Girl’s Week out

July 23, 2009

I am back at the desk after a week in Washington DC for the Romance Writers of America national conference. And as usual, I feel like I have been clubbed to death with a brick.

But since it is a conference of around 2,500 women and around 25 men, the brick was probably inside a very attractive handbag.

Which, depending on the length of the strap, would probably be deadlier than the normal, handheld brick. There is physics involved in this, I’m sure.

National is always a pressure cooker environment. The unpublished are there to sell. The published are there to network. There is very little that editors and agents can do for either one of them that will significantly change any lives by Saturday midnight. While there is good news and bad news aplenty, most of the real decisions are made before their jets hit the tarmac in DC or months later, after they have read what you are pitching.

And over it all there hangs an enormous cloud of estrogen, which is screwing with the minds and bodies of the majority of the membership. After 4 days, many of us are bordering on PMS. It is rather like being in a women’s prison. But with a better wardrobe and bigger hair.

While I do not usually give writing or publishing tips here, I feel like unloading a few, while they are still fresh in my memory.

1. The main difference between being published and unpublished:

It is easier to get a free drink. And there is more free food. Editors and publishing houses are no longer avoiding you, and are generally eager to see you happy. As long as happy = slightly drunk and not hungry. But you will spend more money in cab rides, to get to the parties, so it is sometimes a financial wash.

2. It is really hard to hear anything over the sound of all those slightly drunk women, and even harder to say anything intelligent.

I spend a lot of time smiling and nodding. But I am not always sure of what I am agreeing to. And I am not all that sure of the smile, either. I think, after a couple of days, it probably looks more like a grimace. Or perhaps constipation.

I know that I have heard at least once, of someone who I absolutely adore had come away from a party convinced that I did not like them. I probably nodded at the wrong time and then bared my teeth at her.

The universal icebreaker question at conference, good in any social situation is “What do you write?” I have heard of it’s being used, accidentally on both Susan Elizabeth Philips and Nora Roberts. SEP and Nora are probably used to it. But the tellers of these stories are cursed with an unforgettable conference experience.

And finally, the main thing you must not do, if you want to make a sale:

3. While it is quite all right to imagine that the person you are pitching your project to is naked, they should never actually BE naked. Not even a little.

There is an infamous story in RWA of the unfortunate editor in the ladies room who needed to borrow some TP from her stall neighbor, and got a manuscript slipped under the wall instead.

This year, I met an editor (male) who no longer swims at conferences. The last time he did, someone started pitching to him while he was in his swim trunks.

I sympathize. A few years ago, I was minding my own business in the hot tub after the morning’s paddle in the pool. I made the mistake of mentioning to the woman next to me that we had dropped the kids at church camp, earlier in the week.

A short time later, the woman on the other side of me said with a southern accent and in the most round about way possible, that she was an agent, and had heard me mention church camp and therefore knew that I was a Christian.

The word seemed to have more letters in it than usual, and extra syllables. It was kind of evangelical.

But she was not trying to convert me. She was wondering if I was interested in the growing Christian chick lit market.

I told her that I was a drinking and swearing Christian, and therefore probably not the type she was looking for.

She agreed that the publishers she dealt with were not big on drinking or swearing, but that they did like their scripture.

From my side, this should have been a dream come true. Getting a come on from an agent that does not involve a drunken grope at the bar, is very much desired.

But I was soaking and wet and wearing a faded, plus size tank suit. Did I look like I had a business card on me?

Trust me. If an industry professional, from either side of the pitching table, is wearing a swimming suit or has their pants around their ankles, they are either crazy or not interested in hearing about your book.