Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Thoughts on the RT Con

It Was My First Time....
(And there was hardly any blood.) 

So I've been thinking quite a bit about the experience and what I liked and what I expected and what I might do differently if I had to do it all over again.  So please forgive the length, this is a bit of a brain dump.  I'm processing.

There are a number of different types of events, which I enjoyed to varying degrees.  I'll ramble a little on them here...

Educational Sessions
I was pretty keen on the sessions. (I was always the teachers’ pet in school.)  On the first day, I went to four sessions on blogging and social media.  Most were directed at authors or aspiring authors on how to use it, how much to use it, etc.  There was another one on the second day that I had planned to go to, but I ended up changing my mind.

The best session I went to on Social Media was actually billed as a Marketing track workshop, with reviewers from Literary Escapism, Happy Ever After,   Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and of course, RT Magazine, who are the sponsor of the conference. I should say, it was the session I enjoyed the most, because the other ones I went to were all fine, but weren’t quite what I wanted.

The problem with getting what I wanted is that I didn’t know what I wanted.  I’m still not completely sure what I expected or hoped to get out of the RT Conference as a blogger (specifically, a “boutique” blogger that has sort of plateau’ed.)  What I decided, after that first day, was that I’d rather follow around authors and people that I knew of than treat the workshops like a class.  To be honest, I didn’t really hear much at the sessions that I didn’t already know.  

Reader/Fan Sessions
Within the scheduled workshops, there were a number of different specialty tracks aimed at different pieces of the industry, and then there was the reader track.  I think the reason that I liked the reviewer panel the most is because it was closest to what I do.  There wasn’t much in the way of formal programs for bloggers or reviewers.  If you are a publisher, a publicist, an editor, a bookseller, or an author, you have a distinct place in the RTCon world.   

While they invite readers, the reader track was spotty in terms of “worth it” as far as I’m concerned.  Some of the reader sessions were great – JR Ward was fantastic, as mentioned above, but many were very… I don’t know, featherweight.  “Bling Your Badge” – really?  No offense to those who enjoyed this, but I didn't pay $400-plus to put stickers on my nametag.
I pretty much changed tactics on the second day and just wallowed in the fangirl fun of hearing famous and favorite authors speak, and bumping into them in the hallways.  I went to panels on historical and Scottish romances.  I took a scrapbook and got it signed by all my favorites and will add in some photos and bookmarks and stuff later.  (It went missing for one very anxious evening but the fabulous Circle of Seven people found it and got it back to me.  Whew!)

I had a lot more fun at the sessions where I wasn't really expecting much other than a shared enjoyment of romance novels, like the Scottish themed panel, "Under the Kilt: The Naked Truth About Scotland."  To tell the truth, the audience sort of hijacked the agenda in this session but I still thought it was fun, because everyone in there was just dying to talk about the books they love.

Scheduled Parties and Mixers
I totally did not get how these worked, and nothing was said in the orientation to clue me in.  Based on the descriptions in the programs, most of them sounded like open-house sort of events, like, you arrive any time during the 2 or 3 hours that are scheduled, mingle a little, see who's there.  

As it turned out, most of them had distinct starting times, and if you weren't there when the doors opened, you pretty much missed out on whatever they were offering -- freebies, food, what have you.  Now, since I wasn't really expecting to get stuff at these things (because I didn't know any better) I wasn't particularly disappointed, but it was a little bit of a bummer to show up to what you thought was a stand-up-and-mingle thing only to find out that everyone was already sitting, you missed half a presentation, and all the goodies were gone.

There were exceptions though. The Avon party was extremely well-organized, with tons and tons of books from Avon authors and a chance to get them signed before the madness of the book signing event on Saturday.  I'm not just saying that because I'm being treated so nicely by Avon as part of their Addict program, honestly (though I will forgive you if you have suspicions).  It was a wonderful event, and I think it was one of the only ones that had giveaways for the conventioneers that did not run out. Yay for good planning.

The other one that stood out to me was the Circle of Seven party.  This group does book trailer videos.  I think their success was in that it was relatively small, the authors were accessible, and instead of having inadequate numbers of giveaways, they did a fun interactive raffle that kept the energy high and kept everyone engaged.  I thought it was really fun and no one walked away miffed because they didn't get the freebie.

Of course, I didn't go to all of them (not possible) so maybe I just had bad luck.  Hard to say.

