RWA with Cathy Tully
How to Prepare for RWA’S National Conference
by Cathy Tully
Summer 2012---Destination: Anaheim, California
Every year, for the past eight years, I’ve been fortunate enough to attend RWA’S National Conference, where there are approximately five hundred attendees and for a romance writer, believe me, it’s the place to be! Even an eight-time attendee like myself prepares ahead of time for this two and a half day whirl of activities so I think a first timer might benefit from a few tips.
First, get as much rest as possible before you depart because you probably won’t when you arrive, simply because you’re excited, want to meet as many people as possible, and your days are filled with workshops. As far as packing, don’t go overboard. Wednesday is casual and you can wear whatever you travel in—very low key. Thursday, Friday and Saturday are full days with workshops and perhaps editor/agent appointments for those who signed up, so I highly suggest you pack business/professional attire for those days.
Conference hotels tend to be cold--I haven’t figured out why they insist on keeping the air conditioning up so high, perhaps it’s the number of people in the hotel at one time, but take it from me, they’re cold. Make sure you pack accordingly. Shorts, skirts, and dresses are okay, but take a sweater or blazer; you’ll need it. I wear slacks, a shirt, and usually a blazer or sweater during the day, and I save the dress for the Rita Awards. And, more important than anything, pack comfortable shoes since you’ll be on your feet much more than you imagine.
Also, pack your vitamins, and any other necessities you need to insure yourself a good night’s sleep while you’re away. I swear every year I tell myself I’m going to bring my pillow from home, but, once I’m packed, I can never figure out how the heck to get it in my luggage! I’m determined to find a travel pillow for next year. I also pack earplugs—sounds crazy? Well, this year I had three roommates, and although they were very considerate, when I need to roll over and call it a night, I can do just that. Our room was also located close to the elevators, need I say more? : )
This year, one of my roommates, Melinda Leigh had a fabulous lightweight travel blanket she brought. I was so envious because I can’t sleep with those heavy hotel comforters, so I used the sheet, which of course, wasn’t enough. A travel blanket, which I’ve already ordered, will be coming with me to any future conferences I attend. :) Also, pack some power bars, granola bars, or whatever you like to snack on. There is usually a convenience store inside the hotel, but the prices are high. The snacks you bring will help you get from one meal to the next without that bothersome gurgling stomach!
Here’s a taste of what conference is like: on Wednesday morning there is the Librarians Day Event, the Chapter Leadership Seminar, the Librarians Luncheon, The Librarian & Bookseller Networking Event and the “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing Event. Although I don’t attend the Librarian’s Luncheon, this year those lucky ladies got to hear Kerrelyn Sparks, who is the award-winning, best-selling author of the humorous paranormal Love at Stakes series, speak at the luncheon.
The “Readers For Life” Literacy Signing is an event where authors sit in a large room, typically the hotel’s banquet room, and they sell, and autograph books to the public as, well as, members of RWA that are attending the conference. There is always a huge turn out for this signing, and each year I’m impressed with how much this group donates to “Readers for Life.” This year, however, I was floored when I heard that, to date, RWA members raised close to $800,000 toward this worthy cause. I couldn’t be more proud to be part of this wonderful fundraiser and this great group of generous women.
Conference is from Thursday through Saturday and those two and a half days are crammed with workshops geared toward five different categories of writing: Craft, Publishing, Research, The Writer’s Life and Career. Depending on where a writer is in his/her career, they look through the list of workshops and choose where they feel they would get the most bang for their buck, so to speak. There are workshops that touch on a variety of topics from Major League Sports Writing to Vampires & Dragons, to writing Romance 101, to writing Real Life Hostage Negotiation scenes. I must admit, for a first timer, it can be overwhelming and exhausting, but as you go to conference year after year, you do learn to pace yourself.
There are usually two Keynote luncheons for all conference attendees. Thursday’s Keynote speaker was Stephanie Laurens. Author of the Bastion Club series and the Cynster cousins series, Stephanie has been writing historical romance novels for more than twenty years and is a New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-selling author. Her speech was motivational and informative.
