Before I begin this post you have to understand I’m hard headed. If people tell me something would be good for me, I’m going to need charts and graphs illustrating the benefits. SHOW ME THE DATA! About a year ago, a really great friend—Laurel Cremant—suggested I join Romance Writers of America (RWA). I whined at her suggestion. “Why? What’s the point?” She said, “Uh, it’s great for networking, and I swear to you it will help you with your writing.” My response…. “Meh.”
She kept up an aggressive campaign that eventually turned into a passive campaign that eventually led to her throwing her hands up in frustration and never mentioning it again.
When I realized Laurel wasn’t ever going to mention RWA again since I kept brushing her off, I reached out to Kate McMurray (the NYC chapter president) via Facebook messenger. I was curious yet skeptical. I wanted Kate to convince me why it would be a great idea to join. So, I asked her what the benefits were to joining RWA. I was expecting this great sales pitch, but Kate was like, “It’s a great environment for learning and networking.” LOL, that was it. No huge sales pitch. Straight and to the point.
Clearly, people were not about my procrastination shenanigans. No one was going to try and convince me to do anything. There would be no coddling or hand holding. It was either time to shit or get off the pot. I sucked it up and joined and I thought I’ll give it a year and see what happens. I also joined the Rainbow Romance Writers chapter with the same idea in mind… give it a year.
This was all last August.
I attended my first RWA annual conference three weeks ago, and it was freaking amazing!
Things didn’t go exactly as I planned (when do they ever?) but I want to give you a recap based on what stuck with me. This is like a ‘greatest hits’ post. For a few photos of my RWA experience, look me up on Instagram.
I attended #RT17 earlier this year in Atlanta, and I feel like it was the perfect preparation for RWA. I wasn’t overwhelmed, and I attended enough workshops at RT to know that I had to be very selective with how I chose to spend my time. You have a to plan meticulously for cons of this magnitude, and I was more than ready.
I set up a lunch date with Piper Huguley. I first met Piper at RT. But I wanted to have some sit-down time with her. My goal for the conference was to get one-on-one time with as many WoC authors who’ve been doing this writing thing for a while and gain some insight. I wanted to know about pitfalls they’ve encountered, how they’ve remained positive when it can feel like you’re in a class by yourself, what writing techniques work best for them… etc. In order to succeed you have to be willing to ask questions. You also have to have people who are willing to be candid with you and give you real talk regarding the good experiences as well as the bad. Piper was super lovely, and I’m grateful to her for all of her tidbits of wisdom. My goal was also to connect with Beverly Jenkins and Brenda Jackson and thank them for forging a path for WoC romance authors.
Soooo… I got to the hotel and was heading to the check-in line when I heard, “Harper!” and it was Piper. I was all like, “Heyyyyy! Let me check in and then we can go eat.” Next thing you know, I heard, “I love your hair.” I looked to see who was talking and IT WAS MS. BEV! Peeps, I lost my shit. LOL! Within minutes of my arrival, I got to meet one of the people I wanted to connect with. I said thank you and hugged her and then got a photo taken with her. I eventually got to share my thoughts about her being a pioneer later in the week (after she won her Lifetime Achievement award) and we were both emotional. I was a teary-eyed messed by the end of it and I digress but I MET MS. BEV! Whew.
I also spent dinner and after networking with authors I admire. I got some EXCELLENT marketing information from Heidi Cullinan.
Again, it’s always great to have people who are willing to share their knowledge and help the newer class of authors step up their game. I can’t express how appreciative I am to everyone who took time out of their day to make me feel welcome and share their ideas. It was a great way to start off the con. Talking with various people one-on-one was also a way to help me brainstorm on solidifying my brand. I know how I want to be perceived by others, but I wondered if it was working. From the feedback I received, it seems to be, so yay!
Also, Carrie Ann Ryan asked to take a selfie with me. I think we ended up taking two pictures together. My reaction: Holy fuck. LOL! My brain wasn’t ready.
Day Two was interesting for me…
It was a day that started off pretty rocky. It eventually turned around, but let me say this: RWA is about being supportive of all writers and subgenres in romance. I’m a new kid on the block. Three years and counting. I’m still learning this craft and this business, but I don’t approach anything I do with a naive mindset. My advice to future attendees is to remember to keep professionalism at the forefront at all times. There were a few instances where I wanted to react in response to some questionable comments made in various situations throughout the day, but I bit my tongue, smiled, and even walked away from conversations because I knew it wouldn’t benefit anyone for me to show my ass. I mean it would have felt good at the time but the repercussions after the fact, not so much.
