I am an introvert. I have discussed my introversion previously in this post. Today I read a blog post by fellow introvert writer Ashley Hodges that gives tips to fellow introverts who want to attend writers’ conferences. I kind of have a unique take on conferences and conventions. I did quite a few of them back in the mid 2000’s. There’s a reason I haven’t done many since.
Her advice is probably great if no one knows who you are and you’re not formally speaking at the con. But for those of us writers already published with an established fan base who are both introverted and suffer social anxiety with a sprinkling of selective misanthropy thrown in for good measure – the advice lacks. It lacks hardcore. Not all published authors are outgoing, reader loving, and witty. Some of us would rather just stay home and hide, but our agents and publishers insist otherwise.
So I thought I’d share my own tips for attending conferences and conventions for introverts who may experience social anxiety, or those who simply don’t like people (or certain types of people).
1. Small talk and getting to know people is EXHAUSTING. Find yourself a place to hide between panels, speakers, etc… so you can recharge and psyche yourself up for the next round. I don’t mean for just a few minutes. You may find a need to hide for an hour or more (if you’re as introverted as I am). The last convention I attended I found solace in the hotel parking garage. If you can’t find me at a conference it’s likely because I’m hiding, or I’ve disappeared with fellow introverts for food or drink. Your best bet is to catch my panel, reading, or signing if you want to see me.
2. Always have an exit. Especially if you’re the type to suffer panic attacks or lose your shit. My exit is always the person I drag to these things with me. I don’t usually do cons alone because…well, because. I need that one person to keep me focused and calm. Your exit may be a cell phone. “Oh geez, my significant other is texting me…excuse me for a moment.” Then you just slip away and disappear, until the next class, speaker, etc…
3. Always have a planned response just in case. If you are a magnet for strangers to latch onto (I am), be as polite as possible, but if you get to a point where you’re feeling smothered, bored, or generally annoyed – have a plan to politely brush people off, or to get away (see #2). The same applies to running into critics and haters who demand you deal with them and their petty bullshit right then and there. Either craft a response now and rehearse it, or respond on the fly. Your choice. I always feel calmer going into any situation with a planned response, just in case. My go to, were that to ever happen (it hasn’t), is to feign surprise and say, “Thank you for that breathtaking insight.” Then turn my attention onto people who aren’t assholes.
4. If alcohol makes you happier, less anxious, and easy going – find the bar immediately and have a drink, even if it is only two in the afternoon. It will take the edge off. Self medicate through alcohol as necessary, but not to the point where you’re dancing on tables or twerking. (Though that might be amusing for everyone else…) There is an art of balance to this. This is another reason to bring along a trusted friend. (Okay, this entire paragraph is really tongue in cheek, but if you have anxiety, maybe talk to your doc about anxiety meds?)
5. Unless you’re actually seeking editors or agents, best to avoid them, or treat them like any other conference attendee. You might even catch them hiding in the parking garage with you, or running to their rooms if they need a break from all the writers clamoring at them to read manuscripts. Editors and agents can be introverts, too! Seriously – they’ll likely find the writers who want nothing from them a welcome break. If you are fortunate to catch one, help them hide in the back of the bar and buy them a drink, gods know they deserve it. If you are seeking editors or agents – I don’t have any useful advice. I love the agents and editors I do know, but I mostly deal with small press and indie press, so rubbing elbows with editors and agents are never among the reasons I go to these things. ::shrug::
6. The ONLY real reasons to go to writers’ conferences are if you’re speaking to other writers, you want to learn from more experienced writers, you want to commiserate with other writers, you are trying to sell a book to a publisher, or you’re trying to find yourself an agent. You don’t really go to a writers’ conference to sell books or market yourself if you’re already published. You go to readers’ conventions for that. That’s not to say you don’t bring swag. You do, but it’s a different “kind” of sell. All writers are readers, so we read, but usually if we’re selling directly to other writers at writer conferences, we’re also offering each other blurbs and helping to pimp one another’s books to readers. For what it’s worth, for those with severe social anxiety, writers’ conferences are not necessary to find agents or get published. And you can meet and interact with other writers online. You can also take online writing courses from other writers. Not trying to dissuade you from attempting a writers conference, just pointing out that they’re not necessary for your success as a writer and there are other options if you do find conferences unbearable. Nowadays I only attend this sort of thing if I really want to see a certain speaker. On occasion I’ll attend to support a writer friend.
