Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Are you going to a conference this year?

This is going to be an exciting year for me as I begin a new chapter in my author career. Now that I have a finished manuscript, I have begun to query agents. But, there is so much more for me to do so that I can grow as a writer.

I have mentioned on here in previous blogs about workshops. I have taken “The Book Factory” and “Pitch like a Pro” by Author, Kerri Nelson, Microsoft Word class by Catherine Chant and two classes by Nicole North. One on how to write a great sex scene and building that sexual tension and another on writing with description. All were amazing classes and I highly recommend them.

This year, for the first time, I am going to attend a conference. The New Jersey “Put your heart in a book” conference is October 21-22, 2011 and I can’t wait to attend. Though October feels like a long ways away.

So, in preparing for my first conference, I found I had a few questions. Here to help me answer those questions are four wonderful ladies. Authors Eliza Knight, Renee Lynn Scott, Dorothy Muir, and Sidney Ayers.

***I want to thank you all for joining me here today and answering questions about this subject.***

RENEE- Thank you for having us.

ELIZA- Anytime, Sarah! Attending conferences is such a great way to network and to improve your writing as well as advance your career.

DOROTHY- Thank you for inviting me, Sarah. I’m really glad to be here.

SIDNEY- My pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.

***My first question is about the expense of the conferences. A person has to pay for the conference, lodging and travel. What other expenses are there and what can we do to keep the cost down?***

ELIZA-On top of conference/lodging/travel fees, you have to think about cab rides, food, alcohol, tips, souvenirs, extra hotel fees for internet, books—yes believe it or not you will buy books at either a literacy autographing or sometimes Barnes and Noble sets up shop with tons of awesome resources, notebooks, etc… These are the little things you don’t think about. I’m all about setting a budget, and sticking to it. You can try to share meals, or pack things like granola bars, water bottles—or purchase them along with fruit to have in your room to cut down on meal costs. Share cab rides. Start a tab at the bar so you tip on the final bill instead of tipping with each drink—drink moderately, say one or two drinks at cocktail hour, no need to get hammered anyway. For souvenirs, give yourself a budget, say $10 per person, or $20 for yourself. For the literacy autographing I always set a budget, and I spend no more than that amount, and for resource books, I also set a budget. The biggest thing is not caving in, and to leave yourself a little wiggle room, say an extra $50 just in case. I typically give myself $50 a day to spend when at conference. Sometimes I spend $0 on a particular day and sometimes I spend more, so it balances out.

RENEE-Don’t forget meals outside of conference. When I traveled to D.C I spent some time at a local pub with my friends. Drinks can be expensive. Have one and then stick with water. And don’t forget souvenirs. They’re not a necessity but since my family has never been on a vacation I thought I should bring something back.

SIDNEY- Depending on where the conference is located, you may have a tourist and/or entertainment expense. This year, since the RWA National Conference is in New York City, I plan to attend several tourist spots. One thing that I’ve always wanted to do in New York City is attend a Broadway show, so that’s one thing I’ll need to save some money for. Also, you may have some additional food expenses. The conference does provide some meals, but not enough to keep you properly sustained.

DOROTHY- Conferences present the opportunity for networking and making new friends, as well as getting to know editors and agents. That means you might spend more than you anticipated on coffee and drinks, depending on the conference and whether or not you’re a shy person. And if the conference offers any type of bookstore, you could find yourself drawn into spending money on books. Big conferences like Nationals can result in you spending a lot more than expected, but some of the smaller conferences can pack just as much informational punch and take less out of your wallet. If you want to minimize your expenses, take advantage of any paid meals offered by the conference, budget for everything (and stick to it!), and stay out of the bookstore!

***What should a person wear to a conference?***

DOROTHY- You can never go wrong with business casual. Some of the conferences are OK with jeans and casual wear, but some of the larger ones have a more professional atmosphere. Nice slacks and a good blouse can say ‘professional’ and still be comfortable. Much as we love what we do, it’s still a business. But make sure you have good, comfortable shoes! You’ll do a lot of walking.

SIDNEY- Clothes! Just kidding. You should wear professional attire. Nice slacks or skirts look nice. Dress like you’re going to work. Also, if you’re pitching, dress like you’re going to a job interview. I’m pretty sure the other ladies will say the same thing.

ELIZA- Business casual. It depends on the weather. Always pack a cardigan to easily slip on and off. For workshops, meetings, pitch sessions etc, I typically wear a nice pair of slacks (or nice capris/skirt) and a nice shirt. I pack an everyday outfit for sight-seeing. Pack a nice dress for awards ceremonies—depending on what other activities you have, you may have to pack more than one. For RWA this year, I need a dress for the RITA Awards and a dress for the Harlequin Ball. Wear comfortable shoes during the day, you’ll do a lot of walking and standing. Heels or nice flats for dinners. Whatever you do, don’t wear something uncomfortable. You don’t want to be worrying about discomfort while talking to other writers, agents/editors.

RENEE- I’m all about being comfortable, especially when it comes to shoes, but you should dress how you want to be perceived. If you want to be taken seriously as a writer you shouldn’t wear your jammies and slippers. Choose a basic color (black tends to work best) and then accessorize. If earth tones are your color then go for them. If red is your color . . . well you get the picture. Balance comfortable wear with business casual.

***When should we arrive and leave? How do we go about checking in?***

SIDNEY- I like to arrive at a conference a couple days early. It helps me get adjusted to the lay of the land and also gives me a little time to do the tourist thing. I usually leave the day after the conference closes. With the conference ending so close to Independence Day this year, I thought about extending the trip, but it would have put a big dent in my already dwindling pocket.

ELIZA- I always arrive a day or two early to settle in, relax, do some sight-seeing and meet up with friends before the whirlwind begins. I always leave the morning after it ends. By that time I’m exhausted and ready to go home.

