Since once again this trip will include a trip to a theme park during warm weather, my staples of shorts, t-shirts, and good walking shoes or sandals will be in my one roller bag along with my conference clothes. I’m flying Southwest Airlines so I don’t need to worry about paying for checked luggage, but I still need to haul my suitcase around the airport, in and out of cabs and shuttles, hotel lobbies, etc., so less is better. Making sure I can pack everything I need for a six-day trip requires knowing just what those needs are. That way I don’t over, or under, pack.
Which brings me to the point of this post, preparing for the convention. Not just figuring out what clothes I want, but what I’m going to do while wearing those clothes.
The RWA National Conference can be pretty overwhelming for those who haven’t been there before. Actually it can be that way for anyone, even those who’ve gone many times in the past. But it doesn’t have to be that way and preparation can help avoid conference overload.
First of all, understand what your goal is for the conference. If you don’t have a goal already, come up with at least two things you want to accomplish. These can something like meeting at least one editor from a publishing house that interests you, learning a craft like managing point of view, or understanding contract clauses and which ones to watch out for.
RWA is all about learning and opportunities, and the conference can provide huge amounts of both. That’s why it can be overwhelming, like sticking a fire hose in your mouth. You want to prioritize to make sure you aren’t trying to learn everything at once.
If you are brand new, or have never been to a conference before, I recommend going to the RWA website and printing off the schedule of events and the workshop schedule. Events of note are the “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing, and the First Timer’s Orientation on Wednesday evening, the two Luncheons that have speakers on Thursday and Friday, the Annual General Meeting (AGM) Thursday afternoon, and the RITA and Golden Heart awards ceremony on Saturday night. In between all these events are workshops, publisher sponsored book signings, which are free book giveaways, and Editor/Agent appointments.
If your interest is in meeting an editor or agent for whom you don’t have an appointment, I recommend hanging out where the appointments are being held with the hope that someone won’t show up and an appointment will free up. That frequently happens and it can be a productive way to spend a few hours of the conference. Also you can often speak to an editor or agent at their publisher’s spotlight (listed with the workshops) or sometimes even at the publisher-sponsored book signings.
It is also possible to find industry professionals during social events, such as at the luncheons, at a party they sponsor, or even sometimes in the bar. This can be a good way to get a quick discussion in, particularly if you ask them what they are looking for. Just remember to be polite. These are working events for them, a dozen other authors have probably badgered them by now and if they’ve taken off their badges they probably don’t want to be disturbed.
The RWA National conference offers a huge number of workshops in as many as eight tracks. Obviously it is not possible to be at 8 workshops at once so you want to plan a strategy for them. You want to focus on the ones most likely to meet your defined goals. Since many workshops are recorded, you can focus on the ones that are not, or that have visual components that an audio recording won’t capture. Afterwards you can catch up on anything you didn’t hear by way of the recordings. The recorded sessions can be ordered for around $100 at the convention and are great to listen to in the car.
If you belong to either PAN or PRO there are retreats for each group on Thursday morning starting at 8:30 AM and going until the Keynote Luncheon. These will have special information targeted at authors in these groups.
So now that we’ve discussed what events at the conference you will likely go to, let’s talk about what clothes to bring. You will want business casual for workshops and luncheons and most other events. That means a skirt or nice slacks with a tailored top, possibly with a sweater or jacket layered on top if the meeting rooms are their often-frigid selves. If you have a meeting with an editor or agent, you can go even more tailored although how you dress won’t be nearly as important as having your pitch put together.
You will want comfortable shoes. I cannot emphasize that enough as hotels and convention centers are sprawling affairs and you will be on your feet a lot. You will likely need a shawl or sweater if the rooms are cold. You will probably want business cards although I’ve never given out more than a few at each convention. They should have your website, contact information, and some hint of what you write on them. You can get cheap ones at Vistaprint using one of their designs for the cost of the postage.
The dressiest event at the convention is the RITA/Golden Heart award ceremony. You can pull out that formal gown you haven’t worn in ages, or you can bring some dress slacks and a fancy top. I’ve done both and didn’t feel over or under-dressed either time. It all depends on what you have available in your closet and feel like packing.
So in short, the way to prepare for the convention is to set one or two simple goals, plan your time at the convention to satisfy them, and select your most comfortable shoes to wear with your business casual outfits.
Just remember to have fun. I’m already planning what kind of Disneyland park-hopper passes I’m going to get for me and my family, and you can bet I’ll be packing one of my Tigger t-shirts to wear to the parks after the conference is over.
Today (Saturday), Sunday and Monday I have my short story, The Girl In The Box up for free over at Amazon so if you haven't already downloaded this short story, be sure to get a copy this weekend!