I recently attended my first Romance Writers of America national conference in New York City. I left home full of nerves— What if I didn’t make any friends? What if I wore the wrong things? What if, when asked, I couldn’t remember what my book was about? Worst of all, I left home with a sneaky, sinking suspicion that when surrounded by other writers, I wouldn’t measure up. I packed all that in my suitcase along with six pairs of shoes, twenty-two pairs of underwear (just in case!) and headed to New York.
What I brought home four days later weighed one pound more (FTW, Delta!) and was more valuable than the extra Biscoff cookies I nabbed from the flight. Whether you write romance, thrillers, literary fiction, or children’s books, let me tell you about five of the things I brought back from my conference and why you might want to attend conferences in your genre.
#5. So. Many. Books.
In fairness, these didn’t come home in my suitcase because I had to ship them from the business center in the hotel, but let’s pretend for the sake of metaphor. I work in academia and I’ve written before about how I hid my love of romance for a long time, believing people would think it wasn’t “smart enough.”
I’m over that now, but there was no greater symbolism for that than holding a stack of new romance novels and talking with fellow readers who were educated, successful professionals about our shared interest in the book’s promise of happily ever after (and just for a minute about the shirtless model featured on the cover). I found my people along with new books.
#4. Business Cards
I was given a head’s up that having business cards would be beneficial, so I brought a stack to trade. I recommend doing this because I ended up bringing home a stack of cards from other authors. One of the most important things you’ll do at genre-specific conferences is meet other authors, industry professionals, and vendors. I also met many people in elevators, in line for the bathroom, and while waiting for sessions to begin. I knew we had at least one thing in common, so striking up a conversation with “What do you write?” was easy.
The educator in me knows this should be #1, but I came home with a notebook filled with notes on marketing strategies, writing craft, publishing ins and outs, and important topics like domestic violence in romance. I love networking and cocktail parties, but the nerd in me was here for the learning. Taking notes AND talking about writing? Yes, please. Sessions will vary, but these conferences are a great opportunity to hone and stretch ourselves as authors. I went to sessions I knew I’d love and chose a few where I wasn’t sure what I was getting into—they all came home with me.
Admittedly, I attended the conference with a few things going my way already. I was a finalist for an award for unpublished authors, I’d signed with an agent a few months before the conference, and my book had recently sold. Still, I questioned my talent and abilities. During the conference, I met fellow new authors who could talk about our shared anxieties, I met seasoned professionals who offered to help and told me my book sounded great, and I met people who were just kind, welcoming, and friendly. Between the shoes I didn’t end up wearing, and the NYC-themed toys I bought for my son, my suitcase was filled with affirmation that I can not only write a kick-ass book, but the shoulders-back, boobs-forward confidence that I will write several more.
#1. A Plan
Confidence is great and I strutted (in my mind) down the jet bridge, but the most important thing I came home with was a plan. Between my new network of people, my notes, and newfound knowledge of my genre and the publishing industry, I came home with the tools to make a plan. I’ve already been in touch with authors I met willing to help boost my book when it comes out, I’ve started sketching out plans for marketing and questions to ask my publisher, and mapping out next steps for my career.
On top of those five things, I brought home a camera roll full of selfies with new friends and author heroes, a little bit of a hangover (Whew! Authors know how to party!) and three new ideas for novels. NYC is a cruelly expensive city to visit, as are many conference locations, but consider the options for your genre if it’s possible—local, regional, national, and international conferences are out there and can be great for indie, trad, or hybrid authors, unpublished and published alike. Pack your bag and see what you come home with—I’m glad I did.
Denise Williams wrote her first book in the 2nd grade. I Hate You and its sequel, I Still Hate You, featured a tough, funny heroine, a quirky hero, witty banter, and a dragon. Minus the dragons, these are still the books she likes to write. After penning those early works, she finished second grade and eventually earned a PhD in education. When she’s not writing romance novels, she’s chasing two dogs, one husband, and a hilarious toddler.
Dr. Naya Turner has never failed at anything, but when she puts herself out there, she stumbles in every possible way. Luckily, the man she’s stumbling into doesn’t seem to mind. This is a story about surviving — and finding love and laughter on the way to finding one’s own voice.
Follow Denise on Twitter , Instagram , or Facebook. How to Fail at Flirting, her debut romantic comedy, is coming December 2020 from Berkley. To receive an email when the book is available (and to learn more about Denise) visit www.denisewilliamswrites.com