What I Learned Outside the Workshops

3 Aug

I’ve always thought you can learn something from everyone…it’s just not typically what they’re trying to teach you. Conferences are no different.

The 2010 RWA Nationals was, for me, an observation conference. A time to learn more than just what you’ll hear on the tape at home. Here’s some of what I learned.

ONE: Someone is always listening.

I don’t care if you’re in a locked room five miles from the conference. If you say something thoughtless, cruel, mean, gossipy, inaccurate, inconsiderate or just plain nasty, someone will hear it. Then everyone will hear it. So, if you can’t keep your mouth shut because it’s the kind thing to do, do it for self-preservation.

TWO: Chitter Chatter

Chitter Chatter is different – Chitter Chatter is the gossip circuit. This is never going to stop, and frankly, I’m glad. Chitter Chatter once stopped me from making a bad business decision. It gave me insight into a bad gut feeling I had and a direction to look in order to verify if the chitter chatter was correct or not.

Agent’s use it. Editors use it. Authors use it.

What I’m surprised no one seems to realize (or they forget) unpublished writers use it too. If you’re a completely horrible person to one of us and degrade an honest and professional attempt to sell a book, that’s going to get around. Mocking seems to be all the rage, but mocking and snark, well they aren’t going to help you make friends – but they will influence people.

THREE: Promo

This could probably be an entire blog post, but I’ll break it down here.


There were a bunch of really great promo items. Lots of great, creative ideas that represented their book. But, here’s what a few of us (I had a couple conversations with different groups) figured out: Go for the keepable-usable promo item. Something where they see your name over and over and over again. Several people told us about great promo ideas but then couldn’t tell us who had done it because it was a one-and-done item.


Lot’s of people did little branding things on their person…how they dressed, colors, a go-to item. This is a hard one (which, honestly who doesn’t remember the hub-bub about the ladies who dressed like their characters a few years ago). It seems like this one is totally hit or miss. I know there’s a woman I’ve known for several years who does this and it’s never worked for me. But then I saw somethings at RWA10 that seemed to really be catchy in a good way. Walk Carefully.


There are three types of people at nationals:

  1. Those who know how to have a give and take conversation
  2. Those who just keep asking questions or nodding and never hold up their end
  3. Those who Dear-Lord-Why-Do-They-Think-I-Want-To-Spend-Two-Hours-Listening-To-Them-Talk

Guess which subgroup is my least favorite? Seriously people, conference isn’t about telling everyone every little thing about your book. When someone says, “What do you write?” They’re looking for a “YA paranormal with humor” answer…not the entire plot, plus your motivation, plus your subplot, plus why it’s going to sell, plus plus plus plus

Not only that, but if you put yourself in that third group, you’ll get ONE chance to talk to a person. They’ll avoid you after that (I’m sure I fell into that group just from sheer nerves occasionally. We all do – but don’t live there)


This is so hard. I’m sure I blew this one every time. You’re enjoying meeting new people (especially when they’re people you always wanted to meet) and you just stay. Like Gypsy said, always leaving wanting more…. As Bria said, or at least not thinking your in group 3 above.


This is not a vacation. It’s not a party (although there are parties). It’s not a time to wear clothes that make you look….fill in the blank. This is a business trip. A time to network, learn more about the industry and grow your career. I’d point to all the blogs I’ve done on have a “writing career” but that would just take too much time. Use your common sense…or borrow some.

So, tell me. What interesting Writing Life Lesson did you learn just being at a conference … or any writerly hot spot?

8 Responses to “What I Learned Outside the Workshops”

  1. December August 3, 2010 at 5:08 pm #

    Ugh – I hate getting trapped in those awkward one sided conversations. At what point do you stop being polite, and just try to save yourself?
    Its hard to excuse yourself when the person doesn’t ever pause for breath.

    I’d say I learned not to stress myself out, and to make sure to schedule time to relax at the pool, or at least away from the hustle bustle.

  2. briaq August 3, 2010 at 7:27 pm #

    Definitely scheduled down time….Only Gwen and I kept going to relax in our room at the same time LOL

    Yeah, we had one woman who wouldn’t be quiet, but we didn’t want to startle her since she was about to fall out of her dress as it was 🙂

  3. Patrick Alan August 3, 2010 at 7:54 pm #

    Does this mean you heard that thing I was saying about you?

  4. briaq August 3, 2010 at 7:59 pm #

    I know all…. don’t do it again 😉

  5. Vivienne Westlake August 3, 2010 at 10:34 pm #

    One of the things I was reminded of is taking downtime. I already knew this rule, but getting hit with really bad allergies this year reminded me of it. You can’t do everything, no matter how much you want to.

    Also, I was reminded that everyone networks differently. Some are good at light chit chat and banter or good with facebook and Twitter and others are good with one-on-one chats with people. Some people go into networking with a specific goal: meet big author or agent, get X number of business cards and others, like me, don’t really have an agenda, but just take each conversation and group one at a time. Each has its advantages and drawbacks.

    And, I agree with you about rule number one and rule number two. The snarky behavior or gossip really does spread and in ways you might not expect. I was reminded this year that it is important to be as professional as possible because you never know who is listening and you never know when your flippant remarks can rub someone the wrong way and bite you in the butt later. Thankfully, I learned this from observation rather than first hand.

  6. briaq August 3, 2010 at 11:14 pm #

    So true Viv – I think, if you just try to keep kindness at the front of your mind, you’ll side step a lot of pitfalls

  7. Leigh August 4, 2010 at 10:38 pm #

    Thank you for your remarkable insight. I have a mild anxiety that when I get to a conference I’m going to be so nervous I’ll put my foot in my mouth big time. As you know, i can talk alot. But, I’ll try to remember to listen more if not as much.

  8. briaq August 4, 2010 at 10:44 pm #

    The difference is, you don’t have a mean bone in your body. I’m pretty sure you’re safe 🙂

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