Surviving Your Next Conference: How to Prepare, What to Do, and How to Unwind

In lieu of my usual #5forFriday, I'm taking a quick moment to talk about something near and dear to my heart: conference season. Every July I pack up my suitcase and head somewhere in the U.S. for the Romance Writers of America national conference to take meetings, see friends, and learn a bunch of stuff about the business of writing romance. It's a huge, fun, exhausting five days, and the first time I went it was totally overwhelming.

Because we all remember being paralyzed at some point during our first conference, the founders at HBIC Nation and I put together a handy Conference Survival Guide to help you navigate any professional conference you're headed to. This digital magazine breaks down goals planning, packing, tackling your schedule, in-conference self care, and decompression once you head home. Whether you're a veteran or a newbie, there's something helpful in there for everyone!

What I Learned at RWA 2016

It’s been just over a week since I came back from the Romance Writers of America National Conference. That means I’ve had some time to process, and I have some takeaways to share.

I’m not going to be wrapping up RWA. There are other people who do that much better than me (and if you read Lindsay Emory’s wrap-up you’ll get a pretty good idea of what my conference was like right down to the half-naked man posing on a bar because we spent a lot of time together). Instead, I’m going to share a few things that I took away from RWA both as a writer.

I Need a Business Plan

Here’s how I feel about business plans:



Clearly there are many things I’d rather do than write one including but not limited to walking over hot coals, being audited by the IRS, and eating pickles (ugh, can’t stand the things). However, after years of putting it off I’ve come to realize that it’s time for me to suck it up and act like the pro I think of myself as.

I’m still working my way through a formal business plan (hey, they take time to write and research), but I’ve done two things in the week since I’ve been back home from the conference. One was fill out Mel Jolly’s 2016 Game Plan Template. She breaks down professional, personal, and financial objectives for the year and then asks you to list the actionable steps you’re going to take to actually make your goals happen.

While it’s scary sometimes to write down concrete things that we want, it’s also really powerful. It helps focus what you’re doing and helps you bring everything you do professionally back to one question: “Is what I’m doing helping me meet my objectives?”

The other exercise — which was a lot more enjoyable because I got to shamelessly dream big — was Ally Carter’s lists from her blog post "A Letter to Baby Author Me (Circa 2004)." She advises writers to jot down five things that would make you really happy in your career, five "best case scenario" things that could happen in your writing career, and five of your wildest dreams. I did that, and now I’ve got the document living in my cloud storage so that I can pull it out once a year and check on my progress.

You Need an Author Branding Plan

One of the big, scary objectives on my 2016 Game Plan was “Create an author branding plan.” What I’m looking to do is develop a consistent look and feel for all of my social media and web platforms — including this website and blog — that reflects what readers will find in both my historical and contemporary books.

It’s harder than you’d think to narrow down the themes that run through your books and your online persona, but Alisha Rai and Courtney Milan gave a great workshop at RWA about starting to narrow down your brand. If you’re an author who attended and bought the conference recordings, their workshop was called “It’s All About the Audience: How to Find Readers and Build and Keep Your Audience.”

Focus Your Energy on Newsletters

Sarah Wendell and Mel Jolly did an excellent workshop on newsletters for authors. While a lot of the information was advice I’d heard before, getting it all at once in one session helped synthesize it and make things stick. One of my takeaways was consistency. It also helped to hear someone tell me that although I might feel like I'm pestering people with my newsletters once a month, these are people who've specifically asked to receive news.

I’m a believer in building and owning your newsletter if you’re a publishing professional because I’ve seen dramatic changes at social media sites in the last year. If you invest all your growth into sites where you don't have direct access to readers, you're risking losing control of your primary marketing tool. Facebook reach and page accessibility is completely dependent on what Facebook’s developers want to with the algorithm. Twitter and Instagram have also undergone changes recently. The only thing you have complete control over is your newsletter list (which you should be exporting once every three months to make sure you have all of those addresses in case your newsletter provider folds).

