An Introvert’s Guide to Surviving the Writer Conference

by Mimi Sebastian

Tomorrow the Desert Dreams Conference (our Phoenix Desert Rose chapter of Romance Writer’s of America conference) starts tomorrow and I’m excited! Now that’s an unusual comment for me to make about a conference. Generally, you’d find me trying to hide out somewhere. ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Part of why I’m so looking forward to the conference is because I’m not pitching! I can attend sessions and hang out with my Desert Muses!!

The last conference I attended was the Romance Novel Convention (RNC) in Las Vegas last August. The timing was perfect. My novel came out in July of 2013, and as a debut author looking for ways to connect with other authors and draw attention to my book, it didn’t take much convincing for me to register for the conference. I was also motivated by the fact that a few of my author friends from Phoenix also planned to attend. In fact, one even got married during the masquerade ball!

But my dilemma, as always, is my love-hate relationship with social gatherings where I don’t know a majority of the people. I’m mostly introverted, as I think many writers are. For me, if often depends on the situation. I can be quite social where I know and feel comfortable with the people. At my day job, I can assert myself with the best of extroverts. But it’s taken many years and work presentations to build that confidence over time. When I encounter a colleague at a work meeting or conference, I don’t have any problems starting a conversation. My goal with my author side is to build that same confidence over time.

Authors have to juggle many hats, as if writing weren’t enough. We have to learn social media and the skill of self-promotion, things that people get degrees to learn. I personally would rather poke my eyes out, but that probably won’t help me market myself.

Conferences like RWA Nationals and Romantic Times seem so big and imposing, and I’ve heard stories, oh, those stories. But despite my trepidation, I’m building up to those and will drag my friends along. One step at a time, split up in manageable chunks. It’s how I’ve managed my writing career so far and it seems to work.

What helped me tremendously at RNC was having other author friends in attendance, as I mentioned. Those are my lifelines when standing in the hallway, anxiously looking around while trying not to look like I’m anxiously looking around. I also enjoyed the classes, hearing advice from other authors, tips of the trade, etc. RNC scheduled a lot of sessions on social media and promotion, which I found particularly useful, and gave me some ways to connect with some of the other authors. I find that keeping myself busy helps a lot. In fact, at Desert Dreams, I’m volunteering for a couple of activities. Volunteering gives me something to do and an inroad to conversing with the attendees.

Ultimately, I just have to tell myself that it’s okay to find a quite spot to sit alone. I guess it’s still that high school teenager in me that cries out someone will think you’re a loser if you’re sitting alone. The eternal wallflower. LOL.

Based on this blog post, I probably sound like I’d rather spend most of my time under a rock. I will admit to wanting to stay in bed, like the picture, but that’s not possible with my five year old jumping all over the place 🙂 But in reality, I really enjoy making that connection with people. I’ve traveled quite a bit around the world and have never had a problem meeting people oversees. And I do enjoy talking with other authors because we have a lot in common. We suffer the same joys and frustrations. Sometimes when I hear another author voice a similar issue or frustration that I’m experiencing, I want to jump up and down and hug that author. I restrain myself. It’s one thing being an introvert. It’s another being nutty 🙂

While conferences can be painful, I always leave with a smile on my face. It’s truly a love-hate relationship.

A few tips that help me get through those uncomfortable moments and engage:

Ask questions. It breaks the ice, starts a conversation, and who knows, maybe the person standing or sitting quietly next to you is experiencing the same discomfort and wants to reach out, but is unable to. If you engage them, it helps the both of you! You can start simply: What do you write? Where are you from? What other classes have you attended?

As I previously mentioned, I had friends attending RNC, and we sought out times to meet up, whether to eat or sit around the pool, and recharge. For an introvert, recharging is essential. Introverts tend to expend lots more energy when interacting with others. It’s okay to give yourself that time.

I touched upon volunteering when possible. In fact, people approach you with questions so you don’t have to agonize over what to ask!

I also like to find what I call my safe space in a room. For example, at the RNC book fair, it was pretty easy. I had my spot at my table where I sold my books. This was actually a perfect set up. I smiled at people walking by, handed out book marks, etc. But I occasionally got up and walked around and talked to some of the other authors, knowing when I needed to, I could return to my table. It really helped that I was sitting by two really nice authors and we had fun talking, etc.

I started small, went to local author gatherings or attended meetings and social events held by the local RWA chapter, building up to RNC, not just to get more comfortable with such events, but to learn. At our local RWA monthly meetings, members sign up to give presentations or table topics. I did a table topic not too long ago and it gave me a great platform to test the waters with sharing knowledge I’d picked up along the way, but to also practice talking to people I didn’t know, open up discussion.

And sometimes you simply need to decompress. I’ll escape to my hotel room or find a quiet corner and process, or take a seat in the hospitality suite. A glass of wine always helps with this 🙂 You may encounter someone else doing that very thing, presenting an opportunity.

And don’t forget to smile and be yourself 🙂

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