I know--scary, right? Especially for the terminally shy? Remember Debbie Ohi's brilliant cartoon? Well, I'm here to tell you, straight from the trenches, that SCBWI folks are nice. Why? Because most of the people there were writers. And writers tend to be introverts (notwithstanding those writerly party animals; they do exist). So when you go to a conference, scared to meet people, you're in good company.
I can't tell you how many people I talked to who said, "I was so scared to come here." Or, "I'm so nervous!" It was sort of like climbing into a community lifeboat. We were all going to make it, we decided; and we all did.
So really, it's as simple as realizing that you're talking to other writers and artists. They aren't high-power stockbrokers who are going to sneer at your dream. They share your dream. And they're the most supportive people around. No one I met acted like I was her competitor; we're all in this book thing together. Everyone wears a nametag, so you don't even have to be good at remembering people. So get over your high school self. Do this:
- Walk up and say, "Hi, can I sit here?" (You can. Okay, you may.)
- Ask about their babies. "What's your book about? Do you have a business card? Which sessions are you going to?"
- Be interested in their answers.
- Smile big.
- Be ready to answer their questions. You rehearsed your elevator speech, right?
- Go to events, even if they're "not your thing."
- Be generous. Offer to share notes from the breakout session that so-and-so didn't get to. Invite her along to the bar.
- Hand out your card. Share your Twitter handle and Facebook page. Take down people's cell phone numbers so you can text and connect later on. (Texting can be the shy person's savior. How easy is it to type, "Want to meet for dinner?" and hit SEND? You can do that.)
Listen & Learn.
You never know who you're going to end up talking to for half an hour. Don't invest time in people in order to get something from them, but realize that everyone has something to offer. Make social connections, not just professional ones. Don't bug agents and editors or shove manuscripts in their hands, but do say hi and mention how much you appreciated their talk or panel. They won't remember your name, probably, but when you submit to them, you can at least say, "You made a great point about the current trends in YA fiction at the conference in January." A little personalization goes a long way.
Transcribe Your Notes!
I mentioned before how I used my downtime to transcribe my handwritten scribbles onto my notebook computer. Do that while the material is fresh in your mind--on the plane or train home, if need be.
Connect from Home.
Email, Tweet, Like, whatever--before those people you met forget who you were. I paid a lot of money to attend that conference, and I wanted to make sure it was worth it.