Last year was my first conference and the experience was a bit out of the ordinary. As you might have already guessed, I’m male and it appears there aren’t many men in the romance writers field. But there’s no reason why that should have stopped me going to the conference.
In 2009 I wanted to take up writing seriously. I’d had a long hiatus after leaving university and finally it seemed the right time to make an effort. I was lucky to have Nikki Logan as a close friend and even luckier that she bought me my first membership to RWA as a birthday present. Then, with only a little encouragement, I signed up for the conference.
I think it was a fairly quick decision with only enough time to check I could afford it before fees were paid, sessions were chosen and flights were booked. Then came the waiting…and the growing anxiety.
I’d know the grand total of one person at the conference. I’m terrible at making small talk. I’m also not really a romance reader so I have visions of being chased out of the conference for not knowing who Valerie Parv and Nora Roberts are (see, I learned something last year).
And I would likely be one of only a handful of men in an audience of 300 or so. Plus I’d be surrounded by real writers, real romance writers, and how would they take to my intrusion? Because that’s what it felt like, intruding on a world I didn’t have any right to be in.
[As a side note, I write paranormal with romantic elements and while the conference theme (and the organisation) is about romance, the learning, the craft, is still the same.]
So I went to the Sydney conference last year. I decided I’d keep my head down, not make too much of a scene, learn all I could and quietly slip into the background with no one being any the wiser.
Little did I know.
I attended the Deb Dixon’s Friday workshop on Goal Motivation Conflict and the Hero’s Journey (so useful!) and joined the crowd as we sought our seats. I found Nikki and was introduced to the people she’s in a Boot Camp group with and was warmly welcomed. That was one of the nicest things of the conference. Everyone was so friendly. So before I’d even gotten into the meat of the conference, I’d made friends and felt almost at home.
What soon became glaringly obvious was that I was, in fact, absolutely, the only male present. Way to go unnoticed. So for most of the conference, I couldn’t help but stick out. However, while I was definitely a novelty and a surprise for many (I lost count of how many times I was told I was brave), I think people treated me the same as they would anyone.
They asked the usual questions about what I write, where I’m from and what I hope to get out of the conference. We were all there for the same thing and it didn’t matter that I was male, I was just another member of the organisation wanting to learn.
While not everyone can have the same introduction that I had, they can get something from conference, whether it’s knowledge or new friends, networking or…nougat (I’m sure there was nougat somewhere).
And it doesn’t take much to start up a conversation with someone you’ve just met. I’m not much of a conversation starter at the best of times but everyone has one thing in common: being at the conference. That’s enough to start any conversation so go for it.
Don’t get me wrong, being the only male had its benefits. I ended up in the newspaper in an article on the conference. I did a couple of radio interviews and was contacted by a publisher. Opportunities arise in the strangest ways. I’m not expecting much like that this time around but I’m still looking forward to a fun conference.
If I can offer any other tips, definitely go to the orientation for first timers. I went and a group of us rocked up at the wrong location, waiting around for about ten minutes before eventually realising we were in the wrong place. We missed a good portion of it (which probably goes against me saying go along) but getting lost with people was a great way to break the ice. The orientation was run the next morning anyway so we weren’t grief stricken and there were plenty of people around only too happy to point us in the right direction.
Also, if you’re on a loop (I’m on the paranormal loop), the groups usually have a breakfast on the Saturday morning so there’s a chance to meet some new people and put names to bleary-eyed faces.
This year, I think I won’t stand out so much but I made plenty of friends last year to make this conference just as enjoyable, perhaps even more so.
See you there.