My Top Five Tips for First-Timers Going to RWA

Many of us in the romance community are gearing up for the Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) national conference in Atlanta, GA in two weeks. Thousands of romance writers and industry folks (bloggers, librarians, editors, agents, etc) come together ever  year at the annual conference. It is an opportunity to meet up with old friends, make new friends, network, learn, hone your craft, and get tons of free books and swag! The four day conference kicks off with the Literacy Signing and culminates with the Golden Heart and RITA awards ceremony Saturday night. During the four days, there are workshops, book signings, and lots of social events to take part of. I attended my first RWA conference in Anaheim, CA last year and it was an amazing experience. I got to meet and speak with some of my favorite authors (many of whom I’d only previously known via Twitter and Facebook)  learn some basics about the publishing industry, meet tons of new-to-me authors, attended many informative workshops (including one on the ins and outs of writing love scenes!) and come home with a suitcase full of books that barely made the weight limit.

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I wasn’t kidding-this isn’t even a fraction of my haul!

That being said, attending RWA for the first time can be a bit daunting  and intimidating. There’s a lot of people there, there’s a lot to do, and it can be overwhelming, especially if you’re new and don’t “know” a lot of people. So here are some of my tips, based on my experience last year.


A whole line of potential new friends. 🙂

The romance community is made up of the nicest and most supportive people you can imagine. Everyone I met was very incredibly welcoming and didn’t make me feel like an outsider, at all. (That was all my own doing, in my head, lol). So don’t be shy! Everyone will have badges so you’ll know who’s who.  Don’t be afraid to say hi and introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you at a workshop, or the people standing in line with you. Remember, you already have one area of common interest-romance! I was talking with a lady in the elevator about how my RITA shoes were killing me. She then recommended a great product for me to use, and I ended up waiting in front of her room while she went in and showed it to me. It can be something as simple as that to break the ice and get the conversation going.

You see your favorite author walking by? If she doesn’t look busy, and it looks like an appropriate time and place to approach, go up, say hello, and introduce yourself! Unless it’s Nora-just about everyone is too intimidated/ in awe of Nora to approach her. 😉  A good opportunity to maybe get some time to meet and chat with them is after a workshop , or at one of the free publisher’s signings. Romance authors are very gracious and kind, and love a chance to chat and interact with readers/fans/fellow writers.  If I hadn’t had the guts to approach Julie James and talk with her, I wouldn’t have had the amazing opportunity to sit out by the pool with her, having drinks. (Yeah, still pinching myself to make sure it really happened!)

But,  if  the author looks like she’s rushing to get somewhere, or having an in-depth conversation with someone, probably best to wait for a better time.  Many authors use RWA as an opportunity to meet up with their agents and/or editors face-to-face, so if it looks like a business meeting, again, step away and wait for a better opportunity. Other than that,  the RWA conference is meant to be a social/networking event, so go socialize and network!   More likely than not, if someone sees you and know you, they’ll call out and wave you over to join in on the fun.


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Best. Swag. Ever.

This time last year, I realized RWA hadn’t even started yet, and my schedule was already filling up! I had plans with friends for most of Wednesday (before and after the Literacy Signing).  I had two events planned Thursday evening, met up with different groups of friends for lunch Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and a breakfast date Friday morning. Basically, I ended up going non-stop since I landed in California Tuesday afternoon. So remember, RWA is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t overwhelm yourself and jam pack your schedule the whole time you’re there. Take some downtime when/if you need it. I ended up having dinner in my room alone Friday night, and got some much needed peace and quiet. It helped rejuvenate me and gave me the push I needed to make it through the final stretch. If possible, leave the hotel/conference site and clear your head. Disney Land was very close to the Anaheim Marriot, so many RWA attendees took advantage of that. The year prior, when RWA was in NYC, I know many people went to Broadway shows, checked out Central Park, visited museums, etc. So, if you need some time away, explore the city and surroundings.

Plus, if your schedule is jam-packed, it doesn’t allow for any fun spontaneous invites and encounters. The only reason I got to meet Mani Bates was because she sat down with Sara Lindsey and I during the Awards Luncheon Friday afternoon. We hit it off, and the three of us spent the next few hours chatting. If I had been in a rush to get here and there, that would never have happened.  One tip Isobel Carr gave me was that everyone passes through the lobby and bar, so that’s a great place to meet folks too. I also went to a party Thursday night last minute where I saw and witnessed things I NEVER thought I would. And I’m gonna leave it at that. 😉 (What happens at RWA stays at RWA!)


It’s wise to dress in layers. Atlanta may be sticky, hot, and humid in July, but that also means the AC will probably be going full blast in the hotel, so it’s a good idea to have a sweater or shawl in case you get chilly. Comfy shoes are also a must.  Hotels are big, there’s lots to do, and lots of real estate to cover, so find cute shoes that won’t kill your feet after an hour or two. Also, make sure you have an extra suitcase or bag to take home all he books you’ll be getting!  I will now defer to my friend, packing expert extraordinaire Erin Knightley. Soak in the wisdom, boys and girls, and be amazed and awed!

