    Have a great time!

  25. 25
    Carrie Lofty says:

    These book signings—are the books all free? What about the literacy signing—how does that make money? Maybe an admission charge? I’m just trying to judge $$$ requirements for my time there.

  26. 26
    Chryssa says:

    Coming out of lurkdom to ask Captain Roberts how much I should budget for the ugly-but-sensible footwear fines.  I’m not pregnant, but somebody forgot to tell my feet that.


    verification—into41—as in “Venturing into a whole new world with my first RWA conference.”

  27. 27
    P.N. Elrod says:

    “These book signings—are the books all free?”


    There will be freebie books and gift bags if they run things the same as at the last one I attended, but you will have ample chance to buy books and get them signed.

    The signing may have the authors in one large room, seated at rows of tables, their books in front of them.  If you’re lucky the authors are seated alphabetically as you browse your way up and down the aisles. 

    The Big Names often have traffic control and lines, but others you can just walk right up and chat.  If you buy a book and get it signed and are still chatting, make sure to give space to the next person to approach.  If the author decides you truly ARE her new best friend have that business card handy to give to her.  Leave it to her to make first contact unless you promised to send her your special yogurt brownie recipe.

    A good way to avoid stocking up too much is to just buy one book each from your most


    authors to sign.  Make sure it is a title you do NOT already have!  Get those first, check how much space you have left, then take another run through the room to touch base with the second choices.  You need not share with them that they are on the “B-team.”

    Now I know everyone here knows this, but it’s worth a repeat in case there is any doubt.

    No, the writers, however friendly, will NOT read and give feedback on your book, so don’t ask.  Here’s why from another writer: (different genre, same rules)

    At my last event the authors ordered copies of their own books—usually the most recent—to sell.  You don’t pay them money, but will check out at a cash register at the end of the line.

    Something to remember when it’s your turn:  If authors have books left over they have the option of buying them at a discount.  Most will, otherwise the leftovers are shown as returns—which looks bad on the royalty statement!

    If cover models are there, expect them to be pimping their autographs for cash, selling art prints of themselves, and even look-alike dolls!  (That’s what one female model was selling, an 18-inch tall replica of herself in a costume from a book cover.  I blinked, and it was really there.) 

    If things are really elaborate you might have a chance to get your picture taken with a male model, but check to see if he’s being chummy or expects payment of some sort.  They have to cover their expenses, too.

    The authors will have promo items to give away from bookmarks to candy to special condoms and (I kid you NOT) flavored lubricating gels in bright-colored mini-tubes.  One lovely blue-haired fan-granny innocently inquired what kind of candy they were.  She was confused when told no candy, lube gel.  Bless her heart, no one had the guts to explain what that was to her.

    If there are male cover models about:

    The ones I’ve met are really very sweet guys, but anyone will get jaded and cranky after one too many ass and crotch-grabs.  I’ve seen otherwise sane-seeming women doing this, and it’s just *not* cool.

    Your best way to get as much out of this as possible is to take notes at each panel talk, be cheerful, and not hit the bar so frequently that you forget where you left your pantyhose.

    When doing that pitch, rehearse at home so you can be cool later.  In fact, before running off to the event watch BE COOL so you can see how Travolta handles stuff!

  28. 28
    Alison Kent says:

    Yes, there are signings with free books – just not the big literacy signing.  I know Harlequin is having a big one with a lot of authors, and most publishers do every year.  Just check the schedule for the various open houses and signings.

    I, personally, have never seen male models at any RWA functions – only at the RT convention.

  29. 29
    Lynette says:

    The A/C shit in the South?  Is true.  I believe it was Jill Conner-Browne who first observed that, in the South, if it ever got as cold outside as it is inside with the air conditioner on, we would put on the heat.  Bring a wrap or an overshirt for indoors.

  30. 30
    P.N. Elrod says:

    Hence the IF in front of that chance of seeing male models! ;)

    The event I went to might well be an RWA instead of an RT (or whatever, it’s late for me!).

    One of these days you all have to get to a Sci/Fi convention.  They cost a LOT less, published writers get in for free, and most ladies don’t mind sharing their guys on the dance floor.  You don’t have to dress up, and room parties rule.

    More paranormal romance writers are twigging to the benefits of crossing over to the huge fan base to be found in the S.F. community.

    This convention, for instance, is very paranormal-friendly.  Rachel Caine and I do our infamous 2-hour Writing 101 workshop at this one.

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