Monday, March 16, 2015

RWA Nationals for a Newbie!

I'm so excited to be lucky enough to go to the RWA National Conference two years in a row!! YIPPEEE!!!!! Last year was my first time, after dreaming of going for years. It can be pretty intimidating for a first timer, especially if you don't do any research beforehand. But luckily I did and after experiencing it all, I want to share with other first timers to help make it easier for them!

Tip #1: Make friends before you go!

Last year, maybe a week or two before I left for San Antonio, I came across a Google video chat for conference attendees, geared toward first timers. It was the coolest thing. I got to meet some wonderful ladies and learned some great things from them. But as great as their advice was, it wasn't even the best part. I made friends...before I even went. The first night in San Antonio, before the conference officially began, I wasn't real sure what to do with myself. I had no plans. I only really knew my roommate, and she had plans. I was on my own. And then I walked into the lobby of the hotel and there they were- my new friends. They immediately welcomed me into their group. I spent the next few hours with them and it was awesome. All throughout the conference I kept running into "friends" I had met online through Twitter and Facebook, some I had "known" for years. It was great to finally meet them in person. Use social media before you go to find out which of your cyber friends will be there! If none are, check out the RWA forums...make friends.

Tip #2: Make friends while you're there!

I know most of us writers are sort of introverted. And that's okay. But the RWA National Conference is a great opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and connect with other writers just like you. Here's two awesome things that happened to me. I was sitting at my very first workshop on that Thursday morning. A woman sat next to me and we started chatting. She's awesome and now we are friends. One of the nights, I had no plans, so I decided to head down to the bar and lobby to see if there was anything fun going on. I sat down and within minutes, I started chatting with some women. A whole bunch of members from the Houston chapter. I made a bunch of new friends! It is SOOO easy to make new friends at the conference. There is so much that is a conversation starter. Many people saw my name badge (pictured above) and noticed I was a first timer. They asked me how I liked it, etc.. While in line for Starbucks one day, I started chatting up a woman who was nominated for a Golden Heart award (it was also on her badge). Another friend made. VERY IMPORTANT- always have business cards on you to hand to new friends. That way they will know your name and can look you up later on when they go home and the madness has ended. The RWA badges have a fabulous little pocket in the back perfect for holding business cards :)

Tip #3: Nametags are AWESOME!

I didn't know how I'd feel about wearing a name badge for 3 solid days, but wow, it was really convenient! Soooooo many times I ran into people I knew looked familiar. Day in and day out, when at home, I see tiny photos on social media of all my writer friends. When you actually see people in the flesh, it's hard to match them with their tiny photo! But all I had to do was glance down and BAM! There was their name! It made everything soooo much easier. And I didn't feel stupid for not knowing their name.

Tip #4: Pack smart!

Most conference attendees share a room with at least one other person. This year I am sharing with 3 (EEK! This will be interesting! LOL!) So space can sometimes be an issue. My advice is to purchase a hanging toiletry bag. Everything I needed fit inside and I could grab it and take it with me to the bathroom area, use what I needed, throw it back in, then fold it up and move it out of the way. Bring only the shoes you will actually wear. I think I brought like 7 pairs last year and only wore like 4. Other people will tell you not to bring heels, but I totally did. I rarely get to wear them and they looked fabulous with my pencil skirts. During the day, you mostly sit in workshops and only walk when you go from one to the next. So totally bring them and wear them. Hangers!! One of the best things I stuck in my suitcase was hangers! The hotel only gives you so many, so if you're sharing a room with 1, 2 or 3 others, guess what? The hangers go to whoever's there first. (Edited to add- I was told after this posted- you can request more hangers from Housekeeping! Good to know!!) One other thing that was a god-send- a portable cell phone charger! I used my phone a lot during the day, for the RWA app (since it had my daily schedule on it) and the internet and texting home to check in with the hubby and kiddos, locating my friends at the conference, etc...  And as we all know, smartphone batteries drain fast. I spent less than $15 on a portable battery charger and kept it in my tote. It was awesome.

Tip #5: Dress the part!

I saw a wide range of apparel at RWA Nationals last year. I am in no way judging anyone on what they choose to wear. I am a big advocate of wearing what makes you most comfortable...within reason. Pajama pants and a sweatshirt are a no no! LOL (I must clarify that I never saw anyone dressed like that, it was just an example!) But this is a professional organization with professional people. If you plan on pitching to an agent or editor, definitely make sure your apparel is appropriate. There are plenty of options that are comfortable yet still fit into the business casual style. And if you plan on attending the Rita and Golden Heart ceremony, feel free to let your inner glamazon out! Many people go all out for the event and it's really fun. (If you're into fancy hairdos and dresses!) This is a big event for those nominated, and it's just plain fun to get all dressed up. It's the closest I'll ever get to an Oscar ceremony ;)

Tip #6: Snacks!

