I went to AWP with the best intentions – I’d see every booth and table at the book fair, I’d attend every panel even tangentially related to my interests, I’d hunt down all the authors I like and make them sign stuff, I would hang out with friends I don’t get to see very often.
Well, I got to see most of the book fair, and I hung out with friends (both old and new), and I even saw a couple of panels, but let’s be honest – AWP is BIG. Like a lot of writers, I’m an introvert, but I’m also the head of a small press and someone who’s deeply interested in the intersection of writing and technology. How do you find others of your kind, network on behalf of your business, and let people know you support their work without making yourself crazy?
Here are a few of my own strategies:
- Have enough business cards. You don’t have to spend a lot on them, because nowadays, people will only hang onto your business card long enough to get the information into their phones, but having them is key. And while you’re at it, have a pen handy so that when someone hands you theirs, you can jot down why you want to contact them later.
- Liquor is a wonderful social lubricant. Have a drink with a new friend at the overpriced venue bar. Bring a flask and offer a drink to a nervous speaker. As long as you don’t overdo it, liquor can be a conversation starter, a way to bond with people, and take away just enough anxiety to allow for that first “hello.”
- Say yes anytime someone asks if you want to do something. “Do you want to put this rubber mask on your head and pose next to a cardboard cutout of a mountie?” YES. “Do you want to try this tiny letterpress?” YES. “Do you want to explore this interesting landmark on the other side of town?” YES. Don’t let swag be the only thing you bring home from AWP – take some chances, do some goofy stuff, make some fun memories.
- Compliment people. Tell the editors at your favorite publication that you like them. Congratulate all your author friends on their publications (which you should also buy and read). Let people know that you love their writing, the way they dress, the fact that they are alive in the world. Make AWP your chance to bond with your tribe.
- Know the signs that mean you’ve had enough. I’m still bad at this one, but an inability to process what I’m seeing, a feeling of profound fatigue, irritability and apathy are all signs that I’m done. I need to head back to my hotel and have a little down time so that when I come back, I’m ready to embrace the Disneyland-scale crazy of AWP.
If you’re an introvert who went to Minneapolis this year, how did you handle it? What advice to you have for the first-timer? What essential do you recommend everyone bring?
Lise Quintana is the publisher behind Zoetic Press. She is a fiction writer, head of a publishing empire, and owner of a legendary collection of taxidermied houseplants.