But it took me a long time to crawl out of my writer’s cave and meet other weirdos like me. In fact, I’ve lived in Los Angeles for five years and this is my first time going to any SCBWI event. I already had an agent and a book deal before I started venturing out into the writer’s community. And even though I was desperate to meet other authors in similar places in their lives, I was terrified.
I’m an introvert. I’m also shy. From what I understand, these are two different things. An introvert enjoys time with people, but gathers strength from being alone. They recharge when they have time to themselves. A shy person has difficulties in social situations. They may be anxious or awkward or just don’t know what to say.
I am definitely both of those things. And judging by the writers I know, I bet a lot of you are too. We live in our heads, and it feels almost rude when someone wants to do something crazy like engage us in conversation. Can’t you see I’m thinking here?
In fact, when I’ve talked to other writers about shyness and social anxiety more than once I’ve gotten a, “no, you don’t understand. Mine is really bad.”
I do understand. I’ve had to deal with the Annoying Questions, the questions us introverts have to answer (or, in my case, ignore) a hundred times: “Why are you so quiet?” “Are you bored?” “What are you thinking?” “You really don’t talk, do you?” I understand the annoyance and anxiety and the very strong urge to just stay home and avoid new people and situations entirely.
But, one of the things I had to deal with was the fact that you can’t expect to be a hermit as a published writer. A huge amount of book promotion is left up to the writer, and going out into the writing community seemed like a good first step. So, I sucked it up and started going to book signings and book launches and conferences.
And it was really hard. I came home shaky and nervous. I was almost in tears at two events. I’ve felt awkward and weird and uncomfortable and I’ve wanted to leave five minutes in. (I told you I understood.)
But I stayed. And guess what happened?
People were really, really nice. Everyone from writers still trying to get an agent to authors with multiple books published were incredibly welcoming. I felt a little dumb for being so scared.
So here’s what worked for me:
1. I never thought of it as “networking.” I didn’t go to an event hoping to get an author to agree to blurb my debut or with the goal of getting anyone to help my career in any way. I went to make friends.
2. I went by myself. Standing in the corner alone is awkward. If you’re by yourself, you’re forced to step out and say hi. (Or try and force yourself. I too can handle the awkwardness of standing alone at an event where everyone is socializing. Pretend for a minute that you can’t.)
3. I used Facebook/Twitter/Lucky 13s to figure out who would be there. Then I had someone to look for at the event who (sort of) knew me.
4. If I saw someone I wanted to meet, I went and hung out in the general vicinity like a big creeper and waited for an opening. Hey, it works. (Just don’t stalk/interrupt.)
5. I often followed up on Twitter the next day. Let’s be honest, I’m more comfortable behind a computer. Getting to chat with someone on Twitter before the next event is often really helpful.