Before I went last year, I allocated specific amounts of money for each meal. Breakfast was included two of the days, and lunch one day. This year there is breakfast 3 mornings, no lunch. Dinners you're on your own. I planned on eating a nice lunch everyday...and that so did not happen. A few days before I left I grabbed some individually packaged almonds and some fruit bars from Target. They were a LIFESAVER! There just was not time to get food. Unless I wanted to skip a valuable workshop. There was a Starbucks in the lobby that had tons of fabulous little sandwiches and things, but between workshops, the line was soooooo long. I never would have made it in time.

Tip #7: Take advantage of everything offered!

There is SOOOO much to do at the RWA conference. There are workshops on everything imaginable related to the writing and publishing world. There are parties and meet ups and goody rooms to explore. You're doing yourself a huge disservice if you don't participate in everything that's offered to you. And don't under underestimate the power of the hotel bar! This conference is all about education and networking. It's the most inspiring thing I've ever done in my life and it's completely addicting.

Tip #8: Don't try to do too much

RWA Nationals is 3 to 4 solid days of go go go. It's okay to pick and choose how you spend your days. I planned on attending workshops non-stop and pre-selected all the ones I wanted to go to (Thanks to the handy dandy app RWA put together!) But when I got there, the reality was that it just wasn't possible. So I varied the workshops I attended and only attended the ones I needed most (mainly craft and marketing). If you're not sure a specific workshop is for you, but you want to check it out anyway, sit near the back and duck out if you need to.

Tip #9: Books, books, and more books. Did I mention there's free books?

I heard about the book signings beforehand and how awesome they were and how people shipped books home and packed their suitcases with them. When I made my plans, I had no intention of going to any publisher signings. Until the one day I had nothing going on at a particular time and checked one out. Holy was a readers paradise! Tables upon tables of authors, just giving away copies of their books for free. It was so so hard to resist. I tried to limit myself and only came home with 38...but I so could have doubled or tripled that.

Tip #10: Try to do some sight seeing!

Last year's RWA conference was my first time visiting Texas. So of course I needed to take advantage of that! I didn't think I'd have much time during the conference to sight see, (And I was right!) so I booked a flight home that left me a good amount of time on Sunday. And it was so cool! I took a fun boat cruise at the Riverwalk and checked out The Alamo. It was very very fun :)

And last but not least.....

Tip #11: Have fun! RWA Nationals is a fabulous event full of inspiring workshops. But it's also a ton of fun!!!! Last year I didn't even bring my laptop. A lot of people thought I was weird. But I honestly had no desire to write then and there. I know many people who did though. I wanted to soak up the experience. And I'm not gonna a mom of two kids who rarely gets any alone time, I was so taking advantage and got out of my room and enjoyed my time!

So there they 11 tips for RWA National Conference newbies. Maybe even some experienced conference goers will find something of use here :) And PLEASE share your own tips below. Did I miss anything important?? Maybe you can help me for conference #2 in NYC!!!!

(Check the comments for more tips from readers!!!)


  1. Awesome tips! I'll add one more:

    Don't (or try not to) stress too much if you are doing an agent/editor pitch.

    You'll read/hear a lot about "perfecting your pitch" and get enough advice to virtually paralyze you.

    Remember, the agents and editors aren't there doing charity work, they participate because they really want to hear about your work. They are looking for YOU!

    1. AWESOME addition! I didn't pitch last year, so I really couldn't add any tips for that in. So THANK YOU!!

  2. I second bringing heels! I have some really comfy ones, plus I enjoy wearing mid-rise heels regularly. I agree to dress well to look professional.

    Looking forward to NYC! I am also bringing snacks, though I'm super excited to eat some NYC food. I just realistically know I don't want to miss stuff during the day. And I'm hoping to bring some pre-paid flat rate shipping boxes with me--I heard that is a thing so planning to investigate. Last time I fended off books left and right and still shipped some home.

    1. I flew Southwest, so I could check 2 suitcases. I only took books I knew I would read. So I had plenty of room in my suitcases for my books (especially once all my swag was out) and managed not to go over the weight limit! BUT I can totally see how prepaid flat rate boxes would come in handy!

  3. Looking forward to RWA. I'm a first timer, excited to visit NYC. I'm on deadline, so I'm bringing my laptop and will sit out a few workshops to write. (An absolute must.) I'll be packing snacks and extra hangers -- I usually do when I travel to conferences. Thanks for all your great tips, Stephanie. I look forward to meeting you.

  4. Thanks, Stephanie. This is all great advice for us first-timers. I hadn't thought about lunch and will now double my snack plan.

  5. I'm a newbie and have been scouring the internet for advice. Thanks for sharing some tips!

  6. Thank you for this awesome post! I am a first timer, and will fly from Sweden, to attend. Very,very excited.

  7. I'll toss my thanks in with all the other RWA conference newbies'. But I'm not clear on where/when free books turn up. Not on the 22nd Literacy benefit whatsit, right?