But first, the stories worth reading this week:
The Truth About The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists (Tim Grahl on The Observer): “If you’re a nonfiction author, and particularly if you write business books, bestseller lists mean more speaking gigs, higher consulting rates, higher visibility, and an enhanced reputation. They also mean more sales.”
How to Format a Book Proposal (Chad R. Allen): “So what’s your concept? Is it unique somehow? Does it meet an actual need people have? What’s your ability to help us move books when it’s published? What’s your promotion plan? Are you a good writer? Do your words grab us? Would a reader rather read your book than go to a movie?”
10 Bookish Feelings We Need English Words For ASAP (Sharanya Sharma for BookRiot): “…that got me thinking of other ‘untranslatable’ feelings and situations, some of which you can find words for in other languages. Words like tsundoku, a Japanese word that roughly means: ‘Leaving a book unread after buying it.’ (I am so very guilty of this. Sigh.)”
How to Find and Work With a Book Publicist—Successfully (Jane Friedman):”…even though you’re hiring a publicist, all authors have to be willing to learn how to market their book. Good marketing and publicity is a team effort, and the author is part of that team.”
Altered Tastes: Can the New Science of Neurogastronomy–and One Very Creative Chef–Convince Us That Healthy Food is Delicious? (Maria Konnikova for The New Republic): “Control flavor and you control what we eat—and perhaps, given time and more research, begin fighting the global nutrition problems that are a direct result of the industrialized production of food.”
What If I’m Too Introverted for Platform Building and Book Marketing?
Last week I had a reader bring up two fantastic questions: How can writers who are shy build a following? And how can fiction writers help people with their work? (Thank you, Carolyn!)
Since these are two big topics, I’m going to tackle the first question today and leave the second one for next week. If you don’t want to miss next week’s post on platform-building for fiction writers, sign up to have posts come to you through the “subscribe” box on your right!
So, let’s talk about how introverted types can tackle platform-building and book marketing. What if the very thought of interacting with strangers (whether online or in real life) makes you queasy? What if it grates on your sense of identity to put yourself out there for anyone to see? What if you were always the kid with your nose in a book during lunchtime, not the one drawing a crowd of admirers with your stories?
Well, here’s a secret. Most bestselling authors are introverted, too. The majority of my authors would describe themselves as private, shy, or introverted. (Even Ree Drummond admits she’s a true homebody and would be happy never leaving her ranch!) In fact, most book people—agents, editors, booksellers—are introverts. That’s why we all came to books in the first place: we were the kids who would rather read a book than make conversation.
So we’ve all had to do battle with our introvert impulses. When I first started in publishing I was terrified—terrified—of presenting a book in front of the acquisitions committee. I loved the book so much, and the thought of laying that love bare in front of a big group of people so they could pick it apart and decide whether it was any good kept me up at night. But I did it, and I kept doing it and doing it, because I had to—it was just part of my job. Eventually, I started to see those meetings as fascinating and as a great opportunity for me to learn the skills I inevitably needed to advocate for the authors I loved.
My first agent lunch as an editor? Same thing: dread, nervousness, fear. My first editor lunch as an agent? Still scared. Even my first post on this blog: complete and utter fear that people would—gasp!—find it and read it. Putting ourselves out there makes us introverts absolutely loony tunes.
But what did I learn from all of this forced-because-it’s-my-job socialization? That those moments of talking to editors, writers, committees, and conference attendees are my most rewarding moments. I dread them going into it, but after I feel a deep, warm glow of happiness and excitement.
Because when it comes down to it, we as humans are hardwired for connection. We may not have the personality types to naturally enjoy speaking to large crowds, but when we focus on talking to one interesting person about one interesting topic, we light up.
Platform-building is about just that: finding our people and talking to them about our shared interests. Yet it’s easy to lose sight of that and let fear take hold.
I’ve had many authors share their struggles and fears about platform-building and marketing with me, and eventually I started to see the same patterns of thought that were holding them back. And I saw these patterns in my own life, too! But after seeing so many introverted writers and bloggers succeed, I realized there are certain ways we can help ourselves rethink what it means to build a platform and market a book. These tips have been helpful to both my authors and myself, and while everyone is different, I hope you find them useful!
