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Back when I was writing cozy mysteries, my favorite conferences were Sleuthfest and Crimebake. Since I became part of the romance community, however, I’ve attended chapter meetings (very local) and national conferences, with nothing in between. National conferences are so expensive that I really had a hard time justifying the financial outlay for anything else. But for a few years, I’d been hearing about the New Jersey Romance Writers “Put Your Heart in a Book” conference and I’d always intended to go when I could.

And then I got really lucky—I’d submitted a proposal for a workshop on branding and it was accepted! I didn’t have to pay the conference fee! I could go!

I live less than two hours away from Iselin, where the conference was held, and I am under deadline, so I decided to drive home rather than spending Saturday night, but I understand the party was hopping!

Anyway, with the national conference in 2015 being in New York, I have a feeling some people will say “why bother with NJ?” Well, having been to both, I figured I’d write a post on that now, while NJ is still fresh on my mind. Here are some reasons to think about NJ next year:

  • Cost: I’m not saying you should necessarily judge what conferences you attend based on price, but face it, most of us have to consider our finances!
  • Access: This has a couple of meanings. First, because the conference is just a train ride from NYC, you get access to some great agents and editors. I wasn’t looking for either myself, but I had a lovely conversation with a couple of Harlequin editors at lunch. Second, because the conference is slightly smaller, you have more access to the people who are there. I had a fabulous chat with Madeline Hunter, which I cannot imagine happening at nationals where everyone is running around like a lunatic.
  • Democracy: This is sort of related to “access”  I love Nationals, and I’ve said—repeatedly—that I think people should go to them if they can. However, huge conferences are often where authors who are friends online see each other for the one and only time all year. They are also places where people are somewhat desperate for networking (see my post on Conference Tiffs and the Polite Lie). Because there are fewer people, it’s easier to chat with people, especially those you might be nervous about approaching otherwise. (Like Madeline Hunter. OMG. Madeline Hunter.)
  • Accessibility: This is an odd thing to notice unless you’re trained to pay attention to it, but one of the things I can appreciate about the Renaissance Woodbridge, where the NJRW conference is held, is that it’s very accessible. There are guest bedrooms on the main floor, which makes it easier to get to a lot of the events if you have mobility issues. (Not all events are on the same floor, but most are on the main floor.) The hallways are wide, so even if the “goody area” has table set up on both sides for people to put their stuff, there’s still room to maneuver a wheelchair through. And most of the sessions were in rooms that had plenty of egress and aisle space (which are things I notice now that I’m married to a firefighter).
  • Talent Pool: one of the reasons I like going to conferences is that I come home re-energized to write and to put into practice all the stuff I’ve heard. Obviously, national conferences have even more people available to them, but I was very impressed with the level of workshop at NJRW. Possibly because the conference has been around a long time and it’s well-known and respected, so they get good speakers.
  • Book Fair. I don’t know too many other conferences that have this and make it available to self-published authors. Book fairs are real problems for those of us who already have way too many books, but I can’t ever resist them! Running around, seeing all the good stuff people have out, finding new authors…so much fun! Making friends with the people on either side of you if you’re selling books…priceless.
K.M. Jackson with her Golden Leaf Award

K.M. Jackson with her Golden Leaf Award

For myself, I really enjoyed meeting people after my own workshop and I appreciated that they took the time to come and talk to me and tell me their thoughts. There were a couple of panels I really wanted to get to but missed anyway (it always happens), but the ones I did get to were high quality. I got to spend time with people I’d met once or twice but never really sat down with, and met others who I hope I will be able to continue a relationship with in the future. I connected with one author who writes romantic suspense and we talked at length about doing some co-promotion. Again, something that doesn’t happen when people are frenetically rushing from one event to another.

Of course, I had an especially good time because my friend K.M. Jackson won the Golden Leaf award for her novel Bounce. Lots of joy and happy tears! That always makes a conference better.

All in all, I’d highly recommend this conference. Even if you’re planning on going to nationals in NYC. If at all possible, I’ll be at both!