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.