Bloggers at RWA

So you’re a blogger (hi there!). And you’ve registered for RWA in San Francisco. And you’re nervous about what to expect. Don’t be. It’s fun.

Samantha Graves said to me on the last day of RWA in Dallas, quoting, I believe, Mary Jo Putney, that the convention on the whole is a few thousand introverts pretending to be extroverts for four days. And at the end of the conference, expect to be exhausted. I was.

Now, last year, when I went, I was 8 months pregnant. I gave birth six weeks later. I was, to put it mildly, as big as the sun. So there were a lot of events I missed because I was focused on three things: finding a place to sit, finding food to eat, and finding (ahem) the ladies rooms. Since that’s the basis of my conference experience, I’ll start there.

Any time there is a meal provided by RWA, if you are worried about your finances, go. For one thing, there’s food. For another, you meet people. The tables usually seat ten, and you can find a place to sit by pretending to be an extrovert and asking if a seat is taken. Small talk is your friend and you can pass one meal or five by introducing yourself, and asking the other people at the table who they are, where they’re from, and what they write.

Chances are, no one will be rude to your face, if that’s what your worried about. Now, few people are rude to a visibly enormous preggo lady, so this year when I’m traveling solo, my experience may be different. But no one was rude to me. I don’t think anyone was rude to Candy either.

There are certainly people who think we bloggers have no business being at RWA. I disagree heartily with those people. If you’ve registered to attend, then you have as much right to be there as anyone. I look at it this way: yes, RWA is a conference for romance writers. Thus the sessions and workshops are designed for aspiring and novice writers, and for those who already have careers based on romance writing. Those same sessions that discuss the craft and business of writing may be of interest to you as well, to say nothing of the sessions that instruct authors on publicity online and off. Maybe you’re secretly aspiring to write a romance. Maybe you’re not. But there is definitely some information for you in the workshops.

If you’re registered, among the best events are the spotlights on publishers, because you can hear from the editors what they’re looking for and what they do, and the signings, also hosted by publishers. The signings are marvelous – authors meet fans, sign books, and give them away. My tip: if you don’t want a signed book, or if you’re in line to meet the author and don’t want to take a book away from someone behind you in line, flip your nametag over so it’s not facing front. The authors are often on auto-pilot, and read the name off the tag and start personalizing the book before you can say, “Oh, no I just wanted to meet you.” I also went towards the end of a signing session to meet authors, simply because the lines were smaller. For the Nora Roberts signing and the signings for other prominent authors, the line will blow you away. People will queue up an hour beforehand. Wear comfy shoes.

Speaking of apparel, my rule of thumb: look professional, be comfortable. Remember that it is a professional conference, and other attendees are there to network, learn, network, meet with editors, agents, and fellow authors, and network. Lean towards business casual, especially if you are really, really bone deep nervous about how someone else may treat you.

And where does all that networking occur? The bar. RWA conference attendees will keep the bartenders hopping, so if you go to the bar, expect to see many, many people, and expect to have a bit of a wait for service. There are always people hanging out in the lounge areas and in the bar, especially after the RITA ceremony. You might end up in a conversation with someone who might be going to a party one evening, and may invite you along. You might end up talking to someone who ends up making your conference experience really freaking awesome. You never know. Last year I ended up being asked to tag along to a party in someone’s room, which was awesome, if a bit warm and crowded.

But even with all the bar and parties going on, the root of “network” is “work,” and RWA is a professional conference attended by authors trying to advance their own professional careers as writers. As with many a conference, business and the bar mix and mingle, so be aware and courteous. If a conversation looks like Serious Business, it probably isn’t the perfect moment to hit DEFCON-5 on the Squee-o-Meter and introduce yourself.

Bottom line: don’t be nervous. There are a few dozen other first time attendees there as well, and chances are anyone standing next to you is as nervous as you are.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    MaryKate says:

    Hi Sarah, this is all terrific advice. I won’t be at RWA, but am a professional meeting planner, I have two additional pieces of advice:

    1-If you DO go to the meals, and you don’t like what’s being served, ask your server, most likely they have a vegetarian option, or a fruit plate.

    2-They keep most hotel meeting rooms frigidly cold. Wear layers! You can always carry a cardigan around, but you’ll be glad you have it if the meeting room or hotel is really chilly.

  2. 2
    ev says:

    I wish I was going, just for the experience. Someday.

  3. 3
    ev says:

    And I just found out that one of my new fav paranormal writers- Chris Marie Greene- will be there. Now I really want to go!!

    spamword- must74. I must go before I hit 74!!

  4. 4
    LeaF says:

    SB, your words of advice and encouragement are certainly welcome for people, such as myself who shy away from attending conferences because of many of the reasons you addressed.

