RWA 2014 Conference Report by Jeanette Grey
Before I tell you too much about my experience at RWA’s National Conference in San Antonio this year, let me tell you a little bit about what writer life is like for me in general.
I stay at home. I hunch in front of my laptop, or curl up with my Kindle, or tear my hair out over a giant stack of notes written on random pieces of paper (or the backs of receipts, or occasionally on napkins). I do all of it alone. I love it. And occasionally, it drives me Completely. Totally. Insane.
So when I say that attending a national convention of romance writers is amazing and incredible and overwhelming? I mean it.
It’s a chance to learn. A chance to get out of the box of isolation that is my office, and the cavern of isolation that is my poor little writer brain. A chance to remind myself that there are thousands of other people all going through the same struggles, triumphs, joys and heartbreaks that I am.
It’s also a chance to have a hell of a lot of fun.
One of the big perks of attending a conference like RWA is that you get to put yourself out there. There are book signings.
Book advertisements placed on elevator wrappers and conference programs.
Pitch appointments. Opportunities to exchange business cards with other writers and industry professionals. An entire room devoted to giving away postcards and bookmarks and swag.
They say a person has to see your name about seven times before they recognize it. A conference like the sure gives you a chance to get a head start on making all of those impressions.
I went to fewer workshops this year than I usually do at conferences, but I still managed to pick up some good information.
Both Laura Kaye and Cindy Ratzlaff had great tips for marketing yourself on social media. Both stressed the importance of using Facebook pages—not profiles—to reach readers, and using them regularly to ensure the maximum number of people see your posts. Laura specified that while Facebook is the best place to interact with large numbers of readers, Twitter is your best bet for meeting superfans who will really spread the word about your book, and you should tailor your message on each platform for the kind of reader you will be reaching.
A panel I went to on indie publishing emphasized the value of writing in series. Multiple speakers testified that they really started to take off once they had at least three related books out, and that a lot of their discoverability came from deeply discounting and advertising the first book in the series.
Finally, I went to a great workshop by Sarah McLean on sewing conflict into your stories. My favorite comment involved how she always gets herself into binds, throwing her characters into difficult situations that will keep them apart until the end of the book. But that’s a problem for “future Sarah”. And future Sarah will figure it out. For now, she just has to keep writing and keep giving her characters things to struggle against.
The internet and social media are great, but there’s something special to meeting people face to face for once.
This year, I got to meet my Samhain editor for the first time, in spite of the fact that we’ve been working together since 2011. I also got to meet a bunch of the team at Forever, which I’ve recently signed with.
There are Twitter friends you finally get to connect with in real life. Authors whose words you’ve been hanging on for years who end up being just as lovely in person as you’d always hoped they’d be.
And then there are the people waiting in line behind you for coffee that you get talking with. The random lady you borrow a piece of paper from in a workshop. The writer you share an elevator with who happens to have amazing shoes.
You never know who you’re going to meet that will end up becoming an important connection in the future. Or just as importantly – someone who just might go on to become a friend.
Letting Your Hair Down
Let’s not beat around the bush. One of the big draws of a major conference like RWA is the nightlife. Publishers throw parties. Distributors throw parties. The RITA and Golden Heart Awards ceremony is an amazing opportunity to celebrate the best of the best in our genre—but it’s also one big excuse to dress up pretty before heading out for a night on the town.
The hotel bar is always hopping at RWA, with people seeing and being seen, catching up with friends and looking to interact with other conference-goers.
Socializing is just one aspect of conference-going, but for me and a lot of other writers, I think it’s one of the most important.
Because again, so much of what we do is solitary.
And we need community. We need other writers to talk to and bounce ideas off of. We need to remember that we’re not walking this crazy path of writing and revising and querying and publishing and promoting alone.
There are so many others out there, just like us.
And going to a big conference is one of the very best ways to get out there and find them.