Tuesday, February 28, 2017

ARRC And Getting The Most Out Of Conferences

The Australian Romance Readers Convention was last weekend (the 24th, 25th and 26th) and I flew down to Melbourne to attend. It was at Rydges, Melbourne, so that's where I stayed, flying in Friday and flying out Monday morning.

It was a fantastic event, I had such a good time and it made me even more pumped for the conferences I am attending later in the year: Genrecon and RWA.

The best thing about ARRC, for me, was the people. Everyone was so friendly. You could approach literally anyone, introduce yourself and instantly feel welcome and have a nice chat. And, if I stood still, even for a second, someone would come over and say hello and I would be in the middle of another fantastic conversation. There was zero snobbery, zero tension and no one was rushing or flustered because of a tight schedule.

The seminars were great too. Bronwyn Parry's session on regency etiquette was fascinating and I would have happily done a whole weekend workshop just on that. It is a READERS conference though, not a WRITERS conference. So there weren't many technical 'how to' topics. Mostly it was discussions about things we love (romance novels and shirtless men).

Someone said to me they rarely go to the panels, they just enjoy walking around talking to people and I think that is an entirely valid approach to many conferences. Networking and talking to people is the highlight for me too.

People who don't attend conferences often ask me why I go with a genuine sort of confusion. I suspect some people think they are like university classes, you go to get some sort of training or education. That's not necessarily untrue, but it's only a fraction of the whole.

Here are the reasons I go to conferences:

1. To network, make new friends and meet people.

2. To learn specific things.

3. To catch up on industry news that is still on the down-low.

4. To find out who and what is popular in genres I don't track very closely.

5. To hang out with my friends, who are often REALLY busy or in other states, so I often only see them at conferences.

6. To increase my own visibility and public profile.

A lot of people also go to conferences to get new books, get books signed, pitch to editors and agents, learn how the industry works, or learn about writing in general. All of those are equally valid.

So if you are going to go to a conference, here are my tips for getting the most out of it:

1. Know what you want.

Out of those reasons I listed, and any others you may have, what is important to you? If you go in with a focused list of goals, you're less likely to just drift from seminar to seminar, awkward and alone.

2. Be friendly.

If you make eye contact with someone, smile. If someone comes over to you and says hello, SMILE. Make them feel welcome in your space. Use open body language. Be polite and don't barge into conversations, but don't be shy about introducing yourself either. Depending on the convention, have a mental list of relevant questions. At ARRC it was:

- Are you a reader or an author?
- What genres do you read?
- What genres do you write?
- Who are you published with?
- Tell me about your blog? (Authors love bloggers)
- Are you enjoying the conference?
- Where are you from?
- What seminars are you excited about?
- Are you going to *insert various extras like dinner event*?
- Wasn't *keynote speaker* fantastic?

A light discussion about those topics will take at least 15 minutes, which is when one of you will usually flit on to someone else.

3. If you are coming to learn, have questions prepared in advance.

Meg and I are working on a sport romance so naturally I went to the sport romance talk. I knew before I even got to Melbourne what I wanted to learn in that session. Several of my questions were answered by the talk itself, and then I was ready to ask the others in the questions portion of the talk. I went away very happy.

However Bronwyn Parry's regency talk was just something I thought sounded interesting and the things I learnt in that session were far more interesting than anything I would have thought to ask about.

4. Wear appropriate clothing. Particularly shoes.

The hotel was air conditioned, which sometimes meant it was fine and sometimes meant it everyone got hypothermia. So a light jacket was a must. You also spent a lot of time on your feet, so comfortable shoes will save you a lot of pain.

The dress code for these events is almost always smart casual. You need clothes you can sit AND stand in for long periods comfortably. And since you are networking with other professionals, you need to be clean and semi presentable.

Conferences are often perfume free events too, since a lot of people have allergies. So plan accordingly. I ended up having to change shirts twice a day and ran out of clothes and had to wash a shirt in the sink for Sunday. I failed at planning.

Also don't wear your favourite pair of jeans which have started ripping all the time, or they will rip at the awards dinner and your editor and a famous author will have to check how much of your ass is hanging out at what is essentially a black tie event.

True story.

5. Remember it's a professional event.

Don't be rude. Don't talk behind someone's back. Don't get drunk. Don't make a mess. Don't be smelly and dirty. Don't cry to strangers about your divorce. Don't disparage the theme of the convention or subsections of the attendees. Don't talk during seminars. Put your phone on vibrate.

Even if you think people won't remember you, they do. I met an author a few years back and saw them again at the conference this weekend. We were introduced by a mutual friend and I said I didn't expect them to recall, but we had met before. Despite me being 15kgs lighter, having 2 feet less hair and different glasses, they still recognised me and recalled the conversation we had.

I know the idea will make some of you very nervous. However if you are friendly and nice to everyone, you don't have anything to be nervous about. If you want to be an author, you WANT people to remember you. That's part of the goal.

Australia has a fantastic writing community. For the most part, people are supportive and open minded. Anyone who is rude or judges you is in the minority and for the most part, can be ignored completely.

Go to conferences, have a fantastic time. I'll probably be there too, though hopefully without a giant, gaping hole in the ass of my jeans.

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