Amazing, right? Erin’s posts about her packing feats are Here and Here


Go into the RWA conference knowing that you will likely no be able to get to do everything you want and/or see everyone you’d like. It’s inevitable since there’s so much to see and do in a limited amount of time. So go over the events and prioritize. Figure out which ones are MUST DO and which you can live with skipping. Top priorities for most people are the editor/agent pitch appointments, business meetings, workshops they’re speaking in, etc.  If those are in the cards for you, make sure you’re prepared. Also remember that you can get podcasts/recordings of lots of the workshops. Last year, I culled through the list of workshops and starred which ones I definitely wanted to go to. And yeah, I also made sure I made it to ALL the free publisher’s signings. Priorities-I haz them. 😉 lol.

5. HAVE FUN!!! 🙂

Most romance authors look forward to RWA every year, and for good reason. It is the one time a year when we can all come together to celebrate romance and our love of the genre. There is nothing like being in a hotel  full of positive women who all support and uplift each other. It is empowering beyond belief.

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Stephanie Laurens offering encouragement and wisdom at the Keynote Luncheon Thursday afternoon

I must take this opportunity to thank Isobel Carr, my roommate, who took me under her wing, introduced me around,and took such good care of me.  Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, and Carey Baldwin were incredibly kind, welcoming, gracious, and made me feel like I was one of the gang right along with them. Tessa truly went above and beyond. The fact that she took the time to be so supportive and introduce me to friends and colleagues meant a lot to me.  Julie James squeezed time out of her incredibly busy schedule with me sit with me, chat, and answer numerous questions.  Maya Rodale, Sara Lindsey,  Delilah Marvelle, and Wendy LaCapra for being familiar faces in the crowd, keeping me company, and who went out of there way to make sure I knew I was among friends.  The Ballroom Blog authoresses for embracing me from the get go.  Marni Bates for fangirling and geeking out right along with me the whole time. All of these fabulous ladies, along with many others, made my first RWA a fantastic one.  I am incredibly grateful to all of them, and to everyone who made RWA 2012 a once in a lifetime experience I’ll never forget.


So, there you have it! My two cents for how to enjoy and get the most out of you RWA experience. Relax, enjoy, and hang on for the ride!

Have you ever been to RWA?  Will you be at Atlanta this year? Which authors would you love to meet? Any other RWA vets with any more tips and advice?


29 thoughts on “My Top Five Tips for First-Timers Going to RWA

  1. If you’re shy, hang with me. I’m not! Actually, enjoy your fan girl moments. I got to meet and hang out with all my very favorite authors. I talked plot with Stephanie Laurens and Galen Foley at an Avon Tea. I met Linda Howard in the elevator. Karen Hawkins is soooo nice as are many others. They’ve been where you are – waiting to be published.

    If you and your friends are going out for dinner, and see a lonely soul in the lobby, grab her and take her with you. I’ve met some great people that way.

    Take notes. It will go by fast and you don’t want to miss any golden nuggets.

    Ship books home. Find an office supply store and pick up boxes. I bought an e-reader cover that could be signed and took sharpies and had authors sign that so I wouldn’t have to ship books home. I still picked up a few.

    Come home and be prepared to write. I was so psyched by what i learned, that I couldn’t wait to start writing.

    If you’re in Atlanta — look me up! Also check out our raffle basket.


    • Amy, for the NYC conference, I bought flat rate boxes at the Post Office before leaving home and packed them flat in the bottom of my suitcase. I then had pre-paid boxes at conference that I only had to fill with books and drop off at the nearest postal outlet. Easy peasy!

    • I’ve done the shipping box routine for other conferences and it works great! Some hotels will even get them to a postal carrier for you through their conference services office. But the idea of a special ereader cover? That’s brilliant. Thanks for the tip, Amy!

    • I can’t wait to finally meet you in person in Atlanta, Amy!

      Lots of great advice from you here too-thank you!

      And I will definitely reach out to someone who looks lonely and invite them along-fantastic idea. 🙂 People have done that for me, so the least I can do is pay it forward!

  2. I still think this is one of the best packing videos and I’ve learned a lot from it just for regular travel (not travel to conventions). I take a lot of costumes with me wherever I go, and the layering idea is brilliant, as are the cubes. I’ve not yet been to RWA (or RT for that matter) so I can’t wait to go. Thanks for the tips, Lisa!

    • I never cease to be amazed at the amount of stuff Erin can pack into her carry-on! And all neatly and sans wrinkles too. I tell you, she’s a packing WIZARD! I bow down to the master.

