Next week, around two thousand people (mostly women) will be converging on Orlando for the RWA National Conference. For many of us, this is a been there, done that a hundred times adventure. For quite a few, it’s the first time. Whether it’s your first time or your tenth, you may be thinking about how you’re going to interact with all these people. Many writers are introverts, and introverts tend to be drained by the thought of so many people in one place. I’m one of those introverts, but I’m lucky enough to be able to put on an extrovert face for a few days.

Still, it’s not my true nature, and I sometimes get overloaded. So here are my tips for mingling as an introvert.

Talk to people. Seriously. (If you’re a first timer, get the orange First Timer ribbon and wear it proudly. People will help you.) You are a writer at a writers’ conference. The one thing you have in common with everyone is writing. So asking someone what they write is a good conversation starter. At my very first conference (Dallas 2007), I went to the Kiss of Death AGM. I knew no one. I even went into the room too early because I didn’t know I was supposed to wait outside. No one told me to get out. Instead, Connie Cox took me under her wing and asked me to sit at her table. I had a good time talking to everyone at the table that night. I don’t remember everyone’s name, unfortunately, but they were wonderful to this newbie. A couple of nights later, at the Death by Chocolate party, I met a woman from Nashville who I hung out with at a few other events after that (I wish I could remember her name! I gave her my card, but I don’t believe she had one). I also met Debbie Giusti and Juliet Burns, who were so gracious to me.

Smile. Smiling transforms you from a nervous, lost wanderer into someone interesting and approachable. A smile is friendly. A smile makes you seem confident. Don’t force a smile on your face. Think of something that makes you happy — your kids, your pets, a joke — and smile naturally.

Don’t be afraid to be alone. Seems counter-intuitive, but it’s not. In Dallas, I sat down at a table to myself in the coffee shop in the lobby and called my husband. Then I sat there with my drink and just watched people. At the table next to me was a woman I was sure I recognized, but I was too shy to ask. But she recognized me too, because she finally asked if I was Lynn Raye Harris. It was Nalini Singh, back before she became NALINI SINGH (in all caps because she’s so fabulous and writes those great paranormal and urban fantasy novels). We’d “met” via our blogs and chatted quite a bit, so it was great to meet her in person. She invited me to sit with her and her friend — a woman who’d sold a historical to Avon not that long before. Her friend was the amazing Anna Campbell, whose first book hadn’t even come out yet. They were marvelous and friendly, and had those great accents. πŸ˜‰

So if you see someone you think you recognize, ask! You never know. I wasn’t brave enough to say, “Hey, are you Nalini?” Because, telling the truth here, I always think that no one knows who I am. I still think it, even though I’ve published a few books now. I see people I recognize, and who I’ve chatted with online, but I think they won’t know me so I don’t approach them.

Which leads me to this point: if you see me and you want to say hi, please do so. Tell me who you are, and don’t think I won’t know you. If we’ve chatted here on this blog, or if we’ve chatted on Twitter or Facebook, etc, all you have to do is tell me that. If you’ve read my books and emailed me about them, tell me. Don’t think that I don’t want to talk to you, or that I’m too busy (or, worse, that I’m too important — I’m not, I assure you!) Come say hi to me.

On another note about talking to people: if you see someone you know and speak to them, don’t assume if they don’t respond that they are ignoring you. Conference is so busy, so jammed up with sights and sounds and people, that it’s easy to get tunnel vision. If you speak to me and I don’t respond, I didn’t see you. Honest. I may not always have time to stop and talk for a few minutes (you should see my schedule this year!), but I will respond if I know you were talking to me.

Another aspect of mingling is to ask people about themselves. I already told you to ask what they write. But also ask where they’re from, what they do, how they like the conference, etc. Being interested in people is one of the keys to being interesting. No one wants to talk to someone who only wants to talk about herself.

And, finally, part of the art of mingling is knowing when to retreat. If you’re feeling burned out, anxious, or frustrated, go back to your room and take a break. Conference can be overwhelming, especially if this is your first time. Take the time to be alone. Take a short nap. Read (you’ll have plenty of books to read, believe me!). Write. Conference is the place to get inspired, to learn, and to dream about the future.

Hope to see you next week! I’ll be at the Literacy Signing on Wednesday, July 28, from 5:30 to 7:30 and at the Harlequin book signing on Friday, July 30, from 9:45 to 11:15. I’ll also be giving a workshop on Saturday at 3:15 with Blaze author Kira Sinclair. And of course I’ll be around the rest of the week. πŸ™‚