Saturday, August 11, 2012

Shy Writers & Approachable Agents

(Karen Grencik on the left, me on the right)

As most kid lit authors know, last weekend was SCBWI's annual summer conference in Los Angeles. I wasn't registered, but my agent, the lovely Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary, was there. She hosted a gathering in her room on Saturday night for Red Fox clients and other kid lit folks. Since I live only 45 minutes away, I drove down to meet her. We've talked on the phone and through emails, but I've never met her in person.

Enter Freak Out Mode. I was totally nervous. Not so much about meeting Karen, because anyone who's met her knows how approachable, kind, warm, and generous she is. I'm never afraid to email her or ask a stupid question. No, I was nervous about the little party.

When my family and close friends read this, they'll spit out their coffee in laughter. Once you know me well, you can't shut me up. Just ask my husband. But put me in a social situation where I don't know a soul, and I'm like matchy matchy curtains that blend into walls. Those awkward teens I write about? I can totally relate to them. (btw, I avoided parties in high school, too)

I managed to speak to some wonderful people, and enjoyed my time with Karen. But I'll share a secret with you: when I left the hotel, I was relieved. Big crowds, strangers, talking on cue--all of that leaves me shaking in my flip flops. Everyone says this conference is wonderful, but to me, it's overwhelming and scary. Maybe someday I'll conquer this pesky fear.

But you know what? Reclusive writers aren't the only people who get butterflies. Remember my amazing agent? She wrote this great post: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED--A Dog-Loving Introverted Homebody Scales Mt. McKinley! Her title alone summed up my own fears. Agents are human. They have their own hopes and dreams. And yes, they get nervous, too.

Thankfully there have been plenty of reclusive writers who've managed to do just fine. And these days, writers have the benefits of social media. We meet behind a screen, where we don't have to fake-smile and say something witty on the fly. We aren't having conversations where one of us looks bored and makes excuses to talk to someone else. These are real social fears, and for me, these fears are erased with blogging, tweeting, and connecting on Facebook.

Do I wish I could walk into a room and command an audience? Sure! Will that ever happen? Um, probably not. But it helps to know I'm not alone in this. Approachable agents--and I'm sure editors and multi-published authors, too--sometimes experience the same fears we feel. I find comfort in that.

Tell me, are you the type who breezes into a social situation and feels no fear? Are you witty in person and on the page? (If so, I'm green with envy) Are you like me, and freak out at the mere thought of standing in a room full of strangers? How do you cope? 

Were you there last weekend, and one of the people I was terrified of? Do tell!

37 comments:

  1. Oh, Julie, I so relate. I am extremely sociable with people I know. Not shy at all. But put me in a room full of strangers and I clam right up. I can talk if someone starts to talk with me, but I don't initiate. Sigh!
    Karen

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    1. Karen, we are kindred spirits in this! If we ever meet in person, we can chat about how unchatty we are :)

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    1. LOL! It's nice to know I'm not the only one!

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  3. That's great that you got a chance to meet your agent in person. :)

    I must admit, I'm a social person. I went to LA SCBWI by myself without knowing anyone and had the BEST time. Maybe it's the Southern in me? I met so many great writers that I'm still in contact with today.

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    1. Karen, I want to be you. I wish you could channel some of your genes over to me! I'm in awe of your bravery.

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  4. Julie - I was at the SCBWI conference and I am a reclusive writer. (I actually had a secret hope that I might meet you there!) When I get in big crowds I always feel like I take a deep breath and dive in. The water's cold - but it quickly warms up. I have met Karen Grencik and I couldn't agree more about her kindness, warmth, and professionalism. Take care!

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    1. Ok, Victoria...if I ever go down there again, and if you're there, we must meet!

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  5. It depends. I'm shy and I like to talk people who I know. Meeting new people I'm open with but I would get nervous.

    If I were to meet you - Julie, I probably would be little nervous but then, I sorta know you through your blog so I would just be fine.

    Being on social media makes such a difference. Meeting behind the screen is so much easier than meeting the actual person in real life.

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    1. Excellent point, Livia! We know each other from the blogs, so it would be less scary.

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  6. Glad you went despite your fear!
    I can handle myself around others, but I won't be the one doing the talking. I go into excellent listener mode at that point.

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    1. Excellent listener mode...excellent idea! But I imagine you going places with your ninja army following you like groupies :)

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  7. I'm the farthest thing from witty, but I adore meeting & chatting with new people. I used to be painfully shy, but I simply reached the point of total comfort with myself. If someone is going to judge me on anything but who I am inside, then I don't need or want to know them. I'm a WYSIWYG through & through. I'm not sure why I changed. Age maybe. It's not really confidence so much as it is not caring how I am judged. I know who I am & I'm cool with that. Plus, I just really dig meeting new characters, I mean people! Haha!

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  8. I used to have trouble but I'm getting better at it. It comes from confidence, and from understanding that most of them are just as uncomfortable as you are. Reaching out to others is a great way to break the ice and make both you and them feel better.

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  9. I can relate to you, Julie. I am quite shy, it takes me some time to warm up to people, and once I do that then there is no stopping me.

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  10. I totally know how you feel! I'm always afraid of going somewhere where I don't know anyone. I can make friends easily, but it's just the idea of being somewhere where everyone knows each other and I don't sort of freaks me out. Good to know that I'm not the only one! :)

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  11. Great post, Julie -- and thank you so very much for the link to Karen's post!

    I'm fine on a stage, speaking to a crowd. One-on-one, I have to push myself. I'm trying to learn better skills in this area, and am finding Leil Lowndes' books helpful in this regard (although remembering all her little hints is like juggling seventeen raw eggs at once!).

