An Intro to RWA (for Readers and First Timers)

By Lizbeth Selvig

Around this time every summer (or winter for our southern hemispherian colleagues) readers who follow any romance authors around the blogosphere start to hear more and more about their favorite storytellers getting ready for “RWA.”

It’s well known—obvious even—that RWA stands for Romance Writers of America – the professional organization representing romance writers and their business interests in the U.S. Every year RWA holds its annual general meeting and conference, allowing over 2000 romance writers to converge on some lucky city and talk shop.

That’s the simplistic answer to “what is RWA?” but what, really, do your fave authors actually DO at this five-day shindig?

First of all—we never refer to the annual meeting or the annual conference as those things. The conference is, to most of us, equivalent to the organization. Hence, the meeting is simply RWA. A misnomer? Perhaps. But for most RWA members, the annual meeting is the only time we physically touch base with our “parent group.”

So-what’s all that cool about RWA?

 There are a few parties, I will admit. Publishers often hold dinners and cocktail 
GLIAS girls Angi, Lizbeth & Cat glammed up for the RITAs
get-togethers for their authors. Special chapters hold retreats or meet ‘n greets. Groups of friends plan well ahead of time to get together and celebrate their friendships. And, of course, the biggest party of them all is the Saturday night RITA/Golden Heart Awards Show. Believe me—it’s romance’s Oscars, and it’s an awesome party!

My beautiful, amazing editorTessa
My gorgeous, super-agent Elizabeth

RWA is a good place for authors to touch base with their editors and/or agents. Most of us don’t have the opportunity to work face-to-face with these members of our writing teams. Believe me, coffee or dinner with your editor is a total boost. It can send you home from the conference totally re-energized.

These form the backbone of RWA-the-conference. For three days the schedule is filled with amazing learning opportunities for authors both published and still awaiting publication. Sessions on craft, on marketing, on business abound. There are spotlights on publishing houses and on specific authors. For unpublished authors, there’s a day-long PRO retreat, filled with industry insights and lots of cheerleading. For PAN (Published Author Network) members, there are two days of special sessions focusing entirely on the business of being a writer.

The RWA Annual General Meeting always takes place at the conference. This is the time members get to connect with the organization as a political entity. All the fun of getting together aside, RWA-the-dot-org does spent most of its time trying to keep romance alive and viable and pertinent to the reading public. As with any large group, there are always changes and controversies. But by keeping up with them and voicing our opinions, we keep abreast of what’s happening in the world of romance outside our offices and away from our keyboards.

Chances to sit at tables with Cherry Adair=PERK!
I saved this for last and almost put it in boldface because Networking is truly the heart of RWA. Building friendships, finding connections, collecting contacts is unbelievably valuable. And new friends are why we go back to RWA year after year. We can keep up with the organization online, but you can’t accidentally run into Susan Elizabeth Phillips or Susan Anderson or Cherry Adair online. You can’t toast your online chapter mates with a glass of wine or make an impromptu book pitch to an agent you meet in the elevator. You can’t collect business cards or tell someone face-to-face about your book and ask about hers. You can’t be memorable if you don’t get “out there.” Plus—there’s no better fun!

There are other little perks: The bar, Nora Roberts sightings, the bar, book signings,
pajama parties, late night chats with your roommates, the bar.  Don’t get me wrong—you can drink sparkling soda or Diet Coke all night in the bar, and I have. But it’s THE place no matter what city/hotel we’re in to be. Nowhere else will you find such an enormous pool of talent in one place!

So, THAT’s what’s cool about RWA!

If you have an author friend/family member who’s heading to Atlanta in ten days—now you know why she/he’s so excited. If you’re an author who’s never been to RWA—start planning for next year. If you’re going for the first time—come find me in The Bar. I’ll be the one star gazing!

And come back tomorrow for a primer on The RITA Awards—their history and significance. And tell me what your favorite conference experience is—RWA or any other!


  1. Whew...I'm totally ready. To be there at least...I've done nothing else to get ready yet. LOL Thanks for that awesome post, Lizbeth!

    AND the GLIAS RITA award features begin this Wednesday. Lots and Lots of prizes for every genre of romance. I can't wait and I hope everybody brings a friend so we can do this again next year !!


  2. My favorite conference thing...seeing my writer buddies. I have to say I've spent many many hours in the bar. LOL


  3. I went to my first RWA last year, and had a blast! I won't be going this year, but am already counting the days until next year!