Of the major parties in the evening, I didn't go to many of them, and since I didn't stay in the hotel, I didn't go to any of the late late ones.  One of the reasons I decided to go to this conference is that I have family in the Chicago area, so I had non-conference plans on a couple of the evenings.  I do sort of feel like I missed out on some of the good stuff, not least because I had to keep a clear enough head to drive home each evening.  I might opt to stay in the convention hotel one or two nights at least, if I did it again.

Book Signing -- Heaven and Hell

Yes, there were over 300 romance authors in one room, including big names like Anne Rice, Charlaine Harris, Kelley Armstrong, and JR Ward, and at least twenty authors that I love and read regularly, which is HEAVEN... but there were also just ENORMOUS amounts of people in one room, and because I was tracking down my lost autograph book, I didn't grab much to eat or a water bottle ahead of time.  I mean, that's all on me (#bloodsugarfail) but it would've been nice if there had been a water fountain or bottled water to purchase. I tried hard to enjoy it and I did go see and talk to dozens of my favorite authors but jam-packed crowds are just not something I enjoy. 

I love this idea, as it plays to my strengths (drinking and talking). I had a really nice time with Jackie & Casey from Literary Escapism, Danielle from Entangled Publishing, Chloe Neill, and Shiloh Walker {/shameless name dropping} but I wish I had been better about striking up conversations with folks, mingling more, and just been able to hang out longer. A few things I would do differently next time:  stay at the hotel to avoid needing to drive; and study up on author photos so I could recognize people. 

Thinking About What I Want
I don’t know if I would do this again, to be honest.  I'm feeling a little guilty about the amount of money that went into this experience-- and it was great, and not terribly much money if you look at it purely as a vacation.  I think I was somehow expecting some kind of "payoff," only I don't know what exactly it could be.  My blog isn't any kind of a money-making proposition or a career choice, so I can't write anything off, nor are the contacts I've made likely to "pay off" in my real career.

So, what was great, and what was missing?  If it were *my* conference, what would be different? Well, besides meeting and chatting with authors, I would really like to just find other bloggers and hang out.  I don’t enjoy being talked at all day long—I like to talk too.  (If you know me, you are saying something like “Haha, no SHIT!” right now.)  So this can totally happen in the BarCon, but it would have taken a little more planning on my part to at least contact the bloggers ahead of time and get contact information to make meetups easier.

What would be even better, would be a track for reviewers.  What makes a good review.  The ever-popular debate on negative reviews.  How far do you go (with a bad review or controversy).  Should you worry about copyright protection of your own content and that of the comments that other leave.  Should you have a formal review policy, and what should be on it.  What are the pros and cons of accepting review copies from publishers and publicists.  I could easily come up with plenty of topics that interest me on review blogging (or just reviewing).  And I'd want discussion sessions--small groups where everyone participates.  I'd love to have a mixer room for reviewers and maybe publicists - no scheduled events, just an easy meet-up place.

Here’s a thought – I wonder if RT Magazine specifically downplays the role of bloggers since they are sort of – at least as a group—competition?  Am I so dense that I’m the last one to figure this out?  Hmmmm.


Anonymous said...

Great post. This is the first I've seen that's really from a blogger's point of view. I have so many of the same questions about what needs a conference would meet for me, given that I am not even sure what my blogging goals are or if I have any.

I am attending my second book con in June, but none of the sessions planned for bloggers are really appealing. I'd rather just chat with fellow book lovers! Anyway, I think I'd love to attend RT some day. Thanks for giving those of us who stayed home an insider's view of what went down.

Mandi said...

Love this post. I plan on attending this con next year (for the first time) and this is great information!

RJones said...

I also found everything very hit and miss. My best moments were all in the bar, and if I hadn't been there with a friend and had friends plans for most days, I probably would have been miserable.

The big everyone evening events did have serious issues with too many people. Want to attend the dinner? Show up an hour early to get in line, or you will not get a seat or food. Every event I went to had a line, and the people at the end of said line did not get a seat. And they didn't even cushion that by having extra chairs along the wall or places where you could stand around. Then, the other attendees made it worse by rushing in and claiming whole tables as "saved" for their friends. An hour into the Ellora's cave event and there was still a 10ish person table with only 3 real people at it, saving it for their friends.

But running into the people I know from Twitter and getting into long interesting conversations with them made it all worth it for me.

Nicola O. said...

