Today's post is from guest blogger Stephanie Scott. Stephanie is a Young Adult writer whose debut ALTERATIONS is set for 2016 release by Bloomsbury Spark. She’s an active member of Romance Writers of America and its online YA chapter YARWA, and a current writing mentor in online pitch contests. She enjoys dance fitness and cat memes, and Pinterest is driving her broke. Born and raised in Kalamazoo where there are no zoos, she’s a Midwest girl at heart. She now lives outside of Chicago with her tech-of-all-trades husband. You can find her chatting about TV and all things books on twitter and Instagram at @StephScottYA.
Hi everyone! I'm a regular reader of the YAB blog, and guest posting today about my conference experience at Romance Writers of America in New York this past summer. I hope to shed some light on the world of RWA for all who are curious!
1) It's all about the romance, and also ... not all about the romance.
When I first attended a regional RWA conference in Chicago, I was convinced I did not write romance. I wrote YA, and in my mind, that didn't fit what I knew about the romance industry. Thing is, my book had a romantic relationship as one of the primary plot drivers. Light bulbs exploded for me when conference workshops explained specifics for concepts I didn't have names for. There is plenty of applicable content for genre writers: women's fiction, mystery, paranormal, sci-fi, and age categories like YA, which all have cross-overs into romance.
2) Romance crash course:
References to bodice rippers, Fabio, and 50 Shades may net you eye rolls. Those are the cliches, the low-hanging fruit. The best way to gain traction on the current romance industry is to pick up a few books by the featured keynote speakers ahead of the conference. I did that when Kristan Higgins hosted in 2013 and now she's one of my favorite authors.
3) Go in with a plan.
What do you want from the conference? Plan to attend sessions that will help you toward your goal. Go to the First Timer's Orientation. National RWA has hundreds of attendees, set in a large hotel with 8-10 workshop sessions running concurrently every hour. Not everything will be of use to you, so focus on what will.
4) Don't skip the craft workshops.
Author panels can be fun, and agent Q&As useful, but often the same questions get recycled in those sessions. Same with social media sessions. Everyone wants to know which social media will sell your books. I'll save you time: none of them. Use social media to be SOCIAL. You can glean lots of social media savvy online (go figure!), so save your precious conference hours for in-depth sessions on writer's voice, story boarding, character development, and other specifics. You have a wealth of experience waiting to teach you. In person.
5) Leave downtime in your schedule.
Sometimes your brain gets fried. Meet your new pal in the bar or hotel cafe. If you get overwhelmed easily, try to book a room close to the elevators or on a lower floor so you can more frequently visit the room for breaks.
6) Speaking of the bar ...
It's true, the best conversations happen in the hotel bar. This past year, I knew more people, and I knew people who knew people. I chatted about TV and tacos with big name agents I never dreamed I'd be casually hanging out with. I listened a lot. I let people introduce me and introduced my friends too. When RWA is in New York every fourth year (the location rotates cities), agents and editors will stop by the hotel bar who aren't attending the conference.
7) Romance conferences throw books at you.
Okay, not actual tossing, but imagine tables stacked with books, all free. Publisher feature signings throughout the conference offer their own authors' books free, while the mega literacy signing is a sale with proceeds benefiting charity. Your registration tote bag alone is filled with books. You cannot leave this conference without books.
8) Speaking of free books, packing savvy pays off.
A couple strategies: pack an extra, empty bag to bring back your book haul. Or, bring a flat rate USPS or Fed Ex box with you to pack up in your room and take to the nearest locale to ship books home. Do your research to see whether a post office is convenient, or Fed Ex location near. Using the hotel services will cost you way more money.
9) Diversity is visible, but we've still got far to go.
The biggest difference I noticed from attending RWA national conference in Atlanta in 2013 versus New York in 2015, is more content in workshops on racial and sexual diversity, more representative workshop presenters, and attendees. The #WeNeedDiverseRomance initiative began prior to the conference with a diverse T-shirt day planned for the con. The other side is, this was all author driven. While some agents and publishers seem to be making progress in creating more diverse catalogs, after the conference, authors noted on blogs about push back and some outright racial discrimination. I'm proud of the authors and industry insiders pushing for change, but we are definitely seeing the growing pains.
10) The conference experience is all what you make it.
If you're standing in line, introduce yourself and make a friend. Some writers are introverts and this is really hard. My advice is to practice introducing yourself and making chit chat in the every day--at the store, at restaurants, with customers or coworkers. Putting yourself out there and making friends will change your conference experience. And bring a rockin' outfit for awards night!
Thanks for having me! If you have any questions on RWA, the young adult chapter YARWA, or conferences, I'm here! This coming May, I'll be presenting on a YA panel at Chicago North's Spring Fling, the conference that started it all for me back in 2012.
Now it's your turn: What conferences have you attended? What tips would you share about your conference experience?