Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Thoughts on the #RT14 Conference

When I decided to go to RT14 in New Orleans, I was REALLY glad that I had my old post, Thoughts on the RT12 Con, to refer back to, so I'm doing it again in the event that I go to another one in the future.

I actually did spend a fair amount of time and thought deciding how I would manage my time, this time around, and I feel MUCH less ambivalent about RT14 than RT12.  Part of it was just knowing what to expect. Part was having a strategy. A big part was having more pre-existing relationships and virtual friendships I could lean on. And Twitter turned out to play a surprisingly major role for me.

RT itself did a few things differently that I really appreciated.  In 2012, and I gather, most if not all previous years, published authors were given colorful silk flowers to wear prominently on their badges.  This year, there were no silk flowers, but each attendee had a ribbon with a color code for published authors, aspiring authors, bloggers, reviewers, readers, librarians, booksellers, and "industry," which I assume was for agents, publishers, and the like. I feel like this was really helpful for me personally, in finding other blogger/reviewers and in a few cases, it afforded me some flattering attention from authors and publishers looking for review outlets.

The Goal and the Strategy
After thinking hard about what I liked and what disappointed me at the last con, I narrowed in on a few goals:
  1. Meet up and talk to specific people that I either had an on-line acquaintance with, or whose work I admired.
  2. Let serendipity happen.
  3. Don't do things that aren't enjoyable.
To that end, I prearranged meetings with several people I particularly wanted to connect with. No interviews, no notes, no "goal" -- just getting better acquainted with women who seemed super-compatible online.

For authors that I wanted to meet, I made an effort to see them speak at panels or other venues leading up to the book fair. In general, I don't care very much about having books signed because I cycle through them fast; I'm not much of a re-reader; and I've largely converted to ebooks. The one exception though, was an anthology that Alyssa Day sent to me years ago.  It's been signed by herself, plus Meljean Brook, and at the conference, I was able to get a signature from Marjorie Liu, whose work I adore.

I didn't bring home as many free physical books as many conventioneers, because of item #3 above.  Standing in line for many hours is not enjoyable -- especially when the tradeoff is New Orleans.  So I skipped many of the long lines for publisher parties with the best swag in favor of BarCon and serendipity, or a walk to Jackson Square for beignets and a little shopping.

The Big Giant Bookfair
Let's get this out of the way. For me as a reader, there was minimal confusion over how to find an author, regardless of which room they were in. It was a non-issue. I read a few of the rant posts shortly after the fair and from what I read, the people who were the most OUTRAGED by the two rooms were not even there.

However, I knew going into it that the Bookfair was not how I wanted to spend my whole day. I speculated that I could go in later, after the initial push, see the half-dozen authors who were still on my list, and get out quickly.  My companions for a lot of the con had planned to get in line at 8 am for the 11:00 opening and I was not interested in that.  I went out and had what might have been the best meal I've ever had in my entire life, which put me in such a good mood that I hardly minded getting in line at 9:30 or so and waiting for not quite two hours. It's a good thing it turned out that way though, because I think my plan of going later when lines were shorter would not have worked that way at all-- the checkout line wait would have made up and then some for any time saved in the initial line.

I was probably in the first third or so of the line, which surprised me a little. I went to see about 6 authors, and bought two books, which is two more than I had planned. I scooted into the checkout line which was very poorly organized and difficult to see where it started and ended, as it flowed across the first table of authors and into one of the feature author lines. I was one of the first people to buy a book at the consignment register, and there was no waiting there, but the main checkout was already up to 20-30 minutes when I got there.

So anyway, next conference: if I go to the book fair at all, I will skip the on-site purchase in favor of an ebook when I get home.

About Blogging and Reviewing
I went to the Book Blogger Con on Tuesday - I arrived straight from the airport! and it was packed. I was surprised at how crowded it was. Like my experience with panels in 2012, I thought the topics all sounded interesting but didn't go very deep. I would've liked more discussion and less lecture-style--it just felt like too much crammed into the time available.

I also attended panels on the blogger/author relationship, and the blogger/publisher relationship. I can't say I learned anything mind-blowing, or that I will do anything radically different as a result, but it was fun to get some different perspectives.  However, a few things that I will be implementing or at least thinking about:

1. Keeping the publicists more in the loop. I have always thought that these people probably interacted with so many blogger/reviewers that a real individual conversation would be more of a burden than an advantage, but I'm told otherwise. I don't know if all of them feel the same, but at least one publicist that I've worked with via email for a long time, keeps an elaborate spreadsheet that tracks preferences and reviews and all kinds of things, so I will be doing a bit more outreach there.

2. Blog backups. Many people have preached about this but I still never got around to doing it.  I started this past weekend.

3. Automation. Jane Litte talked about several available plug-ins for Wordpress. She uses them to automate post formats (handy when you have multiple contributors), review requests, and other things. She uses a spreadsheet formula to auto-populate buy links for various affiliate programs. One of the things that makes me a sporadic blogger is the amount of time I take on each post, so I am interested in things I can do to streamline that.

4. Updated look and feel. It's been about three years since I changed up my template, and I feel like it kind of shows.  One suggestion from Rachel at Parajunkee was to browse web design blogs and look at newer trends.  Unfortunately, I think I've forgotten everything I ever figured out about CSS, so that feels like a big task right now. At the same time, I'm considering a move to wordpress and/or getting my own domain. I need to do a little maintenance too -- I've noticed that my search box doesn't work very well any more. Grr.

What I learned from RT2012
Focus on the connections, not the panel subjects. This was totally true. I was still seduced by awesome-sounding panels that were mostly superficial. Some were gems, though. You just never know.

