Friday, June 25, 2010

Top Ten Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before My First Conference

Next month a couple thousand writers will diverge on Orlando for Romance Writers ofAmerica’s National Conference at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin. When they do, I will be included in their numbers. This 2010 conference will be my third RWA Nationals. Last year we were in Washington DC and the year before we were in my favorite city – San Francisco.

It’s that first conference I want to talk about here, because that very first conference can be daunting. I was fortunate that I am part of a local RWA chapter, so I knew a couple people as well as one of my online critique partners. There were four of us that year who were first time attendees and together we composed a “10 Things To Know Before Attending Conference For the First Time” list.

I am going to share these tips with you, but do keep in mind that this list reflects my personality and needs. Disclaimer – it may not be for everyone.

10. Know someone. A lot of writers are introverted and bit on the shy side. It can be intimidating to walk into a hotel and see the sheer number of people attending the same conference, especially when so many of them seem to know each other. Some people have an easy time meeting people, and if you’re one of those people, then ignore #10. Otherwise, know someone there. Make plans so you feel comfortable.

9. It’s OK to walk out of a session. There are many reasons why this is the case. 1 – Nature calls. 2 – Editor/Agent pitch appointments. 3 – Decided the session was not for you.

8. Sit in the back, close to the door. You never know when you need to leave a session. See #9

7. Stay in the conference hotel. You don’t have to do this, but I’ve stayed in the conference hotel and off property. It’s like two different worlds. In my experience, you get more out of conference if you’re where the action is.

6. Skip the “First Time” Orientation.

5. Go to Spotlights. And other sessions where you get to hear first hand from either agents or editors what they’re looking for. It also gives you a good feel for their personality and if you might “fit” with them.

4. It’s OK to sit in the bar. Even if you’re not drinking. Almost everyone goes through the bar and many important people can often be found there. (Including yours truly.)

3. Dress appropriately. If you’re serious about making writing a career, look the part. I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum, someone way over dressed (and, yes, it is possible to be over dressed) and then those in cutoffs or jeans. You want to make a good impression. And while everyone wants to stand out, having your clothing do so in an overt way, is not how you want to be remembered.

2. Watch what you say in public. Never say anything bad about another author, agent, or publisher. You never know who is listening. It is a small world out there, all things considered, and you don’t want to say something you’ll regret in the future.

1. Don’t feel like you need to fill every minute of your schedule. Or if you are someone who HAS to fill every moment – schedule in some down time as well. Conference can be exhausting and if you don’t take care of yourself, it WILL catch up with you at the least appropriate time.

So are you going to conference this year? Will it be your first? Or, are you a veteran at these sorts of things? What are you most worried/excited about?

And most importantly - for all you conference veterans out there – what’s on your top ten list that I left off ? (No, really tell me – because a couple of these came from later conferences and I can’t find my original list.)


  1. Don't be afraid to say Hi to person sitting next to you in a workshop. You never might be a Best Selling author (I sat next to Angela Knight in a workshop)

  2. Great list, Lydia! I'm a first timer to Nationals so I'll be watching to see what everyone else is doing.

  3. Volunteering is another great way to meet others at conference. Particularly at the events that require a lot of people. Literacy signing preparation is fun (but heavy lifting involved), Setting up for lunch, you'll often get to sit at lunch with the friends you made putting books on the chairs. If you're in early the tote bag stuffing is kind of fun. I know a lot of people get excited about working during the agent/editor appointments but sitting at the front desk checking in people for appointments is kind of a pain. Lots of people hanging around trying to get appointments for agents and editors that they weren't signed up early enough to nab. Sometimes those people get a little - um - impatient.

  4. Beth ~ Great suggestion!

    Clarissa ~ You'll have a great time, and good luck in the GH! Next year you'll have lots of points to add, I'm sure.

    Gretchen ~ Thank you! I've never volunteered, but that does sound like a great opportunity to meet people!

  5. I agree about both talking to strangers and sitting in the bar...two things I am afraid to do. I did it last year at my first conference and now have many 'penpals' whom I hope to meet up with once more this year. Great advice here!

  6. Be prepared to talk about your book(s). At one conference Deb Werksman sat next to me for dinner, and the first thing out of her mouth after she'd introduced herself was, "Tell me what you write."
    I was caught off guard and didn't give my best short pitch. Not a mistake I'll make again.

  7. I wish I could go this year. I would talk to everyone and their ears would fall off.;p

    I plan on going next year though....and this October I want to go to Moonlight and Magnolias in Hotlanta.

    Thanks for your top ten!


  8. I agree with everything Lydia suggest, but for non Americans, think twice before drinking half n half. To this day I have no idea what I put in my coffee but it really didn't taste the way I expected. LOL.

    Have fun at conference everyone!

  9. Petrina ~ Great advice! And you were there when the original list of Ten was created in San Francisco. Can you think of anything I've forgotten?

    Nancy ~ Congrats on the the new penpals! You'll do great again this year, I'm sure.

    Marquita ~ I wish you were going too. We'd have SO much fun! I've done some regional conferences but I've never made it to M&M (which geographically is the closest to me, go figure.) Maybe this year.

    Heather ~ I will miss you so much this year!! And I am giggling about the half-n-half. Too funny.

