This year I went to my first RWA conference. YAY! I had so much fun and I met so many amazing people. Seriously, everyone I met was so nice and sweet. I’m beyond glad I went. To all my online friends, you all know me as a book lover and I get really excited talking about books. In my YouTube videos, I’m much more outgoing than I normally am. Typically, I am rather quiet and reserved. Knowing my disposition and personality, I was nervous about going to my first conference. I kept wondering if it would be overwhelming or I would get anxious being there. But, the people in attendance made me forget about being quiet on day one.
The two people happened to be Piper J. Drake and Gail Carriger. I stopped by the bookstand and there they were being their amazing selves. I was trying to work up the courage to approach them and Piper noticed I was looking at the pair. She came over to me and struck up a conversation that lasted a little while. This was the start of my conference experience and I was already considering the entire event a win from this one interaction alone.
I made it a point of my conference experience to attend as many book signings as possible. Hello, free books, party of one! But, more than that, I wanted to meet the writers whom I’ve been reading for years and truly admire. If you are following me on Instagram, you saw the amazingness that was the RWA book signings. I fangirled a few times…and may have full on cried when I met Meg Cabot, whom I’ve been reading since I was ten years old. Hey, that’s more than half my life (not telling you my age), so a few glistening tears are permissible (if not encouraged). In order to get into the signings and not get lost in the shuffle or lose out on the chance to meet your favorite writers, you had to be in line early for the signings. At every signing, I was able to meet people before, during, and after. Talk about friendly! I met people in line waiting to go in, during the signings (when I was waiting in line again), and after walking out with an arm full (or, in my case, a bag full) of books. Everyone was at this conference to learn, have fun, and meet people.
The overall environment was encouraging and accepting. The atmosphere was utterly unique. At one point, during the RITA awards, the song from High School Musical “We’re All in This Together” was on. People at RWA are supportive and are there for you. There was no need to hesitate or worry.
What I Learned From Attending RWA Book Signings:
1. Wearing sneakers was a great idea. If you see my Instagram pictures, you see me from the waist up for the most part (with the exception of one or two photos). You don’t see my sneakers. Sneaky sneakers. Bad joke, but a necessary one. I picked out a nice shirt that I was comfortable in, knowing I would be taking a few pictures along the way. I wanted to look nice. But, at the same time, I knew that I was going to be moving about, so nice translated to a simple sweater and long-sleeve blouses paired with comfortable pants. If you go to book signings, you are going to be standing around. Lines to get in and then lines to get books. The lines are more than worth it. Believe me. Just be prepared for this experience.
2. If you really want to meet one or two authors, in particular, make meeting them your goal for that particular book signing. Some of you might remember my live Instagram stories in which I kept you updated about the search for Meg Cabot. I didn’t see her on day one, but I knew she was published with Avon and doing a book signing. As soon as I saw the Avon book signing in my conference schedule, I highlighted it, underlined the title, drew a star, set a reminder in my phone, and added a post-it note as a bookmark to mark the page.
3. So Popular! This is probably going to be obvious, but if you love an author, chances are other people love them too. If they are a best seller, they have lots of readers. For instance, the line for Shelly Laurenston was **long**. I couldn’t even see her table over all the heads of people in line. At her particular book signing, I was in line for at least twenty minutes (probably longer). Same was true for Sylvia Day. If your author is well-known, be patient, your chance to meet them will come, you just might have to wait for it. <- Hamilton joke not intended, but always fun.
4. RWA is first and foremost a conference for writers. People are there to attend workshops and learn how to be better creators. Keeping this in mind, you should know that the book signings occur during scheduled writing workshops. You have to prioritize your time according to what you want to do. Personally, I’ve taken **a number** of writing classes over the years from undergraduate to master’s to Writer’s Digest to Masterclass to Grub Street, I’ve attended a lot of lectures. Yet, I had never met most of these authors before. Picking and choosing was easy for me.
5. Bring an extra tote bag. When I checked in at RWA, the woman at the counter gave me a tote bag. Throughout the conference, writers, goodie room giveaway items, and book-signing helpers gave out additional bags. My advice, nicely fold one and tuck it into your purse or something. Most of the book signings handed out additional tote bags so that you could put your signed books aside after meeting one author and move onto the next. Yet, there was one book signing I attended that specifically did not hand out tote bags on day three of RWA and some people looked confused or surprised by this. Personally, I was too. All of the previous signings I attended had given us bags, I had assumed this one would too. Never assume. I’ve mentioned this before in other posts and videos, but I carry a tote bag as a purse. There is always room in that bag. I lucked out. Other people were not as lucky, holding an arm full of books. If that were me, I would have tripped and dropped them everywhere and lost one or something. I would not have been able to happily maneuver the crowd, wait in line, and hold onto books. Multi-tasking for the win. If that was you, I am impressed! After this book signing, I kept an extra tote bag in my purse. And, guess what, I used it. More than once.
