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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Calling All Conference Virgins… (10 things to know before you do IT)

It’s my first conference! I don’t know anyone. The program looks great but what’s it really going to be like? Which workshops should I select? What do I wear? What should I take with me? What can I expect?

Nerves abounding, knowing absolutely no-one, overwhelmed with the idea of meeting “real” live authors and oblivious to the incredible experiences ahead of me, I walked into my first romance writers’ conference in 2002 with these questions stewing in my mind.

Fast forward to several years on - the annual August migration is something I now eagerly look forward to. I wade into the fray of the first morning, looking for and waving down friends, intent on chatting and swapping tales of the past year, and eagerly discussing what’s on offer at this year’s conference.

No nerves, friendly faces, a seasoned conference goer. Yes, you too can feel this at ease and, with that in mind, I hope these little hints and insights will prove helpful in preparing any first timers aka conference virgins.

So, you’ve sent in your registration form, set your budget, and are wondering what the 2010 RWA and RWNZ conferences have in store for you. Let me make one thing perfectly clear from the outset - you will not regret coming.

Here’s a taste of what’s ahead…

1.Be prepared for an incredible weekend - it’s all about writing romance, reading romance, talking romance, bookstalls, conversation, awards and recognition of achievements, networking, promotion, socialising, meeting people from the industry and making new friends.

2.Meet & Greet – a special, informal session (usually held on the morning just before the conference starts) where someone from the organisation gathers all the first timers together to give you the low down on the conference and what to expect.
Basically, you’re warned that we’re a friendly, talkative lot who seek out corner-hiders or lone-standees and make sure you have fun.

3.Guest Speakers & Workshops – the organisers have worked hard to bring quality speakers Down Under and offer workshops/talks that cater to all interests and skill levels (and this year is no exception).
Whether they’re specifically aimed at developing your craft or are for pure interest and enjoyment, there’s an abundance of knowledge and experience shared in these sessions.
While a conference information booklet is usually a part of your “goodie” bag handed out at registration, many of the workshop presenters have hand-outs. Also be prepared to take notes of your own (in a workbook, your Alpha smart or laptop, and a digital camera is also handy).
See the RWA or RWNZ conference pages on their websites for more details.

4.Fun & Passion – a great combination when you get a group of like minded writers and readers of romance together in the same room. Whether it’s talking about your own writing, a great book you just read or listening to the inspiring stories of others around you, it all makes for a terrific weekend.
5.Glad rags – for the day sessions casual to smart casual is the go. Be comfortable; bring a jacket or cardigan for the times the air conditioning might get a little chilly. The cocktail party and awards dinner usually has an optional theme (not everyone dresses up but it is fun!). Semi-formal to formal, dresses to dress pants and top, flats to heels. The RWNZ website has a photo gallery of previous conferences if you’d like to see what people have worn in the past.
6.Become a member of the ROMAUS or RWNZ e-loop
- it costs nothing to join and there’s an incredible wealth of knowledge and support available anytime. It’s also a great way to get to know names before you get to the conference.

7.Accommodation & $$$ - if you have the budget, stay at the venue. Nothing beats being on site. Be daring, cut costs and share a room. (If you’re on the e-loop it’s a great way to find a roomie or travel buddy or ask about alternate accommodation).

8.Networking, knowledge and conversation – one of the many, many highlights of the weekend. Mixing with published and unpublished authors, editors, agents, booksellers, and industry and product representatives. You’ll go away with information overload and a swag of new friends and contacts.

9.Author chats – a terrific chance to meet an author or two from your favourite genre in an informal setting. Listen, learn, ask questions (come prepared with a list as it’s easy to end up with Blank-mind syndrome, and remember, there’s no such thing as a silly question!).
You never know what interesting titbits of information come out of these chats – industry news, anecdotes about writing careers, info about editors/agents etc. It’s also a great chance to have them sign a book of theirs that you just bought!

10.Risk-take with enthusiasm – it can be a daunting prospect approaching strangers, especially in a room full of loud, excited people who look like veteran conference attendees.
The cold water analogy applies here – it’s less painful if you just dive right in and strike up a conversation with the nearest individual or group, introduce yourself, mention you’re a first time attendee and before you know it you’ll be wondering what the fuss was about meeting us.

Oh, last, but not least, make sure to leave plenty of room in your luggage – every year I bring a spare backpack. Believe me, you’ll need it for all the conference goodies you’re likely to collect over the weekend – books you’re invariably going to buy from the stalls, conference notes, door prizes, more books, freebies donated by authors and sponsors, books, raffle prizes, lucky name tag numbers… oh, and did I mention books?

See you at the conference!


  1. Hey Kylie! Hope you remember me...I met you at Rachelle Chase's table. First of all congratulations on the Golden Heart win...I'm soooo happy for you! Secondly, I love your website - it's perfect for your genre. I hope you check out my website and blog. I'd love to have an email buddy from your part of the world!

    Lori Leger (aka Cajunflair)

  2. Hi Lori,

    I've just arrived back home and am processing a thousand emails etc. but I do remember you from the brekky and I will look up your website from your card when I have 5 mins.

    Thanks for checking out my website - glad you like the "tone" of it! :-)

  3. Hi Kylie, we haven't met but I'm on Romaus and saw your fantastic news, congratulations! Has it sunk in yet?!

    I'm going to my first conference in Sydney this year and have been feeling a bit nervous. I know I'll be fine once I get going, but your post really helped ease some of my jitters. Thank you!

    Elizabeth Beckett

  4. Hi Elizabeth! Glad you joined ROMAUS, it's a fantastic loop. And woo-hoo you for coming to conference, you won't regret it!!! May you come to many more in the future. Glad the advice helped.

  5. Hi Kylie,

    I am glad to have eventually met you even if it was going out the door at the end.
    The fact that a first conference is daunting was to say the least. Whew. :))
    It was well worth the experience though. I did meet many people, lots from the e-loop which was great.
    As I could only go on the Sat & Sun, I found the Sunday less overwhelming and enjoyable as well.
    The Lovely Valarie Parv introduced herself to myself and another newbie at one of the workshops and she was so welcoming. How on earth does one remember everyone???

    I was trying to locate your photos from the conference???
    I shall keep looking around, as I know they are here. Because you said so. LOL.
    Great to have met you, Maryde