Friday, February 11, 2011

Can You Afford to Attend RWA® Nationals? A Sample Budget

Registration is open for RWA’s® 2011 National Conference to be held in New York City, June 28-July 2nd. For romance writers, this is a wonderful opportunity to attend workshops, pitch to editors and agents, and meet their fellow authors. Yet, this year more than ever, all my writer friends seem to be shaking their heads. “Nope. Not going. Too expensive.”

So how much will it really cost to go to RWA Nationals this year?

Ask five people, and you will get five different answers. That’s because there are so many different ways to approach the conference. Will you go with the bare-bones-business-only minimum or do you want to add on extra days and make the most of every single sightseeing opportunity while you’re in New York?

In reality, there is really only one fixed cost, and that’s the conference fee. For members, it’s $525 if you register by May 13th, $575 if you register before June 10th, and $675 if you register on-site. Non-member fees are $75 higher.

Once you’re registered, anything goes. For the sake of this sample budget, I’m going to try to estimate ‘normal’ expenses. I’ll assume that you’re traveling some distance, staying at the conference hotel only for the days of the actual conference, and eating the meals included in the conference fee. This is just my best guess based on information culled from the websites of the RWA and the Marriot Marquis Hotel. Your actual costs will vary depending on your personal choices and circumstances.

Conference fee (early registration-RWA member) $525

Air Fare (round trip from Boise) $500

Airport Shuttle (From La Guardia roundtrip) $50

Hotel (4 nights double occupancy w/tax) $500

Meals not provided by RWA $150

Basic Total $1725


Chapter events (receptions, field trips, etc) $100

Sightseeing (estimate based on tour rates) $200

Estimate of total cost: $2025

So, $2000 is probably a reasonable estimate of the actual cost of going to conference.

Is it possible to go for less? Writers have told me they plan to pack Pop Tarts and protein bars in order to save money. But the big savings will come from travel and hotel expenses. This is the perfect time to cash in those frequent flyer miles or take advantage of credit card reward programs. Sharing four to a room will cut the above hotel costs in half. Whether it’s sharing cab fare or a pizza, sticking with friends can be a fun way to cut expenses.

Beware of hidden costs. Probably the biggest hidden cost of going to conference is the lost income from days not worked, or vacation days spent. But there are plenty of other extra charges you might not expect.

Flying? Be sure to check for extra airline fees before you book your flight. That special fare may seem quite ordinary once you add in $50 to get your suitcase there and back, and $30 for in-flight meals.

Parking: If you decide to drive, be aware that it will cost you $55 a day to park a standard size car at the Marriot. A SUV or minivan will run you $10 more per day, or $325 for 5 days.

Shipping: Chances are you will get too many free books to carry back in your suitcase. Be prepared to pay around $30 in shipping and handling fees or bring pre-paid flat rate boxes to save time and money. And bring a roll of tape if you don’t want to spend hours standing in line.

Clothing: If you have a day job, you probably already have appropriate clothing for pitching and receptions. But if you’re a member of the stay-at-home-and-write-in-pajamas crew, you may need to budget for conference wear. Comfortable shoes are a necessity.

Golden Heart® Finalists: If you’re a Golden Heart finalist, your costs will be significantly higher. In addition to the award ceremony dress, you may want to visit the hotel salon. Finalists are often invited to participate in additional events which have their own costs. And most finalists will pay to have a professional photo made for publicity purposes.

So there you have my best guess on what it really costs to go to RWA Nationals, along with a few tips on how to cut that price tag. The good news is that you don’t have to pay all this money up front. It’s possible to pay for registration and air fare in advance, thereby spreading the expenses out over a period of four months.

What do you think? Are my numbers off? Have I left anything out? I would love to hear your tips and experiences on what to expect, and how to make Nationals affordable.


Robin Covington said...

Clarissa: Thanks for the info. I will attending for the first time this year and it will be interesting to see how it all adds up. Thanks!

Cai said...

Hi Clarissa,

This estimate is very close to the figure I came up with (traveling from Dallas/Fort Worth), which is exactly why I won't be attending Nationals this year.

Though I firmly believe everyone should attend at least one National conference (either this one or RT BookLovers) once just for the experience and exposure, the cost for those of us who are the sole support of our families is just too high (IMHO) to attend every year.

I know more and more authors and readers who are attending local conferences, staying closer to home, spending a little less and still getting out to meet other writers & readers.

It's a personal choice, of course, and if you're independently wealthy or have a rich relative who wants to indulge you, I say go for it and do as much as you can while you're in New York! :)

Mona Risk said...