  3. Great tips, Lisa! I keep a spreadsheet of my RWA appointments, workshops, dates with friends, volunteer commitments, etc. It’s a tip Anna Campbell gave me before my first RWA National and it’s saved me from double scheduling or forgetting an important appointment more than once.

    Looking forward to seeing everyone in Atlanta!

    • Hi PJ! Thanks for coming by and commenting! And putting everything on a spreadsheet is a great idea. I log in all my “appointments” in my cellphone’s calendar. That helps keep me on track and on time.

      Can’t wait to see you in two weeks. 🙂

      • Lisa, I put all of my events in the phone before leaving home. When I get to conference, all I have to do is consult the conference brochure & add the room.

  4. Wonderful blog! I whole-heartedly agree with the go introduce yourself tip. Almost every author I know LOVES talking with fans, so if the moment is right, seize it! You are so right that this is a social event – network, meet friends, and have fun (but don’t get smashed, lol!) See you in Atlanta!

    • Hi Erin! Thanks so much for coming by and commenting. And yes, not getting smashed is a VERY important rule! 🙂 Looking forward to seeing you in ATL!

    • Hi Maya! 🙂 Thanks so much for coming by and commenting, and for the kind words! I’m so sorry we won’t get to see each other at RWA this year-you’ll be missed!

  5. I agree you have some wonderful tips, and Erin is a magician when it comes to packing!! I ended up volunteering for the pitch room two days last year (also my first time) and am glad I’m not doing it this year. I missed out on a lot. That said, I’m glad I did. I’ll be all over, including at the Kensington signing on Friday morning. Kensington is letting me sign some booklets that have The Seduction of Lady Phoebe in them, plus I’ll have Krazy Kards. A tip that I got from Dianna Love. Nationals is so much fun, I can’t wait!! See you all there.

    • I will actually be volunteering at the Registration Desk on Wednesday morning. Looking forward to it! Krazy Kards sounds like fun! And have fun at the Kensington signing-that must be a thrill!

  6. I stopped just shy of crazy fan girl when I saw Zoe Archer at the hotel bar last year. I almost didn’t say anything, then thought that if I were published I would like to know that people loved my books, so I went for it.
    Great tips. See you in Atlanta.

    • Oh I hear you on the crazy fan-girling, Erin! lol. I was barely able to restrain myself around Tessa Dare and Julie James. Lucky for me, they are both incredibly kind, and took my craziness in stride. 😉

  7. I am amazed at Erin’s packing prowess. I was thinking to myself, Oh, but that’s just for RT…and then she said she had a mini-trip before that for 8 full days of being gone, which is my case for RWA nationals this year. I can’t believe she crammed that much in there. I’m probably going to check a bag anyway but I’m going to use her skills!

    • Hi Stephanie,
      Isn’t the video mindboggling? I still can’t get over how much Erin was able to get into her carry-on! I definitely took some tips from her when I packed last year and plan to do the same this year.

  8. Aww, Lisa! You are such a sweetheart. I never got thanked for hanging out and having fun before! Wonderful tips for RWA. Hey they just put the “agenda builder up” and I love it! That way you can add in all those workshops you won’t actually make. See you in Atlanta!

    • Hi Carey!!! Thanks so much for coming by and commenting! *hugs* I can’t wait to see you in Atlanta next week! :))) And I’ll definitely check out the agenda builder!

  9. Thanks! ATL will be my 1st national conference. I’m nervous b/c I live just local enough that I can go to the conference but can’t swing the hotel, so I’ll be driving back & forth from home, an hour plus each way. Sleep will be at a minimum. So, I have 2 questions if anyone can tell me.
    1) How often do you meet folks & really want to hang out at the end of the day?
    2) What do you mean by free publisher signings? The only thing I see listed is the Literacy fund-raiser.

    • Hi Wendy.
      How exciting! Your first RWA conference. 🙂 Good luck with the commute! It sounds rough, but the savings definitely sound like they’re worth it. In answer to your questions:

      1. I met Delilah Marvelle, Marni Bates, Heather Snow, etc in person for the first time at RWA. I would have happily spent more time with them if I could have.

      2. All the booksignings you see on the schedule are the free publishers signings. They are only available to RWA attendees. Since all the books are free, great opportunity to stock up! 🙂

      Hope this helps. Good luck, have fun, and I hope your first RWA is a fabulous experience like mine was!

  10. Pingback: RWA Countdown: One Stop Shop for Linkage | Angela Quarles | Geek girl romance writer

  11. Hi!
    Listen guys, I know this is so last minute, but I just learned of the conference yesterday. Yep, I’m a newbie, and I seem to be in need of any help you great gals may have.
    Does anyone know of a friend needing a roommate to share hotel costs? I found a hotel for myself but it is pretty far away.

    Looking to help split cost. I would happily sleep on the floor to be nearer to the convention 🙂

    I’m 41, totally drama free and I don’t think I snore. Lol

    My email is
    Thanks for any help you can offer!
    Have a GREAT conference!

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