Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Writer's Wednesday - Conference Tips

This Writer's Wednesday the editors and columnists of The Pink Heart Society bring you some handy dandy conference tips - whether you're jetting off to RWA Nationals in Orlando, ROMCON in Colorado, the RomAus conference in Australia, or any of the other conferences going on around the globe in Romancelandia this summer!

Everyone is abuzz about what conferences they'll be attending this summer. For some this is old hat - they've been to several. But for others, this is the first time they're heading to a major conference (like RWA Nationals). You're looking at anywhere from 3-5 days jam-packed full of socializing, learning,'s a jungle out there. So here are some times from our PHS Columnists and Editors to make your conference experience rock!

Anne McAllister: Smile. If you're an extrovert, you probably will anyway. But for those of us who find 2000 plus people in one space a little mind-bending, just remember that smiling not only makes everyone else around happier, chances are it will make you happier, too. And enjoy!

Fiona Harper: Take earplugs. A good night's sleep is essential if you don't want brain meltdown attending all those workshops. Earplugs help with noisy neighbours, or any noises inside or outside your room that are unfamiliar and likely to stop you dropping off and staying in the land of snooze. (Donna Alward agrees with this. Earplugs were a wonderful thing last year!)

Fiona also says If the conference is being recorded, buy the DVDs/MP3s. You can't possibly make it to every workshop. Take the pressure off yourself and pick the ones that really excite you - you can always listen to them again at home if you couldn't take notes fast enough, and I guarantee you'll get even more out of them when you're not jetlagged/exhausted. I listen to my RWA conference CDs on my iPod when I go to the gym or when I'm driving in my car - they last all year until the next conference!

Kate Walker: Put a small cotton or similar fold up tote bag in a pocket or purse - then you have something to carry the handouts/giveaways etc - and there are always those books you want to buy in the bookstall.

Kate also makes a great point about approaching authors. "Remember that published writers are only human - this means that they (OK - most) will be easily approachable and happy to talk - if you approach them at the right time. Published authors can get as overwhelmed as non-pubbed - when an author is talking with an agent/senior editor - any editor is not the best time to approach. But if they are looking a bit lonely - eg at the big RWA signing that's a good time to stop and say Hi.

A popular theme comes from Nicola Marsh, Fiona Harper, and Kate Hardy. Nic says, Take time out when you need it. It's so easy to get swept away in the hype, the networking, the fun but taking a moment to regroup your thoughts/grab a caffeine boost can set you up for the rest of the conference. Kate's tip to this effect is don't feel you have to go to every single session - if you give yourself some "break" time, it'll stop you feeling overwhelmed and give you a chance to absorb what you've heard. And Fiona says: Know that, like a marathon runner, you will hit the "wall" at some point. It's inevitable with all the information going into your brain. Hits different people at different times. Try and factor in a bit of down time to give yourself a rest.
I (Donna) agree with this 100%. Last year was my first Nationals and I deffo hit The Wall at a time I least expected it. The next day I could feel the slide so worked in an hour in a quiet corner with friends Kate Walker and Holly Jacobs. Fiona and I have such similar tips - probably because we spent most of conference together...

Kate Hardy had another tip that made me smile - Bring your own tea bags. I remember Trish Wylie lamenting the tea situation in San Fran a few years ago, so it's a great idea if you have a fave for a cuppa or like me don't trust someone else to make it for you!

Michelle Styles: Plan ahead. Look at the schedule and decide which workshops you must see. Be flexible. Sometimes the best things happen at unexpected times! And say hello to people, particularly if you are sitting next to them.

Annie West has some great tips! She said "The other thing I've learned in the last couple of years is to clear as much of my normal work as possible before a conference because immediately afterwards my head is so full of great ideas on how to improve my current story, or ways to tackle another one, all I want to do is write."

