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Preparing for a Reader Conference

Have you ever attended a Reader Writer get together, event, or conference? As an author, I love spending a weekend with readers! And just as there are varied and wonderfully unique books, there are different types of reader weekends. As an attending author, I need to tailor my preparations to the type of reader event to make the most of the opportunity.

Tomorrow I leave for Romancing Williamsburg, a new Historical Romance Writer/Reader weekend event in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Romancing Williamsburg Historical Reader Event

Regency style dress with poke bonnet

I’m beyond excited, because I’m an historical author and someone who loves to dress up in period clothing. Early this year, I commissioned Victoria Vane (one of the founders of this conference) to create a 17th century English court gown

for me to wear in her Vintage Fashion Show. My mother also made me a Regency gown with jacket and bonnet and a 17th century Scottish costume to wear to my book signing at the conference. I am also part of a group of authors giving a presentation about tea history, one of my favorite subjects. As you can see, this is the perfect event for me.

17th century Scottish gown

I have attended two other reader events recently. The Lori Foster Reader/Author Get Together and the Shameless Book Con. They were very different from one another but both fabulous! Lori Foster’s event veered more toward the sweeter romances, although there were also spicy romances represented and everything in between. Shameless Book Con veers toward erotica, but there were also plenty of other romance sub-genres represented (I was one of two historical authors there).

No matter what type of reader con you are attending, you can make it work for you as an author, even if it doesn’t line up easily with what you write. The number one thing to remember is: You are making an impression on readers, so make it a good impression. Always be accepting of what they like and be friendly. If they don’t read what you write, they might decide to take a chance and read one of your books if they like you.

With that in mind, let’s talk about preparing for a Reader Event.

1. What are your goals? Meeting readers, selling books, dressing up in costumes, networking with other authors, getting people to sign up for your newsletter… Whatever your goals are, make sure that you can quantify them, so you can tell if you met your goal when you return home.

2. Are there themes or certain parties at the event? For a historical reader event, I am bringing my historical gowns and accessories. For the Shameless Book Con, I brought my human rose costume for the big, sexy Smut Gala on Saturday night. My husband attended with me and shipped his stilts to the hotel as part of his costume (it was a carnival theme, and he was the tall man). He ended up winning the costume contest!

Tall man & Human rose at Shameless Book Con

Honestly, if you can dress up in an interesting way, you should do so, given the chance. Even hanging out with readers during the day, I try to wear interesting outfits that will stick in their memories. I just ordered a dress that has books all over it, and my mother made me a fun pencil skirt in hot pink that has little typewriters in the pattern. Not only does an interesting, themed wardrobe give you and readers something in which to start a discussion, but it shows your fun, approachable side and makes you memorable.

3. Who else is going? Are there authors you want to meet in person, friends you’ve made on line but have never gotten to sit down with? If they are going to the same conference, set up a time to chat or eat together. Do you have readers who have reached out to say that they are attending? Make certain to reach back and see them there. Invite them to sit with you or bring a little prize for those loyal fans.

4. Gather your swag and prizes. Double check to make certain you know what the conference might require you bring for a grand prize (books or swag for the reader goodie bags). Hopefully your swag reflects your brand and the sub-genre in which you write. At the tea history presentation at Romancing Williamsburg, I’m giving away a tea cup and saucer, Scottish shortbread, and of course tea. I’m also handing out individual tea favors and booklets on tea history to each participant. These reflect not only the presentation but what I write.

Tea Favor

When I attended Shameless Book Con, I brought key chains with a picture of a kilt on them and the tag line “For the hero who needs extra room.” It was a bit sexier than what I will take to the historical reader event. Bottom line – think about who will be attending and what they might like that still represents your brand.

5. Think about selling yourself and your sub-genre. Going to a book con that was geared toward erotica when I write historical romance required a different approach when talking to readers about my books. My Scottish historicals are a bit spicy, but they are not erotica. I would never mislead a reader, but I did talk more about the spicy parts.

At a historical reader event, I will talk more about the Scottish/English history and things like tea and making my own poke bonnet. For both conferences I talk about the themes of empowering women about which I write. At the historical reader event I will talk about the difficulties getting into my English court gown, where at the erotica event I talked more about the difficulties getting out of my English court gown and how I could see a heroine just telling the hero to forget the stay ties and throw her petticoats up over her head!

6. Don’t forget the basics. These are items you should bring to all kinds of reader events.

Bookmarks with your latest books (QR codes are helpful)

Swag with your branding

Banners and signing table decorations and markers

Sign up sheets for your newsletter and/or mailings

Cash change or way to take a credit card (Square, Venmo, PayPal)

Business cards for networking with other authors or industry professionals

Books if you are required to bring your own to sell. If a book store is providing your books, find out how many they will bring. You might need to bring more.

