Wednesday, July 21, 2010

RWA for the Uninitiated

It occurred to me, reading the posts from the last few days, that readers of our blog who are not members of RWA might wonder what the heck we've been talking about and why we serious, highly intellectual writers (cough) are suddenly worried about hair, cocktail dresses, strappy sandals etc.

First, some background.

RWA is basically a not for profit group of romance writers.

The mission of Romance Writers of America is to advance the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy.

On the surface, it's like many other writers' organizations, but it differs in a few fundamental ways.  Some differences for the better, while for some it's debatable whether or not they are for the better... But overall, I think the organization is pretty great.

I've been a member since some time in 2002, even though I'm not currently writing romance. In fact, Sinead and I were talking the other day and I realized I gave up on trying to write romance in the summer of 2004 -- yet I still belong to RWA and have trouble breaking the habit of belonging to RWA and going to the conference. There's a real energy and lots to learn and people to meet and it's just plain exhilarating. And exhausting. And I've learned so much about character development and arcs and injecting emotion into the stakes and the words from romance writers, that I'm a little addicted to romance writers and RWA, even though it's not the genre I'm writing in.

But back to RWA.

From everything I've heard and seen about other writers' organizations, RWA is the most focussed on education -- learning to write and learning about the business of publishing. I think this is awesome. Many other groups you can't join until you've published (and getting to that point is a huge mystery--like a secret club where no one will give you the key), but in contrast anyone who aspires to write a romance is welcome to join RWA. This is both a fabulous and sometimes negative thing. It's positive because there are so many opportunities to learn and the published authors are for the most part accessible. (Just don't try to talk to Nora if she's wearing her sunglasses indoors.)

But on the other hand, with the mix of unpublished members and various states of published authors (the definition of which has become broader these past few years),  it's hard for the organization to cater to each and every member's needs. But on balance, I think this diversity is one of the very biggest strengths of RWA. It's welcoming. Here, come join our club, work hard and we'll help you get where you want to be.

Another difference between RWA and most other writers' groups is that it's mostly women. And this too can be a plus or a minus, but overall I think it's a plus. That said, I have found it refreshing to go to a few writers' conferences where there are more men. :) But on balance, I think women tend to be more humble and willing to learn from and help each other. And that yields great opportunities to learn and improve.

Yes, there is some craziness within the RWA ranks --  what group of 10,000 plus members isn't going to have some crazy?-- but on the whole, the vibe is supportive and helpful and very "high tides raise all boats".

So, what are we all getting ready for? (Except Sinead this year. *pout*) Every summer, RWA has a National conference, usually held in mid-July, but the dates vary. It's a pretty huge conference with about 2,200 members in attendance. Everyone who's anyone in the romance publishing world is there. All the big name authors. All the big agents. All the editors from the romance imprints at the big publishers. Etc. Etc.

RWA's National Conference is not a fan conference. Although I have met people who seem to go for a chance to meet their favorite authors and get free books--and there are a lot of free books-- the vast majority of the people who go to the conference are working hard at their careers as authors. (At whatever stage in their careers they might be.)

Overall, it's an educational and business conference. Writers go to learn, to meet other authors, to have meetings with agents and editors and marketing staff, and to network with other authors. But it's also a place to schmooze and have fun.

The 4 day conference climaxes (word chosen carefully) with a big ceremony for the Golden Heart and RITA awards. The RITAs are like the Oscars for romance novels and the Golden Heart is the little sister but for unpublished work. Everyone gets very dressed up.... Especially for writers who mostly live in sweat pants or pajamas. I'm on a loop with this year's GH finalists and there's some serious panic going on about hair and nails and dresses and shoes. It is a lot of pressure. If you do win and have to walk up on stage to give an acceptance speech, not only are you in front of over 2,000 people, there are HUGE screens and people taking pictures, and all that.

The first year I went to the National conference it was held in Dallas and we happened to be in the same hotel as a Mary Kay conference. That was interesting. Some might think that the two groups would have a lot in common, but actually, it was shocking how different we were. How easy it was to instantly spot which conference any woman you spotted was attending. (Even before considering all the pink.)

