Monday, July 12, 2010

Confessions of an RWA Slacker

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?


Anonymous said...

I'm going to my first RWA National, and I fully expect to have the same sort of experience you had your first year. I'll watch for those secret handshakes, though!

I use to belong to a much larger RWA chapter in the 90s. They put on a full-day conference, and invited as the presenter a Now Very Famous Author who back then was writing series romances that were funny and sexy. I volunteered to be the chauffeur for N.V.F. Author, so I had some time alone with her.

I don't remember what she taught us in the workshop, but I learned two very valuable lessons from my time "Driving Miss Jenny." First, we don't necessarily want to be best friends with writers whose work we adore. And second, if I ever do get published, I should use my own name. That second item was advice direct from N.V.F. herself, so I intend to take it.

Gillian Layne said...

Ok, when I went to my first Nationals in 2007, it was also my first conference ever. Talk about an eye opener! I wore my nice little totally plain name tag, no pins, no ribbons, and I didn't even know enough to go to the first timer's orientation.

I went to a ton of book signings and workshops, no real parties, and was utterly overwhelmed by the "hugeness" of that final night. When I came home, I knew I wouldn't go again unless I was a GH finalist or had sold--just too much money!

And so here I am, a GH finalist, going to my second conference, but hey do I know what you mean about a separate conference. It was my fault, too--everyone was very nice, but I didn't know how to just mingle and approach strangers and sit in the bar and talk. I think this year's experience will be different--and I'm so sorry you won't be there! If I had those deadlines, however--I wouldn't be going.

As it is, my husband is now between jobs and I almost canceled this trip--but we are watching pennies and hoping the Lord wouldn't have provided this opportunity if He didn't intend for me to go.

EmilyBryan said...

Magdalen--Interesting story about the N.V.F. author. I think that speaks to our expectations about what someone is like based on their writing. Who they seem on the page isn't always the same as who they are IRL.

I try to just be myself, even if I am using a pen name. Anything else would be too weird.

EmilyBryan said...

Gillian--I'm crossing all my fingers and toes for you. Another thing I hate about not being there is not being able to scream my lungs out when they call your name.

After the conference, would you consider guest blogging about the experience of Golden Heart (No matter the outcome. At that level, you're definitely on the industry radar, girlfriend.)

I so feel your pain about your hubby's job loss. It's so hard for a man. I told my DH that it was his opportunity to learn that he was not his job--something many men fail to understand till they retire. He maintained a pretty good attitude for the 6 months he was job searching, but it's no vacation. I'll be praying for you both.

Gillian Layne said...

Thanks so much for the kind words about my husband's work. He's the son of farmers, and in health care, so he's always worked.

He will be leaving for a locum job--during Nationals, of course, so he won't be with me on Saturday night--and he's very much enjoyed his traveling work while he finished his master's degree, so that's good. And I would be tickled pink to come visit your blog after Nationals. I'm going to take my camera everywhere this time and take lots and lots of pictures! :)

Anonymous said...

I am going - sort of! My annual vacation to Disney World was set in stone when the location for RWA Nationals was first announced - Nashville. Ah well. But then the move happened and now it is in Orlando. I have already booked lots of vacation stuff not involving nationals - but hope to attend SOME of the public events and sneak into (tee hee) others. Not really, I am trying to get info on attending a portion and not the entire thing.

EmilyBryan said...

Gillian--My DH is a farm boy too! Small world.

It'll be great if you can visit the blog as my "eyes on the ground" at Nationals!

EmilyBryan said...

Jenna--I believe the only event open to the public is the Literacy Book Signing on Wednesday. It's a wonderful thing. All the publishers and authors donate their profits to a literacy charity. I'm trying to figure out how I can do something on the blog here to benefit the cause.

Have fun in FL!

librarypat said...

I was going to Nashville to the Signing and tried to go to Librarian Day. I had non-refundable reservations right next door to Opryland Hotel. They told me they would be reopened, but so far I don't think they are ready. I don't wish them ill, but I hope they aren't ready and have to refund our reservation. We have been to Nashville before and there is no other reason to go right now. Either way, we just got back from Florida and may be going back the end of October, so RWA is out. Too bad. I just found out about it and all these other conferences last year. Would have been fun. Maybe some other year I can make it.

Good luck with all those books for next year. I think I would be afraid to go too far from my computer until at least half of them were done.

EmilyBryan said...

Pat--One manuscript is done and turned in. The second is 2/3 complete. Next in queue is a novella due Oct. 15th and one more full manuscript by December 1st. I'm totally focused on meeting the deadlines this year and next.

As far as conferences in 2011 go, RT is in question for me because it's so early. I'll still have manuscripts due, but RWA Nationals is definitey on the radar, barring anything unforeseen. I hope to be able to meet you at a conference someday. It would have been fun to connect in Nashville.