So here, in no particular order (because let’s be real now—a particular order is several days out at least) are my thoughts.
This was my first time at an RWA conference, and I didn’t know what to expect. What I encountered was an event that ticked along as smoothly as a Japanese rail schedule. From the first-timer’s orientation to the final Golden Heart/RITA award ceremony, every detail was thoughtfully addressed. Some things I was especially impressed by:
- The first-timer’s orientation. This was such a wonderful idea—the conference hosted around 2000 women (okay, there were a few guys, but probably no more than 1% of the whole), and it seemed that most of them had been to an RWA national conference before. A first-timer, like myself, could easily have been intimidated: both by the sheer size of the conference and by the unspoken rituals that accompany events like this. Having an orientation for first-time attendees cut through a lot of this intimidation, providing newbies with handouts of commonly used jargon (what’s the difference between an HEA and an HFN?) and survival tips. Most impressively, the orientation directly addressed the networking question: how the devil do you do it? The answer was simple enough, but only because the conference organizers had thought it out. Want to talk to strangers at the RWA? Use one of the helpful conversation starters listed on the sheet of paper given to you by the organizers.
- Everything ran on time. Everything. The schedule rarely allowed for more than fifteen minutes in between workshops, so if presenters had consistently run long there could have been serious jam-ups. It never happened, at least not to me. Things began exactly when they were supposed to, and ended either on time or slightly early. This was driven home the night of the RITA award ceremony—an enormous, elaborate event that began promptly at 8pm (its scheduled beginning) and ended promptly at 10pm (its scheduled end.)
- The workshops were both useful and enjoyable. Maybe this shouldn’t have surprised me so much, but I think I’m not used to much of an overlap between “things that are good for me” and “things that are fun.” The conference organizers had chosen a line-up of panels and workshops that featured delightful, hilarious women who were also extremely knowledgeable about their subject matter. It was heaven.
- Details, details, details. The organizers’ meticulous attention to detail will stick with me, I think, as the defining characteristic of RWA14. It’s hard to point to any particular basket of details as being the ones that made the difference, but things like offering a smartphone app with an event list and digital handouts really streamlined my experience.
When Rachel and I first walked into the hotel where the conference was held, we both immediately noticed two things: first, despite the hundreds of people swarming in the lobby, we couldn’t see a single dude; second, everybody was smiling. We may have eventually seen a few men—there were even a handful attending the conference—but we never saw very many unhappy faces. People were nice. They were supportive. They were funny. They were both interesting and interested. The sense of community was almost tangible, and extended all the way to the San Antonio airport on Sunday (you could identify your fellow attendees by the Harlequin bags on their shoulders).
Sidenote: What happens when you put a tech guy who looks like an Abercrombie model in a hotel of 2000 romance authors? Answer: Hilarity.
I live in Ithaca, New York, but I was born and raised on the west coast. The latter means that some days I have cravings for Mexican food so intense I can almost feel them in my teeth; unfortunately, the former means that my options for good Mexican food are extremely limited. So when I came to San Antonio…well, you can imagine. No enchilada was safe.
People were, in general, extremely nice—from waiters to hotel clerks to random passerby on the River Walk. And speaking of the River Walk, it’s beautiful.
And yes, I fangirled all over them. Here’s a picture of Rachel’s baby William with Sarah MacLean:
Want to know how awesome I think this conference was? I think it was SO AWESOME that I’m going to go back next year, even though it’s in New York City in July, and I still haven’t figured out the difference between NYC in July and a wet, hot pile of urine-soaked garbage *ducks*.
Only a year to go!