Badge holder with pins, special bag, or favorite note pad

Prizes and special swag to give out to presentation attendees

Names/Contact info for those with whom you want to meet up

Computer, phone, chargers, and all documents you might need for presentations

Costumes and wardrobe with the right shoes (comfortable and/or stylish) and jewelry

Travel details and wallet

17th Century English Mantua with Fontage headdress

Going over this list has helped me prepare for Romancing Williamsburg! I’m thrilled to attend, and my mom is going with me as a reader. I still need to wash and pack ten teapots for table decorations, and I mustn’t forget my pompadour shoes and fontage headpiece. It’s going to be a fun weekend!

Have you attended reader events? Which have been your favorites? Please add anything that I may have left out. Thanks! Heather

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7 Crucial Items to Bring to Conference

Hello everyone! Today I am packing for the Moonlight & Magnolia Romance Writers conference in Atlanta this weekend (http://www.georgiaromancewriters.org/mm-conference/). Georgia Romance Writers puts on a fabulous three-day conference, which brings in a couple hundred romance writers, editors and agents, as well as readers for their grand book signing. I love this conference, because it is big enough for great networking opportunities but also small enough to bring a type of intimacy to it, so I don’t feel incredibly overwhelmed (like I do at the national conference). This year I’m especially excited because my YA paranormal romance, BROKEN, is up for a Published Maggie Award – Yay!

broken_v3-reduced

finalist-ya-pubSo…packing. For three days away, it’s amazing how many things I need to remember to bring. But bringing the right items to conference is important and requires thought. After all, you’ve paid good money to go and sacrificed writing and family time. So you need to make the most of the experience.

I’ve created a list of the top seven crucial items to bring with you to any writing conference:

1. Goals – What do you want to get out of the conference? Do you want to attend five workshops or meet five new writers or give your pitch to an editor without passing out? Are you going to learn about the business or the craft? Are you going to meet up with writing buddies to strategize how to help each other promote? There are numerous possible goals, but the important part is to know them ahead of time and aim to achieve them. You don’t want to be flying home on Sunday wondering what it was you actually did over the last couple days.

2. Swag/business cards – I’m packing pens and notepads to put out in the Goody Room. I will take bookmarks and business cards to hand out at meals around the table. Of course it all has to fit in my suitcase and stay under 50 pounds. Yikes! Some people ship items to the hotel ahead of time but allow plenty of time for them to arrive.

swag2

Box of swag!

ruby-shoes-2

Clicking my Ruby shoes for good luck!

3. Clothes – It’s better not to go naked : ) Okay, conference clothes can be a whole blog post in itself. But remember to bring a sweater or jacket as hotels are usually freezing (summer and winter). Most conferences require a lot of walking, so remember to bring at least one comfortable pair of shoes to wear if your feet start screaming on the first day. I have a killer pair of Ruby red heels that I’ll be wearing Saturday night, so I’m bringing fold-able ballet flats in my purse for the dancing after the ceremony.

You’ll also want to make sure you have a cocktail dress or formal wear for the Saturday night dinner/awards ceremony, if there will be one. Some conferences and reader events hold special costume parties (historical dresses, steam punk, vampire wear). You’ll want to pack something appropriate if you plan to attend any of them.

4. Pitches – If you’ll be pitching a project or yourself to an editor or agent, remember to bring your cards or plan for doing so. Advanced preparation is key. You don’t want to completely wing it in a pitch because the time is very limited. I usually put my pitches together on the plane ride there, so I make sure to have index cards and a pen in my bag to do so.

5. Travel/contact info – Keep copies of travel itineraries and phone numbers for the shuttle company with you. You don’t want to get stranded and have to track down numbers from scratch. Also, if you are meeting up with friends, make sure to have their cell numbers.

6. Medicine – At conferences we can get nervous or eat things we are not accustomed to eating. It’s a good idea to take, along with all prescription meds, some pain reliever and tummy medicine. Having to spend the whole day in your room because of a headache is not going to help you reach your goals.

7. Smile – I’m an introvert, so conferences, with all those people, are not in my comfort zone. But they can be fun and are important for networking and learning tons. So I need to put on my conference, extrovert face. Internally I talk myself up and plaster on a smile, keeping my eyes and ears open. As hard as it is to start, once I say “hi” and begin meeting interesting people, my smile becomes natural. Always remember to be polite and as friendly as possible. Observers may not necessarily remember your book titles or genre, but they will surely remember your tantrum over a hair in your food.img_1835

This is obviously not an extensive list. Others might include snacks, flash cards of industry names, lap top, lucky underwear, notebook, cash, etc. Make a list for yourself, but be sure to include the seven crucial conference items above.

Okay, you experienced conference goers, what did I miss?

