I was a Conference Virgin (#1)

Attending your first RWA conference is like losing your virginity. Before the event, there’s a lot of anticipation, expectation and much trepidation. The event itself is over before you know it, and then you want to jump in and do it all again. Or ring your best friend and tell her. Or hide in your room and process it all. Or return home, filled with mojo, and write write write.

But being a conference virgin is a state that you can only experience once, so you need to make the most of your first time. Because your subsequent conferences will never be the same.

Friday 10 August, 2007 is the day I lost my conference virginity.

My first conference was in Darling Harbour, Sydney with Jennifer Crusie as the keynote speaker. I was a scared little mouse. Though I was a member of Romaus, I spent most of my time lurking, and the thought of turning up to the e-list dinner without knowing anyone terrified me.  So I avoided all the extra-curricular social events. My accommodation was the cheapest (and possibly dodgiest) in Sydney but was only a fifteen minute drive away. It was convenient, but it still wasn’t the conference hotel so there was no chance of bumping into someone in the bar by chance. I didn’t attend the Awards Dinner due to a combination of expense, and not knowing anyone. I talked to other virgins and occasionally raised the courage to talk to a real live author, but mostly I just soaked up the atmosphere, learned heaps in the workshops and enjoyed being with other writers.

But there were many lost opportunities: the book I ummed and ahhed about at the bookstore sold quickly so I didn’t get Jenny Crusie’s autograph in the end – in fact, I didn’t even end up speaking to her. Despite Jenny getting everyone in the room on their feet to declare ‘I am a great writer’, the wimp inside me wanted to bow down in front of her (Wayne’s World- style) saying ‘I’m not worthy.’

But I am. And we are. Just by being a member of this fabulous organisation, just by putting pen to paper, we are pursuing our goals and we are worthy.

Losing my conference virginity was a bumpy experience (much like the other, but I’m not going there!).

This year we have a record number of first-time conference attendees – almost 100 virgins. I thought I would share some advice on how to make the most of your first conference experience.

My general advice is:

Don’t do what I did!

My specific advice is:

  • Make the most of the next 3 months by getting to know people in RWA online – Romaus, the specialist e-loops and the Friday night chat (in the RWA chat room – Friday night lounge from around 8pm AEST) are all designed so that members can get to know each other.
  • Join 50ks in 30 days and have a go at writing  a novel in a month – again a great way to get to know other members, along with a pom-pom squad for your specific goal.
  • Stay at the conference hotel if at all possible – you’ll never know who’ll you’ll bump into between conference events.
  • Go to the social events – this includes the cocktail party (and it’s a great excuse to dress up), the Awards Night, but also the extra activities such as the historical tour, the chocolate tour and the e-list dinner (more information on the e-list dinner will be on Romaus closer to the event).
  • If you admire an author, tell them (but don’t stalk them for the rest of the conference LOL). Authors love it when you have a fangirl moment.
  • if you see a book at the store that you want and there’s only a few copies, buy one. Unless you want to take the chance that it will still be there on the last day, and discounted.
  • Mix it up. Don’t spend the entire 3 days hanging out with the first people you meet. Sit at different tables and say hello to people. Don’t be afraid to break the ice. You might sit next to the person who’s destined to be your critique partner, and absolutely gets your writing.
  • Don’t panic in the workshop that it’s information overload – you will take on board exactly what you need to know for this phase of your writing life. You can’t record everything.
  • Dose up on the vitamin C and any other cold/flu preventatives you can – as conference falls at the end of winter, there are always bugs flying around. Build up your immunity.
  • Try not to spend the whole night talking to your room buddy. Hard to resist because the whole conference atmosphere is a buzz but you do want to conserve some energy for the next full-on day.

Needless to say, my last two conferences were very different to my first conference and it’s because I knew a lot more people. But between 2007 and 2009, I participated in 50ks in 30 days, I hung out in the Friday night chat room, I found my critique partner, I joined the webteam, I developed this blog, I joined the RWA committee, I was Romaus moderator, I became Member Secretary. Once you’re a volunteer, you suddenly know a lot more people and there never seems to be enough time at conference to catch up.

But that’s all to look forward to.

So for all the conference virgins out there, I hope the 2011 conference is wonderful and exciting for you, and that you make a heap of lifelong writer friends.

And for all the experienced conference attendees out there, I know you will make the virgins very welcome!

Would you like to share the story of your first RWA conference here?  We plan to run this as a regular feature leading up to conference.  Email me at blogmistress@romanceaustralia.com.

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25 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your your first conference experience Diane.

    Sandie

    Reply
  2. Louise Reynolds

     /  May 19, 2011

    Hey, Diane, we were conference virgins together! 2007 was my first time as well, although I was lucky to know some Anne Gracie CAE alumni so I wasn’t totally alone. But I remember being totally overwhelmed by just about everything. Feeling amazed by the parade of authors whose books I’d adored, all there, right beside me in the lunch queue. And they weren’t dining on Ambrosia, but on macaroni cheese, just like the rest of us!
    Have fun, conference virgins!

    Reply
    • Definitely overwhelming, Lou. So much to take in. 2007 was a great first time conference year, but I know that 2011 is going to be even better for our conference virgins.

      Reply
  3. My first conference was in 2003 ( I think) in Melbourne. I knew exactly one other person from Canberra but I knew the wonderful Serena Tatti from an online group but didn’t have a clue what she looked like. The first person I saw when I walked into the hotel foyer was my Canberra friend and she introduced me to Serena ( who gave me a lovely welcoming hug) at the cocktail party that night. After that it was full on–learning learning talking talking eating eating. 🙂 I’ve only missed one conference since then and at every one the circle of friends grows and grows. I have yet to meet a friendlier more welcoming group of people.

