We’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?