Monday, 12 August 2013

Making the Most of a Writers Conference

A few weeks ago I attended the RomanceWriters of America’s annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia. I heard a rumor that over five thousand people were registered. (FYI. That means four thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine attendees were women.)

I wanted to make the best use of my time and money, so before I went, I asked my agent if there was anyone he wanted me to connect with.

“Yes,” he said. “Other writers. Get out there and network.”

As most people are aware, writers tend to be introverts. This wasn’t true of everyone at the conference, of course. There were a lot of extroverts roaming the halls, too. But let’s say a conservative one third of attendees were introverts. That’s almost seventeen hundred people forced to socialize and mingle who’d rather be undergoing oral surgery.

Conference sessions are never a problem. No interaction is required. You show up, you listen, you take notes. You can also buy the conference audio tapes if taking notes is a hardship. But my agent was right. One of the main reasons for attending a conference like this is to network with other writers and industry professionals.

Now, I’m not shy. Far from it. But a gathering of more than five people exhausts me. I have no patience for small talk at the best of times, so the thought of networking with five thousand writers, editors, agents and publishers was beyond overwhelming.

I found a solution. I took my sister with me. She’s a complete extrovert. She loves crowds. She loves people in general. She’ll introduce herself to anyone, anywhere. In fact, she’s so outgoing and helpful she once passed on my regards to John Ralston Saul at a formal reception. (He was somewhat perplexed until she explained he didn’t know me yet, but someday he would.)

Call me, John. We need to talk.

Therefore, it was my sister’s job to make sure I mingled at RWA. This was when I discovered the second benefit of bringing her with me. She believes it’s inappropriate to mingle without a drink in your hand. All the photographic evidence we gathered to prove I didn’t just stay in my hotel room includes some sort of alcohol. And of course we all know that alcohol enhances performance.

Am I right?

So we went to the bar, and drinks in hand, we both mingled. She’d sidle up to a conversation, gauge the tone, and then leap right in.

And here comes the pitfall.  Neither one of us knew anyone else at the conference, and she’s not a writer, and by an unfortunate coincidence, Microsoft was also sharing the hotel.
Here’s another odd and interesting fact. While the majority of romance writers tend to be women, software engineers, on the other hand, tend to be men.

It’s my own fault. I never mentioned to my sister that 99 percent of the RWA attendees would be women, and that a group of men might not be our target audience. I didn’t think it needed to be said.

Apparently it did.

On the plus side, Microsoft now knows my opinion on Microsoft Project and the updates they make to their software products in general. I take that as a win. Feel free to thank me.

It’s probably best, however, if you don’t pass on my regards to Bill Gates.

Paula Altenburg has been a member of Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada since 2000, and served as president, vice-president, and newsletter editor. Paula lives in rural Nova Scotia, Canada, with her husband and two sons. Once a manager in the aerospace industry, she now enjoys the freedom of working from home and writing fulltime. Paula currently writes paranormal romance and category romance for Entangled Publishing.Visit her at, follow her on Twitter, or find her on Goodreads.

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  1. I don't think of myself as an introvert but that many people all at once is overwhelming. And they're strangers. And you have to be nice. Exhausting is right.

    1. Nobody told me I had to be nice!!! Dang. That explains a few things.

  2. I wonder if two thirds of the RWA conference goers are introverts? I know that I certainly wasn't chatting people up at the conference three years ago. Sessions, yes. Meet-ups with people I already knew, yes. Contact with strangers, no. Chilling out in my room to recharge, yes.

    Bringing your extroverted sister was a stroke of brilliance, Paula.

  3. Paula, it seems like you made the most of it. Always wondered what one of those conferences would be like. Glad you had such a good time and met so many people.

  4. Paual, thanks for the light-hearted look at what would be an intimidating situation for an introvert like me. Made me smile and think "Go for it!"