To Conference or Not to Conference? That is the question.

Today we welcome Michelle Sharp to Writer Wednesday. Michelle is a new voice in romantic suspense. Today she presents her thoughts about writing conferences. Note: begin saving pennies now.

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Can I really afford to go to the RWA National Convention? Being relatively new on the romance writing scene, you can bet I’ve asked myself this very question.

Let’s face it, money is tight these days and how a writer chooses to invest in their journey is a very personal decision, but I can give you a few of my thoughts as to why I went to the national convention this year, and why I’m so glad that I did.

Atlanta 2013 was my second National Convention. I’ve been a member of RWA and MORWA (Missouri Romance Writers of America) for a few years. I consider my writing career as a business I’m trying to launch. I also have a son going to college in a couple years, so yes, money matters. I think any good business owner would tell you, in order to be successful, you must invest a bit on the front end. Although not cheap, I think the RWA National Convention is a good investment for anyone seriously pursuing romance publication. Here’s why:

Number 1.  Workshops . . .workshops . . . and more workshops. Okay I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to writing classes and workshops. I love learning anything and everything about writing, but even if I didn’t love it, I’d still go.

Why? Because we all have that first manuscript sitting around, don’t we? The disastrous one where you head hopped so much even you became confused. The nightmare where she said ended every line of dialogue. The sex scene so mechanical—insert body part A into slot B—you’d die if your critique partners got a hold of it. Okay, maybe those issues were mostly just mine, but the point is, my writing is a galaxy away from where it started. This is mostly due to workshops and classes I’ve taken through RWA.

I understand you may not be able to fix a manuscript in a one hour workshop, but you will be exposed to a huge variety of learning opportunities. If one of those opportunities happens to touch off an “ah-ha” moment on how to improve your book, (which did happen for me) then the price of the trip feels a little more palatable. Plus, if you love a presenter’s teaching style, take Margie Lawson or Michael Hague for example, often they will offer on-line classes or workshops where you can focus more deeply on a particular aspect of writing.

Number 2.  Editor and agent appointments. If you’ve completed a manuscript, maybe even finaled in some contests, and you’re ready to send your baby out into the real world, the RWA National convention is a good place to jump in. There are huge numbers of editors and agents looking for new talent. While RWA only allows an attendee to make an advanced appointment for one editor and one agent, you can often pick up more appointments by being diligent and patiently waiting for more appointments to become available. Or, you can give all the other vultures in the room the stink eye and make sure you pounce first on the poor volunteer unfortunate enough to be assigned to the editor/agent room. Either road you take, your chances of getting more appointments are good. My critique partners walked away with several requests for partials and fulls this year from a variety of agent and editors.

Number 3.  Support and inspiration. I’m not sure if the inspiration factor is as huge for everyone as it is for me, but I often weigh my need to write against the hardships it puts on my family. Spend your time working a real job with a steady paycheck, says the devil on my shoulder. Your minivan is approaching 100,000 miles… Your son is going to college in a couple years…

Many, many of us have families and financial obligations. I’m probably not the only one who hears the whisper of doubt. But for me, the national convention is like coming home after a long stay on a foreign planet. Nothing recharges my batteries or refocuses my writing goals like being surrounded by a couple thousand other writers. I’m blown away by the extraordinary group of people that come together to genuinely support each other.

I’ve always felt this support within my local MORWA chapter. We have a crazy talented and generous group of writers here in the Midwest—just sayin. But this year at nationals, inspiration was everywhere. And I’m not talking about a group of unpublished authors cheering each other on as we go for the brass ring. I’m talking about the rock stars of our industry who show up and keep encouraging those of us still trying to make it. In what other industry do you find that kind of support?

In Cathy Maxwell’s keynote speech she reminded us how important it is to have faith in ourselves, that we must believe we are good enough. At the Golden Heart and Rita Awards, Christie Craig joked about all the different types of rejection letters she has received over the years, but her message was clear: Even the best writers in our industry have wrestled with rejection—you must be persistent to persevere.

I laughed and then cried with 2,000 other writers as Kristan Higgins spoke about her journey as a writer. Her speech was just as dynamic and touching as her books. She drove home for me an important truth that I sometimes lose track of in the midst of all the workshops and critiques and rejections. People love romance stories. I love romance stories.

Perhaps our books have little impact in the grand scheme, but sometimes our stories hold an escape or an inspiration for someone in a bad place. I like the idea of entertaining, but I love the possibility of my stories helping someone.

Can you benefit from the convention without actually going? Sure. If you’re a member of RWA, log in and look through the selection of workshop recordings available. It doesn’t get any better than attending a workshop while lounging on your couch wearing your jammies.

So next year when I’m asking myself if I can really afford to go to nationals, the better question might be, can I really afford not to?

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Michelle Sharp is a member of  RWA, MORWA (Missouri Romance Writers of America), and Kiss of Death Chapters. She writes romantic suspense, and recently received her first contract offer for the The Dreamer Series. For more information or to contact her, check out her website at www.michellesharpbooks.com

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7 responses to “To Conference or Not to Conference? That is the question.

  1. Michelle,
    Glad you got so much out of RWA Nationals. Plus think about those beautiful outfits we got to wear to the Awards Gala? Hope “The Dreamer Series” flies off the shelf.

    Claudia Shelton
    http://www.claudiawriting.com

  2. Thanks, Claudia. I hope The Dreamer flies as well. Thanks for taking the time to visit.

    Michelle

  3. Great insights. Thanks.

  4. Great post, ladies! It shines a light on so many good points. Yes, guilt will pull at us as wives/mothers but what you said about our writing being a business is true. Make an investment your business 🙂
    Best!
    Jenn

  5. I love Nat’ls – unfortunately, I just couldn’t justify the time and cost this year. Good Luck with the Dreamer.

  6. Fantastic insight, Michelle. I hope I get to go to Nationals next year.

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