Rule #1 of conferences: Do not show your ass. People will talk. If they’re going to talk about you, give them something good to discuss. Taking the high road can never be a bad thing even if it’s not necessarily your gut reaction. Rise up. It’s the best clapback.
I attended the Indie Author Book Signing in the morning and acquired a fantastic haul! 8:30 am signings determine who the hardcore readers are. It’s like Survivor. If you’re not already in line by 8:15 you aren’t DIE HARD ENOUGH. I ended up connecting with Julia Kelly thanks to Alyssa Cole! Julia is a NYC chapter member, but we never had the chance to meet until RWA! Thanks to Julia, I met blogger and author of an upcoming rockstar romance, Elisabeth Lane. See! You go to do one thing and you meet two new people. Julia then led me to her roommate, Alexis Anne who was signing copies of her book. It was crazy! It’s like six degrees of Kevin Bacon without the bacon. SO MUCH NETWORKING!
I didn’t attend many workshops because I felt like I obtained a lot of the same type of information at RT, and the rooms were FREEZING. I was already getting over flu #2 for the year, so sitting in rooms with arctic temps wasn’t my idea of fun. I did manage to suck it up and endure the frigid temperature to catch Heidi Cullinan and Damon Suede’s Find Your Game Face: The Author Platform workshop. I’ve heard Damon and Heidi talk about this workshop for some time and I was thrilled to get some insight into how to make your author platform stand out. After the workshop ended, more networking happened and then I went back to my room to get ready for the Rita’s.
Thursday night was absolutely magical!
I wore a dress that made me feel like a queen/goddess/ethereal mermaid. I had a few friends who were nominated for Rita’s, so screaming for them when their names were called (just as I did for the Golden Heart nominees earlier in the day) was me expressing my pride. LOL, I received a few sideways glances, but whatever. MY FRIENDS WERE NOMINATED AND ACKNOWLEDGED FOR THEIR WORK! I WILL SCREAM UNTIL I’M NUMB! #alwaysacheerleader
The ceremony was fantastic, but connecting with people afterward and the dance party that ensued was stupid fun. I left my badge in my room because neon green did not work into the color scheme of my wardrobe. I introduced myself to everyone and shook their hands knowing it would be highly unlikely anyone would remember me. My LOL moment of the night: Rita winner (and all around lovely lady), Jennifer L. Armentrout introduced me to an editor as Harper Lee. BEST MIX UP EVER! Why would anyone correct that? WHY? And then when I finally met Megan Erickson it was like a slow motion scene straight out of a movie where the recognition is there and the delayed reaction of “OMG, IT’S YOU” finally occurs. It was so neat to connect with people in person who I’ve corresponded with online. LOVE THAT! When I was leaving the awards hall for the after party, I met Bookseller of the Year winners Bea and Leah Koch of The Ripped Bodice. Holy crap, they were sweet as pie and they *love* erotic romance, which had me cheesing like the Cheshire Cat. I may have slipped them some free downloads. #icomepreparedtopimp #ifpeopleloveyourgenregiveemfreebies
Day Three was a shitshow…
My illness flared up again because the hotel was so cold. I woke up with my mouth feeling like I licked the back of a cat. Ugh. Strange visual I know but IT IS WHAT I FELT LIKE. Then I couldn’t speak because my throat was sore as hell. It was not a pretty morning but my roommates, Alexis Daria and Robin Lovett (co-hosts of #rwchat on Twitter), were so sympathetic and came through with tea and well wishes. I swear I had so much fun rooming with these ladies.
I wanted to attend workshops, but being in another cold room wasn’t exactly high on my list of things to do. Unfortunately, the workshop I wanted to attend in the morning conflicted with the Avon signing, and I was all about getting signed copies of books!
I did end up attending Blending Your Brand and Platform with Sonali Dev, Alisha Rai, Beverly Jenkins, and Alyssa Cole. It was great hearing these ladies speak on how they perceive their brand/platform and how they practice self-care when the world becomes too overwhelming.
Later in the afternoon, I went to the Berkley signing (#bookwormforlife) and then I was in my room by 5:40 pm. I packed up what little clothes I brought with me, shoved all of my books into my suitcase, showered to thaw out (hot showers fix almost everything), ordered room service, and was in my pajamas by 8 pm. I was asleep by 9 pm. I missed an evening of networking, but I felt like poo on a stick. My body was telling me to rest up, buttercup.
Day Four (my last day at RWA)…
Sore throat strikes again. It was pretty bad. Again, roommates to the rescue! ALL OF THE HUGS TO ROBIN AND ALEXIS!!!!!
