One month has passed since I attended the 2017 RWA Conference in Orlando, FL and I’m still beaming with the afterglow of my experience. For me, writing is mostly a solitary endeavor. I’m quickly discovering that it is important to find community for my sanity. Other writers understand owning an eyebrow raising Google search history and arguing—sometimes out loud—with your characters. But where does one find other writers? One guaranteed outlet is writers’ conferences. I’m new to building a writing career, and when I learned about the RWA conference and that it was being held in my hometown of Orlando, I spent the funds I had been saving for my own personal writing retreat to register for the conference. I have no regrets.
Brimming with excitement and nerves, I picked up my registration packet. Inside was a First Timer ribbon. Let your First Timer Flag fly people! I quickly picked up on the two best ice breakers at the conference, the oh-a-first-timer-how-is-your-conference and are-you-pitching approaches. On day one, I was completely overwhelmed with the pitching conversation. I had just finished my first novel that very week. I had no intention of trying to pitch it to anyone. By the end of the week, I too was asking everyone are you pitching or did you pitch or how is your conference going?
My conference tips:
• Download the conference app on your phone. What a lifesaver. I was able to go through and plan my own schedule. The app provided room locations and a map of the conference facility. I didn’t have to print out the packet of handouts provided on the RWA website, because the app had the handouts attached within your schedule. I was even able to email myself the handout through the app and open it on my laptop to take notes. I thought this was brilliant!
• Dress business casual comfortable. You will either be sitting for long periods of time or hiking across the conference facility to another session. Use layers, some rooms will feel like you’ve stepped into Mordor and others will be like visiting Jon Snow beyond the wall. I coordinated my outfits with light weight cardigan sweaters. Plus you never know who you may meet. I met one of my favorite authors. There are editors, industry experts and agents at the conference, too.
• Even if you don’t plan on pitching or even know what pitching is, have an elevator pitch for your book or work prepared. You will be asked a lot about what you write or what you are working on. And if you haven’t published anything yet that is okay! Everyone I met were at different stages of their careers.
• If you do decide to pitch, the appointments are 10 minutes long and it flies by really fast. All you need is a succinct one to three sentences pitch. You can print this out on a piece of paper to take in with you if it helps you hit all of your points and stay focused. The agent or editor you are meeting with will most likely ask you questions and if interested let you know what to send them and how.
• RWA provides a list of the agents and editors on their website. If you didn’t make an appointment ahead of time there will be some appointments that open up on a first come first serve basis, but information is limited to publishing house (for the editors) and genre wish list. Research ahead of time so that you choose openings that make sense for your career or goals. I felt like the first come first serve process could be improved by adding some technology to the conference app. The cancel/book process was completely manual. Still, the conference volunteers handled it like champs.
• Bring business cards. If you don’t have a business card, get one printed at your local print shop. It does not have to be fancy, just include at least your name and email address. You can add the genre you write and a phone number if you want. You will meet a lot of people and get handed a lot of cards and you just might want to keep in touch with some of your new friends.
• Plan your meals and snacks. On the two full conference days, lunch was provided. Water was available in all of the rooms. While not necessary, you can bring a water bottle to refill or grab one from the SWAG room.
• Be prepared for more free books than you ever dreamed. Free books in the SWAG room, free books from all of the book signings, there are lots of free books people! Enough to fill an entire suitcase. So if you are not local, consider bringing extra luggage to haul your loot home or ship it to yourself.
RWA offers a smorgasbord of workshops and sessions. I felt like a kid in a candy store when I was setting up my personal schedule in the conference app. Try not to be a hero and attend everything and anything. I didn’t even make it to all of my planned sessions. I did spend the money to buy the conference recordings and I have been listening to ones I wasn’t able to attend and I’ve listened to some I did attend and found really valuable. If you feel overwhelmed, take a time out somewhere. The hotel the conference was in had plenty of comfy chairs and seating areas to grab a moment or two to regroup.
I really loved being part of a tribe for the days I was at the conference. In addition to one of my favorite authors, I got to meet some online friends and teachers in person, which was a real highlight for me. Listening to writers speak whose names I see on the shelves of my local bookstore was inspiring. Everyone I met was welcoming, encouraging and friendly. I’m already planning my trip for next year.