Sometimes Old School Is Better Than New School

I had a fantastic time signing books during the Pocket and Gallery open house at RWA. I got to meet a bunch of readers, and give away a lot of books which always makes me happy. However, I wound up with a stack of about 300 postcards left over from the signing.

Ready to sign @pocket_books #RWA16 open house!

A photo posted by Julia Kelly (@juliakellywrites) on

What I decided to do was to reach out old school. I bought a bunch of A7 envelopes, stuffed them with postcards, and mailed them to every family member, friend, romance reader, and giveaway winner I’ve ever run into. Now, as this post goes up, there should be postcards dropping into people’s mailboxes across the country as well as Canada, the U.K., Martinique, and the Netherlands.

I like old school snail mail as a marketing technique for a few reasons:

  • I personally love getting mail, and I suspect that it’s a nice thrill for readers to get something other than magazines, bills, and junk mail.
  • It’s another way you can touch readers and put your books in front of them.
  • It’s a reminder to people who haven’t preordered your book yet that it’s coming out.
  • It’s a way to make sure that all of that beautiful paper swag you have hanging around actually gets used!

I still have dozens of post cards, but I did send some along to Colleen Hoover’s Bookworm Box donation address. If you’re able to send books or swag, it’s a great program.

Lots of snail mail going out to readers this week!

A photo posted by Julia Kelly (@juliakellywrites) on

Connecting With Other Authors Is Worth the Conference Expense for Me

Probably the most important thing about going to conferences for me is getting to see the incredible, intelligent, talented women I only see once a year.

It’s hard to describe the reasons why RWA is so important to someone who isn’t a writer — not to mention not in the romance industry — because it’s such a foreign concept to most people. The best thing way I can try to explain it is that RWA and conferences like it is all about a community of readers, writers, and industry professionals who all speak the same language of books and genre coming together. I have a great group of core friends as well as many acquaintances whose friendship I value. They’re also unendingly generous and knowledgable, and it's good for my career to hang out with them.

Finally but Most Importantly

Romance and the larger publishing industry still has a lot of growing to do in terms of welcoming and respecting authors of color, different abilities, and sexualities. I was thrilled to see two LGBTQ romances win RITAs this year — For Real: A Spires Story by Alexis Hall and Him by Serena Bowen and Elle Kennedy — but I both heard about and witnessed microaggressions and outright hostility toward some members of the community.

Everyone should feel like they have a place at RWA and in the larger industry. That starts with welcoming people into the community; supporting authors of color and LGBTQ authors who tell stories about characters of color, LGBTQ characters, and characters with different abilities; and demanding the industry value those people in the way it currently values white, het, cis gender authors and stories.

Romance can do better.

Drinking at RWA

RWA NYCIt's no big secret that a lot of the social life at RWA Nationals centers around the hotel bar (even if you aren't a drinker, come hang out with a soda). As great as the hotel bar can be, sometimes you want to get out of the conference hotel and experience something a little different. Since RWA 15 is in New York City and I'm a New Yorker, I thought I'd throw together some recommendations for bars really close to the Marriott Marquis. Anything with a star is a personal recommendation. *Pony Bar - 45th & 10th (craft beer)

*Beer Culture - 45th & 8th (craft beer)
The Jolly Monk - 48th & 9th (beer, waffle sliders <--I don't know what that is but my friend says they're amazing)
Gaf West - 48th & 9th (dive)
Valhalla - 54th & 9th (beer & food)
*Lillie's - 49th & 8th (Victorian cocktail bar)
The Rum House - 47th & 8th (cocktail bar)
Casellula - 52nd & 9th (wine bar)
Briciola - 51st & 9th (wine bar)
*St. Andrews - 46th & 7th (scotch)
If I have enough time before the conference, I'll try to throw together a list of some restaurants in the Hells Kitchen area that you might want to try.

