My First RWA Nationals + Conference Tote Giveaway

New York City Times SquareI just returned from my first trip to RWA Nationals in New York City! Let me tell you, it was an amazing experience. I don’t think I had a single down moment (except when I was walking out of a party with Joanna Bourne and couldn’t make the elevator work–mortifying). (Oh, or when Carole Mortimer asked me if I wanted to get coffee and I only barely managed to stammer and nod–also mortifying.) But luckily I managed to somehow miraculously remain fairly chill and relaxed the entire conference. Well, as chill and relaxed as I get. If you met me this week, you probably noticed that I’m pretty high energy. I just mean that I mostly didn’t make a complete fool of myself most of the time.

The conference was fascinating from my perspective as a blogger/reviewer. While it’s really geared toward writers, I got a tremendous amount out of the sessions I attended. I really enjoy reviewing books, but I get frustrated when a book isn’t working for me. I wanted a better vocabulary for expressing exactly why, I suppose more in the manner of an editor. And I did pick up quite a bit of information on the craft of writing from the sessions I attended and by watching the conference hashtag while walking around the hotel and NYC (sorry if I bumped into you while my rapt attention was on my phone).

But the big thing I learned is just how much everyone at RWA is not only a writer, editor, agent or reviewer, but a fan. I had heard this in the Love Between the Covers documentary I saw at the Library of Congress in February, but to see it in action was something else entirely. Though there is a HUGE public signing to benefit literacy (it’s raised over a million dollars since they started doing it), there are also smaller signings for each publisher throughout the conference where the lines are short and it’s possible to chat with the authors while picking up a signed book. Those signings aren’t quite as crazy as the big public signing, but there is still a line-up at the door beforehand and a buzz of excitement throughout. Plus, even a popular, accomplished writer like Joanna Bourne will go to a signing just to support a friend.

And then at the RITA/Golden Heart awards, it all culminates in this tremendous celebration of everything romance is and has done for everyone in the room as readers and writers and women making a career from these books we all love. If you caught me early in the week, I’d have told you that my favorite moment of the conference was getting to sit down for coffee with Carole Mortimer, who has been writing romance for Harlequin/Mills & Boon since 1978. We had a wide-ranging conversation about everything from the shift away from heroine-only point of view to Alexis Hall’s Glitterland, which she had just started reading. I was unbelievably flattered that she would take so much time out of her schedule to talk with someone who runs a small romance review blog and has nothing more to offer than a handful of book reviews now and then.

RITA Golden Heart AwardsBut at the RITAs, something amazing happened. I’m not a crier. I don’t cry. But after the retrospective of Carole Mortimer’s career, when every single woman in that room gave her a standing ovation, I was having trouble keeping it together. Mortimer has written category romance basically her entire career. She just published her 200th book. She told me that she occasionally gets stopped at “real life” cocktail parties by people who are mystified that she’s not a robot or just filling in an outline given to her by her editor (as if that would be easy, even it was the case, which it isn’t). More than the bodice-ripper, more than 50 Shades, more than any other kind of romance, the category gets no respect from anyone outside the romance community–it’s barely acknowledged even in derision. But here, at the RITA awards, people who understand what it takes to have a career with that kind of longevity oohed and aahed over Mortimer’s gorgeous new self-pub cover, laughed at her humor, smiled at her humility and celebrated what really is a lifetime of achievement.

I don’t even know how to encapsulate my experience at RWA so I’ll default to my favorite thing: food. I’ve had better food on various trips (the best one was a site visit to New Orleans for a meeting), but I have never had better and more varied company. I shared meals with Julia Kelly, Audra North, my friend Julia from the DC area romance readers group I coordinate, Alexandra Haughton, E_bookpushers, her mom (Ninja_Mom as E refers to her on Twitter), Jeffe Kennedy, Rose Lerner, Joanna Bourne, Sarah Lyons, Carolyn Crane, Ana Coqui (LOTS), Shari Slade, Amber Lin, Kailynn Jones, Del Dryden, Tamsen Parker, Liz Blue, Alexis Anne, Mary Chris Escobar, Carole Mortimer (just coffee but I’m counting it because our server hassled us for not ordering food), Jessica Tripler, and Jackie Horne. I had drinks with Shelley Ann Clark, Janet Lee Nye, Kiersten Hallie Krum, Julia Broadbooks and KK Hendin. I had donuts with Megan Frampton and Carolyn Jewel, where I also finally caught up with Wendy the Super Librarian, Dabney Grinnan, Erica Monroe and Isobel Carr. I also did a food-adjacent thing with Laura Florand and Jeannie Lin that I’ll be writing about later in the week because it was just so cool and I took lots of photos. I’m sorry if I missed anyone. My brain is super fuzzy at this point. 

