I’ve just come from the 2013 gathering of the Romance Writers of America, one of several professional conferences I attend each year. On general principles, the notion of spending a week in a mid-city hotel, eating conference food, wearing conference shoes, and dealing with hordes of people ought not to appeal to me, but I’m already looking forward to next year’s gathering.
How can that be? My tolerance for noise is… well, I don’t have any, and this was an atrium hotel that looked to be at least 30 stories high. The bar was in one of the open-plan lobbies, and we ladies got loud, then louder still. My tolerance for gratuitous displays of emotion isn’t much greater, and yet, BOTH luncheon speakers moved us to tears, and that was just fine.
What’s different about this gathering? Yes, it’s a professional conference. People are pitching their books, meeting with potential agents and editors, negotiating deals, scarfing up workshop wisdom, and making connections with readers, and yet, it has the feel of a family reunion. I know of one pair of writers who’ve been critique partners for two years, and they met for the first time last week in Atlanta. That’s not unusual.
I arranged to meet a Facebook writing friend for breakfast, she brought her roommate, and we might well stay in touch on social media, get together at a subsequent conference, trade beta reads, or otherwise build on that small but enjoyable interaction.
Some of the appeal of the conference, though, has to do with the nature of writers. Whether we’re introverts or extroverts, we’re people who notice what happens in life. We notice setting, and we notice subtext–what’s not being said, what’s emotionally driving somebody but never acknowledged. In other words, we’re probably on the more perceptive end of the scale. At a gathering of writers, you can have all the space you need, but you won’t have to make much of an effort to connect, if connecting is what you want to do.
This group is also–generalization alert–mostly female, as in 99 percent female, at least. Certain dynamics that might afflict other gatherings are largely absent from this one.
And some of the credit has to go to RWA itself. I once heard Julia Quinn say, “You will never hurt your career by helping another author.” This might be engraved over the figurative door to the RWA office, because it represents Holy Writ to most romance authors. If you can do another author a good turn, it is your privilege to oblige. This ethic of professional collaboration might well be part of the reason romance is a $1.37 billion industry, and growing.
So I had a lovely week, despite being a warp nine, noise-intolerant, tactile-avoidant, introvert. I was with the right kind of people, focused on the right kind of agenda.
What sort of group do you enjoy meeting with? Does the task at hand make a difference? The setting? The membership?
To one commenter, I’ll send an audio version of “Once Upon a Tartan.”