Newbies Guide to Conference…

Most of the Butterscotch Martini Girls are gearing up for a very busy April.  There are two upcoming conferences—the Desert Dreams conference, here in sunny, Arizona April 4-6th and the Romantic Times Booklover’s Convention the week of the 14th of April in Pittsburgh.

This year will be my fourth RT (Romantic Times) and my third Desert Dreams, since that conference only happens every other year.  They are both excellent conferences and the emails and loops are all abuzz with pre-activities and questions—especially from newbies.

Now, this in and of itself isn’t anything different from any other year.  I remember very clearly BEING one of the newbies and asking all kinds of questions–being worried about everything from what I should wear, how to act around the agents and editors, should I bring my manuscript (this is a big NO, if you’re wondering what the answer is…),  to what types of things I should NOT do to totally tank my writing career before it got started.  LOL.  That all seems like a long time ago now, even though it was only just back in 2003, and I’ve learned a lot since then.

What I remember most about my first set of conferences—especially the local one, was that so many people were willing to answer my questions and help put me at ease.  After all, this can be a cutthroat business, but here there were best selling authors as well as many other authors whose books I loved giving me tips and encouraging words every step of the way!  My appreciation for that helping hand back when I was in the newbie seat has always stayed with me.  So, watching the posts go by for our local Desert Dreams conference over the last week was a little bit nostalgic.  And as time has permitted, I tried to make sure to chime in with encouraging words or help where I could.  And I don’t want to make that sound like a big sacrifice—I really enjoy helping and mentoring new writers.

But since it was my day to blog here in BMG land, I thought I could start a list of good tips for the conference, and then you can all chime in and help me expand this list – sort of a newbie’s guide to going to conference.  I really wish I would’ve had one back then, but since I had all my fellow Butterscotch Martini Girls, I was in good hands! 🙂  (Although that was back before we had that name and we were a lot smaller group…LOL)

These are in no particular order:

–    Dress nicely, but for comfort.  Desert Dreams and RT are fine with nice jeans and a top, or something more formal, but make sure you’re comfy!!  RWA is a bit more dressy.

–    If you are concerned about what other people think of you—you wouldn’t be so worried about it if you knew how often they didn’t.  Aka-most people are thinking about themselves and what they have to get done/do at conference.  No one but you is going to stress over the fact that you put on 10 pounds, or that your makeup isn’t perfect or that you’re wearing the same jacket two days in a row.  Smile and look confident – and that’s half the battle 🙂

–    Take two sets of business cards—one without your phone number (but with your email and website) for readers and one set with your number and all other info for agents/editors and friends.

–    Carry your business cards at ALL times!

–    When you receive a business card from someone else, write who they are and how you met them on the back of the card.  Believe me, by the time you get home and go through these, you’ll be glad you did!

–    If there are tapes available for the workshops – BUY it!  Those are tax deductible (talk to your tax person) and you won’t stress if you end up networking and miss some.

–    Networking is the true gold of these conventions!!  Spending time in the bar chatting with an agent/editor or another writer is where valuable friendships are made and where you learn a lot from others.  Don’t get me wrong, the workshops are great, and I hope you come to mine 🙂 but don’t come to mine at the expense of making some face to face contacts with others.

–    Don’t judge people upon meeting them.  This may sound stupid, but it’s a great life-skill, especially in this business.  I remember my first Desert Dreams, another newbie pointed out a woman in jeans and said she HAD to be new because she didn’t know enough to dress well for the conventions.  Her comments were on the loud side and several people heard her (which did NOT put her in a good light.)  The woman she was pointing out was a best selling author and is published under a gazillion pen names and is one of the best writers I know.  Oops!  Don’t forget—one of the perks of our jobs is we aren’t expected to wear panty hose and etc.  So, not to be trite, but don’t judge a book or a writer by their cover 🙂

–    Act professionally at all times.  This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun—I know I certainly do—but just remember you are representing your writing business (and your chapter for us locals) with every action.  There is a lot of drinking at these conventions, but getting drunk and dancing on the table half naked will NOT make a good impression on the editors/agents or other writers.  And news does travel fast in this business, so remember where you are, and act appropriately.

–    Here’s my favorite urban legend.  I mentioned not bringing your manuscript above, and I meant it.  The agents and editors won’t want to lug those home in their suitcases, they will ask you to mail them later.  The urban legend is (although I’ve heard this really did happen) that someone tried to slip their manuscript under a bathroom stall to an editor!  ACK!  Please don’t do this—this won’t win you any brownie points, but it will make sure everyone knows your name—just not in a good way.

–    Agents and editors are people just like you and me.  Yes, you may feel like they hold your future happiness in their hands—but really, they want your success just as much as you do.  If you pitch or submit an awesome book that they think can sell and make their company (and by extension, you) money, then they will want to buy it.  If it isn’t ready yet, they won’t.  That’s the simple statement of it.  They hold you no malice, they aren’t out to get you, and they aren’t demi-gods walking around with a glowing light around them.  They are people just like you and me.  They love good books, and they like the same things we like for the most part.  They hang out at the bar, they need to use the restroom (without being offered manuscripts instead of TP) and they get tired and have bad days.  When you see them, say hello, just like you would to anyone else.  You can introduce yourself and be polite, but don’t hang on them and beg for submissions!  A lot of times, a friendly chat with an agent or editor in the bar has resulted in them asking me what I write and sometimes even a request for a submission.  So be yourself, be nice and treat them like a person and not a means to an end and they will appreciate it and remember you in a good way 🙂

–    Rejections are a part of life.  I have 69 sitting in my file, and even now that I’m multi-published, I expect more to build up.  It’s a fact of life.  Don’t sweat it if you get some.  Think of it as sort of a badge of honor.  You’ve actually submitted!  Heck, Sherrilyn Kenyon was told by an editor to give up on writing, that she would never make it.  And look at her now!

