DUDE! In two weeks we will be in San Antonio! RWA is right around the corner and packing is kind of important unless you want to walk around naked for five days. I mean, I wouldn't mind... and probably most of us would use you as a case study for our next book, but... yeah, probably not the best plan.
So that brings us to two fundamental questions: what do you need to bring and how are you getting it there. Last year I packed everything in a carry-on. It worked, but left me little room to bring anything home. If you are packing light, remember to bring a pre-paid USPS "If it fits it ships" box for your swag and books. You can also ship home from the conference (but check prices, it can get expensive!), so no need to worry about fitting fifty shiny new books and swag into your little suitcase!
What do you need?
- Business casual clothes for three days. This can be anything from comfortable work clothes to suits. You will see it all at RWA! Since so many of us spend our days in pajamas and workout clothes, RWA kind of becomes an opportunity to dress up and get fancy. Personally, I wear pencil skirts, colorful blouses, and low heels all week. They are comfortable (to me) but also pretty and fun. You can get away with jeans, if that's your style. If you prefer comfortable shoes or sneakers, go for it! The reality is that you will be spending a huge chunk of your time sitting quietly in packed rooms while listening to speakers. Dress however makes you feel professional and comfortable!
- A cocktail dress. Even if you don't know a soul or have a single plan outside of workshops, bring a dress just in case. There are lots of parties and you never know when you might find one to join. If you don't, sit in the hotel bar and have a drink! It's a great time to strike up a conversation with another writer.
- RITA dress. The RITA's are a chance to get as fancy as you want. This year we're getting super fancy and wearing evening gowns, but a nice dress is more than enough. There is a lot of sitting and clapping and then drinks and socializing afterward.
- Clothes for any special events or sight seeing you have planned.
- Comfortable shoes
- A sweater (some workshops get cold!)
- Underwear (you know it is easy to forget in the shuffle!)
- A pair of emergency cold-feet socks
Other items to bring:
- Notebook and pen/iPad/note taking apparatus
- business cards
- cash (tips and emergencies)
- power cords
Things I worried about last year:
- Breakfast. The continental breakfast wasn't much. If you need food to start your day (like me!) then plan on eating elsewhere. The free breakfast is great for killing time before the first workshop, getting an extra jolt of coffee and a danish, or meeting someone. But a substantive start to your day? Not so much
- Lunch. The way the day is structured this year may make it difficult to stop and eat. Make sure you have snack food on you in case the day gets away from you. Scout out places nearby, or in the hotel shop, that you can grab a quick lunch.
- Dinner. I was totally freaked out be the idea of dinner last year! I didn't know anybody. What if I ate alone every meal? Well, guess what? I never ate alone. Not once. For one lunch I joined a group of complete strangers and we got to know each other. It was fun! (SIDE HINT for NEWBIES: all RWA ladies will stand out like a sore thumb. We have badges, bags, and more that identify us from a block away. Don't be afraid to walk up to someone, or a group of someone's, and introduce yourself.) The nice lady I met at the First Timer Orientation and then accidentally ate lunch with the next day? She texted me asked if I had dinner plans. She's now one of my very best friends! So the bottom line? Dinner (and any meal) is a great excuse to make connections and get to know new people. Take people up on their invitations and if you don't get one, invite someone else to join you. We're all writers just there to talk about writing!
- After hours socializing. Again, I didn't know anybody. I was really worried about sitting in my hotel room from 5pm-7am alone every night. The hotel bar is a great place to socialize (even if you don't drink anything but water!) It will probably be packed at all times with writers. If I sat alone someone usually came over to say hi. One time I sat at the bar and got to know a librarian who looked like she was about on her last leg, just like me. We commiserated over exhaustion and overload. It was nice. Another time I accidentally wound up in a conversation with two RITA nominee's about the future of publishing. Put yourself out there, it really is worth it at an event like this.
- Making it count. I just spent all this money on the conference, a plane ticket, a hotel room, business cards...I needed to make it count. I worried about making connections and learning. I think worrying is helpful up to a certain point, but too much worrying is counterproductive. This conference is worth it. Whether you are going for the workshops, the appointments, or to find your people and make business contacts, it is an event packed with opportunity for writers at all stages of their career. Don't worry about making it count.
- Supplies. It is a convention hotel--they've got this covered. There are also plenty of shops nearby. Don't feel the need to pack everything. You can always buy something if you need it. You aren't stranded alone on a desert island. I promise.
Things I didn't expect and wish I'd known about:
- There are fifty-gajillion books for free at RWA. All those book signings on the agenda? Free books. All you have to do is show up and ask the author to sign it. Some will be paperbacks, some will be cards with codes for downloading later. But there will be books everywhere if you want them! (I will be at the Indie book signing with a mix of both. Come see me!)
- Goodie Room. It's actually pretty cool. There is a mix of all kinds of stuff from paperbacks and samplers to bookmarks and business cards. There are lip balms, coozies, rubber bracelet thingies, luggage tags, key chains, and anything else these creative ladies came up with to give away for free. Be careful though. A few things here and there add up quickly. Make sure you are planning to pack and/or ship home accordingly!
- Conference recordings. Many of the workshops are actually recorded! The recordings are available for purchase. It sounded weird and expensive to me last year but if you have a track you are following and some important workshops you really wanted to attend are at the same time, or overlap something you can't cancel, get the recordings. It can invaluable. I've heard they make great listening in the car and in the background while working. The investment is something that feels like too much at the time, but it extends the value of the conference and it is something you get to keep and listen to whenever you need it! Pretty cool.
Pack accordingly! At the end of the day it isn't about the clothes you wore or how you took notes, it's about the things you learned and the connections you made. Check out our First Draught Google On Air chat about RWA here. And check back on Tuesday when First Draught will have a Google Hangout on Air all about packing and getting ready for San Antonio! You can RSVP here and leave questions for us to answer!