And after our whirlwind tour, it's the beginning of conference. I'm excited. I'm nervous. I'm excited again. So here's my advice for surviving Nationals, especially if you're a first timer.
- I'm nervous because my schedule is really, really packed. So tip #1 - that I learned after "hitting the conference wall" in DC in 09 is that it is really important to take some time to regroup and recharge - how you do that is up to you. It could be going to your room for a bit, finding a quiet corner with a coffee, or leaving the conference hotel for a meal.
- I'm also nervous because I'm giving a workshop (along with Fiona and our Senior Editor). After attending workshops at Nationals, I am dealing with this by repeating to myself that I am not doing it alone, that we have a great moderator and it's one hour, not a lifetime.
- When I attended my first Nationals, I sat in the lobby for over 3 hours waiting for my room to be ready. ALONE. It took me an hour and a half to get up the nerve to speak to a group nearby - a group that included people I actually recognized (like Trish Milburn). I finally asked if I could join them and it wasn't scary at all. Moral? Most of the people are very, very nice and welcoming. Smile, say "Hi, mind if I join you?" Holly Jacobs told me at registration that there are two kinds of people: those who know you and love you and those who will know you and love you and the other people don't matter.
- Wear clothes that are comfortable and appropriate. Business casual is the general daytime dress. Parties might require something a bit fancier. And while we all chat about dresses and shoes (yes, I've been shopping and have already had my hair done!), really if you simply manage to look neat and tidy and comfortable, you'll be in clover. Make sure you have comfy shoes and save the killer heels for RITA night and the few hours of fancy parties.
- Don't over lubricate. The bar will be a happening spot and there's nothing wrong with grabbing a cocktail. But overindulging - especially when you're tired and/or overwhelmed can work against you. I seriously found that a single glass of wine at the end of the day was more than enough to relax me. Try club soda, tonic water, water with lemon. Or a few spritzers, which only contain half the alcohol than a full glass of wine but still have a sense of occasion about them. To be honest - at $12 a glass, it's not hard to turn down a second glass of wine. The last thing you want to do is have too much and say something you regret the next morning.
- Eat. With crazy schedules it's easy to forget to eat, but you need to. Breakfast isn't part of the package, so I'm planning on keeping a box of protein bars in my room. Rumour has it that you need to request a room with a fridge if you want one. Otherwise, it pays to scout out local shops where you can grab some fruit and yogurt for a reasonable price, or a bagel. My big challenge is having things happening over my normal dinner hour, so I need to make sure I eat between the daytime stuff and evening events. Conference is hectic. Coffee is not fuel.
- Don't try to do everything. This year I've got the workshop and three signings, the Librarian's Day events, two cocktail parties, a reception, drinks with my editor, tea with the Romance authors, a focus group, a Meet and Greet, not to mention the Harlequin Party and the RITA awards. Attending workshops is going to be hit and miss, depending on hours to spare and my state of mind. I'm not going to try to fit it all in. Instead I plan on picking the workshops I really want and downloading them after the conference is over. Yes, it'll cost me a little bit of money, but it's worth it.
- Leave room for opportunity. Some of my best moments in DC in 09 were the times "in between" things when I met up with people by accident. You never know who you'll meet. I ended up having an unexpected coffee with a lovely person who ended up becoming my agent.
- And most of all - have fun. It is incredibly inspiring and awesome to look around and see superstars. To feel all the positive energy that happens at National conference. To meet up with friends you haven't seen in a few years (if ever in person!). Celebrate being a part of it. It's worth celebrating.
See you in New York!