And? Are you going, Clarissa?

I did the same calculation and realized it was way too expensive and not worth it. Unless you live around NY or on the East Coast and can drive and stay with relatives. At $500 the registration is way too high. Add the hotel and flight. You are already at $1500.

What do you plan to accomplish? Meet with editors/agents? I went to 5 RW National conferences.
Believe me, it's very difficult to sit and chat with editors/agents, except for your 10 min pitch, if you are lucky to get one with the editor of your dreams.

Also the good workshops are usually so crowded, it's difficult to get a good seat and hear something. the other workshops are just a fill-in and a waste of time.

If you go just to mingle with friends, have a good time, than by all means, go and enjoy yourself. The luncheons presentations are great and the Golden Heart ceremony fabulous.

I just attended the FRW cruise with your Muse Conference that cost me a total of $500 including registration and cruise. No fare since I live in Florida, no transportation to the Port of Miami since a friend drove us. All meal served free, and then some, as part of the cruise. For four days we were stuck with editors/agents who had no place to hide from us. LOL. We were chatting, laughing, dining with agents/editors for four days and had pitched to all six of them before pitch time.

That is a conference according to my heart.

Clarissa Southwick said...

Mona, I have always wanted to do one of those cruise conferences. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Cai, You're right. Depending on where you live, local conferences can be a great option. Since there are fewer people, you get more face time with your dream agent or editor.

Robin, I will look for you at Nationals. Have a great trip.

Terry Spear/Terry Lee Wilde said...

Thanks, Gail, for giving the low down on the costs.

Mona, that sounds like a great deal! I never thought a cruise would have been that cheap, although I don't live in Florida, so I'd end up with the air fare. Sounds like a great deal!

Eliza Knight said...

Great post! I think you are pretty close. You also have to toss in money for drinks. A lot or people hang out at the bar for cocktail hour to mingle with friends and network. I'm part of the 4 to a room, share meals and pack snacks crew. But I do plan on doing some sightseeing this year, which I haven't done at the past two conferences because I live near DC and went to Orlando already that year with family... See you in NYC!!!

Eliza Knight said...

Forgot to also add in $$ for the literacy signing. I always purchase books there.

Abigail Sharpe said...

Great run down, Clarissa. I saved at Nationals last year by bringing a George Foreman grill and making breakfast in my room every morning, plus I hit the grocery store and bought lunch items. I did do some dinners out for networking and socializing, though.

Even with that money-saving help, I'm still not going to Nationals in NY. :(

Clarissa Southwick said...

Thanks for the comments Terry, Eliza, and Abigail. It's good to know my estimates weren't too far off.

You all had some great ideas for both spending and saving at Nationals.

Eliza, I will look for you at the literacy signing.

Abigail, we will miss you. Will your plans change if you're a GH finalist again this year?

Zach and Sarah Baker said...

Thanks for sharing this, Clarissa. It will definitely help me plan since this will be my first Nationals conference.

Linda Lovely said...

Hi, Clarissa--
I'm still on the fence about New York as the cost is high. However, Amtrak is an option for me and the train puts you downtown so you don't have the airport shuttle expense or hassle. As far as added expenses for Golden Heart finalists, I don't think my critique partner and I (we both finaled last year) had any. At sixty-three, I figured a visit to a salon wasn't worth it. As far as clothes went, I bought a sequined shawl for $15 and wore one of my standard pantsuits. I had a ball. Don't think anyone noticed I hadn't done my nails. If you're a Golden Heart finalist, I urge you to go for it.

Linda Lovey
DEAR KILLER, Coming June, 2011

Donnell said...

Clarissa, great information, thank you. I'm a no go this year for the reasons you cite. Next year with a book to sign, absolutely!

Clarissa Southwick said...

Linda and Donnell, my Unsinkable GH sisters! So good of you to stop by and comment It won't be the same if you don't go, but I know I'll look for you both at the 2012 literacy signing.

Thanks for mentioning Amtrak, Linda. No shuttle, no parking. What a great idea.

Sarah, I'm so glad this was helpful to you and I look forward to seeing you there this summer. :)

Rebecca said...

Hi Clarissa! I think you're right on the money here. :) I love the national convention - this will be my third year. The workshops are amazing and I've met so many terrific people.

I've also sat down to take a break before and ended up chatting with some of favorite editors or they really are available in my opinion.

I'll see you in New York.

Sheila Tenold said...

Clarissa, thanks for this timely post. Right now I plan to skip this year’s conference.

