How to Prepare for the RWA Annual Conference

There comes a time in every romance writer’s life when they decide it’s time to pull up their big girl (or boy) panties and attend the RWA annual conference. That point came for me last year. My rationale was that if I was going to try to be a professional romance writer, I had to bite the bullet and meet up with the big kids. I had to do what was best for my professional growth: network.

Most writers describe themselves as introverts. The thought of going to a conference with 2,000 of their fellow romance writers can seem overwhelming. It certainly seemed daunting to me. Still, I knew it was time. When registration opened, I decided nothing ventured, nothing gained, nothing to traveling across the country alone to go to a convention where I didn’t know anyone else and wasn’t sure, as an unpublished, unagented author, that I’d be welcomed or even that I’d belong.

On the shuttle to the convention hotel from the airport. I rode over with a group of the nicest ladies. We made small talk, I eavesdropped on their conversation. I even ventured a joke about how we were all writers and knew what we were getting ourselves into. It wasn’t until the end of the ride that I realized these were the editors for Sourcebooks/Casablanca.

That taught me my first lesson about preparing for RWA: keep your ears open. You never know who you’ll run into.

But before we start talking about what happens at the convention, I’ve got a few tips on preparing before you even leave home.

What Do I Bring?

There are so many articles out there with so much advice. All I can tell you is what proved to be essentials last year in Orlando.

  • Business cards. These are the primary currency at the convention: you’ll hand them out, you’ll collect them.

When you collect cards, make a note on the back (if there’s space) about the person you just met. Otherwise, you may end up with a bunch of cards and no memory about the person who handed the card to you.

  • Comfortable clothes. In years past, “business casual” was the expected wear. However, you’re going to be attending workshops most days every day, so dress comfortably. Last year, jeans and t-shirts, skirts, sandals, running shoes, and other casual attire was what I saw most.Most essential: A sweater against the air conditioning and comfortable shoes. You may be racing back and forth from place to place. Be comfy.
  • Dressy clothes. If you’re planning on attending the Golden Heart® and/or RITA® ceremonies, these are recommended. The first is in the afternoon and is cocktail-semiformal; the latter is at night and while it’s not black tie, it’s fancy. Expect ballgowns and glitter for the RITAs®.
  • Pens, pencils, and notepads. You may want to take notes. While many workshops are recorded, others are not. Also, you never know when inspiration might strike. It’s always better to be prepared!
  • Snacks. A lot of people bring a lot of food to keep in their hotel room, especially if they’d rather not eat out for every meal. Bring whatever you might need in that area. Odds are, a protein bar here or a box of wine there will come in handy.
  • A water bottle. There may be giveaway bottles available in the swag room, but don’t count on that. Bring your own, keep it filled, and carry it with you.
  • Chargers. Last year I carried a portable phone charger with me, although I didn’t need to use it. But if you take notes on your phone, you’ll want to be mindful of battery percentage. Phone charger, laptop charger—absolutely essential.
  • Contact information. Make sure you’ve got the contact information for the people you want to meet up with. Don’t rely on running into them at the conference. Sometimes, finding one person in a sea of thousands of faces is an awfully difficult task, but if you can text or call them, you’ll be able to meet up much more easily.
  • Leave room for swag. There will be books. Bookmarks. Pins. Giveaway goodies. All manner of surprises. Be sure to leave room in your suitcase(s) for the things you’ll inevitably want to bring home. Some people even bring an extra suitcase just to pack all the swag.

It’s tempting to load up on everything. The best advice I got was to stop and consider: are you really going to read that book? Do you really need that third water bottle? Help yourself, but take only what you’ll use and what you have room to pack.

  • Your pitch. Even if you didn’t get to sign up for the speed pitching event, there are myriad opportunities to pitch to agents and editors throughout the week. The hotel lobby is a great place for spotting industry professionals, and it’s practically expected that if you see one, you’ll pitch to them. Keep it short, keep it sweet, and keep it professional. Memorize your pitch if you can, keep it handy if you can’t.

We’ll have an article on how to do an in-person pitch later this month right here on All The Kissing.

RWA Annual Conference Pitching

At the RWA Annual Conference

So! You’re in Denver, and you made it through registration. You found your room, kicked off your shoes, unpacked, figured out the wifi. You’re ready to go out on the prowl like the perfect sleek cat you are. But what should you expect? How can you prepare for the emotional impact of being around so many people for so long?

  • Download the RWA app…and use it. It’ll help you keep your schedule, tell you what room you need to be at next, and let you keep your own notes.
  • Plan for backup workshops. Sometimes, workshops fill quickly. If you have a backup in mind for that time slot, you won’t have to waste time trying to pick one in the moment.
  • Give yourself permission to change your mind. If you join a workshop and decide it’s not for you, you can always get up and leave. No one will stop you or ask you why you’re going.
  • Schedule yourself some downtime. It’s really easy to book every minute of your day while at the conference, but we all need time to relax and recharge. Give yourself some time to just breathe.
  • Drink plenty of water. Denver is a high-altitude city and it’s easy to get dehydrated. There should be water available in every workshop room. Keep those bottles topped off.
  • Carry a snack in your bag. Just in case.
  • Be prepared to network. At this convention, it’s just about impossible not to network. You’ll be meeting people all the time: in workshops, in the hallway, at the ceremonies, in the lobby, in the elevator. For writing introverts, this might sound like torture. It’s actually just the natural flow of the conference. No special networking preparation is required, except to have those business cards to hand out.

