Friday, July 10, 2009

From RWA Nationals to Moonlight & Magnolias

All Conferences Big and Small: How to Navigate the Romance Writers of America’s National Conference, Georgia Romance Writers’ Moonlight & Magnolias, and other One-Day Writing Conferences.

Nicki Salcedo is a graduate of Stanford University where she majored in English and Creative Writing. She has served on the Executive Board of Georgia Romance Writers as Recording Secretary, Vice President – Conference, Vice President – Programs. She has been the Moonlight & Magnolias Book Fair Coordinator, Maggie Award for Excellence Historical Category Coordinator, and Assistant Web Administrator. She has contributed to her chapter newsletter, The Galley, and the Romance Writers of America's PROspects. She has served as the Literacy for Life Raffle Chair, and on RWA Leadership, PRO Advocacy, and PRO Steering committees. She is currently the Book Review Editor for the Journal of Popular Romance Studies. In addition to the stuff above, Nicki also has a real job by day (one that pays her money) and at night she is a writer. She has three kids under the age of five (the monsters), a cat (named for a baseball player), and a husband (what’s-his-name). She is tired, but can be found blogging with Petit Fours and Hot Tamales and online at

The RWA National Conference is an exciting time for any member of Romance Writers of America. After my first conference, I could only describe it as summer camp for grown-ups with my new 2,000 best friends. The event runs from Wednesday to Saturday. Earlier if you are a board member and different events are available if you are a librarian or bookseller, PRO member, or belong to a special interest chapter having events at Nationals.

Barbara Vey (Publisher's Weekly) and Sherrilyn Kenyon
(#1 New York Times Best Selling Author
Wednesday is the night of the "Readers for Life" Literacy Autographing. You don’t want to miss this event. All of your favorite authors, tons of energy in the room, and raffle prizes.

Thursday - Saturday are the workshops, editor/agent appointments, PRO retreat, and special speakers. You’ll really need to plan your time in advance to maximize the conference. Some people attend for the free books (yes, publishers have free signings throughout the conference), but do you really want to miss the all important craft workshops? Bob Mayer recently blogged about this topic, and I thought his comments were right on the mark.

National ends on Saturday night with the prestigious Rita and Golden Heart Awards. RWA puts a lot of time and energy into this event; you’ll feel like you are at the Academy Awards. It is a great way to end the conference. For more on RWA go to

The same year I went to my first National conference, I also attended my first Moonlight & Magnolias. Georgia Romance Writers has put on one of the most successful regional conferences for over twenty-five years. It has all of the perks of Nationals – editors and agents, keynote speakers, author signing, and Maggie Award ceremony – but instead of 2,000 attendees there are 300. Instead of 50 editors and agents there are 10. If you do the math, the ratio of time and access to published authors and publishing professionals can’t be beat. Last year, attendees came from 23 different states and Canada. 70 published authors were in attendance for the conference and book signing. It cost less than half the price of Nationals, but it can be double the fun.
Go to for more.

One-day events are a valuable to way to gear up for bigger events. Deb Dixon, Margie Lawson, Dianna Love and Mary Buckham, Bob Mayer, and Michael Hauge are well-known presenters and experts on writing. One-day events are just that, one-day and possible a hotel stay the night before or after. If you aren’t sure about spending your time and money on a full week or weekend conference, try a one-day workshop first.

I absolutely love RWA National and Moonlight & Magnolias. Every year I go, I feel that my money is well spent. I also like one-day events to give me a quick boost to my writing during the year.

Why Go? Why Spend the Money? Why not Stay Home and Write?
Going to a conference or one-day event is a great idea for a few reasons. It will:

  1. Motivate your writing
  2. Build a support system with other writers
  3. Educate yourself about the craft and the business of writing
  4. Connect and network with industry professionals and publishing houses
Conference Tips!
Here are some suggestions for making your experiences successful.