    Conference virgins–you’ll love it, believe me. Come up and say hello!

    Reply
  4. Diane, thanks for sharing your (bumpy) first-time experience and your excellent tips for the 2011 First Timers.

    My virgin year was 1995, before RomAus, chats, and such, and I knew not a soul. I also had no idea what to expect and was beside myself with excitement to meet favourite authors and just to talktalktalk writing and stories and books all weekend. I was definitely Newbie Over Exuberantica . 🙂

    Bron

    Reply
  5. Diane – that was my first conference too and now I’m hooked. I wanna DO IT again and again and again.

    Reply
  6. I’ll be a conference virgin this year, but I just hope you guys don’t make us wear big signs saying ‘VIRGIN’ on them!

    Looking forward to seeing you all there 🙂

    Reply
    • No Juliet – no signs, we’re going to stamp it on the left side of your forehead, and at the end of the conference, we’ll put the matching stamp on the right side, which will say ‘No longer a”

      Reply
  7. Louise Reynolds

     /  May 19, 2011

    Hey, Bron,

    Now there’s an idea…

    “..but I just hope you guys don’t make us wear big signs saying ‘VIRGIN’ on them!…”

    Reply
  8. Gosh, I think I’ll predate you all 😉 1994, I think it was – Novotel Brighton, with Alison Kelly and Judy Nunn amongst the guest speakers. Was totally stunned to mingle with the likes of Emma Darcy and Valerie Parv and thrilled to be with writers who loved romance!

    One piece of brilliant advice given by last year’s Deb Dixon – when you’re making notes, have one separate paper for stuff you learn in that workshop, and another for jotting down stuff that relates to your actual stories. Can’t think of the times I realized I wrote down a whole load of WIP stuff but couldn’t remember which session I’d written it in!

    Reply
  9. Louise and Bron – get those VIRGIN badges printed NOW!

    Reply
  10. So you’re telling me I have to put my stalkers outfit away? Damn Di! I was all set to rock and roll, although Bob Mayer was in the military and he’d probably think my hiding behind shrubbery a bit suss.

    Reply
    • It depends Nat. If you bring the shrubbery into the conference room with you and hide right under the stage, he might think it’s very suss.

      Reply
  11. Oh no, what have I done!! Me and my ideas.

    Is it too late to cancel my registration!!!? 😉

    Reply
  12. Yeah well – how old am I??? I pre-conference you all so far. I go back to the first humble events at Macquarie Uni where we arrived with our own packed lunches! I’ve never really been an RWA conference virgin (CV), because I was on the committees that organised them – but in my other life, as a Children’s Writer, I’ve certainly had that honour (CV) – and it hasn’t always been fun or welcoming. I’m telling you all, there isn’t a group of people anywhere that is more welcoming than the Australian & or NZ romance communities. As MC last year in Syd, I had many, many of the mainstream editors come to tell me how amazed they were by the atmosphere. Professional and yet so warm & enthusiastic; they’d never experienced conferences like ours – anywhere. That was very cool to hear… New people? You’ll have a ball. It’s also mandatory to receive one of my hugs… Mwahahahah…

    Reply
    • Now, Kaz, you’re in a different category altogether. You were a conference coordinator virgin and it’s still exhilarating, but also comes with that relief at the end of it all of “Thank God, that’s all over”.

      And you were a spring chicken when you organised the first conference, I bet.

      Reply
  13. Smiling here at the memories, Kerri! I too remember that conference at Macquarie Uni but I also remember those very first meetings Lynne wilding and others organised before that – was it at Belmore? I had been writing for so many years without contact with other romancewriters.It was an amazing, mind-blowing, awesome time for me and I just suggested to my mighty webmistress, Paula Roe, in this long overdue update she take off the photo of Emma Darcy and others on a panel at Macquarie. Yea, a hoarder who treasures those photos.
    However, one of my “most emabarrasing moments” happened at that conference at the Uni. I was so excited I locked my keys in the car and spent most of our lunch break trying to get to them! ‘Nough said?

    Reply
  14. I’m a virgin. ((Cripes, its been a while sine I said that!!))

    I think the vit C suggestion is great. Add to that some throat lozenges to deal with the sore throat from talking too much!

    Reply
  15. It’s been so long since I’ve been a virgin my memories have faded ( I mean a conference virgin :))
    It was 1997 and I had a job on the committee (because there was no separate conference committee) and I spent most of the Sat pushing a baby around in a pram (not my baby!) so the attendee could get to her sessions. Amazing to think that baby would now be a teenager.
    Some great advice for conference newbies.

    Reply
  16. Christine Taylor

     /  May 23, 2011

    Well, I’m a conference virgin once removed. I attended the very first conference at Macquarie Uni in 1991. It was cold and wet and rainy, but I couldn’t believe how wonderful it was to be surrounded by like-minded people.
    Although I’ve written on and off over the years since, I’ve only been seriously addressing my need to write stories since mid 2009. This will be my second ever conference and I gather things have changed somewhat since my last one (LOL), so, I may not be a virgin, but I’m the next best thing!

    Reply
  17. I would love to be there but circumstances do not permit this year. I plan on losing my virginity next year, so I’ll be very keen to hear what this year’s virginal crop have to say.

    Do it for me, Jenn!

    Oh, it’s really Toni Lendich- my other self seems to have taken over my life, LOL

    Reply
  18. fernandotorres449

     /  June 1, 2011

    Hi

    I read this post two times.

    I like it so much, please try to keep posting.

    Let me introduce other material that may be good for our community.

    Source: Marketing coordinator interview questions

    Best regards
    Henry

    Reply

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