    Aside from the networking aspect, the conference sounds like an amazing learning opportunity in a beautiful city.

    Will look forward to reading about your experience after the conference.


  5. 5
    Barb Ferrer says:

    First off, I’m one of those writers who believe that bloggers not only have every right to be there, they should be there.  (‘Course, I could be biased because some of the best times I had last year happened to be sitting in the bar with Candy and Sarah.)  But the experience is so different from each person’s perspective depending on their reasons for going, it’s really invaluable, at least to me, to get as many of those different viewpoints as possible.  Especially since it pains me, how many people think that RWA is this snobbish clique-y sort of thing.

    To add to all the great suggestions that Sarah made, I’d also say check the schedule out for the different chats with authors—it’s a great, informal setting to get up close to some of your favorite authors without it being structured around a workshop.

    And if anyone sees me, please, please, feel free to come up and chat—I love chatting with people and since this year my schedule is relatively light for Nationals, I expect to spend a lot of time hanging out in the bar.  *g*

    (I’m also going to be presenting the RITA for what’s shaping up to be the scariest category—the Single Title where the finalists have been trash talking and setting up for a major throwdown.  Wonder if I should bring a fire extinguisher to the ceremony?)

  6. 6

    Great advice, Sarah, and if I may pimp, over at we’re talking all month about psyching up for National.

    I think writers are the easiest people in the world to network with. All you need to do to start a conversation is say “What do you write?” or “What are you working on?”

    Easy. I don’t know why people find it so scary. It’s the only time of the year for most of us when we don’t have to search for alien subject matter.

  7. 7
    Walt says:

    The last few RWA Conferences I attended pretty much opened with the Literacy Signing.  For those of you not familiar with the RWA Literacy Signing, this is the time when the host hotel realizes that there are too many people in the room for the air conditioning setting, and realize too late they should have turned up the cold air. 

    Seeing that this conference is in San Francisco, the natural cool weather might fool some people into thinking that the hotel won’t have any trouble opening up a few windows to circulate some air.  Good luck with that.  85% chance of sweltering during the literacy signing.  The hotel usually manages to catch up and over chill everyone by Friday morning.

    I won’t be attending this year because… well, I’m allergic to California (yes, it’s hereditary) and the fact that I managed to get a new job I can’t break away from.  I’ll expect reports and photos of all oversized sunglasses and/or outrageous hats worn by paranormal authors with a large fan base.

  8. 8
    Lisa Hendrix says:

    I second everything you said about conference and bloggers.  Bloggers definitely belong at RWA National, for the same reason that librarians, booksellers, and heritage media reports belong there. You are the crucial to our efforts to get our books to readers.

    Small quibble though.  Samantha Graves may have mentioned the introvert/extrovert thing to you, but real credit belongs to Mary Jo Putney, who gave the keynote speech at RWA National a few years back and referred to the audience as “2000 introverts pretending to be extroverts.”  You can confirm that here among other places:

    Not a big whoop, just wanted to make sure MJ gets her due!

  9. 9
    katiebabs says:

    I will be the tall redhead looking around in a daze. Or at the bar trying to look cool ;P
    Great word of advice Sarah! I should print this out and bring it with me to RWA.
    And I am not going to lie, but anywhere there is free food, I am so there!

  10. 10

    Delurking here….

    Ev, thank you!  Hope you stop by to say hi at a signing—or maybe we’ll even spot each other’s name tags in the crowds.  ; )  I’m one of a group of masochists who’ll be braving Comic-Con, San Diego, right before National, so if you meet me and my eyes are glossed over, that’s the reason.

    Great advice, Sarah, especially the part about measuring up a conversation in progress before you enter it yourself.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost stumbled into an “business discussion” in a bar or hallway because I wasn’t thinking.

    Happy Fourth to those celebrating it!

  11. 11
    LeaF says:

    I think writers are the easiest people in the world to network with. All you need to do to start a conversation is say “What do you write?” or “What are you working on?”
    Easy. I don’t know why people find it so scary.

    Your points are well taken Janet. I think, though for people who are naturally shy introverts, and perhaps feel intimidated in settings such as a RWA conference it is very difficult to approach others and make that initial overture. Not to sound paranoid, it’s just sometimes the mouth opens and the words catch in the throat. lol

    I think many writers be they published or not are “solitary souls”, who need advice and encouragement such as that offered by SB and yourself to become a member of such associations and attend conferences.

    Hell, call me foolish, paranoid, whatever, but, I “lurked” and read posts for a long time before actually getting up enough courage to post on blogs such as this one.

    I agree, bloggers should be included at a writers conference because they have eaked out their own specialized area within the craft and benefited us all.