Goody Room at Moonlight & Magnolias
How to pack
Bring clothes and toiletries of course, but also bring your business cards. Some people swear by business cards. I have some, but I don’t think everyone has to have them. I’ve met plenty of wonderful people at conferences without business cards, and I just wrote their contact information in my notebook! A name tag holder with an extra pocket can come in handy. Remember you’ll be carrying your phone, pen, notebook, room key, cash, and credit card. Going to take pictures? Don’t forget your camera. Travel light and smart during the conference hours and secure items in the hotel room safe when you don’t need them.

Leave space in your suitcase for goodies, books, or raffle prizes. Want to get really organized? Print it out my conference packing list!

What to wear
This is a professional organization and a business conference. Business casual attire is recommended. A sweater or wrap would be a good idea. Workshop areas may be cold. For the award ceremony, anything from professional to
dressy is acceptable. Be kind to your feet at all times. Be ready for walking, standing, and dancing! A dear friend once mentioned to me that we are writers and we should be able to dress any creative way we like. I agree. She loves purple, and would never wear a business suit. Hey, neither would I! Allow your personal flair to shine through, too.

What to do professionally

Have a goal in mind. Are you there to learn? Are you there to pitch? Are you there to promote yourself? Create a plan based on the conference schedule. Attend the autographing. Organize your time. Plan for some down time.

What to do socially
Volunteer. Much of RWA’s success (and any local chapter) is built on the strength of its volunteers. Help and network at the same time.

Be frien
dly. I know you’d rather be in your cave writing, but pretend you are outgoing and make a new friend. Talk to someone you see standing all alone. Sit at a table with strangers and introduce yourself. Ask other writers about their work and listen to what they have to say.

Act like the world is watching you. This is not the time to be funny or strange or unprofessional. People are watching and remembering what you do and say. Be positive in all of your interactions even if the editor or agent isn’t interested in your manuscript. You don’t know who might be listening. Don’t talk too much about yourself. You should listen, too! But don’t be so quiet that you go unnoticed! Remember to smile and have fun.

More Hints

  • Arrive early for appointments and workshops
  • Turn off your cell phone on during all conference events, workshops, meetings, or luncheons.
  • Talk to authors who write what you want to write
  • Thank speakers and congratulate award winners
  • Be courteous, not confrontational, to:
    • Workshop presenters. If you think you know more than someone else, don’t badger them. Submit a workshop proposal for yourself for next year.
    • Editors and agents. Understand that the editor or agent who has your manuscript also has the manuscripts of 50 other people sitting on her/his desk. It is not personal. Don’t put an editor or agent in an uncomfortable situation by questioning them about the status of your manuscript.
    • Conference staff, volunteers, and hotel staff. Understand that mistakes happen and allow the staff to try and correct it. It will make your conference experience much more pleasant if you thank the volunteers and staff members. The server pouring your iced tea, may one day be your biggest fan.
  • Carry a mirror or walk with a good friend to check your teeth!
  • Skip the perfume and scented lotions
Editor and Agent Appointment Tips

  • Note what grabs the attention of editors or agents and any industry trends
  • Pitch finished manuscripts only
  • Be ready with a 50 words or less high-concept “elevator pitch” of your manuscript
  • Write down your pitch on a note card. This will really help you if you are nervous.
  • Have two stories ready
  • Be prepared to answer any questions about other writing projects and how long it takes for you to complete a book
  • Bring your business cards
  • Please be courteous of everyone's time in group appointments. Do not monopolize the time when others in the group need their fair share, too. Be respectful of others story ideas.
  • Note how the editor or agent prefers queries (mail or email) and submission type (synopsis, three chapters, etc)
  • The editors and agents will be giving their honest opinions on what they like or do not like. Publishing is not for the faint of heart. Any interest or praise or criticism is only one person’s opinion
  • Don’t bring or give a hard copy to any editor or agent in person. If they want one, they will tell you where to mail one!
  • If your pitch is requested, don’t delay. Send your queries within one month of the conference.
One of my 2,000 best friends
What to do post-conference?

Send thank yous to authors, editor/agents, and presenters who you made connections with.

Send emails to new friends.

