So I’m just back from the four-day Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference, and I’m still stoked from the experience. Great workshops, interesting publisher spotlights, and free books by the cartload. But a lot of the people there had a very odd reaction when I mentioned the Romantic Times convention (RT to most of us)—they were slightly horrified at the suggestion they might enjoy it. Now lest you think that’s because RWA is made up of staid dowagers, let me say that I got a similar reaction when I mentioned RWA at RT. More than one person assured me they would never set foot in RWA.
I think that’s a real shame on both counts. I’ve gone to RT a couple of times now and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself. I intend to be there in Kansas City in 2013. But I loved my experience at RWA too. I’m already thinking about Atlanta next year. In fact, I’d recommend that romance writers and aspiring romance writings attend both conferences, as long as you’re clear on the differences between them.
RT is largely a fan conference. There are workshops, but they tend to be more oriented toward readers than writers—you get to hear famous writers talking about their books and what they’d like to do in the future. And the parties are both epic and open to everybody. In many ways, in fact, RT is a non-stop party with a lot of romance writers thrown in to spice things up. And there’s nothing wrong with that! I feel like I have to emphasize this because occasionally the non-stop party aspect of RT is held up as a reason to skip it. On the contrary, I’d say it’s a reason to go. You get to meet both readers and writers in a more relaxed social atmosphere, and that can be a lot of fun.
RWA is a professional conference. That means the workshops are largely geared toward professional concerns—self publishing, dealing with agents and editors, new trends in genres, etc. It’s enormously informative, sometimes so much so that you head back to your room just to let your brain relax a little. You do have opportunities to meet famous authors, but it’s usually in a workshop setting where they may be talking about things related to craft or the profession (e.g., Susan Mallery talked extensively about the whole publishing process and how to make it to the New York Times bestseller list). There are parties and receptions at RWA, but they’re frequently limited to writers who are published by a particular line (Harlequin has a famous party, for example, but it’s only for Harlequin authors).
And just to take care of a couple of misconceptions: 1) RT is not a bacchanal. Yes, there are male cover models around (and they’re usually nice guys and good sports), but so far as I know there are no orgies, although maybe I just wasn’t invited to the right parties. 2) RWA is not actively hostile to digital authors. This may have been true a few years ago, but it’s definitely not true now. In fact, more and more of the Old Guard at RWA are heading into self publishing so they’re definitely interested in ebooks, and most traditional publishers are developing ebook lines.
So two conferences with two different vibes. Which should you go to? Again, I’d argue for both. The professional information you get at RWA is invaluable, plus you’ll find many more publishing types there for you to network with. The social experience you get at RT is a treat, and you’ll get to network with other authors in a much less structured setting. As the great Guy Clark said (in a somewhat different context), “Long as you’re handin’ it out, Lord, I’ll take a little of both.”