#RWA15: Getting to the Hotel

After the great #RWA1st conversation on Twitter yesterday, I realized that a lot of people have questions about getting to the RWA 15 conference hotel. The good news is that the hotel is in the middle of Times Square which means pretty much every subway line heads there and every cab driver will know exactly where you're headed.

Here's some information to help get you around NYC and to the Marriott Marquis in July. Please remember that all of this information should be checked and double checked. I'm writing this purely base on experience or memory, so if any New Yorkers have easier ways of getting to and from locations, feel free to contact me for an update or leave a comment below.

Getting a Cab

If you're hailing on the street or are not using a reservation service like Uber or Dial 7, stick to yellow cabs.* All you have to do is give the cabbie your cross streets (we don't operate in addresses in NYC) which for the RWA conference hotel is 45th and Broadway.** You can also tell the driver that you're headed to the Marriott Marquis in Times Square and they should know where you're going.

From LaGuardia and JFK, the cabs will charge you a flat rate plus tolls and tip. It is common to tip 15-20% for most rides. Yellow cabs have credit card machines in the back of them now.

There are taxi stands at all airports and train stations. If you're at Penn Station or Grand Central Station, you can also hail off the street. Cabs that have their central light lit up are free. If there's no light on, it means they are engaged and will not stop for you. Know that shift changes and rush hour can be tricky for hailing a cab (around 4:30-5 PM). Also, it's not a lie that there's never a free cab when it's raining.

Cabs aren't cheap, but they're your easiest option. They are what I use when I fly because I'd rather suck it up, pay the flat rate, and know that I'm not relying on the MTA. Splitting cabs can make them much more affordable.

* You'll also see green cabs that look like yellow cabs. Those are outer borough taxis and are not supposed to pick up on the streets in most of Manhattan.

**New Yorkers give address street first and then avenue. For instance, if you're heading to 45th Street and 7th Avenue, you would say, "45th and 7th." Broadway is considered an avenue, hence "45th and Broadway" for the Marriott Marquis.


Uber, private car service, and shuttles are also possibilities from the airport. My experience is that shuttles are a little less expensive than taking a cab but takes you longer. Uber's rates are variable, so you might want to double check before you order one. There are booking desks at the airports for shuttles, but you probably want to reserve in advance.

Public Transportation

LaGuardia Airport

LaGuardia is the closest airport geographically to Manhattan. It's also arguably the biggest pain to get to and from on public transportation. There is no train. Don't look for one. Instead, you're going to want to take the M60 SBS Bus headed to 125th Street. There should be signage directing you to pick up the bus. I believe that the bus is now a select bus which means that there may be vending machines where you pay before you board and then pick up a receipt rather than pay with change or a MetroCard on board.

Get off at the Hoyt Ave/31st St subway station and take the N/Q Train headed for Manhattan. Get off at the 49th Street station. Then it's a short walk to the conference hotel.

JFK International Airport

For public transit from JFK, you're going to want to hop on the AirTrain. The train will take you to the Sutphin Boulevard-Archer Avenue Station where you can pick up the E train heading into Manhattan. You would take the E all the way to 42nd St-Port Authority station and then walk to the conference hotel.

Newark International Airport

I'm going to be totally honest here. I've never taken public transportation to Newark because I don't fly out of Newark. Here's a link to the Port Authority of NY-NJ's recommendation. If someone is a Newark public transit authority, please leave a comment if you have any other advice.

Penn Station

You can easily hail a cab at Penn Station, just make your way outside. The main entrance on 7th Ave. has a proper yellow cab stand. You can also hail a cab on the street (8th Avenue is a good spot too since you'll be heading uptown in the right direction).
If you want to take the subway (which I would recommend unless it's during rush hour and you're carrying lots of luggage), you can hop on the train inside Penn Station.* You'll want to take the 1/2/3 or the A/C/E uptown. The stop you're looking for on the 1/2/3 is Times Sq-42nd St and on the A/C/E it's called 42nd St-Port Authority.
Trains run local and express sometimes. This shouldn't matter for you as Times Square is a major hub and all of the trains will stop there no matter if they're running local or express.
*You'll need to buy a single-ride Metrocard at the vending machines in the subway area of the station. I believe it's $2.50.  

