This little introvert went to conference

Please welcome YA author B.A. Binns to the blog.

To me, writing is the perfect job. I’m the kind of girl who prefers alone time. Crowds devour me. I love silence and solitude. And walking up to a stranger and beginning a conversation – you have got to be kidding. Writing sheltered me from this. I like putting my fingers on the keyboard so much I finished three manuscripts in the last two years. One became a Golden Heart finalist for 2010. Another became my first sale; a YA entitled PULL, due to hit store shelves this October. I mention these so you know that I walked into the RWA National Conference last month with two very important ribbons attached to my badge, a Golden Heart finalist and a First Sale. I also walked in with clamoring nerves.

2010 was my real first RWA National conference. I attended the 2008 conference, but the truth is that barely counts. I was both new to RWA and still deep inside my introvert shell (I score at the top 3% on the charts, thank you very much), so all I did was attend workshops. I raced from room to room on tired legs, determined to soak in every piece of knowledge available. I ended up exhausted. I met absolutely no one except the poor agent and editor I pitched to. I don’t remember their names and I only pray to God they don’t remember my babbling. This introvert didn’t have the energy required to step up to strangers and say hello, so I left knowing no one I didn’t know before I arrived. In the end I felt lost and that I had wasted my time and money attending.

Fearful of another exercise in frustration, I skipped 2009, not wanting to repeat that experience. But this year I decided to give things another try. I realized the conference would be what I made of it, and I decided I needed to make connections. I had a GOAL when I signed up for the 2010 RWA National conference: to network, network and Network. I was going to make friends and – well, if not influence people, at least get to know lots of them.

Even if it killed me.

I psyched myself up before boarding the plane. You will talk to people, I told myself, especially first-timers in memory of all the people I wish had spoken to me. I began by accepting an invitation to room with a near total stranger, Gail Zerrade, who writes under the name Clarissa Southwick. She and I are both members of the Unsinkables, as we 2010 Golden Heart finalists call ourselves. We’ve emailed for several months, so I convinced my shy self that staying with her wasn’t exactly the same as being with a complete stranger. Gail and I clicked and I enjoyed my time with her in spite of the huge jolt to my system. And that was just the beginning.

Another step in my goal involved volunteering. I worked at the Conference bookfair, talking to shoppers, answering questions, and handing out my cards for two hours Wednesday morning. I also volunteered at the Pro Retreat, and began to enjoy calling to people and waving them over to my section. After that, I was warmed up and ready to keep exercising my networking skills.

Receptions abounded, and I chose to attend those and other people-meeting activities over sitting quietly in workshops. So if you’re reading to find out the juice about workshops, you’ll have to go elsewhere. I purchased the conference CDs the first day so I could concentrate on and moving outside my comfort zone to meet and mingle with people.

The internet is an introvert’s best friend, and I have become a joiner. I am a member of a number of RWA chapters, including Chicago North and WisRWA. I am also a member of the online chapters YA RWA (“say it like a pirate”) a special interest group for young adult writers, and the Golden Network, a special interest chapter for current and past Golden Heart finalists. I am also a member of GIAM, the writing Goal-In-A-Month group put together by Amy Atwell that taught me to set goals if I want to achieve results. It felt great to meet her in person for the first time.

Each group held get-togethers during conference. Because my novel, PULL, had won the YA category of the Oklahoma RWA chapter’s “Finally A Bride” contest, I also received an invite to their reception. Once I took a deep breath and decided to step outside that invisible comfort zone of mine, I was in a whirlwind of breakfast meetings and after-hours get-togethers every day. I met people, shaking hands, exchanging cards and meeting my goals. I made an appearance at every reception I was eligible to attend, especially the one’s with open bars! I went, I talked, I even hugged – a big deal for me. I chatted with agents and editors – yes, chatted, no pitching required since I had already made a sale, so I was able to relax around them.

I managed long talks with some of my favorite authors too, including Courtney Milan, Kayla Perrin, Karen Rose, Julia Quinn and Lori Wilde. And Lisa Kleypas, whom I’ve been reading and loving for years, not only asked about my book, PULL, when she saw my first sale ribbon, but said she wanted to read my book!! My heart jumped when she said took my card. One of my major idols wanted to read my book. Shows the power of the quick pitch, I gave her three sentences, she loved the concept.