Momofuku Class
L to R: Laura Florand, Jeannie Lin and me, Elisabeth Lane

But from everyone from Tessa Dare, who gave me her full conference tote to give away to one lucky reader, all the way through a fairly new writer who was pitching her second book at the conference this week, I’ve never been around so many positive, encouraging, supportive people. Julia Kelly, during the very first meal I shared with her, asked what my goals were for the conference. I couldn’t really answer beyond meeting all my Twitter buds and learning some things about the craft of writing. But the fact that she’d even ask someone she barely knows, with an open mind and the willingness to do her part to make whatever I came up with happen, well, it was then I knew that, in a refrain I heard echoed over and over again throughout the conference, even as a non-writer, even as someone with fuzzy goals and just starting to explore the possibilities of the industry, I’d found my home.

Full RWA Conference ToteSpeaking of that full RWA conference tote, sitting in the hotel lounge waiting to leave for the train station, Tessa Dare sent out a tweet that she had a full conference tote she’d be graciously willing to hand off to someone to bring home for another lucky romance reader. So now, you might be the winner of this fabulous prize! This giveaway is only open to readers in the United States and Canada, but hang on for later in the week when I’ll have another giveaway open to international readers.

Prize includes: one navy and gold RWA tote bag, one RWA/Harlequin iPad cover, one RWA badge holder, one RWA/Tor tumbler and one each of the following books: On a Night like This by Barbara Freethy, Perfect Touch by Elizabeth Lowell, The Redemption of Darius Sterne by Carole Mortimer, This Heart of Mine by Brenda Novak, Douglas by Grace Burrowes, Again the Magic by Lisa Kleypas, Say My Name by J. Kenner, Slave to Sensation and Angel’s Blood by Nalini Singh and finally, a SIGNED copy of A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. I’m so jealous! It sounds like this was a fantastic experience for you.

    “But the big thing I learned is just how much everyone at RWA is not only a writer, editor, agent or reviewer, but a fan.” << This was the No. 1 thing I learned from interacting with the romance community on Twitter. Most people are just so dang supportive and encouraging that it's hard to find someone who's NOT willing to gush about a few (or a lot) of their favorite writers. I can't wait to see what it's like to experience that kind of atmosphere IRL. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Big thanks to you and to Tessa for the giveaway! It's pretty rad to see a little slice of RWA for those of us who didn't make it this year.

  2. I’m so glad it was such a positive experience for you! And jealous of course that you got to meet all these wonderful people in person. Very generous of you to give this tote away, I would totally want to keep it for myself!

  3. It was so awesome to meet you! Isn’t the conference amazing? I always come home with such renewed energy and love for the community. I’ve never met a more giving group of women.

    This was my fourth conference, but it was also my first as a contracted author, so I was able to experience it on another level.

    I noticed this year a step forward for myself and many of my friends. Those a few rungs above me on the ladder who in years past, reached back to help me were winning awards. I was able to reach back and help others (I hope).
    I know it’s expensive, but I highly encourage anyone in the industry to scrimp and save and try to attend at least once.

    1. I know just what you mean. I’ve been following the Wonkomance blog since I started following basically any romance community stuff (about two and a half years) and it’s interesting to see people start getting bigger contracts with larger houses, start to see increased self-publishing success and generally take their careers to the next level. I’m super excited to see where you’ll all be in 5 or 10 years!

      I’d definitely agree that writers especially should try to attend at least once. Even though my strategy of scheduling all my meals was a little insane since I was running from place to place constantly, I got quality face-to-face time with people. And I was surprised that literally no one turned me down. I love my blog and it’s growing, but in the larger scheme of things, I’m still a very small fish. It’s really a testament to the generosity of all these women.