"I am not even sure what my blogging goals are or if I have any. "

Aye, there's the rub! /piratetalk

I hope I'm not coming off too negative, because there were some really wonderful moments, and if I really try to box it in as strictly a VACATION to have FUN with other people who love books the way I do, it absolutely works.

Kaetrin said...

Fascinating post Nicola. I'm a bit jealous that you got to go - as I'm in Australia, it seems it won't be an option. I'm not big on travelling without my family and I can't see my husband ever attending one LOL!

I think hanging out with other bloggers that I've "met" on line would be awesome though.

I'll just have my convention experiences vicariously I think! :)

Victoria Janssen said...

I've never gone to an RT, so it was interesting to read about what it was like to attend for the first time!

Unknown said...

Yes...RT sees reviewers/bloggers as competition. I've been told this directly, so don't expect to find any panels on reviewing in the future. Well, there might be panels directed at authors, but not us bloggers.

Chicago was the first time I went for the whole week and versus Columbus, where I only went for two days, I feel Columbus was way more worth it than Chicago.

Yes it was fabulous meeting up with fave authors and hanging out at the panels, but honestly, my favorite moments were when it was one on one with my fave authors. I was lucky enough to talk to a bunch of fabulous authors - Shiloh Walker, Jeaniene Frost, Ilona Andrews, Kelley Armstrong, Nalini Singh, Chloe Neill, Jaye Wells and many more - and these were the only times I really didn't feel bored.

I will admit that the Q&A with NS, JF and CH was awesome, but that was one panel out of how many?

I have to admit, I didn't go with the intent of being a reader, but to network and hopefully promote LE a little more. So the parties were totally not worth it to me. Like Nicola said, I would've rather have seen meet and greets for the parties rather than the sit down and listen approach. The Avon party was my favorite and it was just as fabulous as Columbus. They seem to do it right.

I think if I go again, it won't be for the whole week and I'm going with the idea of meeting up with authors. I did four interviews while in Chicago and I kind of wish I had done more (that is until I remember that I have to transcribe them).

My advice is if you're a blogger and going to RT, set up a couple of interviews with a few authors you want to see and get access to the Press Room. RT is really good about giving access to it (I've never had a problem). Also, make sure you hit Club RT as that is all about the meet and greet and you'll be surprised who you'll meet.

Although, I do have to say one thing about Chicago - I got to be on my first panel, so that does make this trip a little more special. It was awesome.

Nicola O. said...

You know, I just felt like I *should* be going to the sessions to get my money's worth and I never even made into Club RT-- the scheduled authors didn't interest me that much. Live and learn.

RT puts on a pretty amazing conference; that book fair is simply staggering. But for bloggers, I wonder if a different con might be better -- and I'm not even thinking of the BEA/BBC thing... I guess I want something that's fairly specific to romance, and BEA's "Everything in the universe about books" is just too much for my tastes.

I'm glad you mentioned about the interviews, Jackie, I didn't want to give away your secrets. But I would totally try that -- contact everyone that I've read and ask for some time. I don't usually do author interviews on my blog though (because I kind of suck at them, I am no journalist) so I would need to figure out my angle.

I always think there needs to be something in it for the author, so maybe I'm just too hard on myself. I dunno.

Kaetrin, if you ever do go, apparently having Aussie night before the first day of the Con is something of a tradition. Nalini Singh mentions it and I've seen a few other posts about it. :-)

And thanks to all of you for stopping by and commenting!

Unknown said...

Dude...if you're a blogger and NOT thinking of doing any kind of interviews, why not? This idea shouldn't be a secret. *grin* You just need a plan on how to do it. If you want to ensure you get some one on one time with your favorite author, this is the best way. I got to chat with Ilona Andrews for 30 minutes without any interruptions. Awesome!

Even bloggers need to remember to bring swag - authors are always looking for more reviewers and ways they can promote their books.

Here's some advice for bloggers going to RT: wear something of your site, if possible. Make sure people know you're from a review site as well and take trading cards or bookmarks. You'll be surprised how many people will recognize the site and then you. Especially authors and if you've reviewed them, they will typically be happy to see you. *grin*

You might be interested in Romanticon then. At least, I think that's the one I'm thinking of. It's usually in Denver and does focus strictly on romance.

I've heard BEA is fabulous regardless of genre as the publishers promote all their current titles/authors and not certain ones. I'm actually thinking of going to that one next year instead of RT - just because I haven't been.


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