As I prepare to head off to RWA Nationals (one of the biggest writers conferences out there, and this year held in my native NYC!) I’m posting an article I wrote for the July issue of “Shorelines,” the newsletter of the Long Island RWA chapter, with a few tips I learned at my first RWA Nationals last year in San Antonio. Enjoy!
5 Tips for a Fabulous First Nationals By: Ruth Vincent
Attending RWA Nationals for the first time last year in San Antonio was the best thing I’ve done for my writing career. It’s an unparalleled opportunity to learn, to network, and to simply revel in the community of those who ‘get it.’ It can also be intimidating, overwhelming and exhausting the first time around. Here are 5 things I learned from my first Nationals on how to have a satisfying and successful conference:
1) Talk To EVERYONE
This is true for all conferences, but I found it all the more important at Nationals. The sheer size of the conference, with over two thousand writers and industry professionals, can easily send an introvert like me into retreat. What helped me was to remember that most writers are introverts. But at Nationals, you always have the perfect icebreaker question: “So, what do you write?” I’m so glad I summoned up the courage to talk to people I didn’t know: I ended up meeting an incredible friend and writing mentor, because I struck up a conversation in line the first day at the Literacy Auction.
2) Dress Like You’re About To Meet Your Dream Agent (Because You Just Might)
When they say the dress code at Nationals is “business casual,” they mean it. I’m grateful a veteran writer clued me in on this before my first conference, because though I’d packed a suit for my agent / editor interviews, I’d planned on attending long days of workshops in comfortable jeans and t-shirts. I would have felt massively under-dressed. RWA attendees treat writing like a business and dress accordingly – it’s the attire you’d see in a corporate office. Although I initially balked at panty-hose in the 100 degree Texas heat, in the end, I realized that dressing like I knew I what I was talking about translated to feeling the same way.
3) But Wear Comfortable Shoes!
This one should have been a no-brainer. But I got invited to a swanky industry networking party my first night at Nationals, and I chose ‘cute’ over ‘comfortable’ footwear. Then I nursed bleeding, blistered feet for the next four days. You will walk a LOT at Nationals. I clocked over 10,000 steps on my phone pedometer every day in San Antonio, and I’m sure New York will be no different. If you can’t find comfortable business casual shoes, do the old New Yorker trick – wear sneakers with your suit and bring lightweight heels to change into before you get to your meeting. Trust me, you won’t be the only one.
4) Take breaks
It costs a lot to attend Nationals, between conference fees, hotel, food, etc… and at my first conference, I was determined to get my money’s worth. I filled every workshop slot on my schedule, attended every networking party, and was basically go-go-go from 7am to midnight. By day two, I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and ready to drop. As an introvert, who relates deeply to Elaine Aaron’s concept of “The Highly Sensitive Person,” I realized quickly that for me a successful and sustainable conference meant taking breaks, building in periods of quiet alone time into my busy days in order to digest the mammoth amount of new information I was processing, and resting to gear up for the next round of socializing. The quality of your interactions matters much more than the quantity at a networking event like Nationals. It’s the reason I decided to spend the money on a hotel room this year, even though I live in easy commuting distance to NYC, because I learned that one well-timed nap and breather break makes me much more effective in the conversations that count.
5) Follow up
Every year, I hear a statistic that astounds me: 70% of writers who get asked by an agent or editor to submit their manuscript won’t ever send it. Follow up. Even if you think your manuscript is not good enough, even if you think it’s not ready – because it’s this kind of second guessing that guarantees staying unpublished. But it’s not just agents and editors – follow up with everyone. I collected dozens of business cards at Nationals. (Tip: bring business cards! You can make a decent looking set for $20 on Vistaprint.com) I wrote to all those people. Some wrote me back, most didn’t. But of those that did, a few have become incredibly good friends, others have introduced me to agents and editors, and become writing mentors I can go to for advice. You never know which one of your networking connections will bear fruit – so follow up with them all!
P.S Remember to enjoy Nationals too! Yes RWA is business, but it’s also a blast. From the Steampunk Cowgirl costume party; to the time some (rather handsome) firemen showed up at the hotel for a fire drill and everyone assumed they were Chippendale dancers; to just laughing over margaritas with a bunch of new friends who understand intimately what it’s like to be kept up by your characters at night – I learned last year that romance writers are the most fun, friendly, lively, big-hearted group of people you’ll ever meet! And that’s why I can’t wait for RWA 2015 in NYC!