The Conference Virgin

Conference LanyardSome “firsts” are experienced between two people or witnessed by only a few – attending your first writing conference is not one of them! Every year thousands of romance writers converge on a new city and spend days mingling, networking, going to workshops and putting faces with online names.

Just the thought of signing up for a conference can be enough to send an introvert into terror-mode! Maybe you’ve been convinced by a writing buddy that it’s the next step to take in your career, maybe you’ve simply decided a few days away with people that truly “get” what you do in the wee hours of the night would be fun.

My first conference was a little bit of both…I really wanted to go and meet the women I knew only by their emails, but if I didn’t get the extra push from a friend who offered to be my roommate, I never would have taken the leap and signed up. And I’m glad I did. My first conference was the RWA National in Dallas. I had my first razzarita in a bar with an agent, I pitched my first book to an agent and an editor, and I attended my first standing room only workshop with the wonderful Nora Roberts. I definitely came home on a high.

So what can YOU expect from your first conference? Hoards of writers just like you! Late nights in the bar and lots of laughs. Expect to spend money on food, because not all your meals are included and you’ll want to go out with your new friends! You’ll be overwhelmed both by the crowds and the positive energy pulsing everywhere you go. Expect to take lots of notes in all the wonderful workshops you’ll be attending. EXPECT to come home pumped to write and take your manuscripts to the next level.

Lastly, here’s a few tips on what to bring and what to leave home:

The conference rooms where the workshops are held are usually freezing – definitely pack a sweater. Business casual is the standard dress code, except for awards night when you’ll want to dress up. Bring your comfortable shoes – you’ll be walking a lot! (I know, you’ve got to bring all those great heels in the closet…so if you’re a high heel kinda girl, go for it.)

Most conferences give you a tote bag at check-in, my advice is to keep it light and leave the huge, everyday pocketbook at home. At my first conference I got a lanyard with a large inner pocket and it has gone with me to every conference since. During the day I put some money, my room key, my business cards and my phone in there and that’s it…don’t weigh yourself down.

Business cards are nice to have, but you’ll mostly be handing these out to your new writing friends – agents and editors won’t be looking for your card, if they’re interested in hearing from you, they’ll give you theirs.

Leave your manuscript at home! No passing it over the table or under the bathroom stall. πŸ˜‰ Again, if an agent or editor requests to see it, they want to you to send it to them.

Have I mentioned the books? OMG…at RWA National you will get more books than could possibly fit in the luggage you arrived with. Most people find a box during the conference, box them up and ship them home (don’t worry about figuring this out – you’ll no doubt see the masses lined up with the hotel staff doing exactly this!)

Bring your smile! Romance writers are awesome, generous women and everyone remembers being a conference virgin.

Do you remember your first time at a writing conference or is your first time looming in the near future?

 

About Debora Dennis

A believer in second chances and that time should never be an obstacle to finding love, Debora writes time travels with modern snark and spice! When she's not writing, she's spending time with her family, reading, or trying to figure out a way to get chocolate into every dish she serves.
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25 Responses to The Conference Virgin

  1. Great tips. I’ll be attending the ACFW conference in September. I’ve never been to the RWA conference but I’d like to one of these days.

  2. Nina Croft says:

    Thanks for the advice, Debora – I’m a conference virgin but dream of one day meeting all the wonderful people I know online!

    • Nina, I think that’s the most fun! The best part is meeting people you email with all the time and realize they have an accent…that always blows me away. πŸ™‚

  3. vicki batman says:

    My first Dallas conference was so scary for me. I knew few people, but made many new friends! Learned bunches and continue to learn. Pitched occasionally. It’s an eye-opening experience and well worth it!

  4. Bethanne says:

    I long to go to a conference. *sigh* Someday… πŸ˜€

  5. I remember my first– I had THE BEST time, mostly because everybody knew it was my first and went way out of their way to make it awesome for me.
    So much fun and so much energy to be had.

  6. My first RWA National was in Denver; I think that was 2002. On the first night, I was going to dinner with a friend when we just happened to run into her agent and asked her to join us. We had a great time and lots of laughs. I signed with that agent a few months later and we’re still together ten years later. You just never know what amazing opportunities are waiting for you at a conference!

  7. Sutton Fox says:

    My first conference was RT in Nashville. It was so energizing to finally spend time with people who ‘got’ what I wanted to do.

    Excellent advice, Deb. Conferences can be so much fun if you’re prepared. πŸ™‚

  8. Sally says:

    I’m with Bethanne in the wishin’ and dreamin’ category. I’ve got my heart set on WisRWA next year (close to home). I’m already banking vacay time, so I sure hope I can make it happen! πŸ™‚

  9. Donna Coe-Velleman says:

    My first was NJRW’s Put Your Heart in a Book Conference and you, Debbie, were a part of it. Thanks!

  10. Clarissa Yip says:

    Oh how I love conferences! My first conference was actually in New York, small yet intimate but lots of fun! I definitely made lots of friends.

  11. Makes me want to go to a conference. Sounds like you had a great time!

  12. My first conference was the 2008 RWA National in San Fransisco. What a great experience. I met some great writers and attended tons of workshops. And the books….sweet Lord, there are books.

    Two things I learned: Take time just to take a nap because you WILL need it and be kind to those who are sensitive and do not wear perfume.

  13. Ella Quinn says:

    I joined RWA too late to attend the last conference in NYC, so I made a point to go to the NJ Put Your Heart in a Book conference. After years of attending lawyer conferences, it was amazing to see so many people working together. I fell in love with the atmosphere and the pure pleasure of being with other writers. The next conference was Spring Fling, another regional conference, so by the time I got to Nationals for the first time last year I had a fairly good idea what to expect.

    • Ella, this is one thing constant I find at every romance conference I attend – everyone is giving and generous, so much different than some of the “corporate” conferences I’ve attended in another life. πŸ˜‰

  14. I haven’t been able to make the big RWA conf yet. My local RWA group had a mini-conference that I was able to attend. Even though I knew the lovely women from my group…still had a fabulous time at the workshops and luncheon. I couldn’t eat much due to nerves though. We had our pitch sessions afterwards with an editor and agent. Ha. Great post, Deb!!

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