It’s that time of year again. A week from today I’ll be heading down to Atlanta for the 2013 Romance Writers of America Convention. I’ve been to lots of these. I’ve lost track of exactly how many. (See Tip #7) But as I count back, I know for sure I’ve attended at least ten. I’ve learned a few things, mainly by doing them and then later realizing I shouldn’t have. So here are my top tips for making your RWA National Convention more fun.
1. It’s “National” not “Nationals.” It’s not a horse show or an athletic event. Well, it is, but not like that. This is more a pet peeve than a tip, I know.
It’s singular, not plural. One convention, not a series of them. And no, this won’t make your conference any more fun. It’ll just make mine more fun if I don’t have to hear “nationals” while I’m there. We’re writers. We should use words correctly.
2. Handing your synopsis to an editor at a con is like saying, “Please recycle this for me.”
Editors are flying to these events. Take a moment to think about flying. Extra bag fees, checked bag fees, limited space in the suitcase. No one wants to lug your book proposal home with them and no one has time to read it while at the conference. In this age of instant communications, you can email your proposal to the editor in a nano second. (Bonus tip: Wait until after the conference to do so. A week from the first Monday after con, email it first thing in the morning.)
3. Breath mints are more important to carry than business cards.
A lot of the time, you have to stand very close to people to talk to them at RWA. Big crowds, long lines, lots of background noise. Brush. Floss. Mouthwash. And keep mints in your pockets.
4. Never leave a wallflower unpicked. Snap her up and carry her around for a while.
When you see someone with doe-in-headlight eyes, standing all by herself and looking overwhelmed, don’t just keep on walking. Go over and say hello. Introduce her to your friends. Invite her to sit at your table. This isn’t going to do a thing for your career. It’s super good for your soul, though.
When people say hello at RWA, it’s really easy to fall into the habit of letting your gaze dip to that name tag even as you utter your first sentence. That can give the impression that you’re checking to see if they’re important enough to talk to. Even if you’re not. So try not to do that. And introduce yourself right off the bat, so they don’t have to do it either.
6. Whoever you are with at the moment is the most important person in the room.
Another bad habit we develop at RWA is that, while talking to one person, our gaze is constantly hopping around the room. It’s normal. We want a celebrity sighting. We want to spot that editor we’ve been meaning to chat up. We want to see what Nora is wearing. But this tip is really valuable. It’s one you can apply to the rest of life, too. When you treat people as if they are important to you, they’ll remember that. If you spend your time looking for someone more interesting (and that’s how they’ll read it) you leave them feeling demeaned. That feeling gets translated, in that person’s future conversations as, “Yeah, I met her once at RWA. What a snobby bitch.”
7. Don’t drink too much. (Shut up, bar-pals from Atlanta 06! I learned from what I remember of that night.)
Yeah, the last Atlanta con was a rough one for me, as I was moving out of my house and marriage as soon as I got home. I’ve given up alcohol completely since then, but you don’t have to go that far. What I learned is that RWA isn’t the time or place for heavy drinking. Get your drinks weak, sip them slow, make them last. Water and food in between.
8. More valuable info is shared at the hotel bar than in the workshops.
Yes, despite my warning about booze, the hotel bar is the place to be. People remove their badges and relax. I spent an hour chatting with a beautiful young woman one year, and didn’t even realize she was an editor, soon to be MY editor, until much later.
Yeah, I screwed up big time on this one. Met a group in the lobby to go to dinner, and wore my most fabulous kick-ass shoes ever, only to learn we were walking to a “nearby” restaurant. It was several blocks. I had to get a cab back and my feet killed for the rest of the con.
10. Never try “Nair for Facial Hair” for the first time on Day 1 of the con.
Yeah, I did this one too. A little pale peach fuzz on the upper lip. I bought the new and improved, extra gentle product to remove it, tried it in the hotel bathroom, and then called my BFF, who’s an RN, to help me paste my skin back on. (Only a slight exaggeration.) I had to keep ice on my face for over an hour, and then needed pancake-batter-thick makeup to cover up the bright red welts for the next three days.
