krlqqghzI’ve only been once, so this is definitely a guide for those new to this conference. Hopefully this will help me provide you with some tips from a newbie’s perspective, since the experience was so recent. But it also means you won’t find veteran tips here, though I do have some location specific tips near the end.

I think Rule Number One to keep in mind is:

Most likely the person standing next to you is new too! At the very least, she (and sometimes he) will be nice or an introvert like most of us writers and won’t bite your head off if you initiate conversation. I’m serious. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself while you’re waiting in line to get that free book from your favorite author. Who knows, that person could be screwing up the nerve to introduce herself to you!  Don’t know what to say as an icebreaker? The easiest one to remember and makes the most sense: So what kind of stories do you write?

Set a goal for the conference

This may sound weird, but this is a huge conference and it’s really easy to become overwhelmed and stand in a corner clutching your conference goody bag, wide eyed. You’ve spent a lot of money to come to it, and it would be a shame to go home and think it was a waste of said money, especially when the success hangs on you. I read this tip before I went to the conference last year, and it’s so true: set achievable goals. Before you head out, think about what would make you smile and feel like it was worth going–and be realistic. Don’t make it ‘come away with an agent contract’ or ‘everyone turns to me in a workshop and remarks how brilliant I am.’ Pitching to an agent? Your goal is to pitch to them without dying. Maybe make it a goal to meet five new people. Needing to hone your craft? Concentrate on the workshops you need. And don’t be distracted by what others are doing–remember, everyone has different goals. If your goal is honing your craft, don’t get distracted by all the people talking about all the free books they got. Sure you got some great free books, but standing in the lines made you miss one of your most-looked-forward-to workshops and you’ll be disappointed later.

Pack with care

Last week I talked about packing, so I won’t get into it too much here, but be aware of your body’s needs and the time constraints of the conference. Do you know that you have to be hydrated, or you’ll drop? Pack a water bottle and fill it at water fountains. It’s such a waste of time to stand in the long lines to get an over-priced bottle of water. Think about what you need to stay focused and happy, and see if there’s a way for you to pack something that will help you. Running around at the conference hotel for it five minutes before your pitch starts is a bad idea.

I also packed flattened boxes that were a good size for holding books, a roll of packing tape, and a sharpie. That way I didn’t need to hunt these down there and was able to ship back all my free books using the US Post Office’s media mail rate (muuuuch cheaper than regular mail, and cheaper than paying the overages airlines charge now).

Free books!

Yep, what you’ve been hearing is true. Books are given away like candy, and most of the time you can get them signed! I think I came away with 80+ books last year. Here’s what’s going on: publishers want to not only market their various imprints, they also want to help educate potential clients on what they look for, so they give them away to us. During various times of the day (printed in the schedule) there will be room(s) dedicated to certain imprints for their authors to sign books. You go in, find the authors you like, and stand in line. But don’t be one of those that goes to the front and just grabs a bunch; not only is it rude, but there are a limited number, and those patiently standing in line will be pissed if they see you do this, especially if there’s no books by the time they get to the table. It’s also disrespectful to the author. They are there to meet you.

Tips re: books

  • I had two of these reusable shopping totes that roll up small and fit in my purse. That way I was ready to snap it open and stuff it with books.
  • Some bring boxes to the signing rooms or snag empty ones in the rooms
  • Mail them back using USPS Media Mail
  • Return often to your room to offload your stack 🙂

Pitching

I’ve written several posts regarding this, Agent Pitch Prep Tip: Make Dossiers and Pitching at a Conference? Set Fire to the Rain! but one big thing that really helped was getting pitches out of the way first thing in the morning on the first day. Not only will this reduce your anxiety level for the rest of the conference, but you’re also pitching to an agent who’s fresh and hasn’t heard a zillion pitches already. Didn’t get your fave agent or editor? Hang around the pitch room–they post open pitch slots that you can nab.

Also, arrive early! I can’t tell you how many people lost out because they showed up just five minutes beforehand–that’s too late folks. It takes time to corral everyone into their lanes and feed them into the room. You need to be there in time for that. To be safe, get there 20-30 minutes before your pitch starts.

Handouts

This was my only sore point last year. Everything I read and researched online about what to expect said that at previous conferences, they’d handed out a thumb drive of all the workshop handouts, so I knew I’d have those to rely on if the presenter ran out, etc. But last year, they didn’t provide them. And they also didn’t have handouts printed for the attendees. You could go online to print them out, but I didn’t have a printer handy. If, like me, you like to have these during a session, go ahead and print them out before you go. One of my friend’s had done this and I was so envious.

Schedule

Mark not only your first choice, but your second. Sometimes workshops will get cancelled, or it’s not what you were expecting–now you have a backup to go to. (It’s okay to come and go during a session, just be quiet about it).

Food

Put granola bars or the like in your purse to tide you over–believe me, you’ll want these. Also, there are two food courts easily accessible from the Marriott without even having to go outside. There’s the Peachtree Center food court (which is huge, and also has a CVS)–there’s a skybridge from the Atrium level if you go to Marquis Tower I. Also on the Atrium level, if you go toward Marquis Tower II, you can access the SunTrust food court. There’s also PLENTY of dining outside the hotel.

Getting around

Hopefully they’ll provide maps of the hotel in our conference packets, since this is a large hotel with many conference rooms and ballrooms on several levels. If you want to see it beforehand, here’s a link to ones that Dragon*Con provides (I’m a regular attendee, which is why I’m so familiar with this hotel).

