Every summer, the Romance Writers of America host a conference in a major city for authors, fans, and industry professionals to participate in workshops, attend panel discussions, and listen to featured speakers discuss everything from their most recent novels to the state of the romance novel in today's publishing environment. The last few conferences have been held in Orlando, Washington, D.C., and San Fransisco; this year's conference is June 28th – July 1st in New York City.
· You don't have to be a romance writer to attend, or even be a member of the RWA! (Membership dues run around $110/year.) Anyone with the cash for the registration fee can attend the conference (see below).
· Writers (published and un-) can make appointments to meet with agents and editors whose bread and butter is buying and selling romance titles. How cool is that?
· There are special events for non-authors (read: book signings), librarians, industry professionals, and so on, so even if you don't write romance novels, there will be something interesting for you to do. If you do write romance novels: you're in luck! There are workshops, receptions, and awards ceremonies galore.
· The networking opportunities are virtually endless. You'll get to meet unpublished writers, début authors, established authors, agents, editors, publicists, and more. There's no reason you should go home without having made at least one new connection.
· The RWA National Conference is HUGE. Take the time to explore as much as possible.
· You do have to pay registration fees to attend, and non-members pay higher fees (though if you only want to go to meet authors, and not to network as an author yourself, the "Readers for Life" Literacy Autographing is free and open to the public).
As for those fees: the early member fee is $525, and non-members will have to shell out $600. After the "early" period ends in mid-May, registration fees go up.
· As you might imagine, those one-on-one sessions are hard to come by (priority goes to Golden Heart and RITA finalists), so while the networking opportunites at the conference are significant, don't expect to hang out with your dream agent/editor. My advice? Network with your fellow writers. You never know when a recommendation from a new friend might land you a contract.
· The networking opportunities are enormous because the sheer volume of people there is enormous—that is, it can be overwhelming for first-time attendees. This may not be the best romance convention for rookies to attend, and I'd recommend cutting your teeth on smaller, regional conferences before attempting this one.
· The RWA National Conference is HUGE. You can't explore all of it, so you'll have to prioritize when it comes to attending the various sessions. You'll inevitably want to attend two events that occur simultaneously, so be prepared to make some tough decisions.
Some DOs and DON'Ts
· DO be professional. Wear business casual attire (except for appointments, which are business attire, and the awards night, which is formal). That old adage of "be friendly, but not familiar" is probably not a bad idea, especially when speaking with editors or agents. That said: don't be afraid to make friends, especially with other authors/attendees! Network, network, network.
· DON'T bring your manuscript to the conference. Do you hear me? DO NOT do this. There is no chance an editor or agent will accept it at this venue. Best case scenario: you'll exchange contact information and that agent/editor will follow up with you. Most likely scenario: you send them a query after the conference and mention how great it was meeting them.
· DO have a game plan. If you don't have a semblance of an itinerary when you arrive, you'll probably miss out on a bunch of stuff you would have liked to see. Figure out what kinds of workshops, readings, panel discussions, &c you want to attend ahead of time.
· DON'T be too aggressive. It's sometimes very hard not to jump on an opportunity to network when Fancy McDreamAgent or Awesome CoolAuthorson is standing ahead of you in line for the restroom or lunch, but remember: authors, agents, and industry insiders attend these conferences chiefly to interact with each other, and they will not take kindly to being harangued or interrupted. If they're not busy and you just want to chat them up, feel free, but don't take the opportunity to pitch your book.
· DO your homework. Take the time to learn a bit about the authors who are signing, the editors making keynote addresses, &c &c. After all, you want people at this conference to take an interest in you and your work, don't you?
· DON'T forget to go sight-seeing. Yes, the conference is about romance novels and the people who write them, but it's also about getting to experience a new city. If there's a night with fewer events or an afternoon when you're relatively free, take the time to be a tourist for awhile.
· Finally, DO follow up with people you meet/exchange contact information with. Again: you never know when a connection will come in handy.
That's all for now, folks. Questions, &c in the comments!