If I Can Make It There…

Crazy Gym Lady: He’s a lawyer, so he doesn’t do things like Excel.

I haven’t been doing Crazy Gym Lady quotes lately, because I’m trying to practice tolerance. Which, for me, means not paying attention to her. But I couldn’t resist this one.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the RWA National Conference coming this summer. Mainly people being aghast at the costs. It takes place in New York City, so prices are higher. The hotel rooms are $211/night for double occupancy, which seems to be shockingly high to many people. The registration fee is higher, because the hotel costs are higher.

At this point, people start working their budgets. They look at outlay and profit. Investment and return. I see a lot of people discussing whether they’ll sell enough books, or get a high enough advance to justify the outlay. If you’re responsible about your finances, this is what you do, you weigh your cost versus your benefits.

The problem is, attending a convention like this brings mainly intangible benefits.

The success gurus all say that, if you want to be successful in your field, you should hang with the very successful people in your field. They advise to do whatever it takes just to be in the same room with the millionaires and billionaires. Now remember, these are usually people giving advice on businesses like real estate, investment banking, stock brokerage, entrepeneurial ventures. They regard the opportunity to get a 30-second piece of advice from one of the giants as invaluable. From being around them, you learn the realities of their lives and their business. So you actually know whether a lawyer uses Excel. Unfortunately for aspiring folks in these fields, it’s very difficult to get near the giants. They are simply not accessible, much less willing to give even less than a minute of their time.

It seems to me that people don’t recognize the opportunity RWA offers this way.

The millionaires in our field? They show up. They give keynote addresses. Susan Elizabeth Phillips gives an annual workshop on the secrets of writing a bestseller. I sat in the bar next to Nora Roberts while she had drinks and discussed the business. She also offers a seminar where people can ask her anything at all. Linda Howard chatted with me in the elevator. These are our millionaires, hanging out in the hotel bar and offering advice freely.

This just doesn’t happen in other fields. Even other genres.

I met Annie Proulx six or seven times, easily. She lived near my town and occasionally attended literary events. Every single time she was reintroduced to me, she acted like she’d never seen me before in her life. And this was not a big town. My friend, RoseMarie, and I were working up a great idea for an anthology about bars in the West. I asked Ms. Proulx if she’d be interested in contributing. She laughed in my face. Then glanced at some of the people she considered to be “real writers,” sneered and walked away.

Yeah, she’s a cantankerous type, but she wasn’t the only Big Name Writer to behave this way. When people get to be Very Important, they can become this way. Wanna-bes in their field are only so much dirt beneath their feet. They’re not going to help you.

Not like in RWA.

I included the photo above from two years ago at the convention, because these two fabulous authors, Jeri Smith-Ready and Cynthia Eden, became my friends. They’re not in the millionaire crowd yet, but they’re headed that way. They weren’t the Mean Girls, hanging only with the successful authors. And I know they never will be. They received help along the way and they offer help. Which is what it’s all about.

This kind of thing? It’s beyond price.

13 Replies to “If I Can Make It There…”

  1. I'm doing the budget thing right now as well because I want to go back this year. I made so many wonderful friends at Nationals in Orlando and I want to make more this year. I had the chance to chat with well-known authors, ask their opinions on things and just soak up knowledge. You're right. This is one of those events that can only improve your chances of success. In the end, the money you spend on the conference comes back to you tenfold.

  2. Ouch on Annie Proulx! Did you derive any small satisfaction at seeing her latest book criticized as a vanity production? (You don't have to answer.)

  3. As much as we like to think writing is a solitary business, there's just as much networking involved in this as any other kind. I've benefited immeasurably by going to RT, RWA, and other conventions.

    I don't know that writing ever *was* a profession that existed in a vacuum. But now, more than ever, it's important to be exposed to new people and new ideas.

  4. That's one of the great things about RWA, the group mentality of pay-it-forward. It's reflected in the readers too. The romance community's passion is finely honed. They're not afraid to cut a path to put a debut author at the top or to bring low an overly pretentious Big Name.

    Sure, RWA National provides a lot of opportunity to connect with fellow authors, but it also gives authors a chance to woo new readers. The Literacy signing is huge.

  5. This is why I'm headed to RWA this year. I'll have to skip next year, though, it's just not in the budget not when I'm looking at braces for the eleven year-old.

    RWA is where I get to listen to agents and publishers along with other writers big or small. To connect with those I only see in the water cooler online or via blog.(yes I know I've been absent for quite a while)

    But mostly I get to be surrounded by people like me. People who don't think I'm crazy because my characters talk to me. And don't judge me when I pull out my laptop and begin to type furiously.

  6. I hadn't seen that Lt! Though if I had, I'm small enough to maybe enjoy it. Got a link?

    All really great points, Laura, KAK and Chudney – you all are so smart!

  7. Thanks for the great insights! I'm already committed to going (and shacking up with you, my dear!) but still had a few niggling doubts about whether it was a good use of my stretched-thin resources. This is an excellent reminder, and now I'm getting excited to go!

    Tawna

  8. Wow. Who knew Ms. Proulx was such a bitch?

    Not going to RWA this year, but I'm sure looking forward to hearing all about it from my friends who do. Y'all better take pictures and eavesdrop in elevators!

  9. Hey I took that picture. 🙂

    There are still bitches in RWA. They don't help you; they'd rather crush you. Luckily there are more writers willing to help the unpublished than not.

  10. We'll miss you, Linda, but we'll be sure to send you lots of gossip!

    Did you, Michelle? I had forgotten that! And it's true. Fortunately we all know who they are and can whisper to the new folks to steer clear.

  11. @Michelle – I'm going to agree with you there. I've had run ins with three or four over the years that looked like they'd stepped in dog shit when I dared to approach them.

    Doesn't mean anything except that I'll never buy their books.

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