If you're a romance writer I highly recommend trying to attend your annual conference (or one overseas if you're lucky enough). Whether you're a beginner, newly published or multi-published there is something to benefit everyone.
Even after participating in many conferences and starting to have some publishing success, I still love attending. In my early writing days the craft workshops were invaluable and revisiting technical aspects is never wasted. We never stop learning and someone always has a new approach, or just a way of explaining something that gets us rethinking about our own writing.
Hearing international and local keynote speakers (writers/editors/publishers) is always entertaining and informative. Getting information 'from the horse's mouth' ensures you're up to speed with what's current in the industry in general and with publishing houses specifically. It's especially inspiring to see writing colleagues who have gone from aspiring to published, now willing to share their knowledge to help others work towards the same success.
Attending conference also provides the daunting but invaluable opportunity to pitch your story to editors and agents. Any chance to circumvent the slush pile or avoid having to write the dreaded query letter should be grasped with both hands. Receiving a request for your full manuscript is such a confidence boost and, I think, is in itself worth the cost of the conference ticket. Just don't, as one aspiring author allegedly did, ambush an unsuspecting editor by shoving your manuscript under the toilet door!
While workshops, speakers and pitching feed the practical writer, networking and just mixing with like-minded people feeds the emotional writer. Being in the company of others who understand the frustrations and elations of a writer's life, who get it, live it, is priceless. The romance community is incredibly open-hearted. They embrace everyone from the nervous newbie writer to the multi-published best-seller with the same enthusiasm and respect. There is an implicit understanding that we all come from the same place and that any success we might achieve has its roots in the support of our fellow writers.
Romance writers are hard workers, but we also love to party and no conference is complete without a social function or two.
Personally I love dress-up parties and the cocktail party at RWAustralia's conference always has a theme – Fresh, Fun or Famous this year. The variety of costumes, from the sublime to the ridiculous, is as varied as romance sub-genres. It's a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones, overload Facebook with selfies, or have 'fan girl' moments with favourite authors.
The awards dinner is a bit more formal but still a chance to dress up. A delicious meal, a glass of wine and recognition of those who have finalled or won competitions or received awards – topped off by music and dancing.
The dinner pretty much sums up everything romance writing (and the whole conference) is about – hard work, peer support and fun!