  10. Super list, Jodie! Of course, as a first timer, I'm not worried since I have all you ladies to cling to ;) I totally agree with the 'dress for success,' by the way. At my first regional conference in Chicago, I couldn't believe some of the things people had on. I wore my best, most business-appropriate outfit, and even the agent at my pitch appointment noticed and complimented me.

    I'm looking forward to meeting new people, gaining some valuable knowledge, and hopefully expanding my industry contacts. And a cocktail (cupcake) or two with my friends... :)

  11. Great advice, Lydia!

    And I would also add two things:

    1) Definitely go to the bar, but watch how much you drink. The wild tales at conference always come from someone getting drunk and doing something outrageous to an editor, agent, fellow author, acquaintance, hotel staff... *G* Trust me, I speak from experience.

    2) Have fun! Don't stress too much over making the right contacts, etc. In the end, it's your book that sells you, so chill!

  12. Great advice. I wish I were going but I wanted to stop and say have fun to all those who are. Next year I am definitely going no matter what lol.

  13. Great list- I'll be one of the newbies in the crowd this year-and I'm so looking forward to it. Not the newbie part, but being with other writers. Where I live I don't get to visit with like minded people IRL much.

    I usually have no trouble chatting with people, **whistles innocently**

    I'll also be doing the literacy event, which means for at least one moment in time I'll have a 'place to be'. The entire event should be very exciting!

  14. Erin ~ I'm sure your first conference will be a success in every way!

    Sabrina ~ Excellent advice. And now you're making me laugh as I remember situations from past conferences. ;)

    Melissa ~ Next year will be great too!

    Viv ~ Thanks for stopping by. It is so wonderful to get the chance to talk to other authors who "get" you. This time next year, you'll be an expert. :)

  15. I wish I was going to the conference, but I'll definitely be there next year.

    I'm giggling about the half-and-half, because I won't drink my coffee with anything else! I'm wondering if you got yucky coffee (which IS possible!) When I was in England I learned quickly not to ask for "cream" in my coffee -- LOL -- definitely one of those language differences. LOL


  16. Yaaaaaaaaaaay, Nationals!!! Can you tell I'm excited???

    I have to amend #9, as there's one more reason you may need to leave a session: If your critique partner makes you laugh and you both get a case of uncontrollable giggles :) Hahahaha!

    One more thing that I think is uber important is to just have FUN! The conference can certainly be overwhelming, like you said, so I try not to put too much pressure on myself. If I decide to skip a workshop in favor of mingling at the bar or chilling at the pool, I'm still getting my money's worth out of the trip and the conference. I'm sure not everyone will agree with that, but that's just how I roll :)

  17. Great list and great comments! After my virgin conference (Moonlight & Magnolias), I got home with lots and lots of business cards ready to stay in touch with those new friends I had made. But guess what? I couldn't remember who was who or where I'd met them. Sheesh. How can you email a message to someone beginning with...uh, it was nice to meet you, but who were you, exactly? Not the best impression.

    I was prepared for my next one. I asked for business cards, then wrote on the backs of them details I would remember. If they don't have a business card, write the information on the back of own your own with a great big arrow on the front to remind you to look on the back.

    I hope you guys have fun in Orlando. I'm not gonna make it this year, but I'm determined to go next year.

    Diane Bradford

  18. Donna ~ Hope to see you next year!

    Jerrica ~ We said we'd never speak of that incident at NJRW. ;)

    Diane ~ What a great tip! Thanks so much for sharing it.

  19. Great list, Lydia. Here are my additions:

    Tip 1: I imagine most people already have their travel arrangements made, but what I learned from last year is to add an extra day before the conference begins. I was so tired from traveling, because I can never sleep the night before I fly. I really needed a day to catch my breath before jumping in to everything. I missed breakfast the next day because I slept through the alarm.

    Tip 2: Attend the workshops run by agents and editors. I stopped fearing the synopsis thanks to Jessica Faust. It was great to hear from an agent what to include in a synopsis. I had wonderful notes when I left. Plus, it's nice to put a face a name.

    Tip 3: Attend the PRO retreat if you have your PRO status. It was one of the most helpful things I attended last year.

    I'm most excited about not having to pitch this year. (I'd probably be horrible at speed dating too.) You know, they should have happy hour before pitches start. :)

  20. Samantha ~ Thanks for the post. I didn't even think about the extra travel day, since I've always done that naturally. And ditto the PRO Retreat. Each one I've attended has been wonderful!

  21. My #1 tip: Go with Goals! I get so much more out of conference when I have a written list of goals - e.g. to listen to a specific editor, to get 5 requests for a manuscript, to come home with three ways to manage my time better, to understand an aspect of the market... These goals focus my activity and help me get value out of multiple aspects of the conference.

  22. Abby ~ Excellent advice! Thank you so much for sharing. :)

  23. Sadly,
    I'm not going to conference this year. But, I don't have too many regrets because my July calendar is filled! My baby girl is turning 21 and taking her ARRT registry so, we're celebrating and my oldest and her husband are coming in from Germany to surprise the baby girl. And, we're going to spend time at the beach with friends and family. Life's good. BUT...I would dearly love to go to conference next year and will have to keep your tips in mind because I've never attended a conference and I'm petrified!