7. Yes, always have at the ready your answer to, “What do you write?” (and other assorted questions) because everyone and their mother is going to ask. I simply say, “A little of everything” and hand them a postcard that explains ‘everything’. It cuts down on having to explain the whole four pen-names, four genre thing 150 times in a weekend. I don’t have the patience for that. Sorry. If you’re published, you might even get additional questions like, “How many books have you had published?” or “Who’s your publisher?” or “Who’s your agent?” or “When is the next book coming out?” Another one I often get is, “How do you manage your time?” And on and on and on. You might even have unpublished writers ask you if you’ll read their MS and give them advice. The answer here is always, “No.” Not because I am a bitch, but usually because I already have a long list of published or soon-to-be published books on the to-be-read list.
8. Put on your happy face at readers’ conventions. Nod and smile a lot. Your face is going to hurt for a few days afterwards. Accept it. Resting bitch face will not do. You will have to talk to everyone, even people you feel uneasy around (like stalker types). It is what it is. The upside… cool readers buy their favorite authors drinks, and they’re often willing to help you find a table at the back of the bar to hide at so they can get some one-on-one chat time. It’s so much easier for an introvert author to deal with one doting fan than twenty. Also- if it’s a local convention, only attend the one day that offers the best chance for exposure. Or two half days. It will make it easier on you. If you’re traveling though, it’s best to stay the whole conference. Just plan some down time (hiding time), so you can recharge between rounds.
9. Public speaking can be a nightmare for everyone. Introvert and extrovert alike. I think it’s a little worse for introverts. I even avoided having a formal wedding because I don’t like large groups of people looking at me. It’s creepy. If this is your first time speaking and you’re freaking out, check out your local Toastmasters and join at least three months to a year in advance of your first speaking engagement.
10. I don’t recommend volunteering for anything where you can’t get away to recharge as you need to. As introverts, crowds of people usurp our energy. Small talk is exhausting. Unless you want to spend the next month in hiding in your house before going back out into the world, I recommend low key volunteer positions. Like helping set up conference rooms, or keeping the swag tables straight. Maybe moderating a panel or two, or handing out name tags for an hour or two.
11. Alas – there will be assholes. (This post by author Delilah S. Dawson explains why authors can sometimes be assholes.) Especially at the really big conventions. Some big name writer will snub you. There will always be that one writer who bogarts the entire panel. You’ll run across that annoying reader who demands to know WHY there was a typo on page 67. (I always tell those people my cat walked across the keyboard during the final edit, even though we all know that’s not how it works.) Or someone will make a snarky comment, or a rude statement, or whatever. This is the nature of throwing 200+ people into a hotel together where they’re interacting based on common interests. For all of this human drama I recommend some Taylor Swift: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfWlot6h_JM
I’ll add to this post as I think of more sage (or not) advice. On that note inevitably someone is going to ask why I don’t do as many conferences and conventions as other writers. I don’t do writers’ conferences unless I really think I can get something from it. They’re often too expensive for what I’m able to get out of them. I’ve been working in the book publishing industry (as a professional) for a little over fifteen years now. Not saying you can’t teach this old dog new tricks, but I keep up on marketing and trends in the industry by reading industry publications and blogs. I also belong to several online writers groups.
As for readers’ conventions, I attend local ones when they’re relevant (i.e. have readers who read what I write). Out-of-state ones require money I’d rather spend on vacation. Plus, none of my current publishers require (or request) me to attend them and I haven’t had an agent since 2007. So…. I’m kind of avoiding them because I can. I keep being invited to the esoteric conventions though, and to be honest, I’d rather love everyone from afar and teach online instead of in person. It’s just easier to be able to teach what I have to teach, then turn off the computer and go about my day. Plus again – gain vs. expense. I also hate pageantry and all that jazz. Not only that, but I’m still pretty much social pariah in the occult world. Daemons not always evil? And she offers them BLOOD??? Harrumph! says the imaginary monocle wearing magician inside my head.
So if you’re an introvert writer/speaker and you attend conferences and conventions on a regular basis, what are some of your survival strategies?