The Introvert's Guide to Writing Conferences

Attending writing conferences is a great way to learn about the craft, stay up to date on the publishing industry and meet new people. If you are introvert, this can seem intimidating, but with a little preparation and a shift in your mindset, a conference can be an incredible, life-changing experience.
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Did you sign up to—gulp—interact with other people at a writer's conference? Never fear, friends, we've been there, and we've got you covered. Kerrie Flanagan offers her best tips every introvert can use to ensure a fun and productive time at writing conferences of every kind.

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You did it! You signed up for a writing conference, and now the event is right around the corner. Slight panic sets in as you realize there will lots of people, you might not know anyone and you’d rather walk through fiery hot coals than network with strangers. If you relate to any of these statements, then I’ll go out on a limb and say you are an introvert. The good news is, so are a majority of other writers at the conference and there are strategies you can use that will allow you to enjoy the event and make some great connections.

Set Intentions

A few weeks before the conference, think about what you hope to get from the event. If you are still fairly new to writing or this is your first conference, you may want to take a broad approach, something that gives you a good overview about writing and publishing.

If you have been to writing conferences before or you have certain goals for your writing, consider a more laser-focused approach. Do you want to focus on the craft of writing? The business side of publishing? Building a platform? Finding an agent? Whatever the focus, make your plan with that in mind. Look over the schedule and choose sessions, workshops and other extras (critiques, one-on-one consults, pitch sessions…) based on your goals.

Be Professional

Publishing is a business and needs to be treated like one, so dress the part. When you are writing at home, you may love your big comfy sweatpants and warm flannel shirt, but home is where they should stay. For the conference, dress professionally, in something that makes you feel confident and comfortable. We all have outfits that make us stand taller and feel more self-assured. Choose those. (But you might want to make sure your shoes are comfortable enough for a bit of walking.)

Always maintain poise when you are interacting with agents and editors. There are usually designated times when you can discuss your manuscript with them. So, don’t slide it under a bathroom stall door as a way to avoid talking to the them. You will be remembered, but not for the right reasons.

Network

Writing time is often spent with only our characters to keep us company. Mingling with strangers at meal times or cocktail hours can be downright intimidating. With a little preparation, this doesn’t have to be scary. Learn everything you can about the different presenters. Visit their websites, find out more about their writing and follow them on social media. Then if you have the chance to visit with them, you will know a little bit about them and have some topics you can talk with them about.

One surefire way to ease the discomfort of networking is to have a few standard questions ready to go. Obviously, you can ask them about their writing, but people also like to talk about themselves, so ask about family, favorite movies and what they like to do for fun in addition to writing.

One great phrase to use is, “Tell me about…” This way you don’t have to ask questions that seem intrusive like, “Are you married?” Instead you can say, “Tell me about your family.” Each day of the conference, set a goal for yourself saying how many new people you are going to introduce yourself to that day. Then make a point to meet or exceed it.

Participate

Once you're there, you need to go all in, taking advantage of everything that is being offered and participating in as much as you can. After all, you paid for it, so you might as well get your money’s worth. If you’re in a session that is not meeting your expectations, it is OK to quietly slip out and find another. I know it can feel impolite to do it, but you will be glad you did. Besides, nobody else knows why you are leaving.

Before a session starts, make a point to introduce yourself to one person sitting next to you. (write that person’s name down). If you do this for each session, when mealtimes and the cocktail hours roll around, you will know at least a few people.

Toward the end of the conference, you will be tired and your brain on overload. Remember the event won’t last forever. When it's all over you will be back in the comfort of your own personal writing space, putting to good use everything you learned. Until then, push through and stay until the very end.

Keep an Open Mind

It's easy to stay the course and focus only on your genre and what you are comfortable writing. But I encourage you to be brave and explore different worlds and expand your writing horizons. If you write adult urban fantasy, attend a children’s writing workshop or personal essay session or one on screenwriting. By keeping an open mind, you can always learn something new that can apply to your own writing.

Attending writing conferences is a great way to learn about the craft, stay up to date on the publishing industry and meet new people. If you are introvert, this can seem overwhelming and intimidating, but with a little preparation and a shift in your mindset, a conference can be an incredible, life-changing experience.

Upcoming Writer's Digest Writing Conferences:

To find other conferences visit The Shaw Guides.

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