When You’re Not the Cool Kid at Conference

So you went to the RWA conference (or another) and met up with your amazing writer friends. You pitched to your favorite editor who seemed enthralled with your book, nearly begging you to send it to her. You ate every meal with a smiling cluster of women who you view as sisters-of-the-heart. Your roommate and you stayed up late laughing and plotting an anthology to self-publish together. You gave out all your lovely business cards, your swag disappeared by the end of Friday, and your line at the book signing was nearly as long as JD Robb’s. The conference was THE BEST!

No?

Was that not your experience?

There may be one or two of you out there who experienced all of this (really, I’m very happy for you, really!), but for the majority of attendees conferences don’t usually go so smoothly. In fact, for a lot of attendees, a large conference can feel downright lonely.

What? With over two thousand people, all of whom love to write, how can one feel lonely?

Easy. Many attendees are gathering with their colleagues or friends who they’ve met in the past. If you don’t have these meet-ups scheduled ahead of time, you can find yourself very much alone when everyone else has someplace to go.

IMG_3951Many of us writers are introverts and don’t mingle easily. Some may feel more comfortable talking to their characters than the lady in the nicely cut suit sitting at breakfast. When honorees and workshop presenters thank all the amazing writers who they’ve become life-long friends with, it can make one wonder “Where are my life-long writer friends?”

I’ve been going to conferences off and on for fifteen years. I belong to my local IMG_3862chapter, and I’m an active member of the Ruby Slippered Sisters. I have an agent and a publisher. I had a dinner to go to and a publishing house social to attend. I made plans twice to go to meals with old friends. I had a great roomie. And yet…I felt lonely at times.

Without lunches and dinners provided in the big room (under those funky cloud chandeliers), I found myself on several occasions alone. For one dinner I asked no less than five people if they wanted to get something to eat with me, but they were all busy. So I risked my innocent eyes (okay, so they aren’t so innocent, but I REALLY didn’t need to see the naked cowboy without a friend next to me) to traipse alone through NYC to find a salad bar. IMG_3856

It was fine. I ate a healthy meal, in the quiet of my room, that cost a lot less than a restaurant meal. I was okay being alone, which I told myself several times. But when it happened again the next day, my I’m-okay-alone talk started to sound hollow in my head. And then at the Rita/Golden Heart ceremony, I walked in with a friend to sit at her table but her friends had only saved a seat for her. I told her I’d be okay finding another table by myself, but she wouldn’t let me go away. She left her table to find a place where we could sit together. I will always remember her kindness. Even though I’m a grown up woman, feeling left out can bring back all those high school nightmares of exclusion. Thank you, Kerrie for hanging out with the non-cool kid : )

Heather & Kerrie

Heather & Kerrie

 

Now that I’m home (having received the best welcome poster ever from my 8yo at the airport)IMG_3973, and I have slept and eaten solidly, my confidence has healed. I hope for those who felt the press of homesick tears or that tummy curdling weight of defeat or rejection, that you are feeling better again. Strong and ready to dive back into the writing business. I hope you realize that you weren’t alone in well…feeling alone. No one was purposely leaving you out, and you are an awesome person.

Perhaps at the next conference RWA should have a “meet up to go to dinner” room where anyone wanting to find a dinner group can go. A moderator can make certain that everyone showing up finds at least one person to go with. Maybe I should volunteer, because I’d love to meet you (yes you, don’t look over your shoulder to see if I’m talking to someone else). We can chat about books, writing, family and who knows, maybe we can become life-long writing sisters-of-the-heart.

Anyone else have suggestions for beating off the lonely blues at conferences?

 

 

 

 

A Tiny Gem – Small Conferences

Have you ever attended a small writers/readers conference? I used to think that I had been to several. Compared to the over two-thousand attendees at the National Romance Writers of America conference, the Georgia Romance Writer’s fabulous Moonlight and Magnolia conference seemed intimate at three-hundred attendees. But this past weekend I attended the Tasty Author’s Weekend in Wilmington, North Carolina with under fifty other authors, readers and industry professionals.Tasty-Author's-Weekend-2014-Final

At first glance I worried about getting anything out of such a micro conference. The hotel was small and quiet. There were no bunches of authors networking in the lobby, no packed elevators of badge-wearing attendees, and no lines waiting to check in with the Tasty Tours registration table. The pre-conference lunch only sat about thirty.

My mom had come along with me and we stepped to the back of the luncheon buffet line. After spending only five minutes waiting, we sat down with full plates and sweet tea. I introduced myself and my mom to the woman next to me. She was a well-known agent who had worked at Harlequin as an editor for years. Umm…wow. The luncheon speaker sat down with us. She was a multi-published author who had flown in all the way from Alaska for the weekend. Really? I gave her advice on public speaking since she seemed a bit nervous and I used to teach professionals how to give talks. She called me her angel for helping her and did a fantastic job.

