RWA Blog #5 – Attending a writers’ conference? You’re not alone

For our May 2018 post, the Upcoming Famous & Fabulous Romance Writers  thought through our experiences from attending the Romance Writers of Australia annual conference – what we learned, was it intimidating, was it amazing …

You can read our article on the RWA blog here, or the full text is reprinted below.

(If the graphic image seems perplexing – the theme for the cocktail party on the opening night of the RWA Conference 2018 is Tiaras & Tuxedos.)

As the 2018 Sydney Conference is currently a hot topic in the RWA world The Upcoming Famous and Fabulous Romance Writers are tackling the issue in this month’s RWA blog.

 

Firstly, Lou Greene addresses The Big Question: To attend conference or not to attend.

 

I’ve been trying to talk myself out of buying a ticket for the RWA Conference this year. I’m not strictly a romance writer and it seems somewhat self-indulgent, and no, it’s not cheap. But first I thought I’d better consider the reasons I might want to go…

Last year, one of the rash decisions I made was to share a taxi from the airport with a fellow RWA member who I didn’t yet know. Fortunately, she was no axe-wielding murderess and from that one point of contact, I became part of a small circle of writing friends that has since become my writing bedrock – yes this Upcoming Crew. I’m keen to reconnect this year, hear their writing journeys first hand, and enjoy company and conversation that we otherwise conduct over Facebook and Skype. Plus I don’t really want to think about the fun they might have without me.

Then there are the presentations, workshops and breakout sessions to consider. Well quite frankly the main frustration is having too much choice, not being able to split myself like a Kitkat. Is it that thought or the appetising session options that have my mouth beginning to salivate?

And of course, let’s not forget there’s the potential to pitch my manuscript or have it assessed. I better sit down; now I’m feeling a little weak-kneed. But these sort of opportunities don’t turn up like teenage acne do they?

And last but by no means least there are the general networking opportunities, meeting some of the writers, agents and publishers I admire face-to-face. Sets the head spinning and the pulse racing doesn’t it? The thought of talking with all those like-minded folk – you know the sort – romantically-inclined-but-please-leave-me-to-shrivel-in-a-bathtub-with-my-book geeks. They are gold dust. Magic dust. And of course sprinkled liberally at the RWA Conference.

Do you know, I think I may have just passed out at my desk and banged my head. Suddenly I cannot for the life of me think of a single reason for not going…

 

You’ve made the decision to attend the conference. Now, how do you decide what events and sessions to choose? Marianne Bayliss helps you sort the good from the – well, good!

You’ve decided to attend Conference. Congratulations! You’ve already booked your accommodation and flights. Bravo! Your family can fend for themselves. Maybe! Now how do you decide what sessions and events to attend?

Firstly, the Friday workshops. These are optional and are not included in your core conference cost. (You choose one of the two depending on your RWA membership status.) If finance is a factor, attending a workshop – which possibly requires an extra night accommodation on the Thursday evening – may influence your decision. Could your writing benefit from the workshop on offer? Seeing that you’ve committed time and money to attend the conference – and your family is doing a spring clean of your house as a lovely surprise for you on your return – does your budget stretch a little further to accommodate a workshop?

Saturday and Sunday breakout sessions. I’d recommend choosing your sessions based on what would help your writing now and in the next six to twelve months. This will see you writing with greater purpose once you return to real life after the conference – in your freshly cleaned and organised house. Do you still need to work on your craft? Do you need more information on the publishing industry: traditional or self? Do you need inspiration from established authors? What do you need now and what will you need after the New Year to keep your forward writing momentum? And remember, you can change your mind. If you get a sudden urge to attend a different session to that which you booked, that’s fine!

Saturday Gala awards dinner. This is an optional event and not included in your core conference price. If you’d like to frock up, see all those wonderful authors that inspire you, cheer on your fellow romance writers and continue networking, then this is the place to do it. If you’re suffering information overload, or considering finances, you can spend a quiet night in or engage in a separate get-together with some (new?) like-minded friends.

The decisions are many but regardless of what you choose you will leave conference more knowledgeable than you entered.

*NB the RWA do not guarantee a clean, organised home or grateful home occupants on the return to your regular life post conference. However, motivation and a greater sense of not-being-alone-in-your-romance-writing-pursuits are assured!

 

For those new and old to conference but new to Sydney, Jayne Kingsley gives some tips on getting around the city as well as a few suggestions on what to see and do.

 

I’m so looking forward to Sydney 2018 conference! With this in mind I thought I’d share a few tips about getting around Sydney for those not familiar with the area. I’m going to add here – I don’t live in Sydney anymore, and these are just my suggestions:

Getting Around

To catch the train from the airport to the city – you’ll need an opal card https://www.opal.com.au

Trains into the city run every 5-10 minutes and it’s the easiest/cheapest option (IMO). Circular Quay or St James Stations are the closest stops on the airport line. Approx 7-10 minute walk from either station to the conference venue, Sofitel Wentworth.

Taxis are also easy but unless you’re splitting a cab, fare can be expensive, and Sydney traffic sucks (yes that’s the official term)

Food/Drinks

There are loads of coffee shops, restaurants and bars in Sydney, at a range of prices. I used to love going to pancakes on the rocks – who doesn’t love 24 hour mega sized pancakes? The view from Opera Bar is spectacular, it can get busy though so consider yourself warned.

If you love chocolate – Haighs chocolate lives at the entrance to Strand arcade (head to Pitt St Mall) – it’s a short walk away, which you’ll need after the calories consumed just by entering the building.

