Another RWA national conference is in the bag and it’s time for the “lessons learned” portion. There are lots of notes being traded, stories being told, and ideas being exchanged. Some experiences were good, some unfortunately were bad, but all are useful and help newer writers decide whether they might want to brave the world’s biggest confab of romance writers the next time around.
I’ve attended three of the last four RWA conferences (because I refuse to add Disney World to the existing madness of a 2000+ attendee conference), but I’ve done it a little differently each time. And this year I finally felt like I was hitting my stride. Here’s how I did it:
- I am known for my inability to sit still and be talked at for long periods. I’m also known (at least to myself) as having a four-hour cap on my ability to people. Most of you reading this understand what I’m saying. It’s a lot of talking, and smiling, and trying not to overanalyze what you just said and how everyone around you reacted to it. Because of all this, I decided not to register for RWA this year (since it was down the road from my house) and “Bar-Con” instead.
- However, I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to learn some new things, so when the Kiss of Death romantic suspense chapter announced their annual pre-con day-long workshop, I jumped on it. This year the Denver ATF presented for six hours on what they do and how they do it, and it was fantastic! If you’re going to Bar-Con, look for opportunities like the Kiss of Death pre-con workshop. There are almost always a variety of mini-workshops directly before the conference that use a separate registration. They’re a great way to get the “learning” without committing to several days worth of workshops.
- I attended an awards reception. Granted, I was up for the award (and won it, thank you very much! 😉 ) but even if you aren’t, go to a reception for a friend who’s a finalist, or for one that your local RWA chapter hosts. It’s a good way to be involved with one of the industry’s other functions–applauding excellence–and whether it’s your’s or someone else’s, it’s important to contribute to it.
- I scheduled one professional meeting and several social meetings. The social meetups were with a variety of people, and while they didn’t always turn out exactly as planned (twice I didn’t actually get a chance to talk to the person I’d come to meet with 🙁 ) they were well worth the time and ended up refilling my well in ways nothing else could. I talked to old friends, met new friends, signed things for readers who were local, met up with newer writers who were also readers, handed out audiobooks just for fun, and talked about business, people’s families, future projects, etc. I came away with gratitude for the friends I’ve made in five years, awe at the level of talent of my fellow writers (I had FIVE friends who were RITA finalists, y’all), joy for the successes they’ve experienced both professionally and personally, and amazement that there were enough people who actually specifically wanted to see me that I filled four whole days with meetups.
- When you Bar-Con you don’t get to attend the RITAs. I live streamed instead and really enjoyed it. However, if you’re super into getting dressed up and love to be live at things like that, you’ll need to consider what you’d miss if you go the Bar-Con route.
- I am in no way advocating that everyone stop paying registration fees and hang out in the lobby at RWA conferences. The organization needs the registrations, and depending on where you are in your career, there are dozens of useful and unique workshops that you won’t find anywhere other than the national conference. However, I learned something valuable about myself by taking a step back this year and sticking to the Bar-Con. For an introvert (like me), the combination of attending workshops all day and then trying to socialize on top of it is overwhelming. I did more “networking” and positive socializing this year than I ever have at past conferences, I also enjoyed this conference more than any previous RWA. I know that was because without the workshops I had the energy left to people.
- I now feel liberated to register for next year’s conference, and skip the majority of workshops. I’ve realized that what we sign up for at RWA is much bigger and more significant than workshops alone. It’s about the experience in its entirety and you aren’t wasting your money if you go and spend the vast majority of your time doing things other than sitting in panel sessions. So if you’re unsure about whether to attend a future RWA, or if you simply can’t afford the travel plus the registration, consider the Bar-Con, but do it with purpose, plan a variety of experiences, make those connections a priority, and release yourself from the idea that RWA is mainly about the workshops. Then commit to registering for the subsequent conferences because it’s how we give back to the organization that brings so much and so many together in such a unique way.