Jilly: Lending a Hand

Lending a HandWe’ve been talking non-stop at 8LW about this week’s RWA National (and if you think we’ve been a  broken record here, you should see our private blog). Our suggestions would be equally applicable to other conferences, though, so hopefully it’s been useful rather than annoying 😉 . Elizabeth gave us tips and hints for introverts. Kat honed her editor/agent pitch, Justine explained the power of positive body language, and best of all, Nancy reminded us to stay flexible and have fun.

I was checking my schedule today and I realized that we haven’t discussed volunteering, though many of us have signed up to help with some task or another. Last year I spent a day helping to set up the ballroom for the huge “Readers for Life” Literacy autographing event. This year I’ll spend an afternoon helping to administer the editor and agent pitch appointments.

Setting up the book signing was dusty and back-ache inducing work, but at least it had the merit of taking place the day before the conference proper. Volunteering at the editor and agent desk means that I’ll miss a whole afternoon of workshops. Given that I’ll have flown three and a half thousand miles to attend the conference, spent a major chunk of household cash, and persuaded my husband to spend his vacation time in the company of the 8 Ladies (lucky him), you might think this is a counter-intuitive choice. I don’t think so, and here’s why.

Imagine the logistics of running a conference for more than 2,000 people over four days. National isn’t cheap to attend, but at least we don’t have to pay for the time of all the people who man the registration desk, manage the goody room, assist workshop speakers, help with the literacy signing, set up the keynotes and the RITA/Golden Heart event, check badges, and a million and one other necessary support tasks. If we didn’t all pitch in and help, I suspect the conference would be unaffordable.

The romance writing community has a strong tradition of paying it forward. When I attended my first National in 2013, I was amazed. I never imagined that I’d have the stressful luxury of choosing between in-person presentations by so many of my favorite authors, or that those authors would be so generous with their know-how and so open to answering questions. Some time – next year, or next decade – my dream is to be one of them. If (when) it happens, I’ll do my best to pass on the knowledge that’s been given to me. While I’m working on that, I’ll do my bit to help keep the wheels turning.

Volunteering is a great way to meet new people. I’m not a natural networker, and I’m especially clunky with big groups or in a purely social setting. Give me a job to do, and everything changes. If I have a shared task with a small group of people over a period of a few hours, we have a solid reason to get to know one another and we have a much better chance to make a lasting connection.

It’s an opportunity to learn something new, get the inside track or see the familiar from a different perspective – to find out which are the most popular promo items, or how a successful author likes to manage her workshops, or the best way to run a Q&A session, or to get a feel for different agents or editors when you’re not on the hot seat.

I’ve pre-ordered the official recording of the whole conference, so I’ll be able to spend a happy hour or two catching up on the workshops I missed. If I’m feeling inspired, I might even catch a couple on the plane home 🙂 .

Do you volunteer? Do you get out of it more than you put in to it? What do you think is the biggest benefit?

14 thoughts on “Jilly: Lending a Hand

  1. I’ve moderated sessions at most of the RWA conferences I’ve attended (moderated one for Krissie my first year). I manned the registration desk one year. That was great – you meet a lot of people as they are just getting to the conference. Moderating sessions, you don’t meet as many people, but I feel like I’m doing my part, because as you say, Jilly, if we had to pay people to do all of those little tasks, the conference would cost too much.

      • I’m moderating Understanding Motives and Building Suspence from an Investigator’s Perspective, 4:30 – 5:30 Friday. DC Stone is the speaker. That is the reason that I’ll have to try to meet Jenny either before her sessions or after the first one. I pitch at 2:20 and 2:50.

        • Give Jenny a great big hug from me too! I’m very disappointed I won’t be attending & meeting all of the McD ladies (both groups). My heart will be there.

          Instead, I’ll have a pretend RWA at home with craft books, NJRW 2013 cd sessions & videos. There will be snacks. And I’ll stream the awards this weekend too.

          Have a wonderful time!

        • Sorry we won’t get to meet you, Ann – maybe next year? If you stream the awards you’ll hear us though – we’ll be the table hooting and yelling for Jeanne and Demon’s Wager.

    • Sounds like fun! I’ve moderated for much smaller conferences and symposiums. You don’t need to be published to be a moderator?

      • I’m not presenting (although I don’t think you have to be a published author to present either). Moderating at RWA means getting to the room just as the last session ends, putting out the name cards, introducing the speakers, reading their bios and letting them know when the time is getting short. It’s one of the easier volunteer opportunities at RWA National.

  2. i volunteered to fetch pens and water for the authors at the literacy-signing this year. I wish I knew who’d I’ll be gopher for, because I’d make sure to read one of her books ahead of time.

    In my real life, I volunteer at the front desk at the free clinic that was the inspiration for Dara’s clinic in Demon’s Wager. The work those volunteer nurses and doctors do is fresh inspiration every tme I’m there.

    • The literacy signing is an amazing event – can’t wait to find out who you’re helping. Last year I promised to get some Sylvia Day books for one of my mum’s carers, so I spent most of the two hours standing in line. This year my time is my own, so I want to browse the tables of authors I don’t know yet and hopefully find some new favorites.

      I can’t remember whether I knew you volunteered at a clinic or whether I just assumed it, because the clinic in Demon’s Wager is so real.

  3. This will be my second year working the agent/editor desk. I’ll be there in the afternoon, so anyone pitching then, be sure to say hi!

    I didn’t volunteer my first year, but I plan to volunteer every year from now on, if I can. I’ll have to shake it up a bit and do something different next year. I like the idea of moderating or working the registration desk. Sounds like fun!

  4. I signed up for the conference kind of late this time, so the volunteer slots were filled. I will have to be quicker on the draw next time.

    In real life I have done a lot of volunteering -from being a candy stripper at the local hospital when I was younger to working on all kinds of projects at my son’s schools through the years. They were generally good ways to meet people, learn new things, and, for the school volunteering, make sure the kids had things that they would not have gotten any other way.

    • A candy ‘stripper’???? What did you do? Strip wrappers off Hershey bars? (giggles).

      If I can save up enough funds for next time I’ll be at RWA. I’ll sign up as a volunteer for sure.

  5. Oh, yeah, Jilly, I think a lot of these hints are good outside of conferences, and in other circumstances as well.

    I’ve attended two World Cons, and had a great time during my volunteer sessions. I met an online friend at my first volunteer session, and the second time, I helped translate Regency Dancing (yes, for science fiction fans, LOL, there’s quite a crossover). Fortunately, Regency Dancing is more about showing and less about telling, so I was able to have a good time and help others. Like you, I find it easier to connect with people if we have a common cause to work toward.

    (-: Helping with the pitching sessions should be quite interesting and informative! I can’t wait to hear what you learned during those sessions!

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