Jim McCarthy attends RWA

Picture it: San Francisco. July 30th. Still reeling from the death of Estelle Getty, a young (fine: young-ish) agent arrives at the Marriott hotel to attend his first Romance Writers of America national convention. In the weeks leading up to this point, many people have asked him if he’ll be overwhelmed being one of the only males in attendance. “Nah,” he replied. “I grew up in a house full of women – three older sisters and only one of me.” It was a stock answer that he fully believed to be true. How wrong he was.

Okay, so really: I thought I wouldn’t be fazed being in such a distinct minority at a conference. Then I show up to the convention and head downstairs to the registration booth. At that moment, a major lunch event lets out. I am standing alone in a hallway that approximately 2,000 women are about to pour into. I feel…conspicuous. The dream where you show up at school without clothes and everyone stares at you? This was that. But with clothes.

After a few hours, I got over it, even if I did get a lot of annoying questions like, “So why do you like romance novels?” Standard answer: “I imagine for the same reasons you do.” What? It let me dodge a question, get out of my, “Ah, you’ve noticed I’m male” spiel, and keep on trucking. And I learned a lot at my first RWA convention. Stuff like:

–Romance authors can teach other authors a thing or two about marketing. This was a bunch of folks armed with postcards, flyers, business cards, and freebies galore. I admire the hell out of the dedication to sales that permeated the entire convention. These authors know they’re working in a business, and damned if they don’t want a piece of the pie. More power to ‘em.

–The sense of community among these authors is fantastic. Writing can be a struggle as anyone reading this blog surely knows. I love that these authors seem to have found so many support groups, critique partners, message boards, and outlets through which they find the means to keep writing, keep working, and make a go of it in a tough marketplace. And this doesn’t stop with new or first time authors. To wit:

–Nora Roberts kicks ass. Here’s a woman who sells gajillions of copies of all of her books and hardly needs to work that hard to promote. She could coast so easily. But darned if she isn’t at the events offering chat backs, doing book signings, making the party rounds, and just generally being on the scene. As someone else described her to me, she is “utterly unexpected.” By which they meant she’s a blast of fresh air—a bestselling author who tells it like it is and pulls no punches, but is also fully supportive of her colleagues of all stripes. I met her for approximately four seconds but was incredibly impressed by her throughout the conference—I wish there were more like her! Plus, she really cut up the rug at the Harlequin party.

–Speaking of which: Harlequin throws amazing parties. Okay, first of all it was at the Four Seasons in a smashing room. And it had an open bar which some authors who shall remain nameless…enjoyed. But most impressive? The chocolate fountain. There were so many things to dip in it! I couldn’t get enough. Much to the consternation of the line forming behind me.

–Romance writers read. These people lined up for ages to get books signed, were able to chat about other writers in the genre, knew the reputations of publishers and who worked with whom. They’re by and large extremely well-read in their field and hyper-aware of where they want their own work to be placed and how to position themselves. I often ask the same question when I’m pitched books: Who would you compare your writing to, or whose career would you want to emulate? Lots of people get bashful at this point and say they hate to compare themselves to other writers. I hate that. And I didn’t get it this weekend. Instead I got humble but intelligent answers like, “I’m not going to say I’m at her level, but I like to think I’d appeal to the readers of Blah O’Blah because we share a style and…whatever, whatever.” If you’re pitching me a book, I want to know that you have a sense of who your audience is. If you don’t know what else that audience is buying…bad sign numero uno.

–Don’t get between a romance author and a dessert tray. Seriously, I almost had to take someone down who unleashed her inner howler monkey on me because she thought I was cutting in line for the tarts. Similarly, don’t pick a fight with an agent on the dessert line. I can be meaner than you. That’s all I’m sayin’.

I’m sure I learned other things, but I’ll have to take some more time to process them. Anyone else at RWA?

29 Responses to Jim McCarthy attends RWA

  1. Megan Frampton says:

    I love Nora, too. She is such an amazing spokesperson for the genre. And she can dance!

  2. Carolyn says:

    I was at RWA and was surprised to see more than a few men in attendance. That was very cool. Some were writers, too.

    Nora Roberts is a completely class act.

  3. Lisa Plumley says:

    LOL, Jim! You’re too funny. I hope this is just one of many RWA conferences for you. :)

  4. Jan Markley says:

    You’ll find the gender split more balanced when you’re at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in the fall.

    You may however have to come up with a new strategy if you’re in the dessert line with a bunch of us ‘nice’ Canadians. Having grown up with brothers and endured watching endless hockey games, I am well schooled in the art of the hip check (and so are my fellow Canadians).

  5. Pam Walters says:

    Jim, I was also at RWA and spoke to you at the Warner signing. Thanks for sharing your experiences here.

    I found the whole conference as amazing as I’ve come to expect, except I seem to have missed the line for the tarts. I must plan better next year.

  6. Michelle Rowen says:

    There was a chocolate fountain at the Harlequin party? I think I was a little distracted…by the bar…

  7. Jill Myles says:

    It was nice to meet you at the Harlequin party! I’m sorry I couldn’t hear you (or me) over the music, though. And I did not see the chocolate fountain – I was too busy hanging out at the open bar (cough).

    My group nerded out and went and saw a late night showing of Batman instead of staying at the whole party. When we left, it was sheer madness though!

