Whether you’re an author or reader, attending a book conference or festival is an amazing way to connect with like-minded book lovers and get books signed by your favorite authors. I’m headed to BookExpo this week to cover the marketing sessions for BookBub, and I get to meet up with some of my best author friends and get books signed by some of my favorite authors. I’m legit excited.
But if you’re an introvert like me, you’re excited until that moment you arrive and don’t immediately recognize anyone and OH HERE GOES — you’re standing alone in that dreaded awkward silence — and it’s clearly all your fault.
Or two hours into the event when you already have that low-level headache from talking and smiling more than you’re used to, and you’re hiding in a bathroom stall because there’s literally no other space to catch your breath for a sec.
Or at the end of the day when everyone’s inviting you out to drinks, but that pillow on your hotel bed is telepathically summoning you, and who are you to deny such divine powers?
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert — I love my couch time with my husband, cat, and Netflix, or unwinding with a good book and some glorious silence — but it does present some obstacles when forced into crowded social events like BookExpo!
After years of attending events like this, I have some thoughts to share on what it’s like to attend a bookish event as an introvert — and some survival tips for people like me! Read on:
1. You’re so excited to see your bookish friends, but simply looking at your schedule drains you
A common misconception about introverts is that we’re antisocial. That’s not true — we love seeing our friends, but we don’t derive energy from the interaction the way extroverts do. Being social is draining, and we need alone time to recharge. But alone time can be hard to come by in a conference setting. You only have two or three days (or less!) to see everyone you want to see, so you’ve got to cram a ton of interactions into a limited amount of time. And inviting everyone to one event doesn’t solve anything, because we don’t like crowds! How tricky we are.
Survival Tip: Diligently schedule your days ahead of time. I’ve got a color-coded excel spreadsheet ready to go for BookExpo! Schedule breaks throughout the day so you can recharge, and identify locations you can escape to. Research the venue ahead of time if necessary! In my case at BookExpo, I’m responsible for writing a recap post for the BookBub Partners Blog, so my schedule is packed with marketing panels (watching and taking notes is a reprieve from having to talk). I also scheduled a couple of time blocks to write the recap post between coffee/lunch dates. And I know where the quiet spaces are.
2. By the end of day #1, you CANNOT with the small talk
When you’re meeting lots of different people in short bursts, there’s only so deep conversations can get. But many of us introverts would rather sandpaper our brains than participate in small talk. These surface-level conversations sap us of energy partially because they lack the depth we crave, and partially because we’re so focused on not being awkward.
Survival Tip: Have a list of questions ready. If you’re at a book conference, you already know you have something in common: a love for books! Avoid small talk about the weather by memorizing a list of questions you care about hearing the answers to. Here are some examples, but you should make a list of topics you care about.
- Which authors are you most excited to see?
- What’s your favorite genre? Which book would convince me to love that genre, too?
- What’s the most creative marketing tactic you’ve seen here?
- What was your most embarrassing interaction with an author?
- Do you review books online? Any tips on writing/vlogging reviews?
3. You’re standing in a crowd but are oh so alone
You know that moment — you’re at a party or standing in line for a signing and there’s a crowd of people talking but you have nobody to talk to and you don’t have the guts to initiate a conversation and it’s so incredibly awkward and IS DISSOLVING INTO THE FLOOR A LEGITIMATE OPTION?
Survival Tip: There are several ways to avoid this awkward moment.
- Stick with a buddy. Coordinate with friends/colleagues ahead of time so you’re always with at least one other person. Bonus points if they’re an extrovert and can initiate those conversations with new people.
- Find someone else who’s alone in line. One introvert + another introvert = two introverts who now don’t have to talk to anyone else. WHEW.
- Become a photographer. Start snapping photos of the scene like it’s your job. Maybe it is your job. Either way, documenting the experience gives you a purpose beyond feeling awkward. Then you can share those photos on social media, giving you something else to do.
- People watch. If you’re an author, observing others is kinda part of your job. Get some inspiration!
Also, remember that everyone is so preoccupied with their own little universes that nobody is judging you for standing alone. Own the awkward.
4. You keep trying to spot an opportunity to Irish exit
When the scheduled breaks and conversation-starters aren’t enough, sometimes you just need to vamoose! But finding a way to escape can in itself be awkward and draining, and if you leave without a word, it could leave friends or colleagues scratching their heads.
Survival Tip: Say goodbye and act like it’s no big deal you’re leaving. If you have another engagement later, say “I’m off to XYZ thing!” and take a long, leisurely stroll there. If you want to go back to your hotel room, say, “I’m turning in for the night, I have an early start tomorrow.” Here’s the thing: Nobody is judging you for leaving. But if you act awkward, you’ll make the situation awkward. Don’t feel like you need to stay trapped. Just say your goodbyes and go!
5. You feel guilty for all the things you’re not doing
Once you’ve finally managed to escape for some introvert time, guilt can rear its ugly head. You might start to think of all the opportunities you’re wasting, how you could have been the life of the party, or how you should have made more connections.
Survival Tip: Set reasonable goals ahead of time, and challenge yourself to hit those goals. They can be anything: attending X sessions/events, starting a conversation with X new people, making X new meaningful connections, and/or getting X signed books from authors you love. Once you get what you want out of the event (or as long as you still have enough time left to accomplish these goals), don’t feel guilty for peacing out, and let go of that FOMO.
So there you have it. There’s no escaping the awkward entirely, and feeling somewhat drained is kind of inevitable. But as for me, I know that once the event is over, I’ll have as much couch time as my introverted heart desires.
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