Last year on Day #1 my husband and I had the pleasure of eating breakfast with Madeline Hunter! What a surprise treat. Her humility and warmth left me smiling all through the day. Attending the FTHRW reception was another high! Both my pitches landed partial requests.

I’d love to hear Madeline speak in New York and spend time with FTHRW members, but can’t truly justify the travel costs.

Maybe I’ll change my mind in a month or two. My son lives in NYC. Theoretically, I could crash there and save on the pricy hotel stay. But he’s a globe-trotter with a sketchy schedule and two roommates.

Clarissa Southwick said...

Hi Rebecca! Hi Sheila! Last year I over-scheduled and ended up missing the FTHRW reception, but I plan to do better this year. I will look for both of you in NYC. Thanks for commenting. :)

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I so love to attend conference, but like the others find the cost staggering this year. I'd be coming in from California. I've been nine times so far and think conference is one of the greatest experiences in my writing career. I love meeting the people I meet on line, catching up with friends and the literacy signing is awesome. I remember my first time of going down the aisle and reading names of authors I'd been reading for years. WOW I wish I could go. I suppose if I should final I might break down, but at this point it's no.

Clarissa Southwick said...

Hi Paisley, here's hoping you final in the GH and we see you there :) Thanks for commenting and your website looks great BTW. :)

Jill James said...

Clarissa, pretty good math there. I usually plan $2000 for a conference I have to fly to. Sometimes I come home with 200 or 300 dollars. Everyone have fun. Hope to see everyone next year in Anaheim. (I can drive there.)

Ami said...

I'm on the fence. I'm close-ish enough I could drive (would take me all day). I'd have to rent a cat, tho, and possibly cut thru Canada so--still debating. :) If I final in the GH I'll most likely go. I haven't been to one yet and would really love to give it a shot.

Ami said...

Ha! I'd have to rent a CAR, LOL. Hee. :)

Deb Maher said...

Good topic and info, Clarissa. I've been to a few Nationals. Your numbers are good.

While the cost may seem high, for a professional conference and what is offered, I see RWA and our National Conference as the absolute best value around. It is far more than social fun stuff. The giving and sharing of ideas, and the support offered by RWA members to fellow writers still boggles my mind. What other professional organization so willingly shares their trade secrets?

There are ways to keep costs down and you all have covered many of them. Get creative! Remember also there are some registration scholarships available, offered by generous writers wanting to hold out a hand to qualified writers in need.

I believe there's a point when every serious writer should attend a national, or at least a larger regional conference.

I'll be in NYC this year. I'm close enough to take a 2-hour bus ride in, thereby saving on parking costs. Hope to see many of you there!

Suzi said...

Great post and you've added to my gray hairs as I've registered, discovered cheap hotel rooms are long gone, and am now hunting budget international flights. Seems it's already far too late to use frequent flyer points.
However, it's still a fantastic chance to meet face-to-face with online chapter friends, pitch, gape at your favorite authors, and be inpsired to be them one day. And if I managed to final in the So hope to see lots of you there,

Debby Lee said...

Hi Clarissa, WOW, what a great write up. Orlando was my first RWA National conference and so worth it. But I won't be going to NY this year, I'm saving up to go all out in Anaheiam next year and hoping to bring my daughter along. Will you be posting about Anaheim around this time next year? If so, I'd truly love to chime in.

Anonymous said...

Imagine the cost when bringing family. My hubby and 3 kids! I bought a travel guide to NY for families which has discount food ideas and cheaper entertainment options. We will probably drive, which even with parking will save us about $800 over flying. Plus we'll bring snacks, cereal, and other goodies to save cash. If you want a GH/Rita dress, check for sales on prom or wedding-type dresses. Black slacks with several tops should get you through most events, and a nice dress or pantsuit for parties.
RWA is awesome every year and it's all about having fun!

Clarissa Southwick said...

Wow. So many great suggestions. Thank you all for commenting. I really enjoyed hearing about your tips and experiences.

Joanne said...

Thanks for the eye-opening estimate of attending an RWA national conference. It's so expensive, but another way to budget might be to take the bus or train (ugh--but maybe a savings) and stay in a less expensive hotel, if there is such a thing in NY. I like Mona's idea of a cruise.

morgan wyatt said...

Great post.
I spent about $1000 at Orlando by sharing my hotel room, going to the grocery and using to get $25 coupons for three restaurants. I ruthlessly shopped airline fares too. Still, I expect New York to be much higher, though. I would expect airlines prices to be lower because for me it is much, much closer.