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RWA (and other Conferences) Survival Kit

RWA National starts this week. My heels are polished and sharpened to a fine point, I’ve been working out my right arm so it’s ready to shake hands, hold drinks, lift chocolate treats, and of course pass out business cards, and I’ve been exercising my vocal chords so I’m ready to talk from 7am to midnight about everything from romance, writing, the Dallas weather and where to eat, drink and find a decent cup of coffee.

So what tips can I give you dear readers on how to handle National? Whether it’s RWA, SFF or Thrilerfest (which is this week as well) the tips are the same so listen up and I’ll clue you in on some of the ins-and-outs of surviving a four-day networking extravaganza.

1. Look nice, but be comfortable. Okay, I know I’ll be wearing my highest and cutest heels, but there’s no reason that all of us need to destroy our feet. Leave that to the fools like me. You however should think about what you feel comfortable in all day long. Sweats won’t cut it, but jeans are fine. Seriously. You want to look professional, but agents know that it’s a long day for everyone and showing up at your agent appointment in jeans is not going to kill your chances of a request. My best advice however, wear something that makes you feel good about yourself, confident and comfortable. You’ll do better in all networking and pitch situations if you do. If you want to wear jeans, pair them with an attractive shirt or jacket. Be yourself and you’ll do better than if you’re trying to dress like someone else.

2. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Don’t sneak behind my back whispering my name (I have razor sharp hearing and am aware of what’s going on) instead stop and tell me how lovely my shoes are and how charming my blog is. Ask for a card and let me know you plan to submit. If I’m looking forlorn engage me in conversation. Remember, I LOVE, love, love talking about this business and can go on and on for hours answering questions. So use that to your advantage. Feel free to grab me and ask me all of those questions I haven’t yet answered on the blog. Agents and editors are everywhere and as long as they’re in a public area they are fair game. Don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation in line for coffee, while waiting for what are probably going to be slow elevators, and definitely chat us up at lunches, cocktail parties and other events meant for networking. When not to corner an agent or editor? The bathroom, on the treadmill, when he or she is clearly engaged in an intense conversation in a hidden corner or at a restaurant table. Oh, and don’t follow agents and editors to their rooms. That just gets creepy.

3. Take time out to process. It’s overwhelming. All of those workshops, cocktail parties, free books and free food. Whew! Who can survive that? Enjoy, but don’t be afraid to take a few minutes, or a few hours, for yourself. Lounge in the pool, hide in the corner of the lobby, or crawl into bed. Let your mind rest or take notes on what you’ve learned. Watch a bad movie or just nap. Don’t feel that every minute of your days need to be spend writing, workshopping or networking. Trust me. You’ll do a much better job at all three if you take some time for yourself.

4. Take notes. Carry a notebook and pen with you at all times. Don’t be afraid to take notes during workshops, pitch appointments or even cocktail parties. If you’ve networked well and an agent at a cocktail party gave you a few key pieces of advice don’t be afraid to go to a quiet corner and write them down so you can think about them later. I’m a big fan of small notebooks. You never know when your greatest idea is going to come crashing in.

5. Have fun! All work and no play makes Jessica a very, very dull girl. I really and truly look forward to RWA. It’s a lot of work and completely exhausting (it will take me a week or more to recover) but it’s also invigorating and thrilling. I love chatting with my clients, old friends and new editors. Relax and enjoy. Each conference is a new experience and with each stage of your writing career you’ll find that it holds new possibilities for you. New conference goers have a huge list of all the workshops they need to attend while more experienced attendees and published writers often use their time more for networking and bonding with friends and fans.

Some of you might already be settling into your rooms while others are busy packing. I fly out on Wednesday and look forward to seeing you all there. For those not able to make it this year I will, once again, be blogging from Dallas. So continue to check in and see what I’m hearing and learning along the way.


Category: Blog



  1. Wish I could be there! I’ll be stewing at home, reading the Nationals Blog, salivating at all the discussion of fabulous workshops and great networking opportunities. Throw back a Cosmo for me!

  2. With all the rain, it’s been very muggy lately. If you’re doing anything outdoorsy, consider bug spray. The mosquitoes are terrible this year.

    And welcome to our state!

  3. May I add that for all those attending RWA National for the first time, be sure to stop in to the First Timer’s Orientation Wednesday evening, 8:00 (late enough into the booksigning that you’ll still have plenty of time there). We’ll have lots of hints as to how to make the most of your conference experience.

    See you all in Dallas!

  4. I’m with you Dara Edmondson, I’ll be home and live thru Bookends and Nationals blogs.

    Any morsels thrown our way will be greatly appreciated!


  5. Have fun, Jessica. I won’t be there, but someday I hope to meet you and buy you a drink. You’ve always been helpful and entertaining.

    At least seven members of my writing group will be there, and I shall party vicariously through them.

    verification: coffywp — something I should drink right now.

  6. Phew! What a great post to read as I pack my bags and run over my pitch for the kazillionth time! This is my first RWA National and I’m really looking forward to it. Thanks for the words of wisdom, and I promise to buy you a drink and tell you how gorgeous your heels and helpful your blog is!

  7. Wonderful advice! We have a lot of Nationals newbies attending from our chapter this year and the loop has been rife with conference questions. Especially about jeans. So, I forwarded you wonderful blog and I know it will help out a lot of those who love jeans as much as I do. Paired with nice tops and shoes of course. Thanks for the timely information!

  8. Packing my bags right now, have to be up before four a.m. (one of the downfalls of living in the boonies) and will be heading to Dallas tomorrow. What Jessica said about clothing–right on. I skip the jeans though and go for soft and elastic! Love those stretchy knit outfits that look really dressy and don’t wrinkle…and don’t bind. I plan on spending a lot of serious time in the bar, and those drinks are fattening! One does NOT diet at National! For those of you going, travel safely. For those staying home, I’ll be posting pictures on my website at, starting Wednesday. I promise to try for something compromising on Jessica…those shoes, maybe? 🙂

  9. LOL, I once had a room on the same floor as an editor at a major house. I recognized her as we were both walking down the hallway toward our rooms. She was ahead of me and started to walk faster and faster, and I thought, I wonder if she thinks I’m trying to catch up to her and pitch? I felt a bit sorry for her. When I stopped at my room to unlock the door, I could swear her shoulders visibly unsagged in relief.


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