No, I didn’t win a Golden Heart, but I more than achieved my goal and the conference was worth every penny. The Golden Heart finalist status helped. So did that First-timer ribbon. But the big difference was my attitude. This was my real first-time. I met my idols, learned to talk to editors and agents as if they were normal people (they really are) and greet people I didn’t know. I even introduced myself to several first-timers who looked as lost as I probably did back in 2008. Somewhere in the middle of things I found time to attend five workshops and three book signings so I had to ship a huge box of books home. In the end I distributed about eighty cards, and received about fifty. I attended eight receptions/chapter meetings – many of them simultaneously a feat even many paranormals would have difficulty achieving.

My schedule:

Volunteer at Bookfair
The Golden Network Retreat
Literacy signing
WisRWA get-together
GIAM get-together

Simultaneous breakfasts with both other Unsinkables and YARWA
PRO Retreat
The Golden Network Reception
Oklahoma Romance Writers reception
YARWA meeting and reception
Chicago North reception,

Golden Heart Reception
Two private receptions

Golden Heart practice
Dress (an activity all by itself)
Awards ceremony

Harry Potter World!


Best of all, I scheduled down-time. Sunday and Monday while everyone else was rushing for the airport, I relaxed by the pool, toured Downtown Disney and visited both Epcot and Harry Potter.

Oh yes, I managed to raid the Goodie Room, too. And I’m relaxed and eager to do it all again in 2011 in New York.

B.A. Binns grew up on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, the eldest of five children. Her love of education led her to haunt the halls of the University of Wisconsin, Michigan State University, Depaul University, Roosevelt, Chicago State, and Harper College. She's worked as a computer programmer, trainer, raised one child, retired early, and now spends her days volunteering—and writing. Her debut novel, PULL, releases October 25. You can learn more about B.A. Binns on her website and her blog.


  1. Barbara,

    I feel so honored to have had the chance to meet you at National. You definitely worked the conference to your benefit, and I had no idea you considered yourself shy! Congrats, and thanks for sharing these great tips with others.

  2. Delighted to hear your conference story. Congratulations on widening your comfort zone.

  3. Barbara, in all the time you've been a Chicago-North member, I never realized you were an introvert. ;) I'm so impressed by the way you plunged into the conference experience this year...and congrats on having such a great chat with Lisa Kleypas!

  4. Thanks for visiting. Blythe and Marilyn, you don't remember that until last year I just came to meetings, sat quietly and then left at the end. I've made a conscious decision toburst out of my shell. It's been difficult to put myself out there, but rewarding getting to know you all. Especially Amy- you helped me set and meet my goals and I was so happy to actually meet you at conference.

  5. Barbara, thanks so much for coming on here today. I think your story will resonate with a lot of my readers.


  6. Thanks for sharing your conference experience Barb. I'm so thrilled for you and the well-deserved success you've garnered with your debut, PULL. I'm always excited to see your name on the manuscript list as a reader because I know the story and the writing will be great.

    Lisa Kleypas wanting to read your book is AWESOME! I'm sure you've given hope to introverts throughout RWA with the way your put yourself out there this time.


  7. Fabulous post, Barb. I know your experience will strike a chord with so many writers. We didn't decide to spend our time by ourselves making stuff up without a good reason, after all. One of the things that helps me in social situation is remembering this little tidbit:

    "Half the world is waiting for the other half to say hello."

    I make a conscious effort to be the one who says hello and I'm rarely disappointed by the response.

    Congrats on your debut and on pushing your own envelope! You rock!

  8. Barbara Great post!! Considering the T-Shirt you wear to meetings that I love, I find it difficult to believe you're an introvert. Yes purchasing the conference CD is a fantastic way to 'attend' workshops in your jammies at home instead of sitting in a hard chair for an hours. You can pause, rewind, fast forward at ease. It frees you up to do other things like what you did. Or sleep in late, sight see.. You've done a lot in two years, I commend you.

  9. Barbara,

    I can relate to you in a couple of ways. First, I always went to workshops and took notes, and I was always with people I knew. I always came home from conference exhausted and feeling like I hadn't accomplished much.

    It was the very last RWA conference I attended that I made the decision you did to step out of my comfort zone and meet new people. Our GIAM2 group, especially Amy, were the ones who really helped me. That was the year, I decided it was more important to network than go to all the workshops.

    Thanks for this post, Barbara.

  10. Barbara, I wanted to say again how beautiful you looked in your gown for the awards ceremony Saturday night. :-) I clapped so hard when they got to your book when naming the nominees that my hands hurt...LOL

    Fantastic blog, I'm so happy for all of your successes; you deserve them. And I very much look forward to reading PULL.