My morning began with me enduring freezing temps AGAIN because I was determined to stick it out for workshops. I attended Killer Cliches: Insider Tips on Escaping the Slush Pile with Sourcebooks editors Mary Altman and Cat Clyne (Fun fact: Cat Clyne is vegan like me! We bonded through our love of vegan food at the Golden Hearts Luncheon). Agents Courtney Miller-Callihan and Nicole Resciniti also sat on the panel. People, the workshop was awesome! LOL, it was super entertaining to hear editors and agents express their disdain for the same tropes I tend to bypass in books. Ex 1: The over-the-top sexually aggressive hero who has a douche canoe personality. HATE IT. Ex 2: Amnesiac heroine. HATE IT (although I totally want to write a short story with an amnesiac heroine because the best way to get over a trope you loathe is to find a fun way to spin it, right?). Put a bunch of authors in a room with editors and agents and you’re going to get a variety of opinions on what will sell. Beloved tropes vs. take it or leave it tropes turned into a fun and highly entertaining game. For me, it was a great way to start the morning. I had a hot cup of Throat Coat tea during this session so it was a tad more tolerable sitting in the tundra.
After that panel, I went to a workshop presented by J.T. Bock, A Whedonites Guide to Characterization. Okay, most people know I love pop culture. Many also know I loooooove Buffy the Vampire Slayer. FAVORITE TV SHOW EVER. To have a workshop incorporate Joss Whedon TV shows/movies with techniques to spice up your characters? Here for it! It was a fantastic workshop and a lot of ideas presented will aid me in rewriting a chapter in a book I’m aiming to query by the end of the year (Jan 2018 the latest).
“The process of creating characters is creating differences.” - A Joss Whedonism
After workshops, I played catch up in the lobby with Laurel. I squeezed her like crazy and thanked her for being the reason I was having such an amazing experience. My flight would be departing in a few hours, and I wanted to touch base and say goodbye to a few people. While Laurel and I were playing catch up, a funny thing happened! We ended up shooting a promo video for RWA. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. It was totally impromptu but loads of fun. I didn’t get to check myself in the mirror before filming but hopefully I wasn’t a hot mess.
After wrapping up with Laurel, I was off to the librarian/blogger/bookseller luncheon with Brenda Jackson as a keynote speaker. I arrived late because I couldn’t shut my mouth and spent way more time in the lobby gabbing than I should have, but when I finally did end up finding a table to squeeze into, I landed a SWEEEEET spot. I shared a table with Robin Bradford (2016 Librarian of the Year), SUPER WENDY! LOL, my reaction when she told me her name was priceless. I was crazy ill with the horrible sore throat thing, but man did her introduction perk me right up. I LOVE HER BLOG!!!, and I ended up sitting next to Angie Lynch who runs Shameless Book Club, and of course my fave local librarian Frannie was seated at our table as well. Librarians and book bloggers give me life. To sit at the table with all of these lovely ladies was icing on the cake and the best way to end my RWA experience.
Boy was I wrong.
A couple of us stuck around to chat after the luncheon and Brenda Jackson was walking out of the room a few steps ahead of us. Frannie starts chatting her up and I’m thinking, “AHHHH, THIS IS MY CHANCE!” Frannie is so suave, and because of her, I got the opportunity to take a photo with Brenda and tell her how awesome she is and how important her keynote address was and how being a pioneer in this industry means a lot. She was going on about all the things she didn’t get to say during her speech, and I’m like, “WUT? YOU ARE FABULOUS. SHUSH!”
The moment that stood out for me in her keynote address?
She said a woman who was an editor back in the day but who is now some big wig in the publishing industry, told her when she first started that black women can’t sell books.
Is your mouth hanging open like mine was?
She took it even further and told Brenda, “No one wants to read about black women or black love.”
Brenda’s response? “I’m sure she remembers me now.”
What can you say to that? Nothing, absolutely nothing.
I didn’t name every single person I encountered in four days, otherwise this post would go on fo’ eva eva and it’s already long! I also didn’t mention the many hilarious elevator hijinks, or the hugs that people gave me at random times throughout the con, or the women who complimented me on my outfits and my hair, or authors and bloggers I religiously follow on social media asking me about my work, but I appreciate every single positive interaction I had. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU ALL FOR BEING KIND!!!
So many people made this con memorable. I thank those who shared their business tips and who made a newcomer feel loved. I thank the RWA staff and board members who were so incredibly sweet with making sure this first timer had an awesome time. I am grateful for the connections I’m sure will be beneficial in upcoming months (and even years).
I look forward to seeing everyone in Colorado next year!
**Quick update: I renewed my RWA membership this past Friday and I also joined a new chapter!