Afterwards I hurried up to the conference room where I would give my first industry talk: Juggling Scissors and Glue to find Focus by Collaging your Next Book. I had four attendees. Sigh…

PROPHECY_collage1

Collage Book Example

But, it was fabulous! The conference organizer attended, a reader from Upstate New York, one of my own chapter mates who’d I’d never really met before, and an award winning author of over sixty romances (Joanne Rock). Whew! We had so much fun clipping, gluing trading advice and learning about one another.

 

I met up with my mom for dinner and we ate in the hotel restaurant with several of the attendees I’d met already, including the agent. We talked about everything not industry related: families, health, vacations, movies, etc.

The cocktail party that evening had about thirty attendees and I made it a point to sit with people I didn’t know after waving to my dinner friends (yes, after learning about their families and laughing over our own failings I was starting to consider them friends). I met some more authors (one who’d flown in from Washington State), the editor at another publishing house, the multi-published author to speak at Saturday’s dinner, and then finally sat down at a table with a fun group of Indi erotica authors who showed me all their tattoos.

Book Signing

Book Signing

The three workshops I attended the next day were exceptional and allowed for constant audience participation and questions. The talk, Scene CPR by Laurin Wittig, may have saved my next book which is due to my editor in less than a week. Not only did Laurin save my book, but we found out that we write in the same sub-genre (Scottish historical paranormal romance) and now hope to travel to the northern Scottish isles together some day. I attended Joanne Rock’s talk on self-promotion, taking generous notes from her and the various bloggers in the audience. One blogger stayed after to help me figure out how to run a big contest (giving away two One Direction tickets!) for my next book release. She knows everything about contests and I had known nothing (FTC terms and conditions? What?!).

That night we had another wonderful buffet meal together with an inspiring talk and a small awards ceremony. Apparently when hotels make food for small groups, it doesn’t taste so much like “hotel food.” I even went back for seconds. And my book won a prize! Yay! Instead of hurrying, exhausted back to our hotel rooms to pack or trying to network in the lobby or bar, we all just stayed and talked in the banquet room. By the end of the night we were hugging each other goodbye, making sure we had each other’s contact info, and begging the conference organizer to put on another one in the future.

I never would have thought that a tiny conference could be so huge in benefits. I may have learned more over those two days, with under fifty people, than I learned at a four-day conference with thousands. I connected with an editor/agent who I now consider a friend (we plan to meet for coffee after realizing how close we live). I got personal help from an experienced blogger. I found a possible writer soul mate who wants to travel in Scotland with me. I became good friends with a published author who has more than sixty books under her belt. I had fun meeting nearly all the attendees and I digested important information from the workshops in small enough segments to allow me to remember nearly all of it.

Joanne Rock TT conf

Heather & Joanne Rock

Bottom line – the mini conference can be a fantastic, HUGE experience. I now recommend them with my whole heart. Look in your area. Look around the country. See if you can find a small and intimate writers/readers conference. It may just be the best one you ever attend.

Jennifer Bernard & Heather

Jennifer Bernard & Heather

If you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear about them!

 

My First Time at BookExpo America

I had always looked upon the reports from BookExpo America in New York, the big Lollapalooza of the publishing world, with envy. So this year I filled out the RWA application for authors to sign at BEA. I had two books coming out, first The Sword Dancer pretty much right on the toes of the BEA conference and then The Lotus Palace a couple months later in September.  It seemed like a good year to push myself a bit promotion-wise. I also wanted to experience the conference as well as meet with my agent and editor while I was there. (And let’s be honest — the thought of a quickie vacation to NYC sounded pretty glamorous.)

I woke up on Thursday at 3:30am after going to bed at 2:00am to jump on a plane at 6:00am. I thought I was still dreaming when I set foot into the exhibit hall:

BEA

RT Booklovers Convention Recap

Romance readers, industry representatives, and authors of all ages and subgenres recently gathered in Kansas City for the 30th annual Romantic Times Booklovers Convention. As a first time attendee, I went in with a mind (and eyes) wide open. The Ruby Sisters who attended agree that meeting readers (and visiting with each other) was the best part of the convention, but if you’re looking for more details and opinions, you’ll find them below. (Beware: This is a long post, but we wanted to give you a good feel for the adventure that is RT.)

 

PROMOTIONAL OPPORTUNITIES & SWAG

 

Authors and readers alike are there for a common purpose – to celebrate books. In particular, romance books. So it’s the perfect environment for promoting yourself as an author, or, as a reader, meeting your favorite author and picking up some goodies. As Addison Fox points out, “RT is wonderful because it’s a group of people who love books. Everyone there celebrates the written word and it’s just such a fun environment to be in for days on end.”

