The Sassy-Girl’s Guide to Success at RWA Nationals

Please help me welcome 2011 Golden Heart® finalist and sassy girl Kimberly Kincaid to the blog.

I’m an extrovert. My parents swear I was born this way. I feel an innate fondness for striking up conversations with people I don’t know, volunteering for public speaking roles, and don’t even get me started on how much I adore the inventor of the karaoke machine. Being in front of other people, from one-on-one chats to large-group meetings, makes me happy.

I’m definitely a minority.

Let’s face it: the idea of going to RWA Nationals, where everyone from senior editors to fresh-out-of-the-gate writers congregate to celebrate the romance-writing industry, is rather daunting! But with a couple tips, even the most introverted attendee can forge her way through a successful experience in New York (and beyond).

Do some legwork. This step will take a little time, but is worth its weight in gold. Take a few moments to peruse your RWR magazine—you know, the one with the conference schedule printed inside. Go to the RWA website to print any available handouts so you can take them with you to your chosen workshops. Not only will you not have to take notes, but if the gal next to you doesn’t have hers? You can offer to share, and look! You’re making friends the easy way— one gal at a time! Which brings us to…

Print business cards. Please note that these don’t need to be fancy, professionally printed, or expensive. There are tons of free templates online, and you can even print your own if you’re in a pinch for time. But believe me when I say, this is hands-down the best way to network at Nationals. Your name and email address is all you need! Then when you share notes with someone, sit next to someone at lunch, meet someone in line for the literacy signing (all of which will happen), you can swap information and keep in touch. Keep a handful of them in the plastic nametag you’ll get at check-in, and you won’t even need to rummage through your purse to find one!

Formulate a few ice-breakers. Everyone attending Nationals has one thing in common: we’re all tied to books in some way. Asking someone what she writes is a sure-fire ice-breaker, and it gives people a chance to practice their 30-second pitches (hint: they usually return the favor and ask back!). Not ready to pitch? No worries— getting into the practice of saying “I write single-title contemporaries with a humorous bent” (you can fill in the blanks to suit your work) won’t hurt. Other good ice-breakers include: “tell me about your book”, “I’m really excited to meet Author X” (perfect for waiting on line at signings), and “are you involved with your local chapter?” Speaking of which…

If you’re a first-timer, go to orientation. Unless something major prohibits you from getting to New York on Tuesday night, I highly recommend both the Literacy Signing and the first-timer’s orientation. Everyone at both events is very friendly, and they’ll answer any and all questions you might have (ask! You’ll feel better!).

Reach out to local chaptermates. If you’re not already a member of a local chapter, it’s never too late! There’s a comprehensive list on the RWA’s website. Many local chapters arrange at least one meeting/lunch/dinner during Nationals. Some groups also try to flock to specific areas in the main dining room for luncheons. Others have phone lists with cell phone numbers of attendees so people can be in touch on-site. Check out yours before you go!

Plan some down-time. Being at a National conference is exciting, and chock-full of things to do. But it’s also got the potential to be very overwhelming, especially since many of us writers are used to the solitary endeavor of BICHOK (bottom in chair, hands on keyboard). If you know you’ll need to re-charge mentally, schedule ten minute breaks where you can go to your room and close your eyes, or read something quietly, or call home. Also, make sure to bring snacks (best thing I packed last year, aside from the Spanx for under my ceremony dress, was a box of granola bars. Really) and drink plenty of water to keep you from running low on steam. Last, but not least…

Be comfortable. Being at a conference with over 2,000 other people has the potential to be crazy enough. Wearing a dress and heels when you know you’re a pants and sandals kind of gal is only going to make you miserable. Business casual is the norm for Nationals (unless you’re pitching, then I’d say go a notch more professional, but nice pants are very acceptable!). You’ll have a hard time relaxing and making new connections (not to mention impressing your dream agent or editor when she happens to be in line behind you at Starbucks) if your feet are killing you.

So now you tell me. What are your burning questions about going to NYC? Conference veterans, what can you add to the list of advice? How can we make 2011 the best Nationals experience yet?

Kimberly Kincaid is a 2011 Golden Heart® finalist who writes single-title contemporary romances that split the difference between sexy and sweet, and is currently exploring the delicious world of foodie romance. She is proudly represented by Maureen Walters at the Curtis Brown Literary Agency, and she lives in northern Virginia with her very introverted husband and three extroverts-in-training. Blurbs for Kimberly’s manuscripts can be found on her website, and she can be found on Facebook and Twitter, where she loves to network and hear from others in the industry.


  1. Hey, all good advice! Thanks for reminding me to print the handouts!! I hope to meet you at Nationals! Jeanna Thornton, RWA-WF

  2. I'm taking notes. Thank you for the great advice! I promised myself I wouldn't hide behind the potted plants this year.
    Sheryl Carpenter 2011 Golden Heart® finalist.

  3. Great advice, Kimberly! I'm not going to Nationals, but I will be sure to file these tips away for future reference! Good luck on your GH nomination!

  4. Great tips, Kimberly. Can't wait to clap for you at the GH awards!

  5. Great advice! Can't wait to get to Nationals next week - my first one! ;-)

  6. Kimberly, thanks so much for being here today. Your advice will help a lot of people.

    Sheryl--I'll look for you behind the potted plants. I've hung there myself at times. LOL

    Kerri--Your first conference! How exciting.

  7. My pleasure to stop by! I think that going in baby steps is probably the biggest key to being comfortable about sharing yourself. You can take on Nationals one person at a time! It's far less daunting one on one :)

    It's helpful to remember that every single person there has had a first time at Nationals, whether it be this year or ten years ago (or more!). Everyone is so incredibly nice (rock that First Timer ribbon, ladies!), it's nearly impossible not to meet new friends. And many of them are in the same boat you are.

    Can't wait to meet many of you next week! And thanks to all for your lovely encouragement :) Feel free to come find me wherever they've got the karaoke set up! I promise not to ask you to sing unless you want to, hehe...

    Kimberly (who is going Anon b/c google doesn't like her today!)

  8. I think that those are great tips for a first timer. Those actually apply to a variety of different conference experiences! Good job!

  9. Nicely done, Kimberly. Lots of help here. I look forward to meeting you.

  10. I encourage everyone to sit at a table of total strangers rather than always with your same friends. You'll meet so many people that way! I know some people will feel too shy to do this, but I promise you that something good will come out of it!!

    Great post, Kimberly!!

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