Monday, June 20, 2016

Introverts Attending Conferences: Words of Advice ~ Christy Mihaly

As the summer conference season gets underway, this post offers some conference tips and techniques for introverts—ways to optimize your experience in what may be a challenging forum.
Charles Dickens, by Herbert Watkins

At first you may think, isn't a writer's conference something of an oxymoron? I mean, isn't writing a solitary activity? 

Yes and no. Most writing requires time alone. But improving your writing, and getting a book published, require interacting with others who love writing: illustrators, editors, agents, and authors willing to share what they've learned. That's what conferences and workshops are for. So what's an introvert to do?

Recommended reading for all
Okay, yes, I realize some writers are extraverts. These folks thrive in crowds, get pleasure from promoting themselves, and are otherwise somewhat incomprehensible to those of us who revel in retreating to our quiet writing corners. 
[Note to Extraverts: This post isn't for you, and you need read no further – unless of course you’re interested in better understanding your introverted friends and colleagues.] 

Being introverted is not the same as being shy, or anti-social; introverts can be just as friendly and fun-loving as anyone else. The difference is that for an introvert, socializing comes at a cost – it’s tiring. 
(For an excellent further explanation of introversion versus extraversion, I recommend Susan Cain’s 2012 book, QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.)  So, here are a few introvert-friendly tips for getting conference-ready, and enjoying yourself to the fullest once the conference gets going.

1. Before committing: Research and select with care. Conferences come in many flavors. Where you go should depend on what you're looking for. You'll focus on different types of conferences if your goal is meeting an agent, working on craft, or meeting more people writing nonfiction, for example.  (There's a list of GROG reviews of various conferences at the end of this post.) But overall, I’d break all these writerly events into three main categories: national conferences; medium-sized or specialized conferences; and smaller writing retreats. 
Large (SCBWI)!   

National conferences: Think large, crowded halls, loud voices filling packed dining rooms, anxious people thronging around the big editors and agents  . . .  you get the picture. The advantages of large gatherings include the opportunity to meet lots of people in the industry and hear top-notch speakers and panels. If you’re an introvert, though, there are obvious disadvantages. This is not your natural scene. Crowds make you tired and sap your energy. It might be well worth it, but you’ll need to psych yourself up for the event, and plan for some recovery time afterwards.

Medium (Falling Leaves)
Regional/specialized conferences: Regional conferences and meetings organized around a particular subject or genre tend to be smaller (though sizes will vary). I've attended conferences focusing on nonfiction and on picture books, for example. Like the big national gatherings, these usually offer keynote speeches, specialized panels and instructional workshops. They often include the opportunity for one-on-one critiques, round tables or open-microphone events or pitch competitions. Remember that SCBWI regional conferences are open to people from outside the region, so don't feel limited to your own geographical niche.
Medium (WOW)
Writing retreats or workshops: Smaller in size, these retreats (sometimes called "master classes") are often held in rustic locations and may offer quiet time for contemplation or writing. In this more casual atmosphere, attendees have the opportunity for relaxed socializing with other writers, editors and agents, walks in the woods, and often writing time too. The one-on-one critiques often run longer: 30 or 45 minutes. And did I mention there's less noise and more time for leisurely conversations? 
Small (Picture Book Boot Camp)
Evaluate your options. Try to talk with others who have attended an event you're considering, or see if you can convince a writing or illustrating friend to attend a conference or workshop with you. But wherever you go, never fear—lots of other conference-goers will be in the Introvert Boat with you.

2.  When registering: Some ideas to consider.
      Sign up for individual critiques. If they're available, they're almost always worth the price. You'll have a designated time period with an expert to discuss your manuscript. This is much more conducive to a productive conversation than one of those on-the-fly interrupted hallway exchanges with your Dream Agent, trying to shout above the crowd.

     Volunteer to help. Many conferences, especially at SCBWI, rely upon volunteers to keep things running smoothly. Volunteering is a great way to meet people, including workshop presenters, and get involved with the organization. 

·      Think about requesting a single room. Some retreats have limited space and will assign roommates. If you really think you’d rather have a single room, ask whether it’s available and how much extra it would cost – and consider springing for the extra. How much is your sleep—and sanity—worth, anyway?

3. Getting ready to go: be prepared.

Print up something to hand to people you meet. Maybe it's your business card. Or you might prepare bookmarks or postcards (especially if you illustrate). When you're momentarily stuck for the next witty thing to say, it's handy to be able to hand over a card with your contact information printed up.

·      Practice your pitch. Don’t be trying to invent a summary of your latest work in progress on the spot. Take the time before the conference to write down a quick synopsis of your manuscript. Turn that into a witty pitch. And use it when people ask you (as they will) what you’re working on.