–    If you have a question, don’t be afraid to ask.  There’s nothing you can think of that other writers haven’t already asked or wondered about when they were learning the ropes.  And what’s more—we never stop learning!

–    Don’t ask total strangers or new acquaintances to critique your manuscript.  This doesn’t mean we don’t all wish you well, but most of us have deadlines, our own critique groups and a thousand other things going on.  We just don’t have time.  Ask around and find your own critique group.  That’s how the BMG’s got started.  At my first RWA meeting, I asked Brit Blaise how I went about joining a critique group.  She asked where I lived and told me I was in the new one she was starting.  “Uh…okay.”  The rest is history!

–    If possible, arrive at the convention site early and scope out the place.  At RT, we always go a few days early to sight see (hey, future books could be based there!) and to scope out the hotel. Where are the best restaurants, bars, bathrooms, entrances, ballrooms, workshop halls, goodie rooms etc?  Same for Desert Dreams, by the time people arrive on Friday, I’ll have the lay of the land! 🙂

–    Even if you have nothing to pitch, don’t pass up a chance to meet an agent or editor.  At the last Desert Dreams, everything I had was contracted and I owed one more, but I knew I wanted to find an agent.  So, I took an agent appointment with Paige Wheeler.  I sat down and told her I had nothing to pitch, but as soon as I finished my current contracted commitments, I wanted to find an agent.  (And after much research, I knew I wanted her!)  I told her she had given me a great rejection on my first book back in 2004, and she remembered it since she doesn’t give many great rejections.  (Woo hoo – you bet I was excited she remembered!)  Anyway, we chatted and she said to give her a call when my contracted things were done and I could submit something else.  As fate would have it, Kensington called me about six months later, and I called Pagie to broker the deal, and she’s now my agent.  So, the moral is – don’t pass up that opportunity just because you don’t have anything right this second to pitch!  I almost did.  Remember what I said about face to face time being valuable!  Thanks to the BMG’s for convincing me to keep that appointment!

–    Never trash someone else’s book or someone else’s genre.  We all have our own personal likes or dislikes, that’s human nature.  I LOVE paranormal of almost any type.  Historical romances?  Fantasy?  Suspense?  Well-written erotic romances?  Yummy!  But are there some genres I don’t particularly care for – of course.  However, I won’t trash them.  I have tons of friends who write those, and I’m happy for their success.  Remember—we are all writers, but we are not what we write.

–    Take a sweater and layer!  Those conference rooms can get very cold or very warm – be prepared.

–    It’s always a good idea to take a bottle of water and some Tylenol or a cough drop wherever you go, so you’re always prepared.  A good pen/pencil or alpha smart for notes is good too.

–    Always be inclusive.  Do you see someone alone standing in the corner, who looks like they may want to join your group, but aren’t sure of their welcome?  Say hello!  I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve made this way.

–    Lost?  Confused?  Frustrated?  Afraid you’ve just trashed your writing career by accidentally spilling coffee on your favorite editor?  Take a deep breath, and find someone to ask for help, and apologize to the editor and smile.  Everyone spills stuff, and we all have our share of embarrassing moments—if you doubt me, read the BMG blog archives and search on “panties”…LOL.  Don’t sweat the small stuff!

I won’t bore you with a ton more, but does anyone else have some great advice to add?

See you all at conference!


4 responses to “Newbies Guide to Conference…

  1. Bette McNicholas

    Having attended many conferences in 20 years, I make it a point not to come away without having learned at least one thing that would help improve my writing–dialogue, descriptions, motivation, plotting, etc. and also, having met at least one new friend or acquaintance that I could see or meet at the next conference. That person can introduce you to her friends and you will no longer feel alone or like a “newbie.”


  2. One thing I’ve learned from attending conferences is to pace yourself. It is so easy to go-go-go and then find yourself crashing and realizing you haven’t retained a thing.
    Plan ahead. Highlight the workshops you really want to hit and if there are more than one going at the same time consider buying the CD’s like Tina mentioned. I still have mine from RWA in Reno 2005.
    This will be my 2nd DD conference and I can’t say enough good things about it. I had a fabulous time and had 2 manuscripts requested from my editor appt. Which surprised the hell out of me because I was so nervous I couldn’t even talk without stammering.
    The editor I spoke with was so nice. She reached across the table and squeezed my hand with a smile before she told me, “Relax, honey, we don’t eat authors or chop them up into little pieces. We love authors and wouldn’t be here if we didn’t.”
    So, to retouch on Tina’s comments. Relax, be yourself and have a good time. 🙂
    Kayla Janz


  3. I forgot my favoritest of favorites! Networking in the bar! Woo-hoo!
    Kayla Janz


  4. Hi Tina! Thanks so much for the great advice! This is my first DD conference and I’m pretty new to this whole huge publishing world. I also appreciate all your help on the DD email loop (thanks for the queries). I’m really looking forward to the conference next week and hope my nerves *deep breath* don’t get the best of me. 🙂


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