The Mary Kay women were so coiffed and put together, and some scolded writers in the elevators for dressing too casually and not wearing panty hose or makeup... But I digress. The main reason I thought of the Mary Kay women was that it seemed like every night they'd get dressed up in serious ball gowns for an awards event and we'd see them on the elevators wearing beauty-pageant style sashes and tiaras and huge ribbons better suited to a horse show.

I scoffed. We writers were so much more dignified.

But I have to say, one of the things I'm most looking forward to at this year's conference is wearing two very special ribbons on my name tag: GH Finalist and First Sales. But they'll be much smaller and totally more dignified than the huge Mary Kay ribbons  :)

And that wearing these ribbons matters to me makes me realize, romance writer or not, I've joined the cult. And it's suddenly all about the ribbons. (Tongue firmly planted in cheek.)

But seriously... the ribbons represent real milestones and even with all that's going on with me right now, it's nice to have something to feel proud about.

And can't wait to see Molly with her RITA Finalist Ribbon!!!

7 comments:

Danica Avet said...

This will be my first Nationals conference and I'll admit...I'm nervous as hell. Of course, that nervousness is fluctuating between "what do I wear" and "please don't let me pounce on any of my favorite writers"! I'm looking forward to the workshops, meeting everyone I've talked to online, but I still have that first day in high school feeling. Meh!

Stephanie Doyle said...

Danica - an RWA virgin! Love it.

See I can say don't be nervous... you're still going to be nervous. So I'll say instead your nerves will be gone in like hour 2.

I get nervous and this is my 10th I think.

The what to wear thing - DO NOT SWEAT IT. If you have an agent/editor meet - make sure you look neat and presentable. Other wise in the workshops nobody is looking at what anyone else is wearing. Wear a nice dress to the RITAS and you're in.

And squeeing at your favorite authors is 1/2 the fun. Last year I squeed at Joanna Bourne. There she was chitting chatting away with me. I looked at her tag and squeed.

She was lovely and gracious and we had a delightful conversation on historicals.

That's usually what comes from squeeing.

And if you do meet an author who you are a fan of and she looks at you like she can't give you the time of day... then that's HER issue. Not yours.

I can tell you there has been one "big name" author who has so turned me off each year at these conferences I'm to the point I can't even read her stuff anymore.

Maureen McGowan said...

Danica, I still get that first day in high school feeling and this year marks my SIXTH conference.

I just saw Steph's comment and see she does, too.
The rest of her advice is so great and I would add that you just need to relax, take it all in, and don't put too much pressure on yourself.

Talk to people. Ask what they write, be prepared to tell people what you write. The great thing about the conference is everyone has something in common (writing) so you immediately have something to discuss with strangers.

And have fun!

Jen McAndrews said...

Danica, make sure when you get to National that you pick up a "First Timer" ribbon. You'll be amazed how many people will strike up a conversation with you and offer to help you out through the days. It's one of the best ways to experience the positive, giving side of RWA's members. You're going to have a blast!

Molly O'Keefe said...

Danica - it is totally that first day of high school feeling. And I'm not sure it totally goes away and maybe that's all right. I find it constantly hard to try and be engaging. When i stop being trying to be engaging, things usually work out better for me - ie Eileen and that potato. Stephanie and all that champage.

Oh, those were good conferences...

Eileen said...

Oh, the Mary Kay ladies! That was a hoot. My first conference was NYC in 2003. The beginning of our conference overlapped with a Hadassah conference. All the little old Jewish ladies thought I was one of theirs and took me under their wings.

I pounced on Eileen Dreyer (one of my favorites)in 2005 in Reno and interrupted a conversation she was having to have her sign a book. It wasn't until after I'd gushed all over her that I turned around and realized that she'd been talking to Nora Roberts.

The conference is almost always a very positive thing. It is mainly a big gathering of very smart, focused, creative women and can be more fun than I should be able to claim as a tax write-off.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Eileen my first conference was Dallas 1996. The Literacy signing was a room of about 20 authors or so.

Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, Jayne Ann Krentz, Catherine Coulter, Tami Hoag...etc.

All huge. All wonderful. I'll never forget they didn't ship Tami Hoag's newest (she was still writing romantic suspense back then).

She stood at the table with no books and seemed completely flustered. I got to shake her and and tell her that she wrote one of the best scenes EVER in a suspsene for me. It had to do with a dead Amish guy in the closet.

One of my best conf. moments.

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