5 Ways Introverts Can Rethink Platform Building and Book Marketing
1. Shift the focus from “self-promotion” to “serving others.”
I talk about this often here, but it’s the single most important paradigm shift that every author must make in order to succeed. Most bestselling authors believe, at the very root of their being, that their purpose is to improve readers’ lives through their work. I think we can all name a handful (or more!) of books that have changed our lives, and we’re grateful to those authors for proudly sharing their work, instead of squirreling it away.
It really doesn’t matter whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction—if you believe your work could brighten someone’s day, provide a fun escape from tough circumstances, or show them a clearer view of what life really is, you’re helping that person. (Because, really, some days we want to tackle our problems head-on, and some days we just want to hide under the covers and live in Narnia for awhile.)
2. Pretend you’re talking to just one person.
Platform-building is inherently social, and that can be scary for introverts. But in reality, books are social, too. Books connect us to deeply to one another, whether you’re being lead on an adventure by a fiction writer or being coached through crisis by a nonfiction author. Books are essentially a monologue between writer and reader. A platform simply allows us to turn that into a dialogue. And even though it can be terrifying to expose ourselves to what readers have to say back, it’s also the most rewarding and motivating experience a writer can ask for.
Yet thinking of ourselves as blogging (or vlogging, or podcasting, or tweeting) to a faceless crowd of potential naysayers is enough to stomp out even the most determined creative intentions. Trust me, I’ve seen it in hundreds of writers, and I’ve experienced it myself: as soon as the critics and naysayers come to mind, our creative instincts dry right up. So I find it helpful to approach any task with just one person we want to help in mind—that one archetype of our target reader who is benefiting (even in a small way!) from our work. And for introverts, who often do better in close one-on-one conversations, rather than in crowds, this can be a big breakthrough in reframing the idea of platform-building.
And when it comes down to it, that one target reader is really the only person who matters anyway. As Teddy Roosevelt said (much more eloquently than I ever could):
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
3. One small step at a time.
There’s no way around it: figuring out how to build a platform (and then executing that over and over) is intimidating. It’s a massive undertaking that can leave us confused, doubtful, and so far out of our comfort zone that we want to just forget the whole thing and go back to bed (with a good novel in hand, of course!).
But we don’t need to figure out everything about platform-building and marketing all at once. We just need to take one small step in the right direction. Maybe that’s signing up for a Twitter account; maybe that’s registering for one conference; maybe that’s committing to reading one article about how to blog a day. Zero in on the one, ridiculously manageable thing you can do today, and then do it. Then reward yourself with reading time (ah, the greatest gift of all).
4. Think of it as research.
Think of social situations as opportunities for character research! There are many characters out there, in both real life and online, who are infinitely more complex than any character you could find in a book. Really, people are fascinating, and if we can relax enough to listen rather than worry, we’ll discover all sorts of interesting things. As C.S. Lewis said, “We meet no ordinary people in our lives.”
This also helps us shift the focus from ourselves (“What do I say next? Am I doing this wrong?) to the other person (“I wonder what they think about this topic. I’m curious to hear how they found themselves doing this.”).
5. Remind yourself that it’s a practice, and that you can be playful with it.
I don’t know about you, but I completely seize up when I sit down to write something and want it to be perfect on the first draft. (Which is exactly why we all need reminders like this that terrible first drafts are unavoidable!) But when I go in to a project with the mindset that it’ll take a few tries to get it right and that I might as well have fun with it, then all the pressure and perfectionism melts away.
I think the same is true with building up our sociability muscles: we may have been born with noodle arms, but with a little bit of practice, we can find creative ways to strengthen the positive qualities we do have. We won’t get it right at first—I’m sure we all have a cringe-worthy list of not-so-smooth social interactions that we’d rather forget. And that’s okay. We don’t need to be Ms. Life-of-the-Party; we just need to enjoy getting to know people and laugh it off when we feel awkward. Awkwardness is the “terrible first drafts” of conversation, and just like writing, conversation is a craft that can be practiced.
Since we have our visual reminder from Anne Lamott that writing terrible first drafts is part of the writing process, I wanted to create an art print to remind us that practicing putting ourselves out there is part of the platform-building process. Both things are a practice, and together they pave the way to success as a writer or creative.