Friday’s Luncheon Keynote speaker was Robyn Carr. Robyn is the author of more than twenty books, a number one New York Times bestseller, who inspired us with her tale of perseverance and what it takes for a writer to hang in there. She was funny, moving and very inspirational.
Saturday evening Victoria Alexander was the Golden Heart/Rita Awards Ceremony Emcee. Victoria has written over twenty-four full-length novels and six novellas. Sixteen of her books are bestsellers, hitting the New York Times, USA Today and Publishers Weekly lists. She is also a two time Rita nominee. Victoria was funny, charming and did a fabulous job emceeing the Ritas.
The great thing about this specific conference is that there are workshops for every writer at every level of his/her career. During the conference, there are also Spotlights given by various publishing houses that help writers understand what that house is looking for, and to whom they can submit a proposal and synopsis. This year Spotlights were given by: Grand Central Publishing, Carina Press, Avon, Ballantine Bantam Dell, Harlequin Series, Belle Books, St. Martin’s Press, Ellora’s Cave, Harlequin Single Title, Berkley/NAL, Pocket, Tor, Sourcebooks, Samhain, Kensington, and Montlake Publishing.
Saturday afternoon is the day for editor/agent appointments. Attendees can sign up for appointments with editors or agents when they register for conference. This is the time to pitch that book idea and, hopefully, leave the meeting with a request to send either a full manuscript or the first three chapters and a synopsis. For a first time attendee, these pitch sessions can be nerve racking. However, there is a great workshop right before the pitch sessions begin, that helps walk a first time conference attendee through the process. There is also a workshop the day before that focuses on just pitches, so a writer can hone their pitch before they go into their appointment, feeling confident and ready.
The first year I attended conference, I sat in on many workshops, copiously taking notes and learning the craft of writing. As a writer progresses in their career, their needs change. Since I’m at the point in my career where I am submitting manuscripts to different publishers, the publisher Spotlights were extremely helpful to me.
Some noteworthy workshops were: Emotion: the Heart of the Novel. This was a Craft session given by Brenda Novak, and let me tell you, that woman is a New York Times Bestseller for a reason. She read various excerpts before and after she revised them to show more emotion and I left that session wanting to dive back into my current work in progress ready to revise.
Michael Hauge had a two-hour session on Using Inner Conflict to Create Powerful Love Stories, and although I didn’t attend, I know it was wonderful because not only was it packed with attendees, but I was lucky enough to hear him speak a few years ago and left his session feeling empowered.
To give you an idea of how diversified the sessions are, here are some examples of workshops that were given: The Legal Aspects of Self-Publishing, Building Reader Loyalty, How to Write and Sell Humor, Beyond Audio: Reach Your Blind Readers in the Digital Age, How to Get The Most Out of Goodreads, Selling a Series You’re Passionate About, Writing the YA Trilogy, How Cops Cope, Know Your Rights: Opportunities for Your Books Beyond Publishing, Deconstructing Book Videos: What They Are and How They Are Made, Rejection Bootcamp: Coping with the Word No and Learning When It Just Isn’t About You, The Mystique and Technique of Effective Critique, Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Writing Sex Scenes but Were Afraid To Ask, E-Publishing Plus New York Print: Strategies for Getting the Best of Both Worlds, and the list goes on and on.
As always, I departed conference inspired, energized, and excited; ready to finish my work in progress and dive right into the next. I can’t say enough about RWA and the wonderful women I’ve met through the years and continue to grow my network with. They are some of the most supportive, warm, generous women I have had the honor to call my friends and colleagues.
I leave you with this one thought, If you are a romance writer, and you want to hone your craft, publish and establish yourself, RWA National is the conference you should truly consider attending.
Left to right, Melinda Leigh, Rayna Vause, KM Fawcett, Cathy Tully
Caridad Pineiro, (right) NYT & USA Bestselling author, with her editor from Grand Central Publishing, Selina LeMore on the left
Lori Wilde, NYTimes Bestselling author, at the Grand Central Publishing book signing.
Melinda Leigh and Leanne Banks at the RWA Literacy Signing
Left to right, Debut authors, Abigail Sharpe & KM Fawcett, Grand Central Book Signing.
Hotel Lobby---RWA Logo was reflected on the marble floor at the entrance of the hotel.....it was very cool : )