Romantic Life Lessons

Confessions of a Conference Goer

I like going to conferences, but I’m a terrible traveler. I didn’t used to be. In fact, I lived overseas and went across the ocean several times a year. I’d driven across the United States at least three times. Cars and planes were like a second home. I moved around so often that around age 30, I said, “That’s enough.” For the last decade or so, it’s taken a village to get me off my couch and around conference time, I get anxious. The day before I travel, you don’t want to be around me. My husband describes it as taking an animal out of its carrier in the middle of a busy airport, claws imbedded in its original resting place.

For some strange reason, the day OF travel, I’m fine–and excited to go to a new place and be useful. It seems familiar and I’m convinced that spirit of adventure lives somewhere in me. I get to the airport/car rental and can glide with ease onto the plane, into the car. I am eager to see people and do my job. It’s like I’ve been released from computer jail and can interact with real people, all of whom have a story to tell. Staying in a hotel–where I don’t have to clean or cook–fills me with fiendish delight, even if it’s a dive.

This past weekend, I attended a wonderful conference in Connecticut at a gorgeous hotel/spa. I only went two hours out of my comfort zone but experienced the same process of making lists, getting nervous, packing and re-packing with an easy-breezy travel day (except for traffic). In addition to fabulous writers, the conference hosted a fun group of editors and agents, many of whom I’d never met. And who can resist all-day all-you-can-eat buffet? Not me.

For conferences, an editor has to be “on” the entire time. This is tough without a lot of bagels and M&Ms, which fortified me.* Even if I didn’t eat sugar (which I shouldn’t), the adrenaline keeps me going. After being in an office, reading in solitary fashion for months, conferences are motivating for me. I begin with a vow to attend workshops, which I thoroughly enjoy, especially as a listener, but usually, there’s no time for this. I had a few hours of pitches and I really do love them–though I always feel bad when writers are nervous around little old me. I guess it’s part of their process, as travel anxiety is part of mine.

Around lunchtime, I tend to wilt but this is fine because that’s what you get a new influx of carbs and protein and dessert. Usually, I’m so grateful to be out, actively interacting with romance writers, that I’ll wind up spending money on the cause (this is where my husband screams). I bought raffle tickets and then a writer’s book, not so bad on the purse.

The last few hours of a conference are challenging. Many of us had been up since 6am, if not before**. And if you’re an introvert, as I am with rare extroverted tendencies, you recharge by going to the room and being alone. Did I do this? No. I would have missed out on chicken cordon bleu, wild rice and cheesecake–not to mention a fabulous ghost story from a writer. I got my third wind and stayed until the very end. A part of me wanted the conference to continue. Maybe an extra workshop on how everything went? Any last-minute questions? No? Okay. Then I went to my room and collapsed.

I’m looking forward to repeating all of this at RWA, only on a more massive scale with a bigger suitcase full of snacks. Of course, the day before I go to Anaheim, it won’t be a pretty sight.

Hope to see you all in California!

*I always bring extra snacks and magazines!

**Conference planners–I don’t know how they do it. Hats off!

6 thoughts on “Confessions of a Conference Goer”

  1. I looked into going to the CONN con–this makes me wish I had! And no Anaheim for me, alas. Too far away and too expensive, after last year in NYC.

    I am a dreadful traveler, and always have been. I find it nerve-wracking and I don’t travel well at all. On the other hand, I love being at conferences and spending time with all my writer/agent pals and meeting new ones. As exhausting as it is, all that great writing-related energy gives me a creative boost for months after. (And I usually get so many books, I have to ship them home!)

  2. The 2012 CTRWA Fiction Fest was my first romance writers conference.

    It was an exhausting, but amazing, experience.

    I met Sherry Thomas and Kristin Higgins, both of whom asked me about my writing and wrote beautiful inscriptions on the title pages of their newest releases. A few minutes later, they opened the conference with very funny speeches. After that, I attended a couple of workshops, leaving Sherry’s interesting one on subtext before the end, but only for the most important of reasons: to meet Patience Bloom.

    I had no experience with pitching, and so, I knew nothing about the typical set-up. For those who’ve never attended a conference, let me set the scene for you. In the pitch room, there were about a dozen small, round tables set up with two chairs at each table. The editors and agents sat at these tables while the authors came and went every ten minutes. It was like speed dating.

    Having married young, I’ve had no experience with speed dating, but my best friend (a successful career woman who couldn’t meet Mr. Right) used to regale me with the details of her experiences (until she married Mr. Right, that is). From those days, I can remember her saying, “I realized he wasn’t for me in the first thirty seconds, but I had to wait for the buzzer to go off before I could get away.”

    As I sat down with Patience, I thought: “Oh my, I hope that, after thirty seconds, she isn’t waiting for the buzzer to go off.” There wasn’t actually a buzzer in the room, but you know, I hoped I wouldn’t lose her interest after thirty seconds (especially as I was a late morning appointment). Well, I discovered that Patience listens intently. Let me say that I packed a lot into those minutes, and I’m quite certain she heard every word I said (for better or worse!).

    That was my first pitch ever, which, because of Patience’s quiet nature (by the way, I suspect that, beneath her calm demeanor, she has a passionate heart), gave me confidence for the rest of the day.

    I went on to meet with another editor who requested a full manuscript. Outside of the pitch room, I had a lovely conversation with an agent who just happened to share a connection with me, and I fell into a fun conversation with another agent who pitched an idea to me. A woman making a documentary asked if she could interview me, but I was on my way to a pitch appointment. Then, back in the pitch room, I met with an agent who requested a full manuscript.

    I have to confess I have no idea whether the editors and agents who requested a manuscript from me did so out of interest…or whether they did so because they always request manuscripts from pitching authors out of compassion.

    Afterward, I went to my hotel room, collapsed into bed, and watched Pretty Woman. And that was the perfect way to end my first romance writers conference!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Madeline. I’m sure so many feel the same when going through the whole pitch thing and meeting eds and agents. For the record, I do ask for most manuscripts (you just never know–it could be a gem) but if I don’t ask for one, it’s usually because my program doesn’t publish their kind of story and in this case I will redirect to another editor or publishing program. I hate to leave the writer empty-handed.

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