To me, writing is the perfect job. I’m the kind of girl who prefers alone time. Crowds devour me. I love silence and solitude. And walking up to a stranger and beginning a conversation – you have got to be kidding. Writing sheltered me from this. I like putting my fingers on the keyboard so much I finished three manuscripts in the last two years. One became a Golden Heart finalist for 2010. Another became my first sale; a YA entitled PULL, due to hit store shelves this October. I mention these so you know that I walked into the RWA National Conference last month with two very important ribbons attached to my badge, a Golden Heart finalist and a First Sale. I also walked in with clamoring nerves.
2010 was my real first RWA National conference. I attended the 2008 conference, but the truth is that barely counts. I was both new to RWA and still deep inside my introvert shell (I score at the top 3% on the charts, thank you very much), so all I did was attend workshops. I raced from room to room on tired legs, determined to soak in every piece of knowledge available. I ended up exhausted. I met absolutely no one except the poor agent and editor I pitched to. I don’t remember their names and I only pray to God they don’t remember my babbling. This introvert didn’t have the energy required to step up to strangers and say hello, so I left knowing no one I didn’t know before I arrived. In the end I felt lost and that I had wasted my time and money attending.
Fearful of another exercise in frustration, I skipped 2009, not wanting to repeat that experience. But this year I decided to give things another try. I realized the conference would be what I made of it, and I decided I needed to make connections. I had a GOAL when I signed up for the 2010 RWA National conference: to network, network and Network. I was going to make friends and – well, if not influence people, at least get to know lots of them.
Even if it killed me.
I psyched myself up before boarding the plane. You will talk to people, I told myself, especially first-timers in memory of all the people I wish had spoken to me. I began by accepting an invitation to room with a near total stranger, Gail Zerrade, who writes under the name Clarissa Southwick. She and I are both members of the Unsinkables, as we 2010 Golden Heart finalists call ourselves. We’ve emailed for several months, so I convinced my shy self that staying with her wasn’t exactly the same as being with a complete stranger. Gail and I clicked and I enjoyed my time with her in spite of the huge jolt to my system. And that was just the beginning.
Another step in my goal involved volunteering. I worked at the Conference bookfair, talking to shoppers, answering questions, and handing out my cards for two hours Wednesday morning. I also volunteered at the Pro Retreat, and began to enjoy calling to people and waving them over to my section. After that, I was warmed up and ready to keep exercising my networking skills.
Receptions abounded, and I chose to attend those and other people-meeting activities over sitting quietly in workshops. So if you’re reading to find out the juice about workshops, you’ll have to go elsewhere. I purchased the conference CDs the first day so I could concentrate on and moving outside my comfort zone to meet and mingle with people.
The internet is an introvert’s best friend, and I have become a joiner. I am a member of a number of RWA chapters, including Chicago North and WisRWA. I am also a member of the online chapters YA RWA (“say it like a pirate”) a special interest group for young adult writers, and the Golden Network, a special interest chapter for current and past Golden Heart finalists. I am also a member of GIAM, the writing Goal-In-A-Month group put together by Amy Atwell that taught me to set goals if I want to achieve results. It felt great to meet her in person for the first time.
Each group held get-togethers during conference. Because my novel, PULL, had won the YA category of the Oklahoma RWA chapter’s “Finally A Bride” contest, I also received an invite to their reception. Once I took a deep breath and decided to step outside that invisible comfort zone of mine, I was in a whirlwind of breakfast meetings and after-hours get-togethers every day. I met people, shaking hands, exchanging cards and meeting my goals. I made an appearance at every reception I was eligible to attend, especially the one’s with open bars! I went, I talked, I even hugged – a big deal for me. I chatted with agents and editors – yes, chatted, no pitching required since I had already made a sale, so I was able to relax around them.
I managed long talks with some of my favorite authors too, including Courtney Milan, Kayla Perrin, Karen Rose, Julia Quinn and Lori Wilde. And Lisa Kleypas, whom I’ve been reading and loving for years, not only asked about my book, PULL, when she saw my first sale ribbon, but said she wanted to read my book!! My heart jumped when she said took my card. One of my major idols wanted to read my book. Shows the power of the quick pitch, I gave her three sentences, she loved the concept.
No, I didn’t win a Golden Heart, but I more than achieved my goal and the conference was worth every penny. The Golden Heart finalist status helped. So did that First-timer ribbon. But the big difference was my attitude. This was my real first-time. I met my idols, learned to talk to editors and agents as if they were normal people (they really are) and greet people I didn’t know. I even introduced myself to several first-timers who looked as lost as I probably did back in 2008. Somewhere in the middle of things I found time to attend five workshops and three book signings so I had to ship a huge box of books home. In the end I distributed about eighty cards, and received about fifty. I attended eight receptions/chapter meetings – many of them simultaneously a feat even many paranormals would have difficulty achieving.
Volunteer at Bookfair
The Golden Network Retreat
Simultaneous breakfasts with both other Unsinkables and YARWA
The Golden Network Reception
Oklahoma Romance Writers reception
YARWA meeting and reception
Chicago North reception,
Golden Heart Reception
Two private receptions
Golden Heart practice
Dress (an activity all by itself)
Harry Potter World!
Best of all, I scheduled down-time. Sunday and Monday while everyone else was rushing for the airport, I relaxed by the pool, toured Downtown Disney and visited both Epcot and Harry Potter.
Oh yes, I managed to raid the Goodie Room, too. And I’m relaxed and eager to do it all again in 2011 in New York.
B.A. Binns grew up on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, the eldest of five children. Her love of education led her to haunt the halls of the University of Wisconsin, Michigan State University, Depaul University, Roosevelt, Chicago State, and Harper College. She's worked as a computer programmer, trainer, raised one child, retired early, and now spends her days volunteering—and writing. Her debut novel, PULL, releases October 25. You can learn more about B.A. Binns on her website and her blog.