I see anxiety ramping up for RWA Nationals and it’s enough to make ME nervous for all those people who are letting their nerves get the best of them. Nationals can be a frantic, fast-paced conference for some but it can also be not only a lot of fun, but an incredible source of energy that will help you remember why you love writing and give you a ton of motivation to get back to your keyboard and get back to work. But in all the things people are talking about doing for preparing for #rwa12, the manicures, the visits to the salon, the party dresses and the right shoes, there’s a few key things that you should remember about this conference, and any other.
1) When next week is over, and we’re all back doing a postmortem of the conference, nobody will remember if you had your nails or hair done, or if your shoes perfectly matched your dress. But they will remember if you got completely trashed and made a fool of yourself. This is a fun conference, but it’s also a professional conference. Don’t let the heady excitement of being out with your peers and away from the husband and kids make you forget that you’re still at a professional conference, and you don’t want anyone’s most vivid memory of you to be puking in a trash can, stumbling to your room, or screaming at the barstaff for not getting your next drink to you quickly enough (I’ve witnessed all of these things at conferences). Moderation. If you drink, do it in moderation, pace yourself, drink things that aren’t 3 shots of alcohol at once, drink lots of water in between and at all times, be sensible!
2) You’ll get out of the conference what you put into it. You’d be surprised at how many people you’re jealous of for having a great time, holding avid conversations with others or seeming to be everywhere at once are really closet introverts. Many of them are putting themselves way beyond their comfort zone in order to get the most out of the conference and you may have to do that as well. Introduce yourself to people, attend lots of workshops–not only are they amazing in helping grow your writing, but you can make contacts just by chatting up the person next to you in the workshop before and after! Get out of your room, ask the people you do know to introduce you to people you don’t know, sit at the bar by yourself (I meet a LOT of people this way) and chat up the person next to you if they’re wearing an RWA badge and don’t seem to be engaged in doing anything else. There are so many things you can do to make this experience not only fun, but professionally worthwhile. But only you can make yourself do these things. Now is not the time to let shyness or lack of confidence get the best of you.
3) Editors and agents are just people too. We’re not mythical creatures. We don’t hold the sum total of your career in our hands. We’re not all powerful or all knowing or all anything (sorry to bust through any illusions!) We’re just people. So if you have a pitch appointment, it’s okay to be nervous, but not so nervous that you make yourself sick. Look, the worst you’re going to hear is no, but you’re likely to hear it pretty kindly. And no, while not what you want to hear, doesn’t mean your career is over, it just means you move on to the next choice, work harder, keep networking, attend the workshops to grow your craft and hey, keep moving forward because you will be published! In addition to all that, even if you don’t have pitch appointments, it’s okay to talk to us (just don’t talk at us). If you like our books, our blog, our Twitter, if you just want to say thanks for a personal rejection, or introduce yourself because you’ll be submitting in the future…those are all perfectly okay as long as you don’t a) do it in the bathroom (I’ve actually had people wait for me outside the bathroom so they don’t do it in the bathroom, lolol) and b) interrupt a 1:1 conversation. Don’t interrupt a one-on-one conversation. But if it looks like we’re in a big group at the bar, just chatting, it’s generally okay to just approach for a quick intro or minute or two of convo. It’s actually hard to find us when we’re not in convo, eh?
And even though I said it was only 3, there’s one last thing I want you to remember as you proceed to Nationals: Voices carry. Stories travel. People remember. Don’t say or do anything while you’re with a friend, at the conference hotel, at a local restaurant, or even at Disneyland, that you wouldn’t want everyone to hear. Be discreet, because you never know who’s sitting next to you, walking by your hotel room (hey, you really can hear conversations through the door!) or standing in line behind you. And not only that, be polite. The “anonymous” person you’re rude to might be the managing editor of the publisher you just signed with (yeah, that’s happened too! Not to me but…remember how I said stories travel?)
So there you have it, my tips for the most important things (okay, what I think are the most important things) to remember as you make your way to conference. Don’t let your nerves get the best of you now, because you’re going to have an amazing time & you’ll wonder later why you worked yourself up so much!
If you have other tips that you’d like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments. I’d love to hear them. There’s always something more to learn about getting the most out of conference!