Some of Kim Law's swag.

Some of Kim Law’s swag.

Got swag? Boy, I hope so. If you’re an author at RT, bring a LOT and ALWAYS have some on you. This felt different from RWA, where I was hesitant to “push” things on fellow writers and usually opted for leaving items in the goody room. But at RT, even the postcards went quickly as I met readers and authors who wanted something that would help them remember my name.

 

Kinds of swag? There were a lot of pens, bookmarks, lip balms and candies. Kim Law’s beach balls were a unique and popular addition. Jeannie Lin noticed that dressing up her bookmarks (for a minimal cost) created a big hit. Says Lin: “I didn’t have very expensive stuff (other than the Ruby playing cards) but my bookmarks stood out because I wanted to make them pretty and different. Who would have thought those 1-cent red tassels would make them such a hit? I had booksellers and just random people come up to comment on how beautiful my bookmarks were.” She also recommends choosing swag that makes readers feel special and is strongly branded so they’ll remember you.

Elizabeth Essex describes having tiers of swag ready for any occasion. “Carry your swag with you at all times. You never know when the top reviewer from RT is going to come up to you while you are dressed as a saloon girl and ask to see your latest. Have that ARC, or PDF, or whatever hidden in your purse and ready to give out. And carry your minor swag—every time a reader asked me what I wrote, I passed out my character cards. Every time a reader said she had liked something I’ve already written, I gave her an autographed bookplate to stick in her book. And even if she had read it on an e-reader, she was happy to get that little bit of something personal.”

 

Bring a pimp. Several authors brought grown sons, spouses, or a friend to help hand out items, both at book signings and in the general assemblies. Perhaps when my daughter’s of age, I’ll put her in a cute T-shirt so people will ask about her mom’s books. *wink*

Heather McCollum and Addison Fox mingle.

Heather McCollum and Addison Fox mingle.

Pimp yourself. Talk to people! There is no better promotional opportunity at RT than talking to the people around you—in line, on the elevator, sitting in a workshop, or wherever. Tamara Hogan says: “The most valuable part of the conference for me was networking: connecting with other writers, of course, but also chatting with book bloggers, reviewers, and librarians. A lot of these opportunities are kinda random – you never know who you’re standing in line with!” Rita Henuber also suggests reaching out to people you don’t know, asking them questions and they’ll start asking about you.

 

 

AUTHOR VISIBILITY 

 

Tamara Hogan and Jeannie Lin at the Jazz Breakfast

Tamara Hogan and Jeannie Lin at the Jazz Breakfast

Attend workshops and events. In addition to swag, the workshops and reader events were ways to connect with readers. Kim Law advises authors in attendance “to expect any workshop you attend to possibly turn into a reader workshop. And that that isn’t a bad thing! Always bring freebies to the workshops, and assume you’re going to be answering reader questions.” The after-hours parties with food and drink were also big draws. One thing I did was tweet during the “Readers Know Best” workshop, which resulted in several new followers and retweets.

 

Kim Law poses with cover model Harvey Gaudun-Stables

Kim Law poses with cover model Harvey Gaudun-Stables

Make friends with hot guys. The cover models were everywhere, appearing like co-hosts of events in addition to generating excitement among the attendees, who enjoyed a bit of eye candy. Don’t be afraid to talk to them and get your picture taken. I met some fabulous new people this way, and many authors generated a buzz by posting their pictures with cover models on Facebook.

Liz Bemis with Scott (one of the handsome cover models).

Liz Bemis with Scott (one of the handsome cover models).

 

Make friends, period. As Elizabeth Essex recommends: “My philosophy/best advice for large conferences like RT is to tell yourself it’s just an opportunity to ‘make new friends,’ both with readers and with authors. I had a fabulous, if exhausting time, by telling myself that RT was just one big sleep-over party, and that everywhere I went, elevators, parties, workshops and bars were just opportunities to say ‘Hi’ to other people and ask them if they were having fun. I met so many readers that way, and I also met fellow authors and established common ground and mutual fan-girldom. At least one of those authors I met and hit it off with, gave me a shout-out on a big, national blog as a result.”

 

Advertising options. Personally, I didn’t find the smaller posters that lined one specific portion of the event space as eyecatching as the window clings that were something like 7 feet tall x 4 feet wide and lined the walking areas we passed through every day. The clings on the elevator doors were captivating as well.  There was also “Promo Alley.” For the low price of $25, authors could reserve a square of space in which to place promo items for attendees to pick up. Jeannie Lin highly recommends this option. “Put up a poster with your book cover on it as well as other giveaways  like bookmarks. It’s SO worth it and the cheapest promo you’ll find at RT.”

