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.