Last weekend, I participated in a two-day book event in Naugatuck. On both days, I arrived around eleven to set up and left sometime between six and seven in the evening. The event, which was in its fifth year, drew an enormous crowd. There were so many people who wanted to talk to me that I barely had time to eat my lunch.
And it was incredible.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m the type of person who prefers solitude to company. I’ve never been keen on the whole party scene, as noisy environments have historically made me want to hide in a corner with my fingers in my ears. But over time, especially in the last year, I realized that my unwillingness to put myself out there was costing me many great opportunities. There’s a reason why I don’t have close friends (yet), and it’s because for years, I chose staying in room on my computer over joining a club or attending a social gathering with kids my own age.
When I published Changing Ways in September, I quickly learned that the best way to spread the word beyond my family was through book talks and events. This scared me. Prior to publication, the only exposure I’d had to public speaking was in acting class at high school. But, since I wanted my book to reach as broad of an audience as possible, I hesitantly emailed local bookstores and libraries and joined some craft/vendor groups on Facebook.
It wasn’t long before I’d scheduled several events. I drafted a script of what I’d say, which included sharing my mental health struggles, and created a PowerPoint presentation. My first talk was at a small bookstore in South Windsor. I went into it a nervous wreck, and despite the fact that it didn’t draw as large of a crowd as I’d hope for, the talk was an overall success. Realizing that I could speak publicly without making a complete fool of myself gave me the boost of confidence I needed to press on.
Over the next few months, I partook in various speaking venues from more book talks to an anxiety panel at my former high school to a live interview with Fox61. My first craft fair was in November, and although I was underprepared, I persevered through the six-hour nonstop stream of customers and even managed to sell eleven books. As I became better at marketing, that number steadily grew. By the holidays, I was averaging around twenty books per event.
This was a side of me that I didn’t know existed. I’d never imagined that me, the introverted writer who spent most of high school in isolation, would one day be able to stand in front of an audience and speak openly about my mental health. Suddenly, people were coming to me for support. I was getting Facebook messages and emails from fans asking for advice or simply telling me how much Changing Ways had helped them. I was thrust into a role that was the complete opposite of what I was used to. After all, just a few years ago I was relying on others to get by.
This new responsibility was very overwhelming, especially in the beginning, but as time passed, I came to appreciate it. I felt like I had a purpose, and that motivated me to keep putting myself out there even when I didn’t want to. The most important part of all this isn’t book sales or name recognition—it’s showing up. You never know whose life your story will touch and the difference you can make.
For anyone who struggles with social anxiety, here are some tips I’ve acquired along the way:
- Challenge your negative thoughts.
- Have coping skills for when you feel anxious.
- Don’t let your fear of rejection hold you back.
- Real friends are better than online acquaintances.
- Don’t aim to be perfect—it’s not an achievable goal.
- Remember that people are rooting for you—not against you.
- Breathe. You can do this.