Laura Navarre in costume at the book signing.

Laura Navarre in costume at the book signing.

 

Elizabeth Essex dresses the part for the Rosie's Gulch party.

Elizabeth Essex dresses the part for the Rosie’s Gulch party.

Identify yourself (and your subgenre). Rita Henuber suggests wearing something that indicates what you write. “If your books are about weddings wear a veil. If you write historicals wear at least the top part of a costume. Wear a pirate hat and eye patch. Have a parrot on your shoulder. I was immediately drawn to authors who did this.”

 

Go big or go home. Either prepare to promote yourself as a big name readers should want to know, or spend your time at home writing the next book that will make you bigger. RT is about making a splash. Elizabeth Essex found dressing up to be fun and rewarding. “Be professional, but surrender your dignity: RT is all about dressing up and going to the parties. So I became a saloon girl, even if I was mutton dressed as lamb. I had fun, and made new friends, and those friends tracked me down at the signing and bought books. All because I had a fabulous velvet corset.” Jeannie Lin found this to be true as well. “It’s like any other ‘Con.’ It’s about stepping out in costume and interacting with other fans and readers. I think I was easily recognized because 1) I actually really like dressing up 2) and I’m Asian and I write Asian books  3) My covers and SWAG were really easily identifiable.”

 

WHAT WOULD I CHANGE?

 

I had a blast at RT, but there were some things I would have done differently…and definitely some lessons learned.

 

Club RT. This was a scheduled time to sit and let your readers come find you. For me (a relatively new author who doesn’t have a huge following), it wasn’t that helpful, though I had fun spending that time chatting with cover models and the other authors who were there.

 

FANtastic Day party. Mass hysteria. Dogs and cats, living together. Okay, this event might not have been that crazy, but it was the one time I truly felt overwhelmed. Thank goodness I had Kim and Addison to glom onto. I don’t know how readers/attendees were expected to locate authors, or how authors were supposed to match up with readers who might like their books. Unless you had very visible freebies (especially free print books) to give away, readers were likely to pass you by in the crowd.

 

Heather McCollum at Saturday's Book Fair

Heather McCollum at Saturday’s Book Fair

E-Book EXPO and Giant Book Fair. First, I was thrilled to be part of the E-book EXPO on Thursday afternoon. But, well, it was scheduled from 4-6 p.m. on a work day in the middle of a week…and it snowed. Sideways. I certainly don’t blame RT for the snow, and participating in the event was a lot of fun, but when compared to the BIG print book fair on Saturday? There were, maybe, a fourth of the attendees (and that’s probably being generous). Saturday was the granddaddy of events for readers. People could buy a day pass just for that. Readers turned out in droves.

But Jeannie Lin, who participated in both signings, had a different experience. “Surprisingly, I think I had more people approach me at the ebook expo than at the Giant Bookfair. Maybe it was because the expectation at the ebook Expo was you were browsing and would buy later? Or maybe just because it was first on Thursday and the Giant Bookfair was Saturday.”

 

Kim Law at Saturday's Book Fair.

Kim Law at Saturday’s Book Fair.

The signings. The biggest thing I learned from my E-book EXPO signing is how to better promote myself in the crowd. People don’t know my name, but when I wrote my subgenre under my name on my sign, more people stopped to talk about that with me, as we bonded discussing the books we loved. Conversation usually led to them taking a postcard and swag items, so maybe they’ll look me up again. Using a stand-up poster with an eye-catching cover also had a lot of people stopping to say hello. Basically, having a conversation starter was key to luring people to the table. Also, as I learned from the author next to me, bringing a pashmina or some other cloth to add color or background (other than the bright white that lined the tables) made my station more appealing. Next time, I’ll remember to bring a Sharpie for those hard-to-sign items. I also wrote “Take One” on my sign to encourage people to pick up swag, and it worked. Readers are shy and can be elusive unless you use bait.

 

I thought Jeannie Lin had a great take on what measures “success” at a signing, and how the RT bookfair is useful, even if you don’t sell a pile of books. “RT is not a bookselling event – There are so many book giveaways that readers aren’t usually there to buy from authors they don’t know. Expect to give away a lot of books. But that’s a good thing. Imagine when you blog how hard it is to get readers to come by and even comment to get a book? And then you have to pay postage to ship it to them. Here, readers and bloggers are clamoring for books.”

 

Sponsor something. At my next RT, I’d try to sponsor the bags, a party, a panel, or invest in advertising via the window clings. Or host a reader event. As Jeannie Lin, a second-time RT attendee this year, learned, “I did panels that were totally brainy and heavy. Forget that. For next year, I’m only going to do fun reader panels with prizes and games and feather boas.” RT 2014 is already accepting proposals.

 

Laura Navarre and Heather McCollum at the Disco Party.

