A Newbie’s Take on RWA18 Conference

I did not attend RWA18 in Denver. I did stalk social media for information and pictures shared by other authors. I found plenty. Seems 18 was an excellent conference. But I was only seeing posts from established romance authors. What did the newbies/first timers think? Did they have the same experience? I asked first time attendee, Alyssa Henderson, to share her experience. This is what Alyssa said.  

 Thank you for inviting me to blog Rita. I’ve been following the Rubies a little over a year and I’m excited to be here.  Going into my very first romance writers conference was a bit daunting, but I hopped on a plane to Denver with the comfort of arriving early which gave me a few days to figure everything out. Hint – it never happened. Nope, Denver laughed in my face and gave me an altitude problem. And Holy moly, the hotel was a maze. It took me half a day with map in hand to find my way around. The hotel went all out for the conference.  Romance book covers were everywhere.   

  However, just like it always does – life gives you exactly what you need and always works out for the best. RWA18 Denver was one of the most exciting and terrifying and one of the best experiences of my life. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Damon Suede (yes, THE Damon Suede) the very first day. He mentioned something very important. Two things, actually. First, always – ALWAYS join a conversation regardless of who is having it. You will be welcomed. That’s how romance writers are. Second, set a goal for yourself during RWA. Having sat through a spellbinding workshop with him earlier, I took his words to heart.

Well, kind of.

As a newbie writer I wasn’t 100% sold on the joining conversations idea, but creating goals… game on.

Struggling to make my way through my first round of edits, I craved any and all knowledge I could acquire from the writers I so admire. I focused on my workshops. I’m so glad I did. I learned so much. Like crazy – ridiculous amounts of info that I scribbled down as fast as I could as light bulbs of genius inspiration sparked to life. Listening to some of my idols tell me that I belong in this wonderful group of people and that I will make it if I stay determined and hustle was jaw-dropping and incredibly inspiring. I’m still pouring over my notes.

I worried I wouldn’t make any friends while at RWA. Looking back on that now, I see it was the most absurd worry I had. Romance writers are the very best people. Just by walking around the hotel you meet people. On the very first day I started talking with one writer on the ride up the escalator and by the time we reached the landing we decided to have lunch together. And that isn’t an oddity. I was able to meet so many talented and amazing writers who saved me seats for workshops and I did the same for them. We attended the RITAs together and talked shop. The very last night, I stayed up drinking prosecco with a friend after the Stiletto Party and she helped me solve a conflict issue in my beginning! When I got back to my room I took off my heels and went to town writing down notes about what I needed to add and what questions I still needed to answer. THESE people are my tribe.

Of course no conference would be complete without fangirl moments. And I had plenty. At least a few times a day I was squealing and resisting the urge to profess my undying love of their work. I managed to sandwich myself between not one – but two brilliant authors, Darynda Jones and Sylvia Day, at once. And then, Jill Shavis. 


I even met a few Rubies. I follow the blog and participated in the Winter Writing Festival this year and on occasion join the fabulous ladies in the chatroom. So when I saw the sparkling Ruby Slipper pin on their name badge I got all excited.

I’ve been a RWA member for just over a year now. Since then I’ve joined two chapters, earned my PRO status and submitted my work for two contests – finaling in one, the Stiletto. To say I’ve learned a lot since I joined RWA would be an understatement. I’ve gained so much knowledge from my local chapter, attended a stellar pre-conference retreat with my online chapter and the comments I’ve received back from the contest judges have pushed me to be better.

Writing is hard. The more you learn… the harder writing gets. It’s also the most wonderful gift in the world. And sharing a conference with 2000 romance writers who support each other and love the craft was nothing less than incredible.

Alyssa, do you feel  newbie Romance Writers can benefit from attending the National Conference?

If you are a newbie writer I highly encourage you to go to RWA19. Start planning now! Yes, it will be scary, but nothing fantastic ever comes from staying in your comfort zone. It was seriously the best thing I could have done for myself as a writer.

Do you have any words for a newbie thinking about attending next year? 

My best tip to anyone thinking about going would be to know what you want… and be willing to let that evolve while you are there. I didn’t really have a clear goal in mind when I went. But Damon was right. There is literally a million things you can do while at Nationals. It helps to really focus on what you want to get out of it. I knew I wanted to learn from my idols and make friends. So, I skipped most of the book signings to attend workshops and hung out with people I connected with over dinners and drinks. Also, know yourself. I know I need down time to decompress – and let’s face it – hide. So, I spent the extra money for a single occupancy room instead of finding a roommate. It really made a huge difference. At any given time I could retreat to my room. Even if for just five minutes. I even kept the Do Not Disturb sign on the door at all times.

Nationals is not a vacation. It is work. It is exhausting. And yet it is such a wonderful and uplifting experience you won’t regret it.

Thank you Alyssa  for sharing your experiences and thoughts with us today. 

