An introvert's guide to having a good time at BEA

I am going to BEA, and the book blogger convention, and two night time book events. And I am anxious.

Not because of being shy--there will be lots of people there who I already know and can't wait to see again, plus blogging friends who I can't wait to meet in real life!

But I am anxious because I am an introvert, and I wilt easily in a hothouse environment of excitement and gaiety and noise and chatter. So I thought that, in case there were others of the introvert persuasion who were similarly anxious, I would offer some advice, based on my experiences last year (and encourage myself, in the process!).

General Advice:

Yes, you are going to want to meet people and talk to people. But you do not have to talk to everyone! It is much less tiring to have a few in depth conversations than many excited ones.

It is not a competition. You do not have to prove anything to others. You are going because you love books, and love talking to people about books. Allow yourself to enjoy that, without fretting about what other people are thinking about you! Chances are, they aren't, anyway. They are probably thinking about books.

Drink lots of water. Finding water fountains and spending time drinking can give pointfulness to idle minutes during which you might feel that you aren't Doing Enough.

On the exhibit floor:

--when you are on the exhibit floor, don't spend all your energy being diffident at the big and busy publishing booths, where folks are trying to talk to lots of people. Seek out the smaller, though equally interesting, publishers. Last year, my best publisher conversation was at the Kane Miller booth--nicely one on one.

--If you want to get some conversation with larger publishers, or publishers you don't know about, find an extroverted friend who will do the ice-breaking. I had a nice few hours last year riding the coat-tales of Pam, aka Mother Reader.

--it can be hard for the introvert to initiate a conversation. In the heat of the moment, the introvert might nervously find herself saying "I blog about middle grade science and fiction and fantasy what books do you have coming out are there arcs I can have." This is Bad, and will not happen to me this year! Instead, I will be Prepared! I will have a little cheat sheet for each publisher, so that I can say, "Oh, I really enjoyed book x. And I'm really looking forward to book y." This will be both honest, and pleasingly friendly.

--lines are the introvert's friend. There is a peacefulness to just sitting there, waiting for a signing to begin. You may, if you wish, chat in an idle way with line-mates, but it is not necessary. Do not waste physic energy being vaguely jealous of groups of people who all know each other and who are sitting in a closed circle laughing and chatting! You will have plenty of opportunities to socialize; take advantage of the peace of queueing to regroup.

--you do not have to spend every moment of your life on the exhibit floor or in the cafe, talking and networking and being excited! The Javits center does not offer much in the way of restful retreats--I explored it pretty well last year, looking for one. But I did snatch some down time all by myself sitting outside around the corner from where the buses come, just having a little snack and enjoying the sun. Totally unscenic, but calming (although you will look pretty eccentric sitting all by yourself on the curb). There are also conference rooms off to the left of the exhibit hall. Some will be in use, but others will be empty. Use these empty rooms as a place to sit and look at the books you've acquired, and, as you gradually feel more peaceful, you'll be better able to make sane decisions about whether or not to keep them.

Off the exhibit floor

The introvert might feel that everyone else already has friends they want to talk to, and may be anxious that no one wants to talk to her. Let's just assume, for the sake of peace of mind, that this is false. There will be people who will be too busy with others to talk to you, but that is not your problem. Look for those standing on the outskirts. Say hi. They will either be friendly, or, if they are hostile, not worth talking to anyway.

If you are going to an after hours event, be aware that you might not have much energy to throw yourself into a wild and noisy fray. Allow yourself to be a spectator. There is nothing wrong with spectating. (Dark, comfortable clothes can give a sense of security when spectating, although they should be livened with sparkling accessories to show that you are a scintillating person once approached).

Although it might be tempting, I suggest not taking a break from humanity during the hour or so you may have on your hands between the daytime events and the evening events--the danger in doing this is that you might completely run out of steam and just want to go home before the evening event gets going (and then you will kick yourself). Instead, I'd advise (and hope I'll be able to take my own advice) finding a few safe friends (ie, ones you can just be yourself with), and maybe finding a peaceful cafe (if such a thing exists in Manhattan) where you can hear yourselves talk.

When you are tired of being at the evening events, which will probably be before others are, congratulate yourself for having gone, and leave.

In conclusion, remember the words of Eeyore: "We can't all, and some of us don't." And it's just the way we are, and we can still have a good time.

(here is Part II--How to leave home (and go to BEA) if you are an introvert)


  1. Kane Miller is indeed very nice! As is Peachtree! I have had very good experiences hanging out at their booths while people were fighting for position at the big publishers.

    1. Yes, the big booths can be hectice! which of course isn't to say that the people manning them aren't lovely too, just very busy!

  2. Great post and good advice for anyone1

  3. I love "You are going because you love books, and love talking to people about books". I'm not going to BEA this year, but when I do, I'm going to come to you first for advice and moral support.

  4. You can follow me around BEA any time. But I may make you carry my books. ;)

  5. Terrific advice, Charlotte! I remember following MotherReader around. She is a force of nature!

    MR: Carrying books is what introverts are for!

  6. Isn't Pam the greatest!? I followed her around at ALA, and Kelly Fineman as well - it's kind of wonderful to be hanging out behind a personality like that, who really shines, and is okay to lend you a little light, too.

    And, okay, fine. I will carry books.

    I'm thinking of ALA 2013, potentially, by the way...

    1. the 2013 venues are a bit far from me....sigh.

  7. Thanks for the tips Charlotte. I'm not going but I know I'd feel overwhelmed if I did.

  8. Great post!! If I were going, this is the advice I'd be following. Will star this for future conferences!!

  9. This is great advice for all sorts of professional/social occasions at which I have a tendency to stand in a corner Watching and failing to take advantage of as many opportunities as I might. Thanks!

  10. I'm definitely going to use these at ALA this month!

  11. I'm heading to my first ALA and this makes me all kinds of happy. Introvert AND admittedly shy - I need all the advice I can get :)

  12. This is all great advice, Charlotte! I'll have to read these reminders before I go to another big conference. I won't be at BEA, but I'm sure I'll be *somewhere* in the future (perhaps another ALA--that was a doozy).

    I find that a problem I have is in really WANTING to like the fun and excitement and craziness, and I suppose on a certain level I do, but then once I'm actually in it I start to get tired quickly. Your advice about finding a few friendly people to have more in-depth conversations with is key!

  13. So glad you all think this is useful! It was certainly useful for me myself to write it out--it is sometimes reassuring to be self-aware.

  14. Someday I will get to go to BEA and this will be my manual. Have fun!

  15. Excellent advice for us introverted bloggers! Maybe we'll run into each other on the outskirts somewhere? :)


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