When I tell you about what I did at last year’s RWA conference in San Antonio, please keep those two facts in mind before calling me a complete idiot: 1) I do not function well without adequate sleep. 2) If I can’t get adequate sleep, I refuse to function at all without adequate food. God, I love food. Especially when it’s free and in buffet form.
Even with those facts in mind, you will likely still call me a complete idiot, but you will do so with pity rather than scorn. And that’s good enough for me.
At last year’s conference, I knew no one. Probably because I’d only been writing for two months. Nevertheless, approximately a zillion people informed me that I needed to strike up conversations with editors and agents at the bar.
The problem with that advice: I don’t drink. At all. And I’m shy. So approaching random, influential strangers at a bar and pestering them about my lone finished book (that had clear problems—namely, the lack of what is conventionally termed “a plot”) and a writing career that barely existed seemed problematic. Still, I told myself to keep an eye peeled for opportunities to network, despite the fact that I’d rather go for a leisurely swim in a crocodile-infested river than schmooze.
By the third day of the conference, I had not yet networked. Surprise, surprise. And I was exhausted. Not only from the many wonderful sessions, but also from being surrounded by crowds all day long and trekking back and forth to the two different hotels where the sessions were held. Somehow, the session I most wanted to see next was always—always—in the other hotel. (By the final day, I displayed surprising flexibility when it came to which session I most wanted to see next.)
On top of that, I’d met my new critique partner for the first time the previous night—hi, Mia!—and we’d plowed through critiques of 30,000 words of each other’s manuscripts. Plus, we’re kinda chatty. It took hours. By the time I got back to my hotel—because I hadn’t registered in time to get a room at either of the two conference hotels—I needed to unwind. So I read a bit. Until two in the morning.
When I got my wake-up call later that morning, I was groggy and disoriented. Screw it, I thought. If I miss a session, who cares? But then I realized: If I didn’t make it in time, I wouldn’t get free breakfast at the conference hotel. FREE BREAKFAST, PEOPLE. And the 45-minute lunch breaks were killing me, since I couldn’t seem to procure and eat food within that time frame without cutting into the post-lunch sessions. My plan had been to load up on the FREE BREAKFAST so I wouldn’t even need lunch.
In other words, a combination of practicality and sheer miserliness was driving me to get to the damn conference before the FREE BREAKFAST was gone. I dragged my ass out of bed, took a quick shower, and staggered outside my hotel with wet hair, determined to find a taxi.
As the nice man at the hotel attempted in vain to hail one, I counted the minutes ticking by, knowing my FREE BREAKFAST was being consumed by other, more organized (but less desperate) writers. Finally, the doorman at the hotel found me a taxi. This particular taxi already contained another woman, who was apparently going to the same hotel as I was.
She wasn’t wearing a badge of any sort. Did I wonder whether she was attending the conference? Certainly. But she didn’t seem like the chatty sort, and I was too sleepy to force idle conversation on anyone, much less someone who might be going to the hotel for a non-RWA reason.
We arrived at the conference hotel, and the woman attempted to pay for both of us with her credit card. Despite the fact that the fare was only three dollars.
“You don’t have to do that,” I said, opening my wallet and taking out a five. “I can get it.”
She turned and looked at me for the first time. “This is my corporate credit card for Major Publishing House Olivia Shouldn’t Mention by Name. I can get it.”
My eyes widened as much as they were capable of doing at that moment. Which is to say, not much. “Thank you.”
She shrugged and turned back to the cab driver, who was having none of it. None. Of. It.
“Lady, I’m not taking a credit card for this amount.” He shook his head, disgusted. “Cash only.”
Despite her protests, he didn’t budge. In the end, I wound up paying for both of us.
She smiled at me for the first time. “Why don’t I buy you coffee inside as a thank you?”
This was it. The big moment to network. I’d helped her! She was already predisposed to think I was an awesome person! And I hadn’t even had to go to the bar! Time to spring into action and show what a wonderful addition I’d make to her publisher’s roster of authors!
So here’s what I said: “Oh, no thank you. I don’t drink coffee.”
Which is true. But a ridiculous answer, given the circumstances.
To my credit, I quickly realized that maybe I hadn’t chosen the best response. Perhaps because the woman looked totally nonplussed. I’m guessing not too many RWA attendees turn down an offer of coffee from a publisher’s representative.
My next gambit: “Maybe I could get a bottle of water instead?”
And that’s the point where I wanted to throw myself under the wheels of the cab. Because carrying a water bottle around a conference hotel that supplies water outside each session is fucking stupid. Oh, God. She had to think I was an idiot, and I hadn’t even tried to talk about my writing yet!
Now I was in a full-fledged panic. Especially when I realized…
The FREE BREAKFAST was about to end! If I didn’t make it to the second floor within the next five minutes, the FREE BREAKFAST would slip from my grasp forever. And I was hungry. So hungry. And so very tired and confused and nervous.
So here’s what I did. I turned to this lady from Major Publishing House and said, “I don’t really need water. Thank you, though. I’d better get to the free breakfast. It’s ending soon, you know!”
Then I sprinted away from her and up the stairs, leaving her standing alone in the middle of the lobby.
Hotel employees had already begun to clear the buffet when I arrived, so I congratulated myself on my good timing and loaded up my plate. And it wasn’t until two o’clock that afternoon—hours and hours later—that I fully realized what I’d done. I think I started laughing semi-hysterically when the magnitude of my awkwardness and stupidity hit me.
An opportunity to network—with a publisher, for God’s sake—had essentially dropped into my lap. Me, the woman who didn’t go to the bar or know anyone. And I’d literally run away from it.
So to those of you who think you’re the most socially awkward person at the RWA conference this year: au contraire. You’re looking at the goddamn queen of awkwardness. Bow down, hussies.
P.S. All that said, the potatoes at that FREE BREAKFAST were quite tasty. And I actually have both an agent (the fantabulous Jessica Alvarez from BookEnds) and an editor now. So maybe I made the right decision after all?
P.P.S. Jessica’s response to that question: “If I’d been with you, you would’ve had that coffee and liked it! Or at least pretended to like it.” She has absolutely no respect for FREE BREAKFASTS.