    So does this mean you’ll be back next year? 😉

  8. Curt Walters says:

    Jim, it was great meeting you at RWA. I write thrillers and young adult, but find the information and support of RWA to be invaluable. This was my second conference and I’m almost used to being one of ten or so men who attend. Last year I was confused for a publisher of erotica, this year a drunk writer “pitched” me in the lobby, but however fleeting my fame it’s never bought me cuts in the lunch line.

  9. Sheryl says:

    LOL… this is the best blog post ALL year!

  10. Natalie Hatch says:

    Jim at least they didn’t hit on you, or did they? Although the howler monkey lady probably just wants your food.

  11. Bonnie Staring says:

    The dessert line would have been a traumatic experience for this Nationals newbie if you hadn’t been there holding back the howler monkey and her friends.

    Apparently a brownie is coveted more than a GH or Rita. 😉

  12. Anonymous says:

    LOL! This post reminded me of the story my husband told after attending the Denver conference with me. He was going to take a peek at the function space, on his way back from the parking garage — the elevator doors opened just as the session ended. He said he could see the wave of estrogen headed his way! Couldn’t push that “door close” button fast enough for his liking *G*

  13. Stephanie Feagan says:

    I hauled my husband with me to the Harlequin party. He said it was ‘odd’ how all the women dance together. I took offense and he quickly said, “It’s not weird. Just odd. If this was a guy event, nobody would be dancing. Together. Like that.” Bless his heart.

    Glad you had a good conference, Jim! Come back next year – it’s a short train ride to D.C.

  14. Suzanne Macpherson says:

    Jim, I laughed out loud at your RWA post~ if you could have only seen the amazing dessert room in Reno that went virtually untouched because the awards ceremony went on way too long! I tried to make up for some of my fellow authors who chose to sleep instead but a woman can only consume so much chocolate mousse at one sitting. I wish I’d bumped into you in San Fran! Glad you got to experience the glittering gaggle of girl writers. RWA is like boot camp for writers ;a little know fact in the literary world. However I will warn you against Dallas RWA conventions- when you mix Mary Kay and RWA its like a Molotov cocktail. TME: Too Much Estrogen in a contained space!

  15. Vicki says:

    I love this post. You’ve hit RWA and the best of the best spot on. Nora is amazing. I still remember the first time she walked up to me, said hello, I’m Nora, (as if I wouldn’t know) and then asked me what I wrote. I’m so not a star struck kind of girl, but let’s just say I stood there smiling. My answer? Romance. Well, duh.

    Hope to see you in D.C.

  16. Wilfred Bereswill says:

    Jim, if I’m not mistaken, didn’t you have Barry Eisler and Robert Gregory Browne to take the heat off of you?

    I was one of the few guys to attend Sisters in Crime’s national conference last year. I know that feeling.

  17. Alli says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed RWA, Jim. Nationals are an experience of a lifetime, for sure. I don’t write romance, but I love everything about the RWA. And RWA members don’t seem to mind if you don’t write romance. If you love to write and read, you’re always welcomed into the fold.
    The support of the RWA community is second to none, as can be seen with our fabulous Nora and other published authors.
    RWA is a hidden gem in the writing world.

  18. Haste yee back ;-) says:


    Any of ’em have pictures of their fishin’ boats?

    Haste yee back 😉

  19. Joya says:

    I had a similar feeling when I arrived at my first ever engineering class (halfway through the major, I switched to English). It wasn’t exactly bad, but definitely unexpected!

    Other than that, I just wanted to say it’s always a pleasure to read your entries (I’ve been a lurker until now). :)

  20. RK says:

    LOL! Loved the post.

    I haven’t made it to my first RWA National yet, now I’m really looking forward to it.

    Thanks for giving me an inside look and tips. ;D

  21. Anonymous says:

    “The dream where you show up at school without clothes and everyone stares at you?”

    Imagine the fun you might have had without clothes at RWA :)

  22. Julia Templeton says:

    I had such a great time hanging out with you at RWA.
    I REALLY hope you’ll consider attending the Romantic Times convention in April. I think you’d love it ;).

  23. Caren Crane says:

    Jim, we were really glad you made it to the conference this year. The worst part of being a man there, I’ve often thought, is that you stand out as an Industry Professional (with caps). There are a handful of men writing romance, but more often the men at conference are editors, agents, publicists, etc.

    I hope you will be on scene next year in D.C. RWA is always great fun. I’m glad you had a good time!

  24. Julie Weathers says:

    Ah, this is a late post, but just saw this.

    Hilarious. Glad you had a good time. I hope we will bump into each other at Surrey.

  25. Margot Justes says:

    Sounds like you had a good time at the conference. Enjoyed your post-chocolate and romance go very well together.
    Margot Justes
    A Hotel in Paris

  26. amanda hartley says:

    Holy cow! Too funny! You made my day! I had a similar experience–vice versa–at the American Urological Assoc. meeting about 10 years ago. I was one a very few females and got lots of (unnecessary) attention.

  27. Darrilyn says:

    LOL!You should be a comedic writer! Very entertaining and informative.

    Darrilyn M Wilson

  28. Chumplet says:

    Well, I’m one romance author who doesn’t have a sweet tooth. However, even as a nice Canadian, I wouldn’t hesitate to hip check someone out of the way to get at the shrimp spring rolls!

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