    I grew up on the south side of Chicago as well, by the way. :-)

  11. Barbara, I'm sorry I missed you at National, but glad we met at the WisRWA conference. I never guessed you were shy. You hid it well.

    I'm on the shy side, too. Like you I make an effort to surmount it.

  12. I forgot, but your gown is fantastic! It stood out in a sea of black dresses, so I take that to mean you were stepping out of your cocoon! Yes!!

  13. When I decided to go after chaning myself I went full force. And the dress was part of it. I intended to get just another little black dress, but that thing called me. My innermost self warned me I couldn't be invisible in that thing, and that was the final thing that put me over the edge. And yes, people stopped me to comment just on the dress.

    Now I just need the guts to get out there and talk to bookstores and other venues about a launch and book-signings. It never ends.

  14. What an inspirational post! Thanks for sharing with us.

  15. Barbara, I'm so glad you chose to step out of your comfort zone this year because it gave me a chance to meet and chat with you! Meeting you is a wonderful conference memory for me. Great job making the most of your trip!!

  16. I think you should continue wearing something bright, simple and lively. It radiates your power and belief in yourself even when you don't really it deep down inside. The gown was a chance, you embraced it, and it paid off.
    I'll miss seeing you at the Chapter meeting tonight.

  17. Barbara,

    I'll say you came full circle this conference. I'd never believe you were an introvert.

    Can't wait to read your book.

  18. Great post, Barbara. I too find conferences overwhelming. It helps when you have some time away from it or some good friends to meet up with. Sorry we never got a chance to chat.

  19. Hi Barbara,
    We got to meet so briefly at Nationals and I wish there'd been more time to get better aquainted. I'm thrilled you had such a wonderful time. I was one who stopped you about your gorgeous dress--and I meant every word. The picture with this blog is lovely.

    I can't wait to read PULL and I'm so proud to be an Unsinkable with you. I think the way you took charge of your inner fears is one of the bravest things you could ever have done. (Scarier even than writing a book!) You're definitely an inspiration! Congratulations on all your success.

  20. Great post Barbara. I too am introverted, and was really glad for the first sale/first time ribbons for drawing people over to say hello. They really helped break the ice. Good for you for giving the conference another go--and how could you not when you had so much to celebrate!! Beautiful dress, by the way, and PULL sounds great!

  21. Barbara,

    I think you have plenty of company, I'm right there with you, I love my solitude, and coming up to talk to people is like going to the dentist-wait-I prefer going to the dentist.

    Margot Justes
    A Hotel in Paris

  22. Barbara, I never would have guessed you were shy! You did a great job mingling and talking. I'm an extreme extrovert, so it's possible that I talked over all the silences that would have happened if I had just shut up! *laugh*

    I know I'm not Lisa Kleypas, but I'm eager to read your book, too!


  23. Thanks for the kind words. I was very lucky to end up with you as a roommate. The pictures are gorgeous, your writing is fantastic, and I hope we'll see each other again in New York.

  24. Hi Barbara,
    Wow, look at you all glammed up. Gorgeous! What a thrill to have all those firsts at this conference. I'm just sorry I wasn't able to make it this year to meet you in person and celebrate with you.

    Are you sure you're shy? You certainly never come across that way online. :-)

    Can't wait to read your book. October is right around the corner!

  25. Hi Barbara,

    Great post. This year was my first Nationals, only my second writers conference ever, and I went barely knowing anyone. I am a serious introvert too but I made myself go and even volunteer. So glad I did, I met some great people. Wish I could have been more outgoing and met even more but it was still a huge accomplishment for me.

    You really don't sound shy though. :)

    Congrats again on Pull!


  26. Here I am commenting late as usual! I really enjoyed your story, Barbara. I've been to two conferences as well, and had similar experiences -- the first time I walked around with a stunned expression on my face most of the time. I did a bit better this year, but I love how you went in with a plan and had a completely different conference. You've inspired me for next year!


  27. To Laurie and all those who think I don' sound shy - the internet really is this shy girl's best friend. It's kind of like wearing a mask, I totally understand actors who can play one type of persona and be something different. Right now I'm thinking of paying someone to go into local bookstores and letting them ask if I can do a signing - that's a psych I still have to work myself into. I will say things got easier as the days passed, byt the end of conference I didn't even have to take a deep breath before walking up to strangers and saying hi. Still, I was glad for the down-time in the evenings when I could go back to my room and let my brain collapse.

    But will I do it again? Absolutely!!