Thursday, July 08, 2010

All About Conferences

Tomorrow, I'm heading off to a romance conference, RomCon, in Denver. It was a sort of spur of the moment decision. I saw a post about free admission and decided that since we were living in Colorado, Denver was within driving distance, and free was good. Of course, 'free' doesn't include the hotel or meals, but I thought it would be smart to mingle with live people for a change.

The 'catch' of the registration was that it's a Reader registration. It was far too late to sign up as a participating author, so I figured why not? I'll still be meeting the same people. There was a rather stern warning about Readers not being allowed to do anything in the way of promotion. NOWHERE TO HIDE isn't officially released, but I do have bookmarks. I wonder if handing them out in lieu of business cards, which I haven't updated, constitutes promotion?

On the up side of being "only" a reader, there's very little pressure to make sure I have everything perfect. I don't have to worry about presentations, handouts, PowerPoint failures. It'll be all about the mingling. I have barely begun my preparations. I topped off my gas tank, charged my shuffle, and am doing laundry.

Conferences are great ways to refuel. Writing is a solitary occupation, and sometimes we need to get out and among people who understand what it's like to have voices in your head. It's also a great opportunity to see how other people handle all the aspects of the craft. No two people do things the same way, and what works for one doesn't work for all. However, there's always a tidbit to be gleaned, and usually a way to adapt it for one's own writing process. Kind of like 3 days of blog-crawling, but with live people.

On that note, I'll share a few things I've learned from attending conferences, in no particular order of importance.

1. Have copies of your receipts. Nothing like finding out they've lost your registration or meal choices or room reservation to start things off on a stressful note. And, the way my life works, if you have them, you won't need them.

2. Bring your own tote if you have one. Although most conferences hand out tote bags, they all look alike. If you bring one from a different conference, you're less likely to have it picked up by mistake. (I also bring my own badge holder—the kind with compartments from another conference, just in case they give you a simple plastic one. This way, I've got a secure place for my badge, meal tickets, a little cash and other vitals—like bookmarks.)

3. Don't be afraid to meet people. It's not required that you travel with a glued-to-the-hip companion. Take an empty seat, smile, hand over your bookmark and introduce yourself. This is one place where there's an immediate conversation starter: "What do you write?" (Or, in the case of RomCon, 'or read'?)

4. Bring comfortable clothes, especially shoes. For whatever reason, romance conferences are the dressiest of any I attend, but I tend to be a middle-of-the-road dresser. You'll be doing a lot of sitting, and a lot of walking, depending on how far apart the meeting rooms are. Also, bring layers. Regardless of the outside temperatures, meeting rooms can be meat-locker cold or steamy hot.

5. Pace yourself. You're not obligated to participate in every single event. Pace yourself. I'm not a night person, and I'm not a costume person. Will I skip the costume ball. Not really, but I'll wear "nice" clothes, not a costume. I'll also most likely leave early. I long ago stopped feeling guilty about crawling into bed with a book at a decent hour. I've also never (so far) come home sick from a conference.

6. Speaking of books…bring either a bigger suitcase than you need, or some other method of transporting books. Most conferences are heavy on giveaways—and then there's the inevitable bookstore and/or book signing. Another good reason to bring your own tote. Use the one they give you for books.

7. Budget. Long ago, when I traveled on my husband's per-diem, I learned how to save a few bucks. Think college dorm room. Almost all hotel rooms have coffee makers. They make hot water as well as coffee. There are all sorts of "just add boiling water" meal options out there. I'll have instant oatmeal in my room for breakfast. This saves getting dressed early and going downstairs to a crowded hotel restaurant and blowing way too much money on a simple meal. I'll carry snacks as well. I'm not one for huge lunches at home, so for conferences that serve a banquet meal at lunch—well, that's usually my dinner as well. A drink at the bar, maybe an appetizer or salad. No need for another huge and expensive meal. For RomCon, meals are optional. I've paid for one conference meal. For the rest, I'll find cheaper alternatives. Instead of a $25-$35 hotel meal, I can buy books with what I've saved.

8. Scope out the facilities. Find out-of-the-way restrooms. Most romance conference attendees are female. Some hotels will convert a men's room to a ladies' room, but don't count on it. Given short breaks between sessions and everyone on the same schedule, lines can get long.

9. Have fun.

And yes, I'll recap when I get back.

Tomorrow, I'll share my 'walk around the block' photos. Hope you'll drop by, even if I'm 100 miles away.


Chudney Thomas said...

Have fun!

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Chudney -- good to see you. How's everything in O-Town?

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

Have a great time!
Looking forward to a 'walk around the block.'

Giggles and Guns

Terry Odell said...

Mary - I hope you enjoy it. And you won't wake up sore the next day!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great tips, Terry! Thanks. Have fun!

Unknown said...

I love the idea of bringing your own badge-holder. So organized!

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Elizabeth.

Helen - I only hope I can find it. I know I used it at the Pike's Peak conference, so it definitely isn't in one of the moving van boxes...but where did I put it? :-)

Keith Jahans said...

I find time and a secluded safe place to take naps other wise dozing off when someone else is talking can be embarrassing.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I loved your tips and plan to print them off to have handy for the next conference I attend. I’ll be interested to hear if giving out bookmarks instead of business cards is considered promotional, though I can’t imagine anyone “turning you in.”

Jemi Fraser said...

Enjoy! I haven't been to one yet - one of these years... :)

Terry Odell said...

Keith - my husband always sits in the back of the room and "rests his eyes". He claims he sits in back to make sure that the slides are legible from there.

Jane - Glad to help. And I found some blank business cards so I printed off a batch of new ones. Of course, they also mention that I'm an author!

Jemi - by all means, go to a conference. They're fantastic networking tools.

Debra St. John said...

Great advice for conferences.

Have a good time at this one!