My first RWA conference was in NYC in 2003, and what an eye opener it had been. It was great to see so many people writing what I wrote, loving it, and not feeling the slightest embarrassment of the genre. Because even though romance is the best-selling genre out there, there's always a stigma attached. Not by all people, but a lot. And I know I've felt the sting more than once in my career.
I believe it all has to do with the whole bodice-ripping image (which hasn't been around for decades) and, well, the sex. And frankly, I'm kind of baffled at the people who have problems reading a romance because of the sex but will watch R rated movies, or read books written by men (not all, just some--so no letters, please) where often women are used as sex objects rather than deeply drawn, layered characters.
To each his own.
So it was great to be in a place where I felt welcomed and full of pride for what I did. For the first few conferences I volunteered wherever I could--there's no better way to get to know everyone, authors, readers, and editors.
Now if you've never been to an RWA national conference, here's the lowdown.
-2,000 women (and a handful of men) who love the books you love.
-So many workshops you have trouble choosing (RWA does sell tapes of workshops, so if you miss one you really wanted to attend, you can listen to it).
-Lots of industry talk and gossip.
-Books. Lots of books. The conference kicks off with the literacy signing. Publishers donate books for their authors to sign and all proceeds (thousands and thousands) are donated to literacy charities. If you're a book lover, this room, filled with about 500 authors is like being a kid on Christmas morning.
-The free books. Each publisher attending has a signing to promote their authors. You stand in an enormous line, enter a huge room, and get a personally autographed copy from the house's authors. I've found a number of great new authors (to me) this way. Maybe it wouldn't have been a book I'd pick up in a store, but since it's free, I'll take it home, read it, and that author has a new fan who will go out and buy backlist.
-The speeches. The opening speech, this year by the fabulous Janet Evanovich, and the two luncheon speakers (this year Linda Howard and Eloisa James) are always bound to be poignant and funny. I teared up at each for different reasons (I'm such a sap).
- The Rita (for pubbed authors) and the Golden Heart (for unpubbed) Awards. This is the Oscars of romance writing. Everyone dresses up and if you're smart, you packed tissues in your handbag. Honestly, I don't attend every year -- by Saturday night I'm always a little drained--but when I do, I never regret it. I did go this year and of course, teared up a couple of times. I'm a sucker for the speeches.
-The variety. There are historical authors, inspirational, contemporary, paranormal, science fiction, single title, women's fiction... It goes on and on. And they're all here and willing to share what they know, how they did it, and encourage anyone who wants to do the same. It really doesn't get much better.
I'm already planning for next year's conference--in Nashville. Can't wait.