Laura Navarre and Heather McCollum at the Disco Party.

Participate more. As a newbie, I confess I was a bit intimidated by some of the evening events, especially where costumes were encouraged. I wish I’d gone to more of them, especially the publisher-sponsored ones. But as a Carina author, I did participate in their cocktail party on the last night, which allowed readers to enter a drawing for an iPad2 (which turned out to be two iPad2’s!). To enter, they mingled with authors, searching for the one who wrote the book that matched a blurb in their hands. It was a great way to mix authors and readers as well as get them intrigued about books from the blurbs. I’d definitely do something like that again. And I admired Entangled’s author-hunt scavenger hunt, and how it took place over days and days, probably putting those authors’ names and covers in front of readers at least a dozen times over the course of the convention.

 

WRITER VS. READER CONS

 

I’m coming from only having attended national RWA and regional RWA conferences – i.e., writer-focused conferences. Having said that, the workshops at RT were okay, but some lacked a professional polish that RWA presenters and award ceremonies are known for.

Tamara Hogan suggests if you’re a writer looking for workshops with a writing/craft focus, that RWA might better suit your needs. Workshops at RT, even the craft ones, still had a “fan” slant. However, though she was able to connect with her readers, she wondered what the ratio of writers to readers was this year. “It seemed to me there were a LOT more writers there than there were the last time I attended, with every single one of us there to promote our work. Whether this is a positive thing or a negative thing for reader attendees, I have no idea.”

Still, there was an entire workshop track dedicated to self-publishing, including a couple of workshops presented by Mark Coker from Smashwords. And in a thriller panel I attended, Bob Mayer and other authors explained what an “espresso machine” was. I’d never heard of this tool for printing books from digital files. Sounds like the future of publishing to me!

Jeannie Lin, a second-time RT attendee this year, has observed an “RT culture,” saying that there are readers who’ve approached her saying they remember her from the past RT, or have read her books because they picked one up at the event. “There are also super-readers who scan the authors attending list and bring all the books on their bookshelves that match up. I got a couple of those wanting autographs of my backlist books that they had bought from Walmart or B&N. I’m not a big name famous author, I really believe these readers do it for ALL the authors they read. Don’t you love that there are readers like that?”

 

Ruby Dinner! From front right to front left: Heather McCollum, Laura Navarre, Rita Henuber, Anne Marie Becker, Addison Fox, Liz Bemis, Jeannie Lin, Tamara Hogan, Sara Ramsey (taking the picture is Kim Law).

Ruby Dinner! From front right to front left: Heather McCollum, Laura Navarre, Rita Henuber, Anne Marie Becker, Addison Fox, Liz Bemis, Jeannie Lin, Tamara Hogan, Sara Ramsey (taking the picture is Kim Law).

Like with any conference, stamina is the name of the game. Rita Henuber recommends eating a good breakfast every morning. Jeannie Lin reminds authors to bring a cup of coffee or bottle of water to the book signings. Addison Fox recommends finding time for a quick nap. Elizabeth Essex balances it all: “Lather (go to the bar), rinse (short time alone in room), repeat!”

Hope to see you in May 2014 in New Orleans at the next Romantic Times Booklovers Convention!

Have you been to RT, as a reader or a writer, or both? Have you attended other reader cons? What were your experiences, and do you have any tips or tidbits to share?

Where’s My T-shirt

All my romance writer friends went to the RWA National Conference in Anaheim and I didn’t even get a T-shirt.

Romance writing brains are bulging from the workshops. Bellies are busting from the convention food. And jetlag among attendees is epidemic, the recovery slow. I didn’t go. Do I sound bitter? I’m not. Really, I’m not.

I’m a reclusive writer. Crowds give me the heebie jeebies. Flying makes me sort of insane. I don’t need the extra pounds and I’ve been to Disneyland. Twice. I also don’t drink much—I mean I shouldn’t drink much, so networking at the hotel bar is a badder than bad idea (yes, I know badder isn’t a word—for our purposes, it is now). And sometimes I’m a little afraid if I learn something new, I’ll forget something old. Something important in exchange for something not as important. Like my name or more importantly, a plot I’m working on. Someone will remind me what my name is.

What did I do while my Ruby Sisters were soaking up knowledge and sun and martinis? I finally updated my website and blog. Instead of a book signings, I put words on a blank screen. While my peers visited with each other at Anaheim bars and restaurants, I Tweeted and Facebooked and went to my day job. I met with my writer group instead of getting my picture taken with Mickey and Goofy and the gang. I celebrated my birthday during the Rita and Golden Heart ceremony. All in all it was not a bad convention. For me.

What did I miss by staying home? The excitement. The anticipation. Old friends. New friends. New shoes. Lanyards full of bling. Getting dolled up for the awards.