  12. 12
    Alyssa Day says:

    Hi, I’m Alyssa and I’m a die-hard extrovert!  LOL.  Seriously, I’m one of the few who lives for weeks off the excitement of RWA National – I adore meeting people and hanging out and the whole shebang.  So if you’re an introvert and happen to see me, please come say hi.  Warning:  I’ve been known to hijack newbies for the entire evening, so beware, but at the very least I’ll be delighted to meet you and chat.
    Oh, and I’m Alyssa Day but I’m also Alesia Holliday (both will be on my nametag).  Just look for the 6-foot tall blonde.

  13. 13
    Jessica says:

    Well, I’m looking forward to my first nationals.  My main goal is to try to sell a couple of novels, but I’d like to meet new people as well—and perhaps even find that perfect, but as yet elusive, critique partner.

    Look forward to meeting you guys (yeah for bloggers – I’m bringing my laptop just to keep an eye on your blog, among other).  What are you guys going to have you your name tags?

  14. 14
    Marta Acosta says:

    Well, I’m not paying the fee for the conference, so I’ll be hanging out at the bar and going to my publisher’s dinner and book signing.  I fully hope to meet bloggers there!

    My advice for aspiring writers:  just walk up to people and say hi with a smile and a friendly attitude.  Don’t worry about what to say, unless it’s a pitch to an editor or agent.

    Go ahead and worry about that—but you can even ask authors for advice on how to pitch an editor or agent.

  15. 15

    Hey Barb…don’t be afraid of us STC RITA finalists. Leslie will never get her sword through security at the airport and I’ve already alerted the hotel about suspiciously long fedex packages.

    Last year was my first National, so my advice is by way of veteran Avon author Gayle Callen who kindly took me under wing last year: find the service elevators WAY before RITA night (watch the hotel employees). Then, when everyone else is waiting 20 minutes for the elevator, you already know where the service elevators are and you can beat the crowd.  Hee hee.

    Okay, maybe us STC finalists do play dirty….


  16. 16

    Sarah, some of us were very worried about you in that hot room. I was sure you were going to drop at any moment.

    I guess I’m a very strange creature. I’m a hermit about 360 days of the year, but I LIVE for conference. (This may be a direct result of being a stay at home mom.) There’s nothing better than wearing heels and a dress and talking about dirty things with other innocent looking women. And I never even WORE heels before I had kids. Oh, and of course, the professional networking. Ahem. 

    My advice would be “Don’t do too much!!!” You can get most of the sessions on tape. Only go to the ones you’re dying to see. Otherwise, relax, enjoy and talk to the person next to you.

    And tell me if my mascara is running. I’m not used to it.

  17. 17

    I must have been off-line the “controversy” about bloggers attending came up, because I honestly don’t remember it. If they want to come, great. I mean, I’ve brought my mom to the last two conferences, paid for her registration so she could listen to the speeches and go to the publisher signings and meet her favorite authors. She’s not a blogger or a romance writer. I could use the excuse that she was sort of my assistant helping me at the signings and passing out bookmarks, but that’s just an excuse: I brought her because it was fun and she’s a fan.

    I’m a bit of an extrovert, so I don’t have much of a problem meeting people, even before I sold. There’s so much to do, I would be shocked if anyone said they were bored or left out. Great advice about the meals—I had an event during one last year, and my mom went and everyone was gracious and nice to her and she’s more introverted than me. People still come up to me about meeting my mom. (Well, my mom’s also a smoker and met a lot of the smokers, and I think smokers have this code thing going on because they’re all relegated to the same 20 X 20 foot area when they need their nicotine.)

    As for authors, if I don’t want to meet people or if I’m worn out, I go to my room for downtime (or, with my schedule, writing time.) I’d imagine that’s the same for most authors.  I can’t think of any overtly rude situation at the three conferences I went to.

  18. 18
    Barb Ferrer says:

    Oh, and I’m Alyssa Day but I’m also Alesia Holliday (both will be on my nametag).  Just look for the 6-foot tall blonde.

    Generally accompanied by a 5’2” brunette.  *g*

  19. 19
    Bonnie says:

    I have to ask because I truly don’t understand.

    Why would anybody be nervous about going?  And why on earth would people be rude?

  20. 20
    Barb Ferrer says:

    Why would anybody be nervous about going?  And why on earth would people be

    Bonnie, the nervousness is fairly easy to explain—as has been mentioned several times already, most of us tend to be introverts or at the very least, spend the majority of our time in relative solitude and then Nationals comes along and all of a sudden it’s BOOM—over two thousand people in one enclosed space.  For many people, it’s sensory overload, to say the least.