Fill out the workshop and conference surveys.

Note what you learned, what you liked, and what you would do differently next year. Have fun at the conference, and then get back to writing!

Got conference tips? Post your suggestions.


Cinthia Hamer said...

Thanks for a great post, Nicki. It's common sense, but sometimes in all the excitement of going to a conference, we forget these very important tips.

I won't be going to DC, but I wouldn't miss M&M for anything.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Conferences are sensory overload. It is easy to forget simple tips. Cinthia, glad to know you'll be at M&M. What room do I go to for the limoncello? :)

Cinthia Hamer said...

I'll keep you posted on that! But since cherries are in season, I was thinking maybe some homemade cherry cordial.

Nicki Salcedo said...

What! Ok, we are a little off topic, but cherries are my favorite. And you do love me just a little bit, don't you?

Who is coming to GRW's "Write Inn" open to the public, Saturday in Decatur? $10 for 6 hours of writing. Mini-writing retreat pre-RWA. Go to GRW website for more... and bring a cherry cordial for me.

Marilyn Baron said...

Great post. Everything you say is true, especially the part about comfortable shoes.

We've enjoyed many national conferences together but M&M will always be my favorite.

I am going to try to make it to the Write Inn.

Marilyn Baron

Chicki said...

Fantastic advice, Nicki! That's a beautiful photo of you. Where did you have it taken?

Dianna Love said...

Nicki -
I'm in NY at ThrillerFest right now and heading to RWA national in DC from here on Sunday. So this is very timely. Great points and suggestions. Love the pics - especially the one of you.

TF and RWA are terrific conferences, but there's a part of me yearning to be at the Write In, which would be just as productive for my career in a different way - I'll be thinking of you all.

Barbara Vey said...

Great advice and thanks for the picture. I remember that dessert. Yummy!


Sally Kilpatrick said...


I would have killed for this advice before my first M&M. Come to think of it, it would behoove me to review your article before M&M even if I am an old pro now.

Wonderful post!


And where are the cherry cordials again? I want to be loved.

Cinthia Hamer said...

Nicki, I will definitely be there tomorrow--with bells on! This is JUST the day I've been longing for.

And Sally, yes, I do love you...and Nicki and the rest of you "cupcakes". LOL! There will be lots of yummies to be had in my room. Do you think JPS would let me in the door without the proper credentials (aka contraband liquor)??? :D

Susan May said...

Good stuff. Good enough to copy and keep for future reference. High praise. I love conferences because they make me feel like I'm a part of a group of people that think like me. I looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones.

Debbie Kaufman said...

I'm going to miss the fun at the Write-Inn tomorrow, so sad! But, travel home, I must.

Great article, Nicki. The business card thing is invaluable. I didn't know that before my first conference. Sigh!

Only had money for one conference this year, so it had to be Moonlight and Magnolias for the agent/editor contacts and the great workshop lineup. Next year, Nationals too!

CiCi Barnes said...

You've said it all. Those tips are invaluble for all of us. I hope everyone reading this can go to at least one conference per year.

I'll be at the Write Inn. I'm so excited, I'm coming a day early. See some of you there this afternoon as I search the halls for Cinthia's room!


Nicki Salcedo said...

Marilyn, I distinctly remember that you stood in line to get a Nora Roberts book signed for my co-worker while I was on volunteer duty at Nationals one year! Comfy shoe are a must for me. Thanks for stopping by. M&M is a blast, isn't it?

Chicki, Thanks. I had this photo taken at M&M. OneSix Photography ( will be doing author photos, videos, and interviews at M&M this year. You should do it. 30 minutes amd you feel like a star. Love it when they make you more beautiful than you really are!

Dianna, thanks, as always, for stopping by. Your one-day and weekend workshops with Mary are like conferences. Writers have to find the balance of conference/network/learning and finding time to write! Going to try to do both this year. Thanks again for all you do.

Nicki Salcedo said...