4. Enjoying the conference: Techniques and Tips.
·      Take photos. This is an old introvert’s trick. Assign yourself the job of taking photos of your group, or of people you meet (famous or not!). Offer to take photos of speakers during the panels, and offer to email photos that you take to the people you’ve photographed. Most folks will appreciate this. And it makes meeting people a snap.

  Review the program, and plan for breaks. With some conferences, you'll sign up for small group sessions ahead of time. With others, you'll choose when you arrive. Either way, you'll want to be flexible. But study the schedule, and determine how you'll get the down time you need. An early-morning walk, a work-out in the gym, or a quick reading break in your room can rejuvenate you for the next big group gathering.

        Get offsite: If there are one or two people you’d like to get to know better, see if they’re interested in going to dinner or lunch or drinks off site. This may not always be possible, but can be a nice option if the group scene is a little overstimulating, especially during a longer conference. 

FOCUS on your GOAL: Set yourself a manageable goal for the conference. (And no, “sign a three-book contract” is not a manageable goal.) Maybe it’s “meet Edith Editor,” or “make two new contacts who might want to start a critique group,” or maybe it’s “figure out how to get that manuscript unstuck.” Focus on your main goal, and don’t worry if you aren’t the loudest, most rowdy writer in the room. 

That said, be open to the possibilities that arise. The best part of conferences is meeting new (or old) writing friends. Because, really, no matter how much you may love your solitary writing, nobody can write alone all the time! 


In compiling the list below, I've confirmed that GROG writers really do believe in conferences. Here are a few prior posts providing conference reviews and other conference-related information:
21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference (T. Burleson & C. Mihaly)
Asian Festival of Children's Content (T. Cho)
Highlights Foundation workshop (J. Annino)
Library Conventions (K. Halsey)
Making a memorable author card (J. Reinart)
NF4NF (Nonfiction for New Folks) (J. Reinart)
Jane Yolen's Picture Book Boot Camp (C. Mihaly)
Rhyming Picture Book Revolution (S. Leopold)
SCBWI Florida (J. Annino)
SCBWI Illinois (P. Toht)
SCBWI National (Los Angeles) (K. Halsey & P. Toht)
SCBWI New England 2016 (K. Halsey)
SCBWI New England 2014 (C. Mihaly & P. Vaughan) 
SCBWI Northern Ohio (K. Halsey) 


  1. Chris, this is such an informative post, even for me, Chatty Kathy! Love the curation of former GROG posts, too. You are the best!

    1. Thanks Kathy -- and thanks for your part in inspiring me to put this post together!

  2. Gosh, I wish I'd been able to read this post FIFTEEN years ago when I started going to conferences. Spot on!

    1. Thanks, Mary Kay. And for my part, I wish I'd met you at the 21CCNC this month! I'll try harder the next time we're at the same conference!

  3. Thanks so much for this, Chris. . .perfect timing before I take off for the WOW! Retreat.

    1. Jarm, have a terrific time at WOW! Thanks for your comment.

  4. Chris, you have given us a wonderful overview of conference information. This is a must read for all writers.

    1. Thanks, Sherri! And thanks for your part in inspiring me to write this post.

  5. Great advice and great post!

  6. This is why I really LOVE Highlights workshops. Small group. Lots of time to talk over dinners and frequent one-on-one sessions. I've been to the LA SCBWI and my regional Golden Gate conferences, and I have to say that the paid one-on-ones are very valuable, but I'm so shy in person that I tend to avoid social situations. My introverted self also needs to spend lots of quiet time in my room recharging my batteries.

  7. I needed this. Thank you, Chris, for breaking down the different venues and the terrific tips.

    1. Charlotte, it was my pleasure. Happy conference-going to you.

  8. Great post, Chris... and as one of those introverts who sometimes choose to delve into the crowd, I'd advise people to carry a water bottle. Not sure why, but staying hydrated helps - and also sitting down by yourself for 10 minutes.

  9. Excellent article, Chris! I like how you categorized all the conferences into 3 groups. And I like how you collected our posts on conferences. Very nice!

  10. Love this post, Chris! I tend to start out as an extrovert at conferences, but sometimes wither by the end. My favorite two pieces of advice are to volunteer (you'll meet amazing people and often get extra perks), and to plan breaks (no, you don't have to attend everything).

  11. Having been to National, regional, and retreat/workshops I appreciate your great analysis of each.
    One huge benefit of conferences is making new writing friends!

  12. Claire, you are so right about those writing friends! I hope to see you at another conference or workshop soon.

  13. Appreciations, with an offsite iced coffee or tea + a quiet space on top, Christy.

    I especially love the photos.

    And thank you for the handy links to our conference posts.