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  12. Thank you for "hanging a lantern" on one of my personal hurdles. We are more a like than you know. I'd rather sing and dance on stage than go into a room of strangers and be "social". Which is just silly, because (as your post makes me realize once again) we all have the same fears. I'll reread this post next time I have to go to a "social" event. :-)

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  13. I've always been shy - but I've learned to fake it over the years so that most people don't know that. I still occasionally get physically ill before and/or after some event but that's improved along with my acting skills :)

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  14. Julie, I was born a totally shy person. Middle kid of five, I was uncomfortable around everyone. But my girlfriend could talk to the world. She actually could talk to adults!

    I always wanted to be like her! So... during school, I ran for student office in order to have to speak to a group. I took speech classes for the same reason. I forced myself out of the box. And I was always uncomfortable.

    Now I can speak to large groups...but only if I wing it. If I have something rehearsed, I can't remember everything. So I just go cold turkey.

    Social situations are easy for me. And I can walk up to pretty much anyone in an airport and start a conversation... and usually do.

    So... go figure. The quiet shy kid who didn't want to be... has broke out of her shell. Today nobody would believe that I am really a shy person inside.

    On that note, I'm still not totally comfortable in front of groups. But each time it gets easier.

    Huge kudos for you and breaking outside your comfort zone!!! That's totally how we grow. And growth is a good thing.

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  15. Julie, thanks so much for posting about this. I have always been painfully shy. Like most everyone else here, I'm comfortable with people I know, and I can get up and give a speech or sing in front of thousands of people and be perfectly at ease. But putting me in a room full of strangers I'm supposed to interact with is like my own personal Hell. I just never know what to say to people, and the awkward silence scares the poo out of me.

    It's comforting to know that a lot of the people in that room have the same fears as me; they just usually have a friend or two there so they're more comfortable and it's not as evident.

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  16. I'm so glad you went! But arghhhh, massive jealousy that you got to meet up with Karen. I'm sure you did just fine. I can't really tell if I'm shy or just too busy mentally dissecting other people. (Ya know...research)I do okay when I don't know anyone, but of course, I'm much more comfortable with people I know. Hope you had a great time and when you get a chance, tell me all about it!

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  17. I met Karen on Monday during the agents panel incentive. I was so impressed with her story of how she became an agent. I told afterwards that I thought the word to describe her was tenacious. But I also thought she was very personable and friendly. I wish I had an agent like her -- or any agent at all.

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  18. I'm the same way at conferences and such~ put me at a big event and I'll be blushing too hard to ever raise my hand. And those nightly dinners at tables of eight where you don't know anybody??? I pray for a social butterfly to be at the table and take the attention so I can just eat and listen, like the good Lord intended me to do. I'm such a weenie :)

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  19. I'm totally like you, Julie! I freak out!! I'm so relieved when those situations are over, even though I enjoy meeting people when I'm actually IN the situation.

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  20. I get the gut burn of shyness in big groups, but I push through. I think of the line in the first Madagascar movie, "Smile and wave, boys." I sure have met some wonderful people at conferences by stepping out of my comfort zone.

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  21. I never used to have a problem walking into a group... But I'm becoming a recluse!!! I've changed over the past few years.
    Thank you for sharing your party with us. :)

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  22. Julie, I think that's why we write--we fear speaking.

    I'm like you--get me around people I know, and they can't shut me up. Get me in a group of strangers, especially if I'm already feeling intimidated, and I'll try to blend in with the curtains.

    So glad you got to meet your agent in person. :)

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  23. Thanks so much for your input, guys. Those of you who are at ease in a crowd, I totally envy you. But it's nice to know I'm not alone with my crowd/stranger phobia :)

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  24. You know I went last year and found it totally overwhelming. I think a small contained party isthe best way to go--be there w/o actually being there. And most of the workshops were motivational w/ no insight on craft in 2011. So if you're a motivated person, you're money is probably better spent elsewhere. Just my opinion, and I know other people live for this con...

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  25. I completely relate. I get nervous in these situations, especially when talking to agents or editors. I'm not sure why, since they are regular people.

    I'm glad you got through the party and enjoyed yourself. :)

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  26. That's an excellent point! We are so lucky to have blogs, Twitter, etc. for networking. Then we can write out our thoughts instead of having to come up with them on the fly while in conversation. Glad it went well, otherwise. Sounds like fun!

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  27. I can totally relate, too! Bc I get nervous, too. Anyway, I'm glad you got to meet your agent! YAY!

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  28. Way to go Julie--pushing yourself to do something is half the battle I find. There are so many things that I feel anxiety over, but what I try to do is ask myself if what I'm wishing to avoid is something that is holding me back. If it is, I force myself to do it.

    In social situations, I have a lot of anxiety beforehand, but once I'm in the moment, I'm all right. I think most people feel this way. :)

    So glad you got to meet your agent!

    Angela Ackerman

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  29. Great post, Julie!

    I tend to be really nervous before a social/professional gathering, but do okay once it starts. I just wish I didn't have all the anxiety before...

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  30. Girl, I totally feel your pain, although you are much braver than I. I took an incomplete in several college classes, rather than give the 3 to 5 minute oral presentations required of me, thus not earning a degree. I'd rather fail than get up in front of a group. I've written from the time I could write (fiction, songs, poetry), but shudder at the thought of ever trying to publish, due to the fear of having to do interviews, book signings, public appearances and the like. Many have a fear of failure. I have more of a fear of success. If I knew I could stay a recluse and not do public stuff, I would publish away! Any advice on this from you, or anyone, would be greatly appreciated.
    -Carol
    shesalwayswriting@yahoo.com

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