DOROTHY- As for checking in, most conferences have a registration desk of some sort. I usually check in with the hotel first, so I can drop off everything I’ve lugged along with me. I try to register as early as possible, to avoid the last-minute rush and any conference stragglers.

RENEE-Gosh, checking in was a little overwhelming. I hadn’t left home in ages and I certainly hadn’t stayed at a hotel in over twenty years and my parents are the ones who had checked-in then. And then you have to find out where to register for the conference. Don’t forget that. You’ll want your packet and all the goodies.

***Will there be away for me to recognize my fellow Celtic Hearts Romance Writers members?

RENEE- It'd be nice if we were all required to wear a clan badge. I was fortunate enough to meet up with Sid! We'd known each other for a few years and she has such a lovely, memorable smile that it was easy to recognize her. As nervous as I was about the whole conference thing it was nice to see a familiar face.

DOROTHY- Well, first off, writers like to gab! That’s part of what we are, Celtic Hearts writers even more so, if you go by the loop traffic. Part of the standard introduction I give is my writing group affiliations. And a lot of conferences offer some kind of bulletin board system where members of different groups can post messages.

SIDNEY- Every attendee usually wears a badge with their name on it. Those badges may also include a listing of different RWA chapters they are a member of.

ELIZA- People where lanyard badges most of the time and pin their chapter/award/publisher pins to it. So you will recognize names, but you may also see the Celtic Hearts Chapter pin too on badges. But the best place to meet up with CHRW members will be at the annual get together at RWA. Not sure about the NJ Conference—although I’d be happy to set up an informal get together for cocktails!

***Are there meals included in the conference rate?***

DOROTHY- That depends on the conference. Every conference has a different budget, but a lot of them offer at least one meal. Something big like Nationals will offer more than one. Something local might only offer a boxed lunch.

ELIZA- This depends on the conference. For the NJ Conference, I believe that most of the meals are included. For RWA, there are a few coffee breaks in the morning, two luncheons, and I’m not sure about the RITA awards, sometimes they do dinner and sometimes they don’t.

***How do I go about getting an appointment with an agent or an editor?***
RENEE- If you don’t already have your appointment then you can hang out in the waiting area. There are often no-shows and you might get the chance to pitch to one of your top five.

SIDNEY-You can register for appointments at the RWA website. Also, during the conference you have the ability to sign up on site.

***How do I prepare for an appointment?***

DOROTHY- Practice. Lots of it! Pitch appointments are kind of like mini-interviews. You need to prepare to sell yourself as well as your story. It’s OK to be nervous. Those editors and agents are people too, so they understand if you stumble from nerves. The key is to be able to recover if you stumble, so know your story’s key elements inside and out, including the high concept. Pitch to your friends, especially non-writer friends. If they can understand your story, then so can an editor.

ELIZA- I write my pitch on a note card—I also write questions I want to ask the editor/agent. Then I practice aloud with a few different people. Whatever you do, just relax. They are regular people, they won’t bite.

RENEE- Is there such a thing? The best thing to remember is they are people too. Smile and sell your story. If you don’t do it chances are nobody else will, besides who knows it better than you?

SIDNEY- Practice! Practice! Practice! Be calm… relax. I usually take 3x5 cards with me to keep my pitch on track. Make sure to avoid the bar until AFTER you pitch.

***Will there be any workshops? What should I bring to those if you answered yes?***

SIDNEY- There are a ton of workshops. Bring a pen and paper to take notes.

DOROTHY- Workshops are what most conferences are about, so there will be plenty. I’d bring along a notebook and a pen. I’ve found workshops frequently cover material that’s not on any handouts. I like to jot notes a lot, and a spiral notebook helps me keep things organized.

RENEE- As I’m sure the others have already answered, there are tons of workshops. Some provide handouts but you’ll want to make sure you have pen and paper in hand just incase you need to take notes. Since some workshops offered hands on activities, I carried the first few pages of my manuscript with me.

ELIZA-YES! That is one of the biggest parts of conferences. There are TONS of workshops—and I mean dozens and dozens to choose from. More than you can attend, which is why they offer conference CDs. You should bring something to take notes with, some water, gum, tissues, business cards and a sweater.

***Is there anything else we should know?***

ELIZA- Have fun! Not only is this a great experience for networking and learning, but it is also a chance to be with like-minded individuals. A rare opportunity for many of us.

RENEE- Relax and have fun!
SIDNEY- If you can’t get to some of the workshops, don’t fret. You can purchase a conference CD that will have all the recorded workshops available to you. If you can’t afford the whole conference CD, I believe you can buy individual tracks. That being said, not all the conference workshops are recorded, so I would suggest attending those—especially if it is a topic you are interested in.

DOROTHY- Have fun! Conferences have a way of energizing you. So far, I’ve come away from every conference excited and inspired to write. And you’ll probably have a slew of new friends.


You may find more information about these authors at these locations.

ELIZA KNIGHT- http://www.historyundressed.blogspot.com/ or http://www.elizaknight.com/

SIDNEY AYERS- http://www.sidneyayers.com/ or www.sidneyayers.com/blog

DOROTHY MUIR- http://www.dorothymuir.wordpress.com/

RENEE LYNN SCOTT- http://www.nkothwb.blogspot.com/


  1. This is wonderful Sarah, such a great idea! I sure wish you and Lizzie were coming to NY!!! Hopefully it will work out for all of us to go to LA next summer. :)

    Thanks for sharing everyone! :)

  2. This was EXTREMELY helpful! Thank you Sarah for doing this. And thank you wonderful ladies for giving us newbies the down low. :-)

    Good stuff to know when we go next year to California.

    Michelle, I wish we were too but we will see you in LA doll!