Last week I attended my first national conference of Romance Writers of America (RWA) in New York City. I literally did not leave the hotel once (it was in the middle of Times Square). I know, you’re horrified aren’t you. New York! But I’ve been to this hotel, Times Square and New York several times. I didn’t know many people at the conference, and I wanted to soak up everything I could, surrounded by almost two thousand people who are dedicated to writing romance novels of every kind you can imagine (and a few you maybe can’t). So, forgive me.
Where to begin to unpack my experience?
Knowledge: The workshops were terrific, and I attended as many as I could each day (which is why I never left the hotel). The presentations were by published authors, often NYT and USA Today bestselling authors. Talk about learning from the best! I won a bag of goodies from Kristin Higgins’ class (yes, that Kristin Higgins) and fangirled shamelessly at J.R. Ward’s “Ask Me Anything” presentation. J.R. Ward! (Still fangirling). The sheer knowledge dump I received of craft, branding, and the business of becoming a published author was invaluable.
Networking: Ever have a casual conversation with someone you just met, only to look them up later and find out they are an NYT best selling author? I have. I also met several writers like me, unpublished but working to become published. And, out of the vast throng of authors at this conference, I somehow, randomly, met three amazing women whose husbands also were officers in the U.S. Navy at one point – two of them submariners like my husband and one a Naval Academy grad, also like my husband. What are the odds? I’ve made a whole bunch of new connections and, more importantly, new friends that understand and share this journey I’m on. That is invaluable.
Validation: I was a finalist in the Daphne Du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense in the unpublished division. To see my name, photo and the name of my novel up on the big screen was amazing, and a validation that I can do this – I can write a romantic suspense novel that people will want to read. It’s still a work in progress, but this recognition is a huge confidence booster that keeps me grinding away at my craft.
Recognition: One of my author friends is a six-time Golden Heart nominee and a two-time winner. The Golden Heart is the Oscars for unpublished authors. A recognition of their work at the highest level pre-publication. Sadly, this was the last year of the Golden Heart, and I am sad that I won’t be able to participate in this amazing contest. I’ve seen firsthand through my friend the incredible friendships and networking that each Golden Heart class develops. They are a bonded sisterhood that endures through the years.
The other major event of the conference was the RITA awards ceremony – the Oscars for published authors. If you are looking for new books to read, look up the RITA winners this year and buy their books. https://www.bustle.com/p/the-2019-rita-award-winners-are-the-best-romance-novels-of-the-last-year-18364361 It was a glamorous affair and especially joyous because this year, two African-American authors (Kennedy Ryan and M. Malone), and a South Asian-American author, (Nisha Sharma) went home with RITAs. Incredibly, this was the first time that an African-American author has won a RITA in the 37 years of the RITA’s existence. It definitely won’t be the last. Whatever kind of romance/love story you are looking for, there is an exceptionally talented romance author out there who is writing it.
Now What? I came away from this conference even more excited to pursue this path I’m on to be a published author. I have a better understanding of the craft (i.e., I know what I need to improve on); I made some great friends and contacts who are all at various stages of the same journey; I received validation that I’m capable of producing quality writing; I got to fangirl at the celebrity authors in attendance - too many to list here; and I got my own worldview expanded as a reader and writer. There are a lot of outstanding romance writers whom you’ve never heard of. Try a new author, or try reading in a romance sub-genre that you don’t normally read. Some day day soon, I hope you will be reading my novels!