I know you, Dianna, and many others are having fun at ThrillFest. Did I see a tweet about shirmp and crab ravoli? I call dibs on taking you out to dinner at M&M. (Readers check out Barbara's blog on the action at ThrillFest here: Thanks!

I had to start writing it down, because I forget, new members want advice, and sometimes tips can slow you down and refocus you on your goals. I've very excited about the Petit Fours and Hot Tamales blogging from Nationals next week! Cinthia is going to be sorry she mentioned those cordials. But she was just being nice (pun intended). ;P

Nicki Salcedo said...

Cin, we call them "credentials" now...? Good to know. JP is my hero.

Susan, that is high praise coming for you indeed. I completely agree. Being a part of a group of like minded writers is wonderful. RWA is a great community.

Debbie, you are too busy finaling in every contest you enter like Chicago's Fire and Ice Contest! We'll miss you, but we also congratulate you! See you soon.

Debra Dixon said...

Hey, Nicki! What a great and thoughtful post for writers who are unsure about taking that workshop or trip to a conference. You've brilliantly demystified it for the folks.

As a leader of workshops, I began asking folks to write down their goal for the day. I want people to leave my workshops empowered in some way and part of that is recognizing what the attendee needs. Once the attendee articulates the goal on paper, that gives them the entire day to make sure they accomplish something important for them.

I remind them that while I am (ahem) of course brilliant that sometimes the value of a workshop or conference is to network, to reconnect with the world.

My absolute favorite part of my day is when I get those thank yous and know that standing on my feet for 8 hours has meant something. That is a great great feeling.

Oh, and my favorite part of many workshops is dinner. I'm still dreaming of Firecracker Crab. And it's your fault.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Cici, I apologize for this worldest longest blog! I did say it all. I really needed this kind of advice years ago when I was a shy wall flower. RWA completely has changed my personality. I will see you at the "write inn"!

Nicki Salcedo said...


Limoncello, Barbara's yummy dessert, your Firecracker crab... people will think that writers do nothing but drink and eat. (Shhhh, our secret).

Thank you for your perspective on what presenters want their audience to get from conferences. With all of the excitement around conferences, people forget to focus. I like the idea of "Once the attendee articulates the goal on paper, that gives them the entire day to make sure they accomplish something important for them."

Since you are the "goal" queen we'll especially take note of your advice! We look forward to learning from you in the future.

As for dinner, best hours of my year! We are do for a repeat with yummy food and drink next time you are in town.

Anonymous said...

Nicki ~~ As usual, a timely and thoughtful posting! Conferences can be the best of times, and the most challenging of times -- get your rest, play to your strengths, have a game plan, and be open to all the unexpected delights because there can be soooooo many!
Mary B -- chasing behind Dianna and Barbara Vey and having way to much fun at Thrillerfest!

Ana Aragón said...


Great post! I'm going to Write-Inn tomorrow and so looking forward to it! I got lots done at our PFHT write-away at CiCi's house earlier this month.

You are the consummate conference attendee, and those suggestions are spot on. Wish I was going to Nationals this year, for sure!

See you mañana!


Nicki Salcedo said...

Mary, I'm tired just thinking of you chasing Dianna and Barbara! I love "get your rest, play to your strengths, have a game plan, and be open to all the unexpected delights." This should be on a t-shirt that I wear every day. :) Thank you so much for stopping by, Mary. It means a lot! Many of us are excited to see you in Birmingham in August and M&M in October.

Ana, I look forward to seeing you tomorrow at the write-inn. I saw Sandy E and Cici tonight and it was really great to just talk about writing projects and writing goals for the weekend. Conferences are cool and all, but we are in it for the writing part! Hasta mañana, chica!

Linsey Lanier said...


Sorry to be chiming in so late. Spent the day at the mall with hubby.

Thanks for a great post to get us in the mood for next week when PFHT blogs from Nationals.

You've got some great information here. Not to mention a lovely picture of you!

I love writing conferences. If I had the time and money, I'd go to every one of them. But M&M would always be my favorite.