What did you do? Did you go to Anaheim? Did you stay home? And what were the highlights of either?

Find The Right Shoe How?

Fall is in the air and to me that means conference time.  My recent RWR confirmed it.

Many authors head to conferences with a number of objectives in mind such as; to learn how to hone their craft, to network with other authors and industry professionals, and to pitch their work to editors and agents.

My questions today are about agents. I’m not agented. I haven’t queried an agent in years—not since I realized how much I didn’t know and needed to learn.  But, I’m thinking I might start my search at an upcoming conference. So Rubies and readers, how did you research the agents you queried—beyond agent query?  And, I know several of you had a number of agents interested in representing you.  What questions did you ask to make sure your agent was the right shoe for you?

The Benefits of Volunteering

I’ve been a member of RWA since 2001. Aside from serving as a judge twice over the course of those years, I didn’t volunteer. There were lots of reasons not to: a demanding full-time job that required 50-60 hours a week, a baby, the belief that it might be nice to spend time with my husband occasionally. I was already stretched thin–I work through lunch, I watch virtually no television. I do get to see a movie in the theaters once a year.

What little spare time I had was saved for my writing. I don’t regret that choice–I think there are moments when we all need to choose what our priorities will be and it can’t always include volunteer work. Some women have trouble saying “no.” I’m not one of them. I said “no” repeatedly.

Nevertheless, this year I was on sabbatical and for the first time in more than a decade, I knew I was going to have some spare time. So I volunteered to judge in three contests. And when one of my critique partners, who was in charge of organizing the Washington Romance Writer’s annual chapter retreat in 2010, asked if I would help, I said “yes.” More than that, I told her she could assign me to whatever task she needed. With a gleam in her eye, she said, “Great! Why don’t you serve as the VIP liaison?”

I’m a classic “Type A” personality. I’m good with details, organized, and efficient. That made me good at sending out letters detailing our chapter’s financial commitments to its guests, ensuring that anyone with food allergies was taken care of, figuring out the A/V needs of the guest speakers, and then coordinating travel arrangements to and from the retreat for seventeen guest. Later, I found out that the work I did for that retreat had been done by three people in years past. I definitely put some time in.

And I’ll be doing it again next year. Yup, that’s right. My sabbatical year will be over (hear the sound of my weeping?), I’ll be just as busy as I was in preceding years, but I’m going to do it all again–although I’ll be splitting the work with one other person, this time. The benefits to that volunteer work were enormous–enough to make it well worth doing again, even though it means something else will have to give come next April.

The most obvious benefit to my particular volunteer position was getting to chat via email and then in person with editors, agents, and nationally-acclaimed writers.

But the more important benefit was one that I didn’t discover until I was actually at the retreat. I’m shy. Not deathly-afraid-of-meeting-new-people, but shy enough that after almost ten years with my chapter, I only knew a small handful of people. But I couldn’t be shy at this retreat. It was my job to reach out to our seventeen guests, to make certain they had everything they needed, and to make sure they felt welcome and at ease. I made the conscious decision to speak with every single one of our seventeen guests. At other retreats, I had been tongue-tied when an editor or agent sat at my table during a meal. This year? I don’t think a meal went by when I wasn’t sitting next to an editor or agent and doing my best to make them feel comfortable.

Volunteering pushed me to put on my “hostess” persona. And since I was in “hostess” mode, I not only met our seventeen VIPs, but I also reached out to retreat first-timers AND folks I’d been seeing around for years, but never really met or talked to. I walked into that retreat only knowing about six people. I walked out knowing WAY more than that. I would have had fun at the retreat without volunteering. But volunteering made the retreat much more than fun–it was phenomenal.

The other volunteer work that I took on this year was judging in three contests. As a judge, I put a lot of effort into the comments I give, so this was a big time commitment for me. One of the main benefits of judging is that you get to see a lot of first chapters (or first fifty pages). It’s a bit like sitting in an editor’s seat: once you’ve seen a lot of entries, you start to see patterns. You start to see what works well and what doesn’t. I left my judging with ideas about how to go back and strengthen my own writing.

Have you tried volunteering with your local RWA chapter? Or are you at a point where you don’t have the time, if you’re going to keep writing? Is saying “no” easy or hard for you? And what are some of the benefits you’ve found to volunteering for your local chapter or RWA? For those of you heading to Nationals, will you be volunteering there?

In the Company of Writers

In the years that I’ve been actively writing romance novels, I’ve attended quite a few writers’ conferences. But, by far, the one I look forward to the most–the one I would not miss for anything–is the Washington Romance Writers’ Spring Retreat, In the Company of Writers, which was held this past weekend in Leesburg, Virginia.

Why is this particular conference so great?

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