Tuesday, July 5, 2011

There Will Be Wine

There are a number of lists and blogs running the Internet gauntlet this week to deconstruct the RWA National Conference. Who am I to deny you mine?

I was a newbie at nationals or, as my line went all week, I was a Nationals Virgin. Had to be something left, right? Despite extensive planning and a last minute freak out, I wound up flying by the seat of my pants as usual and made it out exhausted, exhilarated, and ready to rock 'n roll the WIP.

Look! Highlights! Preeetttyyyy.

Start Off Right 
There's no better way to start of a conference, especially as a newbie, than with a night spent at Lady Jane's Salon. The wonderful monthly event for the celebration of romance fiction hosted a special event in honor of RWA with 6 – count 'em, 6! – bestselling writers including co-founder Leanna Renee Hieber, Diana Love, Karen Rose, Carrie Lofty, Sarah MacClean, and the incomparable Eloisa James. The upper room of Madame X bar was crammed cheek to jowl with writers and readers including several online friends. A highlight for me was a lovely chat with historical romance writer Joanna Bourne who could not have been more delightful.

Wonder Roommate
Be it camp, college, or marriage, the roommate is key. I won the bloody lottery with my roommate for RWA. She found me through my post on the RWA roommate board and I will thank her for that for the rest of our lives. If one of us said "I like X" the other immediately said "me too!" (though we both loathe Y for reasons I won't disclose here). We quickly realized there was nothing either of us could say that wouldn't make the other guffaw. Highlights in conversation included "Honey, while I'm sure the proportionate size of rats' balls is fascinating, I just want to watch Tom Hanks talk to Conan and go to bed" and "I know he's too young and I don't care," and "it's too difficult to take the straps off the bed every time" and "oh honey, soon as he walks out on screen, I'm unzipping my pants."

I'll leave it to all of you to decide who said what. Hint: contrary to common belief, they all did not come from me.

Adapt, adapt, adapt
No schedule could survive the madness of a national conference intact. For example, as soon as Wonder Roommate told me the books at publisher book signings were FREE (be still my thundering heart), those events skyrocketed to the top of my must do list. There's your list of things to do and then there are the things you actually do. Those are usually the ones you remember always.

No Matter How Long You Take to Plan Your Footwear (3 months) or How Many Shoes You Pack (*cough* 11 pairs *cough*), You Will Only Wear the Lands End Saddle Shoes and the Foot Smart Sandals Because Dear Lord, Will Your Feet Hurt

That one is pretty self explanatory I think.

Do Not Hesitate If You Recognize Someone You Want to Meet 
Many writers are introverts. I am not one of them, which likely surprises none of you. But I do have an instinct to shy away from promoting myself to someone especially if it involves a cold introduction. Never mind that these were not technically cold intros as I had conversed with many of these people, sometimes repeatedly, on Twitter and Facebook. Name recognition was likely if not a given. But the possibility of a crushing reception squelches the better impulses of the best of intentions.

Right from the beginning, I had to check myself from the "I'll do it later" excuse and call out to people as they passed by. In every single case, I experienced something wonderful. In some instances, I forced myself to follow up with a repeat cold intro at the end of the week to reiterate the early conversation. This is ballsy stuff for many of us, myself included. But it must be done. 

Here's a secret: it gets easier. Gird your loins and stick out your hand. You won't regret it.

Everyone Needs a Secret Weapon
This fan was mine. Churned through every AA battery I brought with me but was the best buck fifty I've spent all year, especially in the fifth ring of hell that was the Literacy Book Signing. Hundreds, nay, thousands of writers and readers crammed into a double ballroom breed a whole bunch of heat, and not only because of the man titty covers.


 I threw this bag in a bag into my bag at the last minute and it was a Godsend at every single signing. By the end of each it was hemorrhaging books but held strong and retracted as soon as said books were dumped on my bed. Again.

Harlan Coben Is a Riot 
Somehow I missed the fact that Harlan Coben was doing a panel on suspense with Lisa Jackson. Fortunately, I realized my lapse in time. Besides being big, bald, and bestselling, he is a very funny speaker. Too many speakers brought the funny this week. I'm sensing a theme there.

Among other great quotes and bon mots, Coben said, "when you write and love to write, there's such a temptation not to write," an observation to which I can completely relate. He also advised, "Don't jump on a trend. Just write the story. Don't worry about pages, etc. Write what you love, not what you think the audience will want." This was a sentiment shared over and over this week.

You Will See the Same Six (Fantastic) People All Week and Never Glimpse the Other Six You Wanted to See
The "six" is a random number, but the fact is I routinely saw the same people (who are fabulous), but never saw a (growing) handful of people I was keen to meet in person. I'm choosing to see this as a chance to put those missed people at the top of the list for next year's conference.

You Can Steal the Mustard 
This is not a euphemism. I got this mustard with my pretzel at XX pub (name redacted because I'd like to go back someday – they have hard cider on tap). It's so strong and delicious; it'll clear out your sinuses with one dollop. Loverly. No way I was leaving it behind. In fact, after I finish this post, I'm getting a soft pretzel out of the freezer and slopping some mustard on it. Yum.

