RWA National Conference: One Survivor’s Account (Part 2)

Note to self: It’s not enough to write the blog post. You need to stop fussing with it and hit Publish.

Step 5: Immersion

Arriving at the NY Marriott Marquis was in itself an adventure.

New York City, in all its glory and traffic.

New York City, in all its glory and traffic.

I can see why New Yorkers do not like Time Square — trying to walk anywhere fast was impossible. Everyone is a tourist and moves very, very slowly.

The Marriott itself was likewise packed. This YouTube video gives an idea of the noise level. Day or night, the noise did not stop. Every time I stepped out of my room, I felt as if I were stepping out into a fast-moving stream. I used to sneak up to my room and take little 10-minute breaks just to maintain my sense of balance.

The famous Marriott elevators.

The famous Marriott elevators.

I think the staff was a bit overwhelmed, which seems odd. I mean, they have conventions here on a regular basis, surely? The staff was perfectly pleasant, just rushed off their feet. It was strange to be in a crowd of people where everyone seemed to know someone else. I felt like the lone person who didn’t know anyone else, but that was an illusion. Waiting in line, I started chatting with women around me. There were many people who didn’t know anyone else, and that helped overcome the shyness.

Most writers are introverts who start writing because it’s the best way to communicate with other people. Throw a few thousand introverts into a confined space and it will feel a bit awkward at first. What helped most was the fact that almost everyone I met understood exactly what it was like.

Note: If you go to an RWA convention, prepare for the fact that you are going to spend the next few days with everyone you meet staring at your chest. You will find yourself doing the same thing. The badge, with its ribbons and pins and such-like help you connect with people.

Random thoughts:

  • The first couple days, I attended every workshop I possibly could. By the third day, my brain was a sponge that couldn’t hold any more information. I started picking workshops based on whether or not they were going to be recorded. (A surprising number of them weren’t.)
  • If you ever plan to attend a workshop by Michael Hague, get there at least 30 minutes in advance. I arrived a mere 20 minutes ahead of time, and was lucky to grab the very last patch of floor in the room. (It was worth it.)
  • When you arrive at a workshop, choose a seat based on the pillars. In the NY Marriott, at least, a lot of the rooms have thick, very non-transparent pillars scattered throughout. Sherry Thomas gave an insightful talk on subtext. From the laughter of the people who could see her, not just hear her, I gather it included an amusing presentation. Since I was behind a non-transparent pillar, I relied on my imagination. (Also worth it. Very good talk.)
  • It’s true what they say: most of the networking, and a lot of the fun, went on in the bar. I got to meet people from my local RWA chapter there; they very kindly included me in their group though we hadn’t met before.
  • The Literary Book signing event was aural chaos. You couldn’t chat with authors. If you wanted to converse, you had to raise your voice. (I shouted at Joanna Bourne. She was very polite about it.)
  • The book signings for the publishing houses? Authors sit at tables. You walk up to them and they graciously give you books. Free. With a smile and an autograph. Amazing.
  • If you plan to ship books home, do not wait until the last day. Trust me on this.

The books. Oh, the books.

Day 1:

For showing up at the hotel, I get a tote bag with books in it. Not too many books. I can deal with it.

Day 1

Day 1

Day 2:

The literary book signing. Okay, a few more, but it’s okay. I can handle it.

Day 2

Day 2

Day 3:

The publishing house book signings. Well, it’s a bit much, but it’s manageable.

Day 3

Day 3

Day 4:

Day 4

Day 4


By the last day, I was frankly burnt out. I felt sad to leave, but I was also tired. It’s an intense few days and you need to recuperate afterward.

One last thing:

One thing that struck me as a bit odd was that it felt as if this convention were being given to two different groups at the same time. On the one hand, RWA is an organization for professional writers. Whether they are published or not, they are writers and they treat writing as a business. On the other hand, occasionally it felt like a fan convention, and that confused me. Meeting someone in your profession who is successful is a great experience (and all of the published authors that I met were gracious and professional). But some of the workshops felt as if they were directed toward fans, not serious writers. Certainly the book signings were. I do not mind being given books, don’t get me wrong, but it feels like a fan-based activity. (Though  I love Lauren Willig because she looked at the Daphne finalist ribbon on my badge and made a remark about how we both were Daphne finalists.)

When I first read complaints on the loops from writers who felt that RWA was geared toward amateurs, I felt a bit insulted. Just because I wasn’t a published author did not mean that I was not a serious author. This is work. I enjoy it, but it’s not a hobby. After attending the convention, I understand why RWA needed to set up the Pro and PAN levels of membership. People attend this convention, and belong to this organization, for different reasons. RWA is trying to find space for everyone, and that’s a good thing.

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