Julie Brannagh: An Introvert Goes to National, or How to Survive Four Days with 2,300 Authors

Please help me welcome 2011 Golden Heart Finalist Julie Brannagh to the blog. Julie is a member of my local chapter, GSRWA in the Seattle area. And you couldn't meet a nicer person.

Here's Julie: My name is Julie, and I am an introvert. Most people have no idea. After all, I’ve spent a lot of years figuring out my own strategies for dealing with large crowds or people I don’t know. For the shy or introverted, RWA National is a chance to take a risk in a safe environment. This is my fourth trip to National. It’s 2300 people for four days, so it’s crowded, noisy, fun and hectic. It’s also the only place on earth where everyone there does the same crazy stuff I do, like write in my PJ’s, or scrawling a plot point on the back of an old envelope I just dug out of my purse.

The best way for me to forget my fear is to remember there are other people that feel the same way. If I focus on them, I don’t think so much about my own worries. Here’s a few of the things I do during an overwhelming or stress-producing situation.

• The person standing or sitting next to you is just as worried and anxious as you are. She’s most likely away from home, too, and wondering if her clothes/hair/shoes/pitch is right. It’s hard for any of us to reach out, but take the risk. The VAST majority of people I’ve ever smiled at and said, “How are you?” at a conference to respond positively. If you take that one tiny step, the other person will reply, there might be a little conversation, and you’ve made a new friend.

• Say something nice to anyone with a “first timers” ribbon on. A friendly face means a lot to someone who might be getting ready to pitch for the first time, or summoning the nerve to talk with Susan Elizabeth Phillips about the partial she just submitted to a publisher… ahem. A few words of encouragement can make that person’s day.

• Speaking of really famous authors, they are just like the rest of us. They feel shy, too. If they are not busy talking with someone else, take a deep breath, walk over and say “Hi”. It’s okay to tell them how much you loved their latest book, or why you enjoy their work. Indulging your inner fangirl is not a bad thing. Do not think you are a dork. After all, I will see you and raise you: Nobody could do or say anything more ridiculous than what I said to Anne Stuart, who was gracious and kind to me anyway.

• Pitching. It’s up to you, but this year, I’m not. I’m sending queries to the agents I want to pitch. Let’s face it, pitching is a guaranteed stress-producer, and every editor or agent I have ever heard talk about the subject says they don’t sign people based on pitches at conferences. They sign as the result of queries.

• Editors and agents: I spotted an editor I met at a previous conference at National a few years back. She rejected my partial, but I made the extra effort to stick out my hand, say hello, and ask her how she liked Dallas. Editors and agents spend their whole conference besieged by people who want to pitch them. Even a little bit of “normal” conversation must be a huge relief to them.

• Workshops: Sit near the front. Smile at the person or people presenting. Again, they are as nervous as you are. That little bit of positive reinforcement really helps.

• Extra credit: Do not sit with your chapter mates at lunch or other conference gatherings. It’s easy to go sit with the same people we see every month at meetings. Take a deep breath, put a smile on your face, and approach a table with an open seat. You can’t imagine the people you’ll meet. Even if you’re not sure you have a lot to contribute to the conversation, you’ll find yourself joining in.

The biggest thing, at least to me – I try to “shrink” my conference experience. In other words, I look for opportunities to have one on one conversation. Just because I feel scared or shy is no reason to miss out on something I will remember afterwards as a highlight, such as introducing a friend to someone else she’s wanted to meet for a long time.

Just remember, there are people in New York City that want to meet you.

You can connect with Julie on Twitter. 


  1. Julie,
    I love the idea of "shrinking" your experience to one focused conversation!

    And since I'm wearing the first-timer ribbon this year, I second the 'say something nice' advice.

  2. Julie, thanks so much for coming on today! You're awesome. I can't wait to cheer my head off for you at the GH ceremony!

    Keri--I'll make sure I look for you at conference. Sometimes, that first conference experience can be overwhelming.

  3. These are great tips, Julie. And I love your concept of "shrinking" the conference, too. It's perfect!

  4. Holly Jacobs gave me great advice at registration for my first nationals: There are 2 kinds of people. Those who know you and love you, and those who don't know you but will love you. No one else matters.

    And that's how I started conference. It was fab. I can't wait to catch up with people in NY and meet some new peeps!

  5. This is a very nice post, Julie. I usually avoid people and go sightseeing, but maybe this year I'll try to socialize!

  6. Wonderful suggestions, Julie. I'm more out going in cyberspace, often sticking foot in mouth, than I am in real world. I'm the shy rose clinging to the conference walls most of the time. I'm going to use your suggestions while in NY. Thanks for the great post.

  7. I saw myself in your post!! :-)) I'm a natural introvert, but life keeps trying to make me an extrovert. I stopped fighting it and have found a lot of joy by putting myself out there. Lots of new friends who enjoy the things I enjoy. Thanks for sharing a bit of yourself, Julie!

  8. Wow, great post! You remind me of, well, me. :)

  9. Hi, everyone!

    It's so nice to see you all here. If you're going to National and see me, I hope you'll introduce yourself.

    Thanks again to Rebecca for having me here!

  10. This will be my first nationals, and yes, I'm going to be nervous. I'm going to try really hard to keep this advice in mind, and act on it.

  11. Terrific post, Julie. Love the point about saying hello to the first timers. Another tip I've heard is to stay OUT of your room as much as possible. It's tempting to want to go hide in there and relax but you're there to meet people and learn so resist the temptation! : )

  12. Excellent advice, Julie. And very true. Can't wait to meet you!

  13. Hi Julie, congratulations on finaling in the Golden Heart, best of luck at National. Thanks Becky for hosting Julie today.