What could be even cooler than that? We will be giving away a copy of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies! (See give away details at the end of the post.*)
Flipping the Switch from “Introvert” to “Extrovert”
by Deborah Halverson
Over the years I’ve surprised quite a few people by saying that. I don’t act like an introvert, they say—and they’re right. I readily step up to open microphones, I eagerly shake new hands when they’re offered, I easily sit down next to random strangers at publishing functions and make new friends. I’m certainly not shy. I’m just most comfortable doing my own little thing in my own little corner with my own little family. A wedding DJ once told my now-husband and I, “If you want your guests to dance, you have to dance. They’ll do whatever you do—you’re the life of the party!” We nearly canceled the wedding and bolted for the Little White Wedding Chapel in Vegas. When the option is there, I’ll choose Fly on the Wall over Belle of the Ball every time.
But the option isn’t always there, at least not career-wise. As an in-house editor and then a freelance editor, author, and writing instructor, my career has always required me to reach out to others and get them excited about the topic at hand. I must talk to kids in schools, to other writers, to bookbuyers and booksellers and librarians and publishers. I can only do my job if I put myself out there. So I do—with one quick flip of an internal switch. Bam! Extrovert Mode.
I make it sound instantaneous, but developing that switch has been a life-long process. That’s no exaggeration. I realized my preference for the quiet side of life in late grade school. Figuring that anything I did in a future career would require me to step out of those shadows I so enjoyed, I very consciously set about making myself comfortable with activities that extroverts take for granted. For me, the secret to flipping the switch to Extrovert Mode is being comfortable with extrovert behavior. Here are six things I’ve learned to do to cultivate that comfort:
1. Be prepared. If you’re well prepared when you step out, you’re confident and thus more comfortable putting yourself out there. Preparation may mean writing your presentation well in advance, it may mean researching the people who will be present at a gathering, it may mean, on a grander scale, joining Toastmasters or volunteering for small speaking gigs in order to get used to having a roomful of eyes on you. Preparation equals comfort, and comfort helps introverts step into the spotlight and enjoy themselves while they’re there.
2. Make it personal. Engage with a specific person during every outreach. Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re socially repressed; I love making new friends and chatting it up with people one-on-one. It’s reaching out to anonymous masses that feels yucky. Yet that