6. My mother is a genius. For my birthday last year, my mother bought me a portable recharger. Do not judge her gift giving. I hook it up to my computer, it charges, and I can carry it with me in the off chance that I need to recharge my phone (and can’t simply stay put and take over an outlet). From waiting in line to attending the event, I used my phone a lot. I checked my social media accounts while waiting (specifically looking for #RWA2018 posts), I looked up additional conference info, checked the RWA conference app, and more. Those phone batteries don’t last all day. A recharger was a brilliant gift and idea. If my phone died before I got to take a picture with Maya Rodale or Alisha Rai, I would have been very disappointed. (Special shout out to these amazing women!)
What I Learned as a First Time RWA Attendee:
1. Wear your nametag! Wear your nametag! Wear your nametag! Did I mention you should wear your nametag? Do not lose it. When people saw that I was a first time attendee, they made it a point to say hello in lines and answer any questions I had.
2. A subsequent note about your nametag, use it to show your social media handle if you are someone people know from the online world. If your name is Sarah but you go by something unique having to do with books or plants or animals and your given name has no correlation to your online name (other than that it is you posting the content) include it! RWA lets you add a line to your nametag when you sign up, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add anything extra when you get your nametag. Grab a pen and write that social media handle. If you want to mention your state, your writing group, or something else, you can.
3. The genre ribbons. This was something I didn’t know about before attending. In fact, it was something I didn’t fully understand until day two of the conference. When I signed in, there was a second location to pick up ribbons (at least I’m calling them ribbons). They are identifiers that you can add onto your nametag. If you write contemporary, you would pick out the contemporary ribbon and add it under your name so that people not only know who you are, but what you write. I looked around and saw people with these add-ons, but I had no idea where they got them. Not a clue. No one told me at check-in to go look for ribbons. I was a first-time attendee. I didn’t know. At one point, I was waiting in line and chatting with a very sweet woman and asked her where she got them. She told me what they were and where to go. After the book signing, I made a beeline for those ribbons. I wanted mine.
4. I lost my first set of ribbons. (Insert sad face emoji here.) I added Contemporary, New Adult, Young Adult, Paranormal, Plotter, and one or two other ribbons. Maybe there were too many. Maybe jumped up and down when I met a writer (fangirling) and they fell off. We will never know. Anyway, I lost the first set of ribbons. After this, I taped the new ones onto my nametag. No one sees the back of your nametag (unless you specifically turn it around to show them). If you need to scotch tape those ribbons on, you scotch tape those ribbons on. I did.
Additional Notes & Takeaways:
1. Have business cards ready to go and keep them in a location that is easy to access. Please don’t be that person who has to turn your bag inside out to find a folded business card with some mystery smudging along the sides. Keep your business cards professional and concise: include your name, genre (and subgenres if applicable), website, and social media handle. You can include your email and additional information as well, but that is your call. Honesty moment, I am much more inclined to simply go onto your social media accounts and follow you there than I am to email you directly and speak back and forth via email. Everyone has their personal preferences; that is mine. Then, if we are following each other on Twitter or Instagram, we can direct message, aka DM, there if something were to come up. The people whom I connected with at RWA are now a part of my online circles. Do not lose contact with the spectacular people you meet. These are your new best friends and people you will be reading someday.
2. If you are shy like myself, have a buddy! My RWA best friend was Victoria Luce. You probably saw her in a number of my Instagram posts. She seriously made RWA even better for me. Love you, girlie!
3. Make new friends. Okay, story time. I was waiting in line for HelenKay Dimon (who is awesome and everyone should be reading) and I was speaking with this super friendly and sweet woman. We were chatting for a solid five minutes before she asked me if this was my first time attending RWA. I proceeded to answer and mid-question back to her, “Have you ever been to RWA before?” I stopped my question after “ever” (never completing my thought) because I looked down at her nametag. It was *the* Scarlett Cole. Her name tag read S-C-A-R-L-E-T-T C-O-L-E. Scarlett Cole!! (squeals with girlish glee) She was in line waiting for her chance to say hello to HelenKay and there I was having a conversation with her like it was completely normal to be speaking to someone whose books you’ve devoured. Scarlett (yes, I’m now on a first name basis with Scarlett Cole) proceeded to talk to me the entire time we were in line and then invited me to dinner with her and a group of her writing friends. I may or may not have called my mom and asked her if she remembered a certain book I gave her a few months back. I then had the distinct pleasure of saying I went out to dinner with the author. Talk about the ultimate reader experience. RWA experience made. Life complete. Mic drop.
I didn’t vlog my RWA experience for my YouTube channel because I wanted to simply be in the moment and not put the pressure of filming on myself. I didn’t want to worry about memory cards or recharging batteries. I wanted to focus on the writers in attendance and not miss a moment of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Plus, I was taking some notes along the way for my dissertation on the romance genre readership. More on that later, I promise.
I am already excited about next year’s RWA. Hello, New York!
If you have ever been to RWA, please tell me what you learned from attending. If you haven’t been to RWA, but have additional questions for me, please ask them. This post is detailed (2,300+ words), but it could have been even longer. I may post a follow-up blog sometime in the future, so if you have comments/questions, please let me know!
Thank you so much for reading. Have an amazing reading day + Please stay kind and creative!