  4. Awesome give away!

  5. What a great experience! I would love to go to one of these someday, thanks so much for the giveaway!

  6. Sounds like you had a blast, I’d love to be able to go to one in the near future! Thanks for the giveaway chance! ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. It was lovely meeting you and getting to put a face to the delicious food pictures. You said exactly what I said at my first RWA, “I found my home.” And it is a home I get to take with me since I get to keep in touch with all of you through the power of the internet. This was my third conference and, like Janet said, it was amazing to see everyone moving up, but still reaching back to pull the rest along with them. We aren’t a perfect community, but it can be a great place to find your people!

    1. Yes, you put it perfectly. I knew I stole that from someone! I was so pleased to discover that everyone is just a wonderful in person as they are online. I admit I was a little worried that even people I love and talk with all the time would be too busy to hang out with me at the conference, but that wasn’t the case at all. Plus, I added some new friends to talk to all the time ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks for being so welcoming!

  8. What a lovely prize and you’ve got some amazing books in there!

  9. Sounds like a fantastic time! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. What a great experience. Thanks for sharing.

  11. This sounds like it was an amazing experience. I can’t wait to go to my first RWA! Soon. Soooooon!

  12. Awesome giveaway, thanks!

  13. An excellent post! Hoping one day I can attend and meet all my favorite authors, glad you had a wonderful time!

  14. Well I think I talked Joanna Bourne into going with me to the Washington Loves Readers Luncheon. Maybe we can all hang out together if you decide to come to it again. I still remember the maple bacon donuts you made everyone at our table. ; >

    1. Oh that’s absolutely terrific. We had lunch together at RWA with several others and I liked her very much. I will be going for sure and I can promise treats again too because honestly I can’t help myself.

  15. Great post! And Wow! You had coffee with Carole Mortimer! I’m green now. It sounds like it was a fantastic conference, and the photo of you, Laura Florand, and Jeannie Lin is terrific!

    1. She is incredibly funny, candid, generous and lovely. I could have sat with her all day. Apropos to your current glom, did you know she was friends with Charlotte Lamb?

      1. No I didn’t know that! *in awe* ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Looks like an amazing time! There is something so revitalizing to the spirit about spending time with people who share your passion!

  17. Thanks for the chance! Tessa Dare is my favorite author and a personal inspiration to me. So glad you enjoyed your first RWA!

  18. It was so great to finally meet you in person! I’m sorry we didn’t get to chat more and I’m SO sorry DnD fell through! We must remedy that next time because that’s a thing that really needs to happen.

    Yay for a great first RWA experience! I hope it’s the first of many ๐Ÿ˜€

  19. I’m so glad you had this wonderful opportunity to be with other romance-minded folks. Thanks for sharing a bit of that with us!

  20. RWA sounds like an awesome experience.

  21. […] full of books and RWA swag, you have just a few more hours! Giveaway closes at midnight tonight. Visit this post for more details. And there’s another giveaway at the end of this post for ebooks that international readers are […]

  22. I’m so glad we were able to connect – albeit briefly. RWA is sensory overload anyway – but then to have it in NYC? It just makes it that much more of a whirlwind.

    I was so pleased they chose to honor Carole Mortimer this year. I’m used to derision of the format outside of the genre, but then you occasionally see it within our own ranks – and it’s just so very wrong. But man, that standing ovation. Even hard-hearted Wendy got a wee bit weepy.

    1. I was so pleased I got the chance to meet you! I wish I’d been able to make it to drinks that first night too, but dinner just ran too long. Hopefully we’ll have another chance some time in the future!

      And yes, definitely to Carole Mortimer. I’ve gained such an appreciation for category romance over the years. I used to church through Blazes like they were candy, but when I slow down and really look at them–they’re like these little perfect story gems when they’re at their best. I think I might even start reading some that were published in this century now!

  23. Loved our dinner – thanks so much for arranging it (so yummy!) and to Mr. Elisabeth for scoring me wine. ๐Ÿ˜€

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