BOOK OF THE
THE LAST PAGE
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT:
RWA Conference Tips for First Timers
Gwendolyn E. Osborne
Here's a "Little Known Black History Fact" for you. Romance Writers of America was organized in 1980 by an African-American woman named Vivian Stephens. One of only a few African-American editors in the publishing field at the time, Stephens bought the first works of several romance authors whose names now regularly appear on The New York Times bestseller's list. As an editor with Dell Candlelight, she published Entwined Destinies. Later, as a result of her work at Harlequin, she has been credited with modernizing and "Americanizing" the romance genre. Stephens put into place the concepts for the Harlequin American Romance, Harlequin Intrigue and Harlequin American Premier Editions.
Today, Romance Writers of America is a national organization of more than 8,000 members that calls itself "The Voice of Romance." RWA sponsors a national conference. This year's conference, "Books, Blues & Bourbon Street," was held in New Orleans. "The Big Easy" was as steamy as any romance by your favorite author.
Unlike most romance conferences, RWA's annual gathering is for writers. More than 100 workshops and events are geared toward helping romance writers improve their craft. However, there is a literacy signing - a fund raiser for local and national literacy programs - that is open to the public. It is held on Wednesday, the day before the official opening of the convention, and several hundred authors sign their books.
The conference offers something for everyone - including a seminar to help first-time attendees get the most from the event. The workshops are divided into tracks that give conferees an opportunity to attend sessions that will assist them at their current level in the genre and beyond. Varied workshop titles included "Show Me the Money: Advances and Royalties," "Writing Between the Laugh Lines: Getting the Humor Right," "Working with the FBI: High Profile Cases," "Sex vs. Sensuality: The Art of Layering Your Love Scenes," and "The Scoundrels of Historic New Orleans." And then there was "Fevers and Leeches: Hygiene, Disease and Treatment in the 19th Century."
It is surprising to note that only 1,600 of the 8,400 RWA members have published "book-length romantic fiction." The authors in that category are part of the organization's Published Authors Network (PAN). According to author Shirley Hailstock serves as the RWA board liaison to PAN, approximately 400 published authors attended the conference in New Orleans.
"The RWA Published Authors Network holds a full three-day retreat including a top industry speaker and approximately eight roundtable discussions per hour. Topics are designed to provide information of interest to published authors and to spark discussion and the exchange of information or concerns," says Hailstock. "Additionally, PAN provides space for author/publisher discussions open only to the authors of that specific publisher. The meetings are generally well attended and there is no additional cost beyond the conference fee."
Hailstock says "Writing the Breakout Book," a workshop conducted by Donald Maass, was the highlight of the retreat. "Donald led the authors through a series of exercises in which we took a current project and learned to raise the stakes, make the characters deeper, keep the reader turning the pages."
Several authors attended their first RWA conference and shared tips for Shades of Romance.
Edwina Martin-Arnold (Eve's Prescription) says plan ahead. There is no on-site registration for the RWA conference. Martin-Arnold had planned to be in New Orleans for a family reunion and found out about the conference. She extended her ticket for a couple days to attend. "I got to the Sheraton midday on Friday. I was unable to get into the conference," she says. "All was not lost. My husband came with me and we spent two wonderful, kid-free days enjoying the city. Martin-Arnold repeats if you want to attend, "plan it. Don't do it as an afterthought because things fill up fast."
Cindi Louis (Crazy Thing Called Love) says be sure to attend those sessions that will help you work on your weaknesses.
Louis says she has trouble writing a synopsis. "Mine are just plain lousy," she says. The conference offered several sessions on synopsis writing. "I went to every one I could because I know I need help with this."
Reon Laudat (Yesterday's Dreams, Tomorrow's Promises) says come early, know your limitations and bring extra luggage to cart away the freebies.
Laudat says she "went in with very unrealistic goals regarding what I could actually do. I needed to clone myself to do everything I had planned, so there were moments of frustration. As a new romance author I wanted to take as many writing craft workshops as I could squeeze in."
She says "many of the workshops didn't actually require attendance. RWA gives all attendees a book of handouts for each class. Now I know that reading these handouts, buying the recommended craft books; later and/or getting a tape of the session would have sufficed in many cases."
"If you want to experience the flavor of the conference city, plan to arrive a day or two before the conference begins or plan to stay a day or two after." Laudat says she was unable to see New Orleans because she didn't want to miss anything at the conference.
She advises conferees to "bring an extra empty bag or suitcase for all the books and Goody Room stuff that you'll get. I considered bringing an extra empty suitcase, but ultimately decided against it. I had told myself that I wasn't going to BUY any books at the conference." Laudat planned to just jot down authors and titles to pick up once she returned home. "I had no idea they gave away so many FREE books! When it came time to pack, I had a very hard time squeezing them all in. And at one point, I had to turn down free books because I knew I had no place to pack them. As a person who spends a small fortune on books every month, this part was painful!"
Seressia Glass ( No Commitment Required) offers a half-dozen tips - by the number.
1. Bring comfortable shoes. You will be walking all over the hotel.
2. Don't get offended when someone squints their eyes and peers at your chest. They're just trying to read your name badge.
3. Don't bad-talk anyone in a public place. Chances are, they're standing behind you.
4. Don't accost editors/agents/authors in the bathroom. They will remember-and tell everyone they know.
5. If you want to see and be seen, hang out in the bar. You can offer the editor you flubbed an appointment with a drink of his/her choice (or your chair, which can be at a premium), overhear some juicy gossip, and possibly be invited out to dinner.
6. And because of number five, always have a pitch of your story ready. Don't volunteer it, but if an editor/agent/exec asks you what you're working on, be ready to say something. You'd be surprised how many deals are initiated at the bar.
Planning on attending future RWA conferences? Here's the schedule:
2002 -- Denver, Colorado
2003 -- New York, New York
2004 -- Dallas, Texas
2005 -- Reno, Nevada
2006 -- Atlanta, Georgia
For more tips and FAQs about the RWA conference, visit the organization's web site: http://www.rwanational.com
Gwen E. Osborne is a guest contributor. She is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her work appears in Black Issues Book Review, Book Magazine, The Romance Reader, The Mystery Reader, Pages and the Chicago Defender.