I went to my first RWA Nationals in 2003, when it was held in the Big Apple. I didn't know a soul except my roommate and she was only there for part of the time. I had only finished my sad little western, but I was working on the manuscript that would become my debut MAIDENSONG (a Diana Groe title which is now sadly out of print. There are still used copies available on most online stores). The pitch appointments were all filled by the time I registered that year so I couldn't talk to an editor or agent about my fledgling work.
That was probably a good thing. I'd have had no idea what to say.
So I attended every craft workshop I could squeeze into my schedule and by the time the conference was over, I thought my brain was going to start leaking. The presenters had given me so much to think about, I couldn't wait to get home and implement the new ideas.
But I couldn't shake the feeling that there was another conference going on in tandem with the one I attended. One that required a wink and a nod and a secret handshake which I wasn't privy to. No matter. My first conference met my needs right where I was. It filled me up with new knowledge about the craft of storytelling.
Then a few months later my DH lost his job, so I had to skip the 2004 Nationals. I was too busy working 40 hours a week and trying to learn how to write nights and weekends. I finished ERINSONG and another still unpubbed story during that time.
By the time 2005 and Nationals in Reno rolled around, my fortunes had changed dramatically. I'd received "The Call!" I met my lovely editor Leah Hultenschmidt of Dorchester for the first time. It was my first peek behind the curtain into that 'Other Conference,' the one where networking was the byword, relationships were cemented and deals were struck.
From 2006-2009, I had books to sign at the Literacy Signing. I was invited to my publisher's parties and my agent got me in to some of the others. In 2009, I presented my first workshop at Nationals NEUROTICA~Adding Humor to your Prose. I hobnobbed with authors whose work I adored and tried not to stammer when I met highpowered bookbuyers, editors and reviewers. This part of the 'Other Conference' terrified me, but it's so necessary to learn to be comfortable with the business side of writing.
Now I love that part of conference. In fact, I could probably count the number of workshops I attended in DC last year on one hand. And yet Nationals met the changing needs of my writing career.
This year, I'm sorry to admit I will not be in Orlando. I had signed up for Nashville, had my room booked at the Opryland Hotel and was slated to appear on a panel, but when the venue was changed, I was told initially that the panel was being cancelled. I took a hard, business-like look at my options. Since I'd just signed contracts obligating me for 6 novels and a novella before July 15, 2011, I could definitely use the writing time. And I had to weigh whether the money I'd spend on Nationals would be better spent hiring a developer to design a website for my new Mia Marlowe pen name.
I think I made the right decision, but there's still some niggling regret. The jazz of being with so many creative people is a rush I've become addicted to and I won't get my fix this year. I'll miss the excellent keynote speakers, the excitement of the Golden Heart and Ritas (the Emmy and Oscar of the Romance World), the buzz of meeting so many writing and reading friends. But for right now, the post-it on my computer says, "It's the deadlines, stupid!"
So how about you? Are you going to Nationals? If not, do you live close enough to attend the Literacy Signing at least? If you've attended a writer/reader's conference, do you have a funny story to share?