Allow for serendipity. I spent more time in the hotel bar, and honestly, that was always a good time. For the first time since possibly the 80s, I shut down a bar, with valiant companions Sara Fawkes, who made a great show of not minding when I spilled beer on her, Jonny from I Love Vampire Novels, Mel from SM Book Obsessions, who, incidentally, brought the con's most sought-after button swag (right), Jackie Uhrmacher, author of a black-widow comedic novella (yep, that's what I said) and porn-promoter Fab_Fangurl (link goes to her mostly-SFW twitter profile, where there are links to all of her content).  That, my friends, is quite a crew, and we had quite a time.

Another evening, I ran into these glamorous ladies, and we had a really interesting conversation about story arcs within series arcs, and the best way to manage them.  After my eyes adjusted to the glare of their FABULOUSNESS, that is.

Read up on favorite authors beforehand. This was a great investment of time! I did find that one way the overstimulation of the conference affected me personally was that I sometimes had trouble stringing coherent sentences together-- there were so many synapses firing about books and characters and authors and series and story elements that I seriously felt like I had con-induced aphasia or something. Every author that I talked to was extremely gracious about mistakes I made about their books or characters.  It's embarrassing to mess up the details, but hopefully my sincere admiration came through.

Twitter. Not only was Twitter instrumental in many if not most of the pre-con connections I had made, but it made logistics during a con a total breeze.  Saving a place in line for your roommate? DM her your location. Want to find an author? Check her feed. Or @ her a message.  One of my must-do activities was a visit to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, and a hashtagged tweet two days in advance netted me a half-dozen companions to make the walk with.  In many ways, Twitter has replaced comments on blog posts as an interaction channel, and in some cases, it replaces the blog post altogether. I have mixed feelings about that, but that's a whole nother post.  At any rate, joining Twitter directly after RT12 made my RT14 experience vastly deeper.

What would I do differently?
On the whole, I think I was right about everything I decided last time. I would do pretty much the same thing again, with a couple of additions:

It became clear to me this year that there are lots of private parties going on in the background of RT. Obvious, right? Also, even though I had a fair amount of one-on-one discussion with a lot of interesting people, most of the talks were pretty superficial. I mean, not surprising, in some ways, but I would really relish the opportunity to dig in deeper on things I really love about books and stories and characters.  Both years, I've felt dissatisfaction over the panels -- because the topics were so promising, but the time allotted was small and the crowd wanting a piece of it was big.  So I would consider the idea of pre-arranging some small-ish get-togethers, perhaps with moderated topics -- or perhaps not.  Maybe 8-12 people, with a balance of authors and readers.

Skip the BookFair altogether. As discussed above.  However, the Fan-Tastic Day party seemed like it might've been worth the line.  After a tweet from Katibabs about the availability of TheWindflower, I checked my watch and hotfooted it back from dinner in the French Quarter (which was marvelous) for the last 15 minutes of the party and scored a couple of books. It's possible I went too far in my line avoidance.

Jackie from Literary Escapism noted in comments on my 2012 post that she thought that it would be better to only register for a couple of days of the conference and enhance that experience with interviews and BarCon, and I believe that's what she did this time.  I think that's well worth considering. On the other hand, I have weakness for the panels that I may not overcome. Heh. And again, I think the location plays a big factor there, and whether the con hotel is in a walkable area - that would be NOPE for Chicago (because it was really out in Rosemont, far from downtown Chicago), and NOPE for Kansas City, and NOPE for Dallas.  So we'll see what happens in 2016. Or I might try a different con, like RomantiCon, or maybe Coastal Magic, or Casey's new brainstorm, Reading Until Dawn Con.

All in all, I do feel re-energized about the blog, although actual results are going to be a bit delayed due to a couple of real-life things that are consuming my spare time for the next couple of weeks.  Still, I'm going to try to knock out some posts a bit more regularly, and figure out if there's a way I can put out content I'm proud of, with a bit less procrastination and dragging-out of things.


Kaetrin said...

It looks like so much fun but also terribly overwhelming. I'm glad you had a good time!

As far as moving the blog is concerned, I made the move to WordPress last year and I'm glad I did. Things are a little different but I feel better about my skill level.

My advice (FWIW) is to look at other blogs - be they WP or Blogger and decide what you like the look of. Just because something is more modern doesn't mean it's going to suit you. One of the popular blog designers (whom I won't name) has a blog that I find really difficult to navigate. So, yeah, get ideas from other places, but it's YOUR blog, so do something you like and that reflects something about you. That's what draws me to Alpha Heroes (your content, your opinions, your style, after all). :)

Juliette Cross said...

Nicola, it was so awesome meeting you that Friday night in the bar--my favorite place to meet interesting RT people. After our enlightening conversation on story arcs, I rewrote the ending of my WIP, which is currently in contract negotiations with my publisher. Just thought I'd say "thank you" for that. I finally found the clarity I needed after our talk. And it was just plain damn fun hanging with you. ;)

Angel Payne said...

Tee hee..."BarCon"...I flipping love it! I cannot beging to express how awesome it was to meet you at RT14, and hope you'll be going to RT15 so I can invite you to our Naughty Girls Blogger-ific Luncheon, which definitely WILL be a tradition from now on. We had a geat time getting to know each other and I hope you'll join us next year. Mmmwaaahhh.

Nicola O. said...

Juliette--or should I say, Ms. Antoinnette?-- I'm embarrassed that I forgot to name names! that was one of my favorite convos of the week, and I'm so flattered if something I said helped you figure something out!

Angel, next RT we should definitely pre-arrange something!

Nicola O. said...

Kaetrin, as always, your advice is sensible! and makes me feel good too, so that's also a bonus. :D


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