If you are considering attending RWA19 and have questions, ask away. Alyssa and the Rubies will be glad to answer.   


You can find out more about Alyssa by visiting her web home.




28 responses to “A Newbie’s Take on RWA18 Conference”

  1. Rebekah Simmers says:

    Fantastic writeup Alyssa! Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I’m sooooo glad that you were able to go and you had such a successful trip. Proud of you friend!

    • Alyssa Henderson says:

      Thanks lady! I already have my fingers and toes crossed you can join me next year. 🙂

      • joan ramirez says:

        So nice of you to keep me in the loop. I’m very proud of my first romance novel, Secret Desires by JLRegen. Hope to attend next year in NYC. Right now, I’m giving hope to a treasured family member battling throat cancer. He’s a wonderful father and husband who gave me the courage to publish.

  2. Liza Roberts says:

    Fantastic write up Alyssa! Your feedback is making me seriously consider attending next year. It’s such a great opportuniity to learn the trade directly from fellow writers .

    • Alyssa Henderson says:

      Thanks Liza! You totally should. I know it’s a hike for you, but it’s so worth it. AND we could all hang out again! 🙂

  3. Addison Fox says:

    What a great post, Rita & Alyssa!!!

    I’m so glad your first RWA was such a wonderful experience, Alyssa. Looking forward to seeing you in New York!!!


  4. Great post, ladies!

    I’m so glad you had a wonderful learning experience, Alyssa, and made new friends. Every dollar I’ve spent on my career has been totally worth it, more than a hundred thousand times so, because of the friendships I’ve developed.

    What were your favorite workshops, btw?

  5. Elisa Beatty says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Alyssa!!

    And lucky you for meeting Damon Suede right off the bat! He’s one of the most inspiring, positive people out there–and, yes, his workshops are amazing. My sister says listening to him for awhile is like having a fire hose connected directly to your brain…in a good way.

    Congrats on diving in with RWA18 and making it a fabulous experience!!

    • Alyssa Henderson says:

      OMG – I know, right? He spoke at the Contemporary Romance Writers Pre-conference retreat and I was captivated.

      Thanks Elisa!

  6. Loved reading your perspective, Alyssa. Thank you for sharing! I enjoyed meeting you while volunteering at the speed pitch sessions.

    I’ll have to check if any of Damon’s workshops were recorded, because I missed those. I’ve heard he’s amazing!

    • Alyssa Henderson says:

      Thank you Anne Marie! I loved meeting you too! Next time lets do food or drinks… the speed pitch totally stressed me out and I was only a volunteer. LOL

      Damon actually taught a workshop during the time we were volunteering and he did say it would be recorded. I can’t wait to listen to it. 🙂

      • Anne Marie Becker says:

        I was so glad I wasn’t pitching! LOL But it was interesting to see how it works. And yes to food/drinks! 😀

  7. Julia Day says:

    I’m another Damon Suede fan. He taught a class on Power Couple to Hearts Through History. It was amazing.

    I second the idea about having a single room (or a great spot to disappear to.) Sometimes, you just need a quiet moment to decompress. “Firehose” is so true; it can be overwhelming to absorb all that information.

    • Alyssa Henderson says:

      He’s awesome, right!! Firehouse is absolutely an accurate description. LOL.
      And yes the hotel room was a savior! I will definitely do that again next year.

  8. Yay!!! I’m so glad you had such a great time at Nationals and got so much out of it. It can be so overwhelming but I always come home having learned SO MUCH. Every year I feel like I grow more at the four days of conference than I do during any other four weeks. Yes, it’s spendy, but so worthy it!

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us, Alyssa! And good luck on those edits! You’ve got this!

    • Alyssa Henderson says:

      Thanks ViVi!!!!! Yes to all of what you said. Lol. But I am definitely ready to dive back into my MS 😉

  9. Thanks for sharing, Alyssa. Loved your write-up and it made me get pumped to attend next year’s conference.

  10. I am so glad you had a good first RWA Conference Alyssa! When I was working a full-time day job and writing on the side I lived for the one week out of the year I could live like a real writer. I still look forward to RWA every year – the workshops, the luncheons, the connections, meeting my idols, and spending time with friends I see every day online but in person only once a year. Of course one of my favorite parts of RWA is the Beau Monde Chapter’s all day mini conference the day before the actual RWA conference starts. And every year my partners in crime and I try to meet all of the Beau Monde first timers and make certain they are not completely overwhelmed. We always end up taking at least one of them under our wing and this year was no exception. We are kind of a crazy trio, but this year’s newbie fit right in and we are already planning to hang out together in NYC !!

    • Alyssa Henderson says:

      Yes, I loved my online chapter (Contemporary Romance Writers) pre-conference retreat. It was such a great start to the conference.
      That is so nice of you to take time to meet the newbies! I will definitely take the time next year to chat with first timers since I had so many people who reached out to me while I was there.
      Thanks Bev!


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