Thursday, October 17, 2019

An Introvert’s Guide to Writer’s Conferences

By Sarah McGuire, @fireplusalgebra

Part of The Writer's Life Series 

JH: Conferences are an amazing and fun way to learn and network, but they aren't always easy for introverted or shy writers. Sarah McGuire is back this month with tips on how shy writers can make the most of a conference without stressing themselves out. 

Sarah McGuire is a nomadic math teacher who sailed around the world aboard a floating college campus. She writes fairy tales and would be just fine if one day she opened a wardrobe and stumbled into another world. Coffee and chocolate are her rocket fuel. She wishes Florida had mountains, but she lives there anyways with her husband (who wrote this bio in less than three minutes!) and their family.

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Take it away Sarah…

Sarah McGuire
Writer’s conferences are a great resource for learning the craft and business of writing—and for meeting other writers. They can also be overwhelming for an introvert. Here are a few survival tips I’ve learned over the years.

Before the Conference, 1: Volunteer.

This is a simple but powerful way to connect! It’s so much easier for me to extrovert if I have a purpose like passing out folders or showing people where the next workshop will be.

Well before the conference, ask if the organizers if they need help. 

They often include contact info for people interested in volunteering.) Be aware that you might be given a less glamorous job the first few times you volunteer, like filling folders or helping with snacks. Do it anyway! It gives you something to do at the conference. More importantly, it gives you a group of people to work with.

Before the Conference, 2: Be prepared to talk about your work.

People will ask you’re working on. Count on it. 

Prepare a one or two-sentence pitch/logline. 

Don’t think you can give a lame answer like, “It’s a middle grade.” (I did. It didn’t work.) Don’t think that you’ll have time to ramble as you try to explain your entire story. (Didn’t work, either.)

You’re a storyteller. So tell a story, even if you have to write—and rewrite till they’re perfect—two sentences ahead of time and rehearse them on the way to the conference. You probably want to write books for a while, right? Then get used to answering this question.

Here are a few resources to help you craft your pitch:

At the Conference, 1: Ask questions!

Questions keep me from having to figure out what to say next. More importantly, though, they’re a great way to know other people!

Questions for fellow attendees:
  • What are you currently working on? (See? This comes up all the time. That’s why you need to be ready to answer it!)
  • How long have you been attending this conference? Any suggestions about workshops, speaker etc.?
  • Insert whatever awesome questions you think of .

Questions for agents/editors/art directors:

I was consistently tongue-tied when I met agents or editors. I’d become either 1) awkward or 2) silent to avoid being awkward. The habit stuck even after I’d sold my first book because I fully understood my ability to keep being awkward Yet my husband has a question that works every single time. Here it is:
  • What project are you excited about right now?

That’s it. Then ask more questions about the project—if you can get a word in edgewise! Maybe after the conversation, Important Person will ask you what you’re working on. If so, you will have an easy answer because you’ve already prepared and rehearsed your two-sentence pitch.

At the Conference, 2: My Mom’s Best Tip Ever.

Find someone else who looks more lost than you are and talk to them. 

You don’t have to adopt that person the entire time, but see if you can help a few folks. Silly as it sounds, putting someone at ease has always made me feel more at ease. I think it works because it helps me shift my focus away from my own anxiety.

At the Conference, 3: Don’t ever, EVER, use the word “just.”

As in, I’m just a mom/dad/hobbyist/prepublished-writer/fill-in-the-blank.

Don’t! (I speak with authority because I still struggle with this.) Sure you have goals you still want to meet: that’s why you’re there. However, instead of just-ing yourself, talk about your goals. Talk about what you want to learn. It’s hard, but it’s worth the effort.

At the Conference, 4: Pace Yourself.

If you need to take a break or take a nap, go for it—especially if it’s a weekend conference. 

It won’t hurt anyone’s feelings if you slip away for a bit. In fact, I think many writers tend to be introverts, so if you mention that you needed some time to yourself, most people will congratulate, not judge you.

That’s all I’ve got, but I’d love to know any survival tips that you might have for writers’ conferences.

About The Flight of Swans

Princess Andaryn's six older brothers have always been her protectors--until her father takes a new Queen, a frightening, mysterious woman who enchants the men in the royal family. When Ryn's attempt to break the enchantment fails, she makes a bitter bargain: the Queen will spare her brothers' lives if Ryn remains silent for six years.

Ryn thinks she freed her brothers, but she never thought the Queen would turn her brothers into swans. She never thought she'd have to discover the secret to undoing the Queen's spell while eluding the Otherworldly forces that hunt her. And she never thought she'd have to do it alone, without speaking a single word.

As months as years go by, Ryn learns there is more to courage than speech . . . and that she is stronger than the Queen could have ever imagined.

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  1. I think the best advice is to latch onto someone who seems as lost as you. It is amazing the friends and connections one makes at conferences.

    1. You are so right! I still have relationships with people that I met over 10 years ago at conferences.