Look for people wearing RWA badges in the lobby, in restaurants and coffee shops, in the hotel sitting areas. If you’re feeling adventurous, go up and say hello. You will probably be surprised at how friendly and welcoming most people are. More likely than not, you’ll be invited to join in.

  • If this is your first RWA annual conference, wear your first-timer ribbon with pride. People will go out of their way to make sure you’re accommodated and accepted. Go to the first-timer’s orientation session on Wednesday at 5:30pm if you’re interested in learning about the ins and outs of the conference.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Like that rule in school, no question is too silly to ask.

Last but Not Least

Please feel free to join us for the All The Kissing meetup on Friday night from 8-10 p.m. at 16Mix inside the Sheraton.

See you in Denver!

G. L. Jackson
G.L. Jackson lives in the Seattle area with her family and pets. Although born in New York City and raised in New England, she prefers the west coast.

She's been writing since childhood. While some things never change, she hopes the quality of those stories has increased at least a little over time. These days her focus is primarily on contemporary rock & roll romance featuring strong, sassy heroines who know what they want and aren't afraid to reach for it. She does her best to bust at least a few tropes per book. Banter is her guilty pleasure.
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  • Avatar
    Victoria Sue kellett

    Such good advice, thank you so much 🙂

    July 3, 2018 at 9:17 am Reply
    • Gwynne Jackson
      Gwynne Jackson

      Delighted that it’s helpful! Thanks, Victoria!

      July 8, 2018 at 5:09 pm Reply
  • Avatar
    Jacie Floyd

    Very complete guide! Here are a few of my own observations.
    Take your laptop. I like to slip away to the room to right from time to time.
    It’s probably too late for this one, but I always try to get to the conference hotel a day or two early. Helps me get my bearings (directionally challenged), and I get to scout out local venues for quick meal getaways and convenience stores to stock up on snacks and drinks.
    Take storage clips (or large rubber bands) to keep opened bags of snacks securely closed.
    If you are a fashionista rooming with a fashionista, take extra hangers. You’d be surprised how skimpy hotels can be about those.
    An addendum to the “You never know who you’ll run into” tip is to always be patient and kind. There will be long lines and crowded spaces. We all get tired and cranky but save the snarky comments until you’re back in your room. Everyone is doing their best and you don’t want to make a mortal enemy of the very agent, editor, author you’ve longed to meet just because of one ill-advised remark.
    Talk to anyone, talk to everyone. This is your tribe. These are your people. Connect with them. And make the most of the opportunities that are presented to you.

    July 3, 2018 at 1:47 pm Reply
    • Gwynne Jackson
      Gwynne Jackson

      Great advice, Jacie! I never would have thought of the hanger thing, but it’s true!

      July 8, 2018 at 5:10 pm Reply
    • Avatar
      Kimberly Livingston

      Love that last sentence! Deep breath. “You belong here!”

      July 15, 2018 at 7:48 am Reply
    • Avatar
      Kimberly Livingston

      Love that last sentence. Deep breath. “You belong here!”

      July 15, 2018 at 7:51 am Reply
  • Avatar
    Marie malo

    Great advice. 🙂

    July 4, 2018 at 1:44 pm Reply
    • Gwynne Jackson
      Gwynne Jackson

      Thanks, Marie! 🙂

      July 8, 2018 at 5:12 pm Reply
  • Avatar
    Marty Mayberry

    Great advice, even for a third-timer (me)! Something to consider as far as clothing goes (advice I was given from a multi-pubbed author). Dress comfortably, but also dress for the role you hope to fill someday: a bestselling romance author. There’s nothing wrong with casual, but after receiving this advice my first year, I brought comfortable skirts with dressier tops and light cardigans for my second conference. Since I wear pants in my day job, I was surprised by the boost I got wearing fancier clothing/skirts. For whatever reason, it took the edge off my romance writer impostor syndrome.

    July 7, 2018 at 5:02 am Reply
    • Gwynne Jackson
      Gwynne Jackson

      Oh, I love that advice, Marty. Thanks for passing it along.

      July 8, 2018 at 5:13 pm Reply
  • Avatar
    Elizabeth Chatsworth

    Great tips – thank you for sharing!

    July 8, 2018 at 9:26 pm Reply
    • Gwynne Jackson
      Gwynne Jackson

      See you in Denver!

      July 12, 2018 at 10:19 pm Reply
  • Avatar
    Tricia Lynne

    Thank you everyone who answered what to wear. I was torn between business casual and,comfy.

    July 10, 2018 at 5:28 am Reply
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