Friday, July 8, 2011

Guest Blog: RWA Conference Review with Joanna McKethan

I was sad to miss the annual Romance Writers of America Conference this year.  It's a pretty major conference (the major conference, if you write romance!)  The conference lasted from June 29-July 1, this year held in New York, NY. 

But just because I wasn't there, doesn't mean I won't post a review - I called on the talented Joanna McKethan to write a review for me!

In addition to being a  PRO member of the RWA, and another member of the much-vaunted (by me, anyway) HCRW chapter, Joanna is also a member of the Gothic Writers and the North Carolina Writers Network.  You can pick up a copy of her novel Lady in White at Red Rose publishing, and keep an eye out for A Deadly Provenance, which won 3rd place in the 2007 Haunted Hearts Contest.  She's also a published author of over 60 poems in various literary journals and poetry anthologies (one in both English and Russian!)  Joanna published her first short fiction in Americal Girl at 16, and went on to work in the writing industry for 8 years, split between working as an assistant editor at Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Kentucky, and four years writing features and a newsletter at Vision Verlag in Starnberg, West Germany. 

And, because most writers also have a day job, Joanna is a professional artist who owns j'Originals Art Studio in Dunn, NC.  She paints watercolor and oil paintings on commission and has also taught art for 30 years.  As an award-winning artist, you might catch her exhibited on regional and national levels.  She's a member of the Portrait Society of America and of the Southern Watercolor Society, and has served as a board member of the Wathercolor Society of North Carolina for 12 years. 

So what did Joanna think about the RWA conference?  Here's her take:

Wow--about the conference itself--the keynote luncheon was simply incredible-- listening to Diana Gabaldon of Outlander fame, Steve Perry who writes thrillers, both NY Times best-selling authors, and Tess Gerritsen whose series detective inspired Rizzoli & Isles answer expertly placed questions. That in itself would have been enough for me. But then we got to hear Sherrily Kenyon and Madeline Hunter tell their stories, and what mind-boggling, stirring stories they were.

We got chances to pitch our own finished novels to major agents and editors, including those on the NY scene, rake in free books from top publishers, devour incredibly informative workshops and meet members of national interest groups (mine being Gothic Writers) that we had never seen before. I particularly liked Michael Hauge's workshop on character arc and plot/novel structure, but also those which encouraged us to get savvy with the marketing tools of the industry.  Plus, our published authors got a chance to sign books for their fans - the HCRW made a good showing at our panel!

For my own part, I got pitching sessions with 3 literary agents (all top choices for me personally), one a New York agent, and a request for a full from a top publisher. I am racing to get it off to them, now. I made some terrific new friends, got and gave some good pitching tips, made neat contacts, heard scuttlebutt insider tips you only get from conferences, new books I want to read and I had two or three "revelation" type ideas for presenting my WIP.

The total conference cost for me was around $1300, but this isn't all at once. You pay the conference fee first. My room for four nights, shared room, was $485, which was charged to my card last, my meals were $120-$150 of the $200 cash I took to spend. My flight, with insurance, with broker, was $230, and the optional shipping of my books home was $53 (their largest), for a grand total of (how much was the conference fee? 375 or 450?) 1300-1365. I have made a commitment to myself to afford myself one major conference a year in each of my expertise areas, which has more than elevated my craft in each area. Entrepreneurs ALWAYS know they have to put back into the business, often repeatedly, before they take much out.

Oh! And I bought a book from Michael Hauge, $20.

I recommend the conference to people in several phases: first of all, to beginners:  to get a notion of the scope of the industry which will inspire and light a fire under you, straight on. Secondly for those with a completed book to get opportunities to pitch novels to editors and agents who are otherwise closed to open queries. And thirdly, if you're needing fresh infusions or if you've won something, to bask in it a bit.

Okay, you want to know my crazy conference story? Get this. I made the mistake of returning to my room to get my evening earrings & returning to an overloaded elevator system. None of the elevators would take me down on this computerized elevator system. Our conference had overloaded the brain and I was told I "had to wait." I was on 42nd floor of the Marriott Marquis. You talk about a panic attack. Trapped? Moi? Alternate routes? The staircase! So I trotted known 36 double flights of stairs so as not to miss the award dessert banquet--my legs were trembling at the end when I got on the escalators at ninth floor. My thigh muscles clinched and didn't return to normal until Tuesday! But I did get to see the awards given, including Virginia Kantra from our own HCRW. I heard there were two finalists from my gothic group. Oh well. It was still one hundred percent worth it.

Go ahead and laugh! I wasn't laughing then, but I am now.

You can't have a conference without a crazy conference story!  I asked Joanna to share hers, and now I'd love to hear yours - add your story as a comment, and take a moment to laugh at everyone else's!  The five which make me laugh the hardest will be accumulated into a post for July 18th (Wow, I already know that I'll have a hard time choosing!)  Thanks again to Joanna McKethan for the terrific review!


  1. I wear a Cortana costume at Dragon*Con and have gotten some interesting attention with it. I've been called everything from Blue Lady to Mystique to Lady of the Blue Lagoon to Na'vi to Tron. People seriously grasp at straws rather than just ask what you are.
    My costume is a painted bodysuit, wig, makeup, and blue contacts. Once, a group of what, under normal circumstances, I would have assumed to be typical sorority girls came on the elevator with us. One rather brazen girl asked "Are you wearing a bra?" Her friends expressed shock and said you can't just ask people that! But it's a con, if you can't be weird and open, what can you be? I told her I was wearing nipple covers, but that only piqued her curiosity and she asked about underwear too. "Yes." "I can't see it!" "It's seamless microfiber so you can't see the lines under the body suit." Her friends were still chastising her and giggling when they stepped off.
    A guy said something to me once- I couldn't hear, I assumed it was the usual "Can I take a picture with you?", so I said sure and found myself being swept off my feet and held in his arms. Oh. Okay...well I feel slightly awkward now, but I can laugh it off. Aaand my fiance is laughing at me now. His friend had gotten himself distracted by another costume and it took a while to get his attention, so I was in this random guy's arms for a couple minutes before he realized he was being asked to take pictures.
    A drunk girl toddled up to me once and said "Can I have your picture? I need to take your picture 'cause you're really hot." I obliged and she said "Thank you, you're really hot." and toddled off.
    Then there was the other drunk lady who wanted specific poses (standing back to back, facing away from the camera w/ arms over each others shoulder and looking back at the camera). One of the more unusual requests I've gotten, but I figured it was harmless. However, my friend and fiance were laughing heartily the entire time and I had no idea why. It was more laughter than warranted by mild amusement at the drunk lady. Turns out she had her tongue out in the most horrible porn star faces the entire time. One friend declared them blackmail pictures. I promptly posted them on the internet to thwart his plans. We saw her again the next day (still drunk). She complemented my outfit but obviously did not remember the day before.

  2. Lol! That's an awesome costume, though. And great way to thwart the blackmail!