My neighbors are blowing stuff up in the cul-de-sac while my dog cowers under a chair, so that can only mean one thing: it’s July, and conference time is almost here. As the fireworks settle down and the picnic leftovers run out, romance writers everywhere are preparing (aka getting mani/pedis) to head to the annual national conference hosted by Romance Writers of America.
I’ve attended five RWA national conferences: as a wide-eyed newbie in 2013, a chapter president in 2014 and 2015, and a Golden Heart ® finalist in 2016 and 2017. Now, as I get ready to attend my sixth “Nationals” this year, with my shiny new PAN pin on my badge, I thought it would be a great time to share a few things I’ve picked up along the way.
I know. Articles about how to prepare for conferences abound. They spring up on the internet this time of year like mattress sales (what is it about patriotic holidays and selling mattresses, anyway?). So why should you keep reading this one? Well, remember how agents and editors are always saying they want “the same, but different?” This is kind of like that. I’m going to take five traditional pieces of conference advice, and add a little something different, my own little spin, collected over the five years I’ve attended Nationals.
- Drink Lots of Water: Hotels are H2O vampires, sucking all moisture from the air, your body, hair, and soul. Well, maybe not the last one. But it sure feels like it sometimes. It is important to hydrate often. Carry a water bottle. Refill it at the stations set up in workshop rooms. My spin: if you plan to spend any time at the bar (and I hope you do, it’s one of the best parts of going to cons), pace yourself by having a glass of water between cocktails. I won’t suggest how many drinks to have, you know your own limit (mine is two, yes, it’s sad) so if the conversation and drinks end up flowing late into the night, I maintain an air of fun for myself by drinking water out of a wine glass.
- Carry Business Cards: You’ve followed all the advice and spent way too many hours designing the perfect business card. Now you have 500 of the darn things and can’t wait to unload them. But shoving your card at people isn’t the best way to network. My spin is to ask other people for their business cards. You’re in line for coffee or waiting for a workshop to start. Strike up a conversation with the person next to you. Ask them where they are from, what they write…and then ask if they have a card. Nine times out of ten, they do, and will be freaking delighted someone asked for one! And nine times out ten, they will reciprocate and ask for yours. It’s a win-win. PS: if they don’t ask for yours, you can politely offer them one, but don’t be salty about it or you’ll have lost all that feel-good networking mojo.
- Pack Strategically. Historical romance author Erin Knightley has a fabulous video on packing for conferences. I take it a step further and put my packing cubes inside vacuum-seal bags that suck all the air out. Why? They shrink, so I have more room in my suitcase, obvs. But also, they keep everything dry. I will never forget at my first conference, a NYT bestselling author had nothing to wear because her suitcase had been left on the tarmac in a downpour, and all her clothes got soaked, many ruined.
- Yes, many writers are introverts, and during the conference feel pressured to pretend to be extroverts.
I’m an extrovert at heart, so this isn’t a problem for me. But if talking to strangers gives you hives, don’t be afraid to use the introverts’ tried and true method of talking to strangers: the internet. Engage in social media while at the conference. Use hashtags like #RWA18 and #RITAGH to post about the conference and share fun pics or nuggets of workshop gold. And maybe you will run across fellow introverts tweeting via the same hashtags and can strike up a conversation that way (and perhaps turn that into an in-person convo at the bar?).
- Schedule Downtime. Introvert or extrovert, over the course of the long conference days we all, as one of my RWA roomies put it, “run out of nice.” For some, recharging batteries means escaping to a dark, quiet hotel room for a nap. For me, I like to go outside for a few minutes and get some fresh air and hopefully a bit of sunshine. Whatever gets your nice levels back up to working levels, take some “me time” and don’t feel like you have to do everything, see everyone, be everywhere.
There you have it! If you are headed to Denver, I hope to see you. Look for me at the bar, I’ll have a wine glass in my hand, and there’s a decent chance it will be filled with water.
Award-winning author Melonie Johnson—aka #thewritinglush—is a two-time RWA Golden Heart® finalist who loves dark coffee, cheap wine, and expensive beer. And margaritas. And mimosas. And mules. Basically any cocktail that starts with the letter m. She met her future husband in that most romantic of places—the mall—when they were teenagers working in stores across the hall from each other. Today, they live happily ever after in the magical land midway between Chicago and Milwaukee with two redhead daughters, a dog that’s more like a small horse, and a trio of hermit crabs. After earning her Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude from Loyola University Chicago, Melonie taught high school English and Theatre in the northern Chicago suburbs for several year. Now she writes smart and funny contemporary romance and moonlights as an audiobook narrator under the pseudonym, Evelyn Eibhlin. Watch for her contemporary romance debut, THE SOMETIMES IN LOVE series, coming summer 2019 from St. Martin’s Press. Melonie is represented by Pamela Harty of the Knight Agency. A Star Wars junkie and Shakespeare groupie who quotes both Yoda and the Bard with equal aplomb, you can visit her at at her website and find her on Twitter and Instagram at @MelonieJohnson.