Just got back on Sunday from the Romance Writers of America National Conference in Orlando.  I’m still exhausted, but I had a great time.  I got to meet a few fellow Rainbow Romance Writers at the Literacy signing – where over $55K was raised for literacy organizations – pretty spectacular!  I got to meet new and aspiring authors, connect with others I’d already met and hung out with good friends.  I also had dinner at the same table with the fabulous Angela James during the Carina Press dinner.  Yes, you read that right.  There was a good reason (I’ll be posting details shortly) I was attending that dinner!  That same reason also entitled me to go to the Harlequin party… hoo… some wild women there!  It was a HUGE blast.

I’m not a conference virgin, exactly, although my previous conferences were much smaller – in the realm of 300 participants.  This was 2100.  Lots of standing in line, although not for the restrooms.  The majority of the men’s rooms were turned into women’s by hotel management – the few men in attendance had quite a hike every time nature called!

There wasn’t enough time to do everything, whether from conflicting commitments or from the absolute, undeniable need for a nap.  And even though I’d decided I wasn’t going to kill myself trying to make it to all the workshops, I was still overwhelmed.

Writing is a solitary endeavor and although conferences are a fantastic way to connect with other writers – ease the solitude a bit – many of us have the same trait.  We’re happiest inside our own heads, which can make it difficult or stressful to socialize, especially with 2000 strangers!  I’m shy and get a little freaked out by crowds.  However, I was able to avoid cowering behind planters, for the most part.  And I’m looking forward to attending next year’s conference in New York City.

One really awesome thing?  I was (mostly) forthright about what genre I write in.  I didn’t get the stink eye from anyone.  When I was at a smaller conference last year, I not only got the stink eye, but the ‘cut direct’ I do believe it’s called, by two women at dinner one night.  Of course, that was before I had my contract with Loose Id, so I was unable to justify sticking out my tongue and giving them a raspberry.  Probably I should have anyway, but I do occasionally make attempts at decorum.  Everyone I met at RWA was, if not truly accepting, then at least they hid it extremely well.

During Nationals there are several awards ceremonies held by various chapters related to writing contests, but the biggest one is the national contest – the Golden Hearts for unpublished writers and the RITAs for published writers.  As a large organization that’s been around for thirty years, RWA has made great strides in getting romance recognition as a valid genre.  But its size and longevity also means it’s not going to be as agile as everyone might hope to changes in the publishing world, specifically the explosion of ebooks.  I mean, neither contest has a category for erotic romances and I would be unlikely to enter a GLBT book at this time anyway.  But the acceptance I found from other writers at the conference gives me hope for the future… Is it wrong for me to covet one of the RITAs for myself?

I learned a lot while I was there – definitely things about craft and what publishers might be looking for – but here’s some practical advice from a now-expert Nationals attendee:  Bring comfortable shoes & a spare suitcase for books.