    As far as rudeness, I couldn’t begin to tell you.  No one I know would ever be intentionally rude on purpose, going back to that introvert suddenly thrust into a group scenario, I think people’s minds start going into overdrive, worrying that they might do or say the wrong thing at the wrong time and be forever shunned or something equally exaggerated.  Or worse, going back to the idea that RWA is some sort of secret closed society, newbies not welcome.

    Which is, to my way of thinking, absurd.  Is National stressful?  Sure, it can be.  Can you catch someone at the wrong moment?  Of course, like in any other situation.  Is it something that you should go to RWA National expecting as a matter of course?  No.  Absolutely not.  I can honestly say that at each RWA National conference I’ve gone to (and this is going to be my fifth) I’ve met new people and made friends and had absolutely a great time, despite the fact that I’m an introvert.  Actually, I’m a lot like Vicki—a hermit 360 days out of the year and then Nationals comes around and I’m so ready for it.  :)

  21. 21
    Theresa Meyers says:

    Just a few other things to add to Sarah’s list:

    Because this is a networking opportunity, don’t forget to bring business cards.  Don’t want total strangers having your phone number?  Fine, just put your name, email address and website if you have one.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve met an editor, agent or writer in an elevator or standing in line for something that I was able to exchange cards with.  BTW does nice, cheap cards very quickly.  Just tuck a handful of cards in the back of your name tage everytime you leave your room and you should have plenty.

    Drink and be merry, but remember where you are.  Can’t tell how embarrassing it is for people to wake up the next day and remember that they were doing *that* in front of their editor or favorite writer.

    Think about that lovely pair of shoes you have on before you put your foot in your mouth.  Elevators are crowded.  Hallways are crowded.  Meeting rooms and banquet tables are crowded.  Eventually somebody, somewhere is going to hear the super snarky remark you just made about her or him.  So save the snark for when you know its a private conversation behind closed doors that won’t be overheard or repeated (which does not include the ladies room).

    If you’re new and thinking about selling a book at RWA, remember that this is a networking event.  You’ll have lots of chances to meet with editors or agents, but don’t expect them to want your manuscript on the spot.  The best you’ll do is get a request for a full. Write a blurb of your book on the back of your business card instead of taking manuscripts (I find avery labels are wonderful for printing these babies out).  Remember they have to watch the weight of their luggage too!

    OMG!  And probably of the biggest things is the free books.  They’re everywhere!  Save yourself a headache and possible overage charges at the airport by bringing flat-rate boxes with you (you can get them free at the post office).  They cost the same amount no matter how many books you put in them.  Pre-print labels for yourself and bring some tape.  It’ll save you $$$ in the long run and you’ll get the books home.

    smapinator: specific67, guess I was a bit specific wasn’t I?

  22. 22
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Well I’m a screaming extrovert, so if you see me, stop me and I’ll likely drag you to the bar, LOL! On any day but Wed. Wed I’m crazy busy with the Historical Writers conference.

    I’ll be hunting down Alyssa and Barb, too!!! I need to drag those girls out.

  23. 23
    Barb Ferrer says:

    Sweetie, what makes you think there will be any dragging involved? Bring it on!  ;)

  24. 24
    Ciara says:

    I am soooooo looking forward to it!!! I’m terribly shy though, and it’s awfully nice to know I won’t be the only introvert there. Ha! Tons of free books??? And I thought I couldn’t get any more excited!

  25. 25
    Mary Stella says:

    I’m another natural extrovert, at least at conferences, and I love meeting new people, so please come up and say hello.  I’ll add a couple of hints to the ones already shared.  Network like crazy in the right way.  Be nice.  Be polite.  Don’t shove past three people to get to an editor or a big name author.  The three people you just knocked into a waiter could be the author’s editor, agent and publicist or the editor’s boss.  Don’t start talking about the novel you want to pitch unless someone directly asks and even then, keep it short and sweet.

    If you see an opportunity to give someone a hand, do so.  People are working their butts off at the conference and will always appreciate a little help.

    Don’t trash a book you’ve just read to anyone, even if you think it’s the absolute worst book ever published.  The person you’re talking to could be that author’s best friend, or could have really liked the book, or be the editor.  Yes, we’re all entitled to our strong opinions, but proclaiming a negative opinion loudly and in public at a conference will come back to haunt you.  I’ve seen it happen and people have long memories. 

    Remember, the objective of networking is to leave a good first impression, not to be remembered for negative reasons.  *G*

  26. 26

    See you there!

    I might fangirl ya’ll.  Just sayin’.

  27. 27
    stopmoshun says:

    A bunch of us librarians from the south bay are heading up. I have never been before and am totally excited!

    And professional casual, does that mean I am allowed to wear skulls on my dress? ;-)

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