Conference Jitters by Christine Ashworth

Calming Your Conference Jitters

Hi, everyone! Welcome to the wonderful world of the California Dreamin’ Writer’s Conference. Romance writers are the most generous, most giving, most supportive people in the publishing world, so set your expectation right now that you’re going to have a wonderful time at the conference this month.

Whether this is your first, or your tenth-plus conference, there’s always something to get nervous about. So let me tell you a few secrets, hm?

jitterFirst off, everyone is in the same boat. The new people are nervous because it’s their first conference. The old-timers are nervous because they’re probably giving workshops, or pitching again after not having to pitch for a long time. The agents and editors are nervous because they really want to find the Next Big Thing, and they’re afraid someone will faint on them (but more about that later).

What you need to remember, no matter where on the spectrum you fall, is that we’re all in this together. We’re all here to learn, to have fun, to teach, to pitch and be pitched to, to laugh and hug and buy books at the book signing, to sign books, to giggle with our roommates till the wee hours of the morning, and then wake up bright-eyed for another long day.

Conference is our reward for holing up in our rooms day after day, night after night, getting those words down, so do plan on having fun!

Okay now, regarding those agents and editors/publishers who will be here; I’m going to let you in on a little secret. They’re people, too. They’re friendly, fun people who, like you, are here to work (and maybe to escape the snows back east, but that’s fine with us). The very best thing about small conferences is you can talk with these people in a relaxed setting.

Didn’t sign up for a pitch? Maybe, just maybe, you can pitch to an editor or agent at lunch, or at the Dessert Reception on Friday night, or maybe in the bar. Be yourself, be friendly (not pushy!), and when they happen to ask you, “So what kind of romance do you write?” be prepared to give a clean, concise answer. Here’s a sample conversation:

Agent/Editor:  Hi, person to my left. What kind of romance do you write?

You, the Writer:  I write (insert your genre here – contemporary, paranormal, historical, erotica, etc).

Agent/Editor:  Cool. I’m actually looking to acquire that genre. What’s your current story about?

You, the Writer: It’s about a princess in hiding who is looking for the last Jedi Master to help her save her planet.

Agent/Editor: Sounds fascinating. Is it finished?

You, the Writer: Why, yes it is. It’s complete at 60,000 words.

Agent/Editor:  Then I’d love to see your first three chapters. Here’s my card.

Of course, not all agents and editors are going to (a) be actively acquiring what you’re writing or (b) ask you to send them chapters, but at smaller conferences, the possibility is high.  Agents and editors are people who want you to succeed, and there is absolutely no reason to be so terrified that you faint. Unfortunately, a lot of new conference goers don’t get the memo, and they shake in their shoes, develop a bad stomach ache/head ache, and forget to blink, until their pitch is over and done with.

If this is your first time, be prepared to be welcomed and congratulated for being there. Need a topic of conversation? Ask someone with a Speaker tag what they are going to be speaking about. That will help calm their nerves, which will help calm your nerves, and everyone gets to be friends. Cool, huh?

If you can, print out the conference schedule and try to choose from the myriad of tracks we have. It can be hard, when you want to go to three different workshops, and they’re all at the same hour, so a little forethought ahead of time may save you workshop angst.

Oh, and business cards. Yes, you need them. They are inexpensive at VistaPrint, or at Staples I believe, so check it out and grab some before the week before conference. Then make sure you pack them.

Clothes-wise, even though we’re in southern California, it is the end of March and therefore unpredictable. Not to mention, hotels can get cold (and hot!); so layer your business casual clothes, and you’ll be fine. Remember you want to give off a professional air; but suits/heels and hose aren’t necessary (because California!), unless, of course, that’s how you’re branding yourself.

Above all, come expecting to have a great time, and to meet new friends. It only takes one conference to get hooked.

Can’t wait to see you all there!

Cheers,

Christine Ashworth


ChristineAshworth1-150x150Christine Ashworth is a romantic from way back, having first picked up Harlequin romances at the age of twelve, then falling in love with bigger books when she swiped her mother’s copy of Rosemary Rogers’ Sweet Savage Love.