Grand Central Station

This one is really easy, guys. Just take the shuttle (which is part of the subway system and is noted by a grey S on signs). All this train does is go from Grand Central to Times Square and back, so you can't mess it up.


MTA subway maps & transit updates:


Greetings from RWA!

As thousands of romance writers begin to congregate in San Antonio, RWA's annual conference is set to kick off. I've been in Texas since Tuesday, and I've already had some great time with friends. You can follow my RWA experience on Facebook and Twitter. If you're at the conference, don't be afraid to say hi! Hello from the Alamo with Alexis Anne, Mary Chris Escobar, TJ Kline, and A.L. Parks!

VIDEO: Getting Ready for RWA

The countdown is officially on! In less than a week I'm going to be at RWA in San Antonio, so I'm starting to make all sorts of lists. Yesterday First Draught ran you through what to expect at the conference and answered some common questions about the RITAs, workshops, registration, and meals.

A few helpful links we mentioned in yesterday's chat....

Also don't forget that you can always reach out to us on Twitter, and let us know if you're heading to San Antonio!

Ready for RWA?

20130716-144823.jpgI'm not a terribly impatient person, but travel gods willing I will be at my very first Romance Writers of America conference in less than 24 hours. 24 very long hours. You see, Atlanta will be my very first RWA. I'm a little nervous, but the thought of meeting other romance writers and becoming part of this community is really exciting. Writing can be a very solitary thing. Hopefully after this weekend can help make it a little less lonely when the words just won't flow.

When I'm not writing I work as a TV news producer. This means I'm hardwired to love lists. I'm prone to backtime every event in my life so I know exactly where I should be when. I also research everything. It makes sense then that when I was feeling a little overwhelmed by the idea of going to RWA for the first time I turned to the internet for info.

I will, of course, be writing about RWA after I come back home to NYC, but I thought I would touch on a few things I was told I should know before heading to Atlanta:

1) Pack like a pro

Erin Knightley seems to be the reigning queen of conference packing. I've traveled all my life so I'm pretty efficient, but Erin's videos take it to the next level. One of the most helpful things about her posts, however, weren't the tips about making your clothes fit into that tiny TSA-approved bag. She gave me some perspective about what to wear. I've packed for a business casual dress code along with something pretty for the RITAs. And shoes. I love my stilettos (and yes, in case you were wondering, I can wear them 12 hours non-stop).

2) Prep for the swag

Books. This conference is all about books. Wonderful, romantic books. From what I can tell you're also given plenty of books to dive into when you get home. I thought I was a good little romance reader before I started to seriously get involved in the community on Twitter. Some of these ladies put me to shame. I can't wait to learn about authors I've never heard of before and read across subgenres when I get home.

Someone very clever told me I should pack a couple of USPS flat rate boxes with pre-printed postage into my suitcase. Those boxes are lining the top of my luggage and keeping me from bringing my entire wardrobe. There is a post office right near the conference hotel, so I hope to be able to just drop those boxes off and go along my merry way.

3) Pull my reporter cap on

Once upon a time a long time ago, I thought I wanted to be a reporter. Turns out I really didn't care about being on TV, and I wanted to be in charge of the newscast behind the scenes. I became a producer but not before putting some time in reporting for print, radio and TV. RWA is going to mean dusting off my old "Reporter Julia" personality.

When you're a reporter you're forced to walk up to total strangers, strike up a conversation and figure out if there's a story there. From what I've been told RWA is similar. I'm a newbie, and I know so few people that I'm going to have to be my friendliest. The good news? Everyone attending loves romance. Instant icebreaker.

So look for me. I'll be the blonde first-timer rocking the ridiculous high heels all conference long. I'd love to say hi!