If You're Not Published, You're Missing Out 
That's the hard truth of it. A pre-published writer myself, I was amazed to realize part of the reason I wasn't seeing several people was because they were all involved in "pubbed" author activities. For my first national conference, my focus was on networking and workshops. The networking gets a little difficult when the people who you wish to talk to are off at published author events. It's like there's a secret password being whispered just beyond my hearing. What this does though is only make me more determined to be published for next year's conference.

I hate missing out.

That said my dance card was yet well and truly full. There is plenty to do for the pre-pubbed writer, fret not. I loved meeting the authors I chat with on Twitter and Facebook, putting faces to monikers I can spell correctly without looking. Highlights included Kate Noble saying, "I know, I follow you on Twitter" and Eileen Dreyer's lovely ego stroke "I love talking with you online" among many, many others. People question whether social marketing works, whether relationships online can carry through to real life with any sense of veracity. I'm here to tell you they absolutely do.

No Matter What, Eventually the Jersey Always Comes Out

Post party, I was with a gaggle of women happy to share a cab back to the hotel. Two of the ladies were from Canada, including the lovely author Julianne Maclean. At my suggestion, we went up to the NE corner of Broadway and 23rd Street to maximize our taxi-hailing chances. I saw an SUV taxi pull up on the NW corner and yelled "go now. We have to get that one." Immediately, these two ladies set off to cross Broadway, not noticing that the light was against them. I jumped into the crosswalk to follow, hoping to buy some extra time for them to make the corner. Traffic was blessedly light, but – of course – two cars barreled down on us, horns blaring, one disgruntled older man wailing on the dang thing till the Jersey came out and I yelled, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Shut up already!" Safely on the corner, Julianne looked at me and said, "You are definitely from Jersey."

You can take the girl out of the diner…

Don't try to hide who you are. Your inner Jersey or Montana or Michigan or Iowa will come out and you will be all the more memorable for it, hopefully in a good way. And on that note…

Ready to Turn on a Dime for Anything

Jersey from 19th floor of Flat Iron Building
I was thrilled to reconnect with people all week with whom I once worked, either as an assistant at Avon Books or promotion manager at Bantam Dell both oh so many years and, let's face it, significant pounds ago. I had hoped to see them and was delighted that (most) remembered me. A great friend, with whom I hadn't spoken in some time, immediately invited me to the St. Martin's Press cocktail party at their offices in the Flat Iron Building as her guest. The short story is I wound up in a limo with 9 other women (all friends with one another) including 2 bestselling authors, 1 Golden Heart (the RWA award for the best unpublished manuscript in its category) nominee and 2 agents, one who announced at the end of the ride that I was very funny. You can bet your bippy I'll be querying her!

You can't plan for this stuff. You simply have to be able to turn on a dime and make the most of the opportunities that present themselves and when you're standing in the taxi line and the bellhop says, "I have a limo for 10" and someone shouts "we have 9!" be ready to say "I'll be your 10!" Wonderful things can – and did! – happen.

Taking over world from CEO's desk
Since I came home with enough books to make a cabinet maker weep, I'm going to offer a pair of books from Rita-award winning author Karen Rose (though not the signed one for which I wrote back cover copy). Leave a comment, tell me your favorite moment of Nationals or, if you didn't go, which author you'd most like to see at a signing, or even simply what book you're reading now. I'll pick a winner on Saturday and one randomly chosen commenter will receive the books.

Disclaimer: I am not being compensated for this giveaway in any way, shape or form, except by the countless hours of enjoyment I receive from reading.


  1. Hey Kiersten!
    Somehow we never crossed paths, but your week sounded way more packed than mine. (But I did get to chat with Kristan Higgins AND Janet Reid. Worth the price of admission!)

    Maybe I'll see you Saturday?

  2. Hi Kiersten,

    Harlan Coben was fantastic. I blogged about my RWA highlights (and an embarrassing lowlight) at Attacking The Page. We even have a short video clip from our workshop where Melinda attacks me with a knife.

  3. Thanks for the fun rundown! I was a newbie last year who didn't get to make it this time, and I feel like you captured it perfectly.

    Although I didn't get any fancy limo rides and cocktail parties! :)

  4. Oh Kiersten! You are very funny :-) I'm just stopping in to say "Hey" ya know I don't want any books b/c I was right there in line with you for the book signings. So Hopefully it will go to some wonderful deserving soul, who missed the terrific event. Hope to see you Saturday!!

  5. First not posting for a book... although I would love some.. lol but to just say I am so impressed with your blog and how you have built it. I am so jealous you partied in my favorite building in Manhattan and so unbelievably impressed by your and your determination. Love you

  6. I packed 5 pairs of shoes and wore 'em all - but they were all heels and I had to ice my knees after the HQ party. Sad, but true. Don't need any books (I can't believe I lugged home so many on NJ Transit!), but love the blog.

    You're next RWA will be even better!