She’s happily married to an actor/dancer/guitarist/hippy man, has two tall sons, and tends to her garden and her family in southern California. You can read about her cooking, gardening, and wine picks at her website.

Conference Etiquette by Maria Connor

Conference Etiquette a la Rob Lowe

etiquetteI love attending conferences because of the people. I also hate attending conferences because of the people…well, maybe just one or two people.

The majority of people attending romance writer events are friendly, courteous and professional. They understand the concept of networking and socially acceptable behavior for business events.

In the spirit of Rob Lowe’s DirecTV commercials, I thought I’d showcase some of the less attractive Conference Attendee Personalities that occasionally make an appearance at romance writer conferences.

THE HOMESTEADER

This is the person who takes up two (or three or four) seats in a room with personal items such as a laptop, backpack or purse. Sometimes they really settle in for a comfortable stay by propping their feet on the chair in front of them.

Etiquette tip: Put your personal items under your seat, especially if the room is crowded.

If you see people in need of a chair and there’s an empty one near you, raise your hand to let them know. When they sit down, smile and say hello.

THE STALKER

There is a well-known legend within the romance writers’ community about the conference newbie who was so excited to meet an editor that she followed the poor woman into the bathroom and proceeded to pitch her story to the editor through the stall door. Believe it or not, I witnessed a similar transaction! These stalkers are generally harmless, but their lack of professional boundaries is a bright red flag that screams NEWBIE.

Etiquette tip: New writers are frequently in awe of publishing icons like editors, agents and bestselling authors. To be “up close and personal” with romance industry “celebrities” may trigger the impulse to act like a fan girl. However, if your goal is to become a peer to these professionals, you must conduct yourself accordingly.

There is a time and place for pitching and querying, and it isn’t the powder room.

THE PARTY GIRL

Beware the after-hour meet-and-mingles, especially those featuring open bars. Alcohol makes people do crazy things, like gossip, act overly familiar, stumble in stilettos and—God forbid!—barf.

Etiquette tip: Limit yourself to one or two drinks, and remind yourself that this is a professional event, even if attending a party or dining out with a group of friends. Make it a rule to never, ever gossip or reveal proprietary information.

THE MONOPOLIZER

proper-tableHave you ever approached a speaker after a workshop to express thanks or ask a quick question, and lost the opportunity because the person who got there first kept talking and talking and talking and talking? Before too long, it’s time for the next workshop and The Monopolizer still has the speaker cornered. This is the same person you encounter at parent-teacher conferences who uses up 80 percent of someone else’s appointment.

Etiquette tip: Please be sensitive to the fact that you are not the only conference attendee. Many other people would like an opportunity to connect with the same people you want to meet. Make your exchange with a speaker/industry professional brief and ask if you follow-up with them via email or another time.

And a gentle suggestion to The Monopolized: if you see a line of people waiting to speak with you, please tactfully move The Monopolizer along. This acknowledges that you value everyone’s time and attention.

THE SPOTLIGHT HOG

This person may be afflicted by a condition known as Me-Me-Me syndrome. Symptoms include revealing too much information (TMI), lack of social reciprocation and egocentric myopia.

Etiquette tip: If someone asks what you write, ask what they write. If someone asks about your book plot, give them one sentence, not a play-by-play. Encourage everyone at your lunch table to join the conversation.

Remember, the art of small talk is about making the other person feel big.

THE PAPARAZZO

What happens at your conference may not stay at the conference, given our love of social media and cell phones. There always seems to be someone snapping photos or video which then makes its way to Instagram or Facebook, often without the awareness and/or permission of those captured in the image.

Etiquette tip: Ask permission before taking photos or video, even in public areas. This includes speakers, presenters and publishing professionals.

THE BEACH BUM (may show up with her sisters THE BAG LADY and THE STREET WALKER)

You are attending a conference, not a fashion show, but there are some firm rules of thumb. Shorts, sweat pants and hoochie mama dresses are better left at home.

Etiquette tip: The conference you are attending is a professional event. You will be judged by your appearance so keep that in mind when it comes to personal hygiene (skip the perfume!) and clothing (business casual works every time).

