My writing buddy Joyce and I celebrating our first ever RWA conference.

From the moment I joined my local writing group, I heard about the Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference from fellow writers.

“It’s the largest conference for romance writers on the planet,” they said.

“Everyone goes there,” they said.

“It’s the place to network with everybody who’s anybody in the romance world,” they said.

“Hmmm,” I thought, shrinking a little inside. “I think I’ll just stay home.” I mean, no sense putting myself in front of a crowd of authors, agents, editors and publishers until I’m further along in the publishing process, right?

Little did I know over a year later I’d have two books released in two different genres with two different publishers. The time had come to experience another first in my writing journey: My first RWA conference. So, I talked it over with my writing friend Joyce, and before I knew it, we had booked two tickets to Orlando, Florida, and a room at the Walt Disney World Swan for the end of July.

What to expect?
Before we left for RWA, experienced conference-goers offered a lot of advice.

“Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes,” they said.

“Don’t worry about attending every workshop. It’s not possible to get to them all,” they said.

“Bring a sweater—those conference rooms get cold,” they said.

I imagined myself in a mass of authors, trying to navigate through long corridors into frigid, packed conference rooms in a short-sleeved dress and heels.

“Good advice,” I replied and packed my suitcase with comfy flats and an extra sweater.

Off to the races
Joyce and I soon found ourselves using the handy-dandy RWA conference app on our cell phones to plot our schedule before flying the friendly skies to Orlando.

We arrived in Florida at midnight on a sauna-like Tuesday night, a little tired but definitely ready to experience all the conference had to offer. Little did I know RWA17 would reveal a few surprises—here are my top five:

Surprise #1
It’s the People — Sure there are plenty of workshops on a variety of topics. But the greatest value for me came in the form of people—new authors and New York Times best sellers, rising stars and award winners, agents, editors, and owners from small and large presses, bloggers, librarians, readers, vendors, photographers and a top-notch wait staff. People from all aspects of the business and stages of development seemed willing and even eager to interact with little ole me.

Case in point: Wednesday morning, veteran author with more than 100 books under her belt in five different genres, Sharon Sala, treated Joyce and I and four other first-timers to breakfast. This was Sharon’s way of passing it on, and we couldn’t have been more grateful recipients. Not only did we get to enjoy a sumptuous Disney buffet, but Sharon also shared personal stories, offered advice and was genuinely interested in each of us.

Veteran author Sharon Sala treated me and several other first-timers to breakfast on day one of the conference.

Surprise #2
The RITA Ceremony Was Something Special — And not only because it was like The Oscars, although it was. I write this because I didn’t know one of this year’s award winners, but I shared in their excitement like it was my own. Seeing these authors and editors who had worked so hard to write an exceptional book receive their awards was in turns gut-wrenching and inspirational, adrenaline-pumping and emotional. Hats off to whoever wrote the scripts and put together the videos for the event because they were all of the above as well.

Enjoying the RITAs as VIPs–we innocently sat at the wrong table. Lucky for us, the other occupants (editors and agents) were gracious.

Surprise #3
You Really CAN Meet Your Favorite Author — I’m not much of a “fan girl.” But anyone who knows me will tell you that Jayne Ann Krentz is my favorite author. You see, Jayne and I go back—far, far back—as far back as the 1980’s when I read my first paranormal and fell in love with her work. Jayne says she was too ahead of the genre, and it wasn’t the greatest career move. I know because when Joyce and I decided to take a little break from all the RITA excitement and grab a Sangria at the bar, Jayne was sitting at the table next to us…all alone…nursing a drink. A perfect invitation for me to introduce myself and ask a question or two…or in my case, at least twenty. Jayne confessed she worried no one would show for her workshop the next day that she was doing with her best bud, New York Times best seller and all around rock star Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Really? Jayne Anne Krentz suffers writer’s doubts just the same as I do? Yes, she does. And what’s more, she has the same concerns I have as a new author. Stuff like how to best market her books and create publicity. Jayne even gave me a tip, advising me to “claim” my books on BookBub, as they promote them with emails.

Jayne Ann Krentz and I bonding in the restaurant bar at the Walt Disney World Swan hotel. I managed a calm facade, but my stomach was doing somersaults.

Surprise #4
I Fan Girled Over the Founder of Sourcebooks — Okay, “girled” may not be a word. But, it’s true. She wooed me with data, bowled me over with insight and inspired me with her passion—not just for publishing books but for helping authors succeed in a crowded marketplace.

The company tagline? “We publish authors. Not books.”

This from someone who started the company out of her home with a $17,000 loan from her 401K. The company is now the #10 publisher in the country.

When someone asked her how important it is to Sourcebooks that authors have a social platform, she replied, “The job of publisher is to make it public. We don’t need you to do it. Make great work! What we need from you is to be coachable and to write an extraordinary story.”

I was so pumped after her data-driven workshop, I literally chased her down in the lobby to tell her how truly amazing I thought she was. She was on her way to catch a flight but graciously posed for a selfie with me. How cool is that?

Dominique Raccah is not only the visionary leader of publisher Sourcebooks, she also takes a great selfie.

Surprise #5
The Literacy Signing Was Well Worth It — I debated over the literacy signing. Should I attend? It’s a great cause. But hundreds of authors partake in this event, most with much bigger names than me. Besides, no one knows me in Florida…who would possibly buy my book? Not only did I sell two copies to strangers, several attendees took pictures to purchase later online. Plus, I was fortunate to be placed next to Rachel Van Dyken, a popular author who was generous enough to give me a free T-shirt, put me on her live video and pass along her business card so I could reach out if I ever wanted to cross-promote. A win-win all the way around.

Receiving support and a hug from fellow Boroughs Publishing Group author, Michelle Pashko from Canada. Michelle and I met up for the first time at the conference.

Home, Sweet Home
I left Orlando early this morning, my brain buzzing with ideas and my heart full of excitement.

Was RWA17 worth it? You betcha.

Will I attend again? Most definitely.

Should you pack a sweater and comfy shoes? Don’t leave home without them.

 

Joyce and I with the fabulous Jennifer Probst, who writes contemporary romance. I can’t wait to read the book she signed for me.

P.S. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, I also managed to pitch three agents while I was there, each offering to look at my next manuscript. Time to get busy.

P.P.S. If you are a member of RWA and you were not able to attend the conference, be sure and download the data driven session sponsored by Sourcebooks.

Expect the Unexpected: Top 5 Surprises from #RWA2017 Click To Tweet