Today’s Conference Virgin confession comes from Nikki Logan:
2008 was my first RWA conference—an amazing ‘deflowering’ in the magical Melbourne fairytale hotel The Langham. I’d been to conferences before (including one where the whole company was flown to an island in the Whitsundays) so flashness wasn’t new to me but OMG this hotel was fantastic. Real fairytale stuff.
That made it very easy for me to decide to register. I was in a very magical mood back then and filled with the excitement of my first year writing romance.
But as soon as I posted off my form I immediately went into throes of buyer’s remorse. My thought process went like this.
‘Oh my god a conference! What was I thinking?’
‘I’m not a real writer. They’ll all be real writers.’
‘I hate meeting new people. What will I say?’
(Stop laughing Rachel Bailey!)
The reality was I knew very few people in RWA but I did know some members (not that we’d met face-to-face) through the online Romance Bootcamp program. That meant I had some faces to find in the crowd but still… So I did what any self-respecting shy person would do…
I invited an in-the-flesh friend.
Neely and I both had writing in common and I managed to talk her into coming along as a treat for both of us. A girls’ thing as much as a writing thing. We both wanted to learn more, we both wanted access to the hive-mind of RWA, we both felt better about knowing someone there. We weren’t complete cowards…we did split up and go to different workshops so we could compare notes later and talk about our experiences. But we gravitated back together for meals and end of day things which was both fun and reassuring. And then we got to share new friends and a room, so it was economical too!
Tip 1: try and make friends (chat room, twitter, FB) before you go so that you have a few faces to find in the crowd. But don’t panic if you are attending alone. You’ll meet new faces in no time.
It broke my heart choosing between sessions because what if this was the only conference I ever attended? If these were the only workshops I’d ever sit in? And then what if I don’t get in to my first preference?? I hadn’t yet realised how addictive conference is and so choosing became like some kind of critical life decision.
Tip 2: Relax. There’ll be more conferences, more workshops. If you miss something good this time you can catch it again in the future. The workshop process is competitive so every one chosen will offer something great.
The next smart thing I did was go along to the orientation meeting for first-timers. Back then it was just a quick 10 minute thing to give you the basics of what to do, how the pitches worked, what all the symbols on ID tags meant, who to see if you had any troubles, what the deal was with the no-perfume rule. Of course much of the ‘what to do’ only comes with experience (or asking someone experienced) but it was an excellent start.
Tip 3: Go along to the first-timers meeting or forum. Ask whatever you need to know. Go back to them and ask more later when you have more questions.
I looked around and saw all these writers with their ID tags weighed down with wonderful sparklies—I didn’t know until later that these are past conference badges, award-pins, (US) chapter-pins and other symbols of their trials and professional achievements. Be warned, some authors sparkle more than Edward Cullen with all their fabulous bling. Accept that it’s going to make you feel bare-naked and inadequate, but let it fuel your determination to have something on yours the following year.
Tip 4: keep the conference badge somewhere safe. You’ll want it for next time.
A word of caution. If, like me, you learn best by writing things down, don’t go crazy with the note taking. I’m sure I spent half that conference staring at my own handwriting. I regret not just sitting back and absorbing more. So much of the fabulosity was in the presenters’ eyes and faces. I don’t know that I ever looked back on those notes anyway. The important stuff stuck. Plus the presenters give you the notes they deem most important.
Tip 5: Don’t go crazy with the notes. There won’t be a test at the end.
My last piece of advice is don’t skip the AGM. And I’m not just saying that because I’m on the Committee now (heh). The AGM is only a half-hour out of your life and it is a wonderful way of getting across the size and scope of the organisation you’re a member of. It’s your organisation—be there to have your say.
Tip 6: Come along to the AGM
So… I’ve been to three conferences, From Here to Eternity will be my fourth. In that time I’ve entered competitions, won competitions, judged competitions, participated in challenges, coordinated challenges, been published by Harlequin, written my tenth book for them, coordinated events, presented workshops, mentored writers, and even signed up to co-coordinate the first West Coast RWA conference.
You get back as much as you put in to an organisation like RWA. Dive in, boots and all and grab the opportunity round the throat. And if your bladder still goes weak at the thought of walking into that crowded room for the first time ask yourself “what would my heroine do?”
She’d kick up her chin, plaster on a confident smile and stride in there like it was the first meeting of the rest of her life.
See you there!
Wow – from conference virgin to author and presenter in a few short years. Nikki will be presenting at two sessions at this year’s conference: The Learning Curve and Branding: Why You Need it Before You Sell.