Dress

Dress professionally, you are your brand, so be conscious of how you’re presenting yourself, even if you’re not pitching. Even if you are, keep it up even after your pitches, as agents and editors may see you after. Think about what you’d wear to your first book signing and wear that.

Act professional

I love to party and drink with the best of them, but last year I refrained from partying–I had a few beers to relax, but that’s it. My goal wasn’t to party, plus I can start getting silly if I drink too much and I sure didn’t want a potential agent sitting a table over to witness me in that state. I’ve heard horror stories from other agents who’ve seen writers throwing up in hallways, etc.

In conclusion

I honestly think folks get out of an experience what they take into it. If you’re looking for things to be sour about, you’ll find them. But why not go into it with a positive attitude and count up the great things you experience? Go into it with a friendly attitude and everyone else will be friendly too.

What about you? Will this be your first time? If you’re a veteran, do you have any tips? I know I only scraped the surface…

  1. Great advice–I’m printing it out! This will be my first RWA Nationals. I also did my first RT this year and man, did I get thirsty, so the water bottles are a must. Also, if you have one, you might look dorky but a little bag on wheels is great for hauling stuff around.

  2. I have only been to two conferences and one of those was in Atlanta. One impression I have is that many of the women were dressed as though lounging around their back yard, or slopping around the house. It is hard to gauge the right degree of informality but erring on the side of business casual does make a better impression.Though Atlanta has been called Hotlanta for the heat of its days, the hotels are air-conditioned and inside one could be anywhere.
    The editors and agents were all dressed for NYC.

    • Yep, this is so true Nancy. I’ve witnessed this too (the sloppy dressing) and it floors me every time. And that’s a good point re: agents/editors–yep, they’re dressed sharp and are used to seeing folks dressed like this every day. It’s also possible you never have to go outside once you get to your hotel, so if heat and humidity bothers you, no worries! Though, as Nancy says, pack for AC.

  3. Really good post, Angela!! I agree with everything you said. I endorse the need to get to pitch appointments early. And add the following: Don’t forget your notebook, pad, laptop, or paper notebook for workshops. Lines for everything will be long. Be patient and talk to those around you. If you have other authors you know only on line, make plans to meet them ahead of time and exchange pictures. I can tell you from experience that it’s hard to find people in the crowd. I met NYT Bestseller Diana Love standing around outside a room, so it really is true that everyone is nice and friendly.

    Last year was my first time at Nationals as well. This year I’m published and will be at the Kensington book signing. On Wednesday and Thursday I’ll be dashing about, but If you see me anywhere, say hi. I love to meet new friends.

  4. Yup, I’m a newbie…and I’m missing the newbie orientation (stupid flight schedules). Your tips made me feel a lot better about missing the orientation. And thanks for the map and the bit about the food courts! I’d planned to go out the evening I arrived to pick up some food for breakfast/snacks, and now I know where to go!

  5. Thanks for the great info, Angela. This will be my first National. M&M last fall was my first conference, but from everything I’ve heard, Nationals are huge in comparison.
    I was glad to hear about the food options without having to get out on the streets. I live an hour north of Atlanta, but due to the high crime rate, I only go downtown if I absolutely have to. At the risk of sounding paranoid, I wanted to let everyone know not to go out alone…especially at night. And if you want to explore Atlanta, I’d avoid Marta and take a taxi.

    Everyone have a safe and fun conference – hopefully we’ll get a chance to meet.

    Debra Davis
    w/a Mia McKimmy

    http://www.miamckimmy.com

  6. Angela, how kind of you to wise us newbies up. Thank you. I love the idea of the dorky wheelie thingie. I have a great one that I got from Trader Joe’s. We’re coming by car, so it’s a no brainer. And a refillable water bottle, hmm, you are brilliant. Meet five new people, like that idea too. Talking to others on line is a goodie, great way to meet one or more of those five. Thank you.

  7. Angela, this was awesome. Seriously, thank you. I’d like to say I know a lot of what you said, but you have me taking notes!

    I was planning to bring an empty carryon bag for the books, but 80 books? Holy cats. Honestly, I can’t imagine I will take 80 books, or even 40. Maybe 40. So for the media mail rate, is this something you pre-pay for from your post office and affix a label to? Where do you mail the box once you are there at the conference?

  8. Toni Jackson-Goins

    I’m so excited to attend. The conference opened just as I finally finished my registration. To me, this seemed like a sign. All of your advice is welcomed. I was sitting here wondering what I should wear and what to expect. Thanks so much!

  9. I’m so excited for it to get here! I’ve only been to one, a few years ago in Orlando, so I feel like a newbie all over again. Don’t forget….#1 is comfy shoes!! (From the foot surgery queen. I could hock the screws in my right foot if they were gold and not titanium!). There is always tons of walking. Although I do envy those who can glide all over a 3-acre hotel in stilettos…..

  10. Trish Loye Elliott

    Thank you for all the advice!! I had no idea that you got free books. Squee!! Definitely will bring an extra tote, a water bottle, snacks, get a hotel map, have a goal…. My head is spinning, but in a good way. Thank you!!!

  11. Thanks for the advice. I love the part about meeting five new people. For an introvert/writer like me, that part was the one piece of advice I took away from your article. I did go buy some new clothes for the conference. They’re not totally professional, but I will wear what I hope is an acceptable dress for my agent/editor pitches. I like what you said about being your brand. Once again, thanks and I hope to meet new people there!

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