There are exceptions for theme events and social outings, but consider the impression you’ll make before stepping out in that Vampira-Slut-of-the-Undead outfit.

THE CELL PHONE ADDICT

Posture is a dead giveaway for The Cell Phone Addict. She is usually hunched over, eyes on her lap, thumbs flying. Engaging with your cell phone (texting or talking) during meals and workshops is distracting and rude.

Etiquette tip: When you arrive for your conference, set your device to vibrate and leave it there until you leave.

A discreet peek to make sure there are no urgent messages from your husband who was left in charge of the children is acceptable.

Looking forward to seeing all of the wonderful romance writers—and one of these crazy personalities—at California Dreamin’.


Maria-ConnorMaria Connor has been a member of RWA since 1998. She has volunteered at both the local and national level, and holds membership in numerous RWA chapters, including Kiss of Death, First Coast Romance Writers, RWA-San Diego, Outreach International, Contemporary Romance Writers, RWA’s The Golden Network, Passionate Ink and the Yellow Rose RWA.

In 2013 she founded My Author Concierge, an author support business that provides editorial, technical, marketing and administrative services. Over the past two years, she has worked with more than 50 authors, primarily within the romance genre. She writes sexy, sassy contemporary romance under the pen names EmKay Connor and Margo Diamond. She recently released SAND BETWEEN YOUR TOES and has another soon-to-be-released novella, WHAT LIES BENEATH, from Ellora’s Cave.

Why Attend a Writer’s Conference?! by Cami Brite

You might wonder why people make such a big deal about writer’s conferences. Why should you attend one if you already know enough about writing to get words on a page? Writers spend a lot of solitary time at the keyboard. Sometimes we need to get out of our heads, and a conference is the perfect place to do that.

IMG_4251This year, I went to the Romance Writers of America national conference in San Antonio. With about 2,000 attendees, it’s a big deal with three full days of about 100 workshops on a variety subjects, three keynote speakers, spotlight sessions on various publishers, pitch appointments with editors and agents, book signings by published authors, the annual RITA & Golden Heart awards ceremony, and other things I can’t recall at the moment. Many chapters and publishers also host parties and events, so there’s always something to do.

I attended more workshops than my mind could take in and had a great time getting to know people from my local chapter as well as many others.

I had my very first pitch with an editor, which was inspiring. It was wonderful to sit down with a knowledgeable industry insider, to tell her a bit about my characters and their story, and to get some objective feedback. We talked until the very last moment, and I left with a smile on my face and her card tucked safely inside my conference badge holder.

I returned home both exhausted and energized. Despite being incredibly tired and having a huge assortment of laundry ahead of me, I felt buoyed up with a sense of empowerment. Before the conference, I had been dragging my feet when it came to my daily writing commitment. Now, I’m eager to put words to the page.

Here are four great reasons to attend a conference:

  • Education: Workshops on a variety of topics offer something new to learn (or something vital to relearn). My favorite workshop at the RWA conference was Sarah Maclean’s presentation on Mastering the Art of Great Conflict. I didn’t learn anything new, but she summed up all the important points we need to remember when plotting out a story. (And she did it with panache. The whole room was buzzing.)
  • Networking: Conferences provide rare and relatively painless exposure to editors, agents, and other writers in both formal and casual settings. The contacts made at a conference might be the most important in a writer’s career.
  • Pitching: The opportunity to pitch your work to editors and agents is rare in a normal writer’s life. Sure, you can tell your story to friends and family…but why not tell someone who can help get your book finished and published?
  • Motivation: Call it conference afterglow. Following a conference, it’s possible you’ll find yourself writing better and faster than you have in years.

Next March, I’ll be at the California Dreamin’ conference, ready to fuel up with a new dose of empowerment. Will I see you there?


camib-1Cami Brite belongs to Los Angeles Romance Authors (LARA). When not busy with her day job and web duties for LARA and the California Dreamin’ Writers Conference, she is busily working on her very first contemporary romance novel, currently entitled Hotel California.

You can find Cami at her website and on twitter.