Things to do/Places to go

Conference can be full on, so don’t be afraid to go for a walk if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Here’s a list of places not too far from the conference venue: The NSW art gallery, Royal botanic gardens, Circular Quay, Sydney Opera House, Hyde Park, and The Rocks. All beautiful places to visit and meander around IMO.

Bookstores – Dymocks on George St (also good if you’re a stationery addict), Kinokuniya is a must visit for book lovers. It’s huge! They don’t have Debra Dixons’s book on GMC though, I checked.

This is the time to ignore your mum’s voice in your head saying: ‘Don’t talk to strangers!’ When attending conference events, talk to ALL the strangers! You’ll never know who you might meet.

 

And for the newbies, Stella Quinn speaks on behalf of all of us who were (mostly) newbies last year.

Just try new things. Don’t be afraid.

Step out of your comfort zones and soar, all right?

Michelle Obama

Brave words, and maybe they’re easier said (and felt!) when you’re the much-loved former first lady of the United States, instead of a forty-something mother-of-four part-time worker from the ‘burbs in BrisVegas.

But the day I paid my registration for my first RWA Conference held in Brisbane 2017, was the day I decided to step out of my comfort zone.

Paying was the easy part. A few clicks online, a few more $$$ loaded onto my long-suffering credit card … and I was soaring right? Not quite. As conference day approached, the information began to arrive in my in-box:

  • A facebook page for conference newbies had been set up
  • A drinkies get-together for conference newbies was planned for the Thursday evening pre-conference
  • A conference program had to be read, and re-read, and options chosen
  • A cocktail party was planned for Friday night — I’d be arriving alone — in an animal suit!

So how did it all pan out?

The newbie facebook page eased the way. Thank you, volunteers who run this page. Sharing nervous pre-conference thoughts with others was cathartic, and hearing the many voices of newbies who would be there alone for the first time gave me courage.

I rocked up to the newbie drinks after an 8 hour day of work and marched straight to the bar. ‘A champagne,’ I said to the waistcoat-clad barman. And then I had two choices. I could stand there, or I could walk up to a group of strangers and say, ‘Hi, are you a newbie?’ which I did. And so it began.

I met about twenty women. I met the Draft2Digital guys who were buying drinks and chatting with everyone as though we were all old friends. I met a retired GP and pilot from the Sunshine Coast who had just pitched her first novel that day, been asked to submit it, and was celebrating in a big way. I met my RWA critique partner for the first time … and she hugged me!

My conference was underway, and I was having fun.

Saturday and Sunday passed in a blur of rooms/speakers/faces/cake. I smiled at people a lot, and they smiled back. When I found myself alone I loitered in the bookshop buying novels. But mostly – I wasn’t alone. There was a culture of inclusion at the conference, which meant people were introducing themselves to each other, and encouraging people standing apart to join their groups.

Nowhere was this more evident than at the cocktail party. Adorned in a fox fur stole (borrowed from my neighbour’s elderly mother) and an animal print frock, I was feeling so buoyed by my newbie experience I marched into that cocktail party room like I was walking onto a yacht. I didn’t quite think the song playing on the sound system was all about me, (that came later, after a reckless quantity of booze) – but I did feel like I didn’t need to be afraid.

I was out of my comfort zone, and loving it.

See you at Sydney 2018 – and if you see me at the cake table, please say hello! I promise I will chat.

 

Take a deep breath in and slowly breathe out as Megan Mayfair shares her pitching experience from last year’s conference.

 

To pitch or not to pitch?

 

In 2017, I decided to pitch but was riddled with self-doubt. Was my work up to a standard to pitch? I wasn’t sure but decided the odds of being able to speak face-to-face with industry professionals to talk about my work wasn’t something that happened very often so I decided to take my chances. After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

 

Choosing my target

 

RWA provided extensive information about each agent and publisher taking pitches at the conference. I read each one carefully and tried to find those who were looking for something that sounded a little like my work.

 

Honing my hook

 

Before the conference, I tried to rehearse my pitch but found myself struggling to explain my book. What genre was it? Was it a romance or romantic elements? What were the key themes? What was the hook?

 

To practice the pitch, I had to start to distil work into a couple of key sentences. This was hard – to condense a massive book into a quick, short, sharp paragraph but doing so really helped me understand what my book was really about and who it might appeal to.

 

Avoiding the last-minute freak out

 

Yeah. I’m not going to lie – the moment you walk into pitch is somewhat nerve-wrecking. But the agents and publishers, they know you’re nervous and everyone I pitched to was lovely. They listened to my core pitch and then asked me a range of follow-up about my book including similar titles, themes, setting and word count.

 

All three professionals I pitched to requested  follow up chapters or full manuscript, which was a great way to walk out of the session with.

 

A mixed bag of results

 

I’d love to write that my book was accepted from the pitch. Wouldn’t that be the best way to encourage people to pitch?

 

Sorry.

 

It wasn’t.

 

But I did receive lovely responses and some great feedback – an unexpected bonus.

 

The key benefits of the process for me was I used the feedback gained (including a rather terrible first title!) to refine the manuscript and used my ‘hook’ I’d developed to form my query letter, which was then accepted by another publisher post-conference.

 

Still unsure whether to pitch?

 

I’d absolutely recommend giving it a go. The best thing that can happen is someone may sign your book (amazing!) and the worst is that they won’t but you’ll gain great experience in developing a clear hook for your pitch, talking to agents and publishers and learning more about the industry.

 

That’s all a win in my book.

 

The Upcoming Famous and Fabulous Romance Writers loved Conference 2017 and can’t wait for Conference 2018. Come say hi! We love to chat!

 

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