11. If the project fits the line, editor appointments almost always result in a request to see more. RELAX.
I’ve seen people so nervous about editor appointments (aka pitch sessions) at RWA that they throw up. And it’s all so unnecessary. Listen, editors are the first to admit, they can’t tell if a story is publishable from a pitch session. So if the project fits the line, and they don’t already have ten just like it, they’re going to ask to see the synopsis and first three chapters. Instead of practicing your pitch over and over and over (making you come off as robotic and leaving you unable to come up with answers to probing questions about the story, such as “So what’s their conflict?” Yes I’ve done this) focus on projecting confidence, professionalism, and an open, friendly, positive attitude. This is going to be far more memorable than your pitch anyway.
12. If you smoke, you smell. RWA is not the place to be stinky.
Yes, I’m a former smoker. I know, we’re the worst anti-smoking zealots. But since quitting, I’ve realized that people who sneak out for a quick one, stink to high heaven when they come back in. I’ve noticed it at many RWA events. And in the grocery store. And in hospitals. On nurses. ICK. People who smoke, frankly, reek and non smokers can smell it a mile away. Breath mints don’t help. The smell is in the hair, it’s in the clothes, it’s on the handbag. It clings like a cloud. Which is fine as long as you’re aware of it and have made a conscious decision to smell unpleasantly throughout the convention. But the sense of smell is a powerful one that triggers all kinds of reactions in all kinds of people. It’s a turn off to many, including my own editor, one of the veterans of the biz. It’s not offensive at all to some. But it’s never a turn-ON. It’s never a positive thing. So it’s up to you if it’s worth it or not. On the other hand, this would make an awesome time to quit.
13. If you wouldn’t announce it over the hotel’s PA system, then don’t say it at all.
Never ever ever say anything negative about anyone else in the biz, especially at an RWA con. I had a group dinner once with an author who spent the entire time trash talking other writers. And I could see the distaste in the eyes of everyone at the table, including the editors. Huge career misstep on her part.
Remember that the most negative things you say are the things that will be remembered and repeated.
14. Don’t be a zebra. Break from your herd now and then.
If we attend RWA with a group of friends, we tend to stick together like glue. My chapter pals and I used to do this too. But seriously, it’s so much more interesting to sit at a table with no one you know, to meet new people, talk to them. Spread your wings a little bit. We can see our chapter pals at home any time at all, right? So spend time interacting with people you can’t see all the time.
15. Conversation 101: Ask questions. And then listen to the answers.
99% of the people at RWA seem to think that every conversation is an opportunity for them to talk about their work in progress. And I know, being on the listening end of this is liable to make your ears bleed before the week is out. But it’s better to be the receiver of this type of assault, than the deliverer of it. You don’t want the person you’re talking to, to duck behind a pillar the next time they see you in the hall, do you? So instead of blabbing about what you’re writing, ask questions. And feel free to ask about something besides books and writing. Get a true conversation going. When giving answers to questions from others who’ve taken this advice, give them in short, digestible bits, then give the other person a chance to talk again.
Now this doesn’t mean you can’t talk about your work at all. Just keep it brief and to the point. “What are you working on?” is not an invitation to present an oral synopsis. More like a log line.
“Soft of eye and light of touch, speak ye little, listen much.” ~The Wiccan Rede
16. When you see someone in deep conversation with an editor, do not cut in.
This is a biggy. I’ve had this happen a lot. I’ll be talking to my editor in a public area, then someone glimpses the color coding on her name tag and interrupts to introduce herself, hand the ed a business card, and pitch her book. It’s just really super rude.
Bonus Tip: If you didn’t get an editor appointment and want a chance to talk to the editor, attend a workshop she’s giving, get there early and sit right in front. Then you might get a shot either right before she begins (careful here, don’t make her late or distract her from reviewing her notes) or after she finishes the workshop.
And that’s my bit on RWA and conferences in general. I hope you’re going. I hope to see you there. And I hope you have a great time.