Ditto on the shoes -- unless your dancing after the Maggies ceremony -- then the shoes come off. :)


Darcy Crowder said...

Great post Nicki. I agree with Deb, you thought of everything. :)

Wish you were going to be there with us!

Hi Linsey, I see your a night owl too. :)


Nicki Salcedo said...

Linsey and Darcy,
You are not late. As long as I catch the blogs during the same week, I consider myself on time!

Comfy shoes are my life mantra (i typically wear Earth shoes). Darcy, I know you'll have a great time at Nationals. Linsey, save a dance or two for me at M&M.

I am going to recycle this post in late September just before M&M! Thanks for stopping by and take care.

Tami Brothers said...

Hey Nicki,

Honest, I did post a comment yesterday in-between posting an assignment and getting the house ready for company. I have no idea where it went and I don't remember double checking to see if I did an error with my login.

Anyway, what I said was this was great stuff. Like Susan, I will definitely be printing it.

I won't be able to make Nationals this year but will be at M&M. I think a lot of these things still apply and always will, no matter if you are new or old to conferences. I love the reminder and hope you post this on your website. It would be an awesome article for people visiting your site!

Have fun today at the Write Away! I miss you guys (and will really be missing you when all these boys start driving me insane!!!).

Nicki Salcedo said...

Tami, we did miss you today. I look forward to seeing you at M&M and before. Have fun with those boys and you'll reap the rewards next weekend :)

PJ said...

Great blog, Nicki! I was checking items off as I read. I think I'm ready to leave for DC. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Nicki Salcedo said...

PJ, glad you found it useful. This blog is proof of my slightly type A personality. I used to pre-print a color coded grid of the workshops I was planning to attend, so I would have it all on a single page. I've got issues. If only I was this organized in my real life :)

Have loads of fun in DC. I know it will be a blast. RWA always is.

Margie Lawson said...

Nicki --

I'm 3 days tardy to your fabulous post. I'm in the middle of my 19 day vacation and loving every nanosecond!

I also loved everything you mentioned in your blog. You are smart, smart, smart. :-)) And I'll add one oft-missed topic: BODY LANGUAGE!

Body Language presents your confidence (or lack of) to everyone 24/7. It is easy to stand tall, head high. Not so easy to monitor and moderate the 'tells' from your eyes, lips, and hands.

If anyone is interested in a blog on body language in real life, or capturing it on the page, I'm happy to blog. PLUS, I have two body language courses--one on using your body language in real life and one on writing body language. :-))

NICKI, and all the other fabulous GRW mavens, you all WOWed me with M & M! What an amazing conference!

Thank you so much for inviting me to M & M last year to present . . . and stretch brain cells. ;-))

I look forward to seeing you all at National. I'll be at KOD's dinner tomorrow night -- and cramming in activities and fun all week!


Nicki Salcedo said...

Margie, you are awesome for stopping by. Thank you for adding body language to our reminders. I think the one for real life would be particularly helpful for us writers who are used to living in our writing caves and then coming out for 2-3 conferences a year.

You are more than a guest blogger to us, you are one of our blog sisters! I'll bother you offline for a future blog post :) Hope you have fun at KOD and RWA. Thanks again.

Bob said...

Sorry, I'm late getting here. I think a big thing is to just absorb. Not to get in a panic about your manuscript. It's a learning experience. Much of what you learn will rattle around in your head for a while before it really makes sense. Networking and meeting people is really important. This is a people business. I'm watching the Twitters from National and it seems like everyone is learning a lot.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Hey Bob!

Thanks for stopping by. I hope some of our readers found your blog infomational and motivational. I understand that you will be having some workshops in Atlanta at the end of August and across the country throughout the year.

"Not to get in a panic about your manuscript. It's a learning experience." I hope everyone absorbs your advice and keeps plugging away on their writing. Thanks again for stopping by.

LaTessa said...

Thanks for this post Nicki, very informative. I'm looking forward to a good, productive time at M&M this year

Nicki Salcedo said...

LaTessa, I hope you have a productive time, too! See you soon.