And I'm with Annie on the next point too: if it's at all possible, book an extra night. Arriving as the conference opens is a rush. You're trying to work out what workshop you want to get to, where the rooms are and catching up with people you haven't seen in ages at the same time. It's exhilerating but frantic. Having that little extra time to settle in and get your bearings is fantastic. You'll usually meet a couple of other early birds and it eases you into the swing of the conference. You feel calmer (perfect if you're going to be pitching your story) and ready to hit the conference at full capacity.

Donna Alward: If you're like me, you also want to take the opportunity to sight see. I haven't traveled much so going to Washington was amazing! The extra night is a must, or even 2 if you expect to do any sight seeing. Last year I tacked a day on to the end. My tip would be to do it the other way around- go early. When conference ended last year, I really just wanted to get home to see my kids and sleep in my own bed - conferences are exhausting! I wish I'd gone a day earlier and done my sightseeing then. I definitely plan to do it that way next year if/when I go to New York.

Some quick practical tips:

  • Take cute but comfy shoes for daily workshop etc. activities and save the sassy stuff for parties and events. I had a pair of white flip flops that saw me through the day. Kate Walker had an awesome pair of sandals she wore to the PJ party that looked feet-friendly!
  • Take extra books - just in case yours don't make it for any signings. Also - it's handy to have a few copies in case an agent or editor asks - and yes, it does happen. If you have any left they go like hotcakes in the goody room.
  • Axe the perfume and take lotion. I live in fear of perfume bottles breaking in my luggage, so I took my favourite scent but in a body lotion. It lasts as long as perfume, smells the same, and keeps you moisturized.

Jenna Bayley-Burke: You never know who you're sitting next to. In Texas I found myself in an airport shuttle with a gaggle of authors and we started talking about the new Spice line...I reccomended what I thought was the best Spice so far and heard a squee from the back of the van - Jina Bacarr was so excited to hear her book talked about! And a friend of mine was having a great conversation with a man at one of the parties about her stories. She had no idea it was uber-agent Donald Maas until he gave her his card and asked her to send him the manuscript! So, be on your best behavior, be positive, and let the magic of the conference work its stuff!

Most of all have fun!


  1. Those are some great tips, especially about the DVDs. No matter how good your note taking, there's always more to be picked up later.
    I hope you all have a brilliant time!

  2. There are some great tips here. Two points I would make are:

    1. Stay hydrated. Coffee, soda and alcohol dehydrate. You'll be able to function better if you remember to drink water, and drink it before you're thirsty or light-headed. Those are two indicators that you're already dehydrated.

    2. Leave the perfume and scented soaps at home. Some conferences (such as RWA) actually post this on their website and in conference materials. Many people are allergic to scents. A scent allergy + asthma + hundreds of different perfumes is NOT fun, especially when it leads to hours spent at the ER. Please have some concern for your fellow conference attendees!

  3. Great tips here.

    My own would be: the goody room at RWA is amazing, and you'll end up with more than you can carry. Take a large bag--they often give you one when you check in but it's already got books in it, so take them back to your room first. A pull-along bag is also a really good idea for carrying those heavy books around!

    You'll bring back LOTS more than you took. I had an entire suitcase of goodies, free books, and raffle prizes last year. A big suitcase! Consider taking one case inside another on the trip out; or if you're flying with a stingy airline, try shipping your goodies home.

    I've also ended up stowing goodies in my case and stuffing clothes into my hand luggage. They're a lot lighter than books!

    If like me you're flying a long way to get to the conference, go a day early. I'm so glad I did this last year because on the first day, halfway through dinner with friends, jetlag kicked in. I suddenly felt too tired to move. I didn't even have the strength to pick up my drink and my words started slurring as if I was drunk (and no, I hadn't been drinking alcohol!). You don't want this to happen when you're at the conference proper, so try finding a friend who lives nearby, or book an extra night at the hotel. The night's rest will be worth it!

    Oh, and if you're British and you like your tea, think about a travel kettle. Those coffee makers are rubbish for a cuppa!