Yes, I know it's only January but already the "discussion" about the RWA National Conference in July (yes, July!) is making the rounds here in Blog Land. Everything from the fact that no Internet sites will be getting press passes this year to whether or not fans/bloggers/readers should even attend the conference.
Those of you who were wading through the romance blogs last year will recall that several of "us" attended RWA in Dallas. Jane, Sybil, KristieJ, myself, those swinging chicks at Smart Bitches to name a few. Now I obviously did not spend every waking moment with all of these ladies, but I'm pretty confident in saying that none of us hid behind potted palms with tape recorders, web cams, and notebooks. Frankly, none of us are that stealth, all of us were out in the open, and lordy we were all too damn tired to play hide-and-seek-for-nefarious-information. (I had no feeling in my lower extremities for about a week afterwards)
We all had a great time, hell I know I did. It was my third conference and by far the most enjoyable experience so far. I mingled, I mixed, I met many great people. So it was a bit of a surprise (to poor naive me at least) to return home only to have Blog Land erupt after the fact that the evil blogger/readers were there. KristieJ excluded because everybody loves her and she wouldn't know "evil" if it smacked her upside the head.
Since then there's been the question in some quarters whether or not "readers" or "fans" should even attend the conference. Let me preface this by saying that RWA has in no way shape or form said "we" can't attend. They've only said we can't get in for free on a press pass. "We" are still welcome to attend as long as we pay the cover charge. And that's cool! They have their reasons, all of which involve money/cost. No, I've seen these comments elsewhere and I'm feeling verbose. So here it is:
Should "fans" attend RWA? My answer is that it depends on the fan. Just like the RT Convention with it's costume balls and male cover models won't be for everybody, neither is RWA. What "fans" need to understand is that RWA National is a writer's conference. Certainly the Literacy Signing is for "fans" and you don't need to pay the conference fee to attend that. Any Joe Schmoe off the street is welcome to walk right through the front door! But other than that? The workshops are geared towards both published and unpublished writers. There are agent appointments. Writers meet with their editor(s). It's very business oriented. That's not to say that people don't have fun - but it's an opportunity for authors to network outside of their own local RWA chapter. Also, it might be one of the few opportunities for writers to actually "see" their editor(s)/agent face-to-face.
So why would "fans" want to attend? Well, I think fans can get a lot out of the conference depending on their interests. I've attended workshops in the past that caught my eye. I know for a fact that KristieJ attended one last year on web site design. I also really enjoy the Publisher Showcases, which is where most of the major publishers spotlight upcoming titles and what "they're looking for" when it comes to queries. Although I'll admit I can only hear,"We aren't interested in westerns because westerns aren't selling in this market right now" so many times before I want to scream. Sure, finding this stuff out is great for my librarian gig, but it's also of interest to me as a "fan" because dang I'm nothing if not a major book whore.
That said, cost is a major factor. Most fans aren't RWA members, so that means a higher registration fee. Also, this year's conference is in San Francisco, which even by California standards, is a pricey city. Fun as hell, but pricey. I can afford to go, but after looking at the hotel, registration fee (and I am an RWA member) and the fact that I'll have to pay to park my car (yes, I'll be driving), I still went to The Boyfriend and said, "Uh, whatta think?" Cause it did give me pause. It's my damn frugal Midwestern blood. By the by, he told me to go because "it's good for your job and you'll have fun." What a guy.
So should fans go? I think the policy of allowing fans to attend should continue, and RWA has given absolutely no indication that they want to rethink this. The ultimate answer though is that it depends. Can the fan afford it? Will the format of the conference appeal? Does the fan think she'll get enough out of it to justify the cost? For me, that answer is yes. But that answer won't be yes for everybody. Ultimately the choice belongs to the fan. I say if you think you'll enjoy it, promise not to behave like an asshole and ruin it for the rest of us, the more the merrier. Because honestly, everybody seemed genuinely happy to have us there last year. It was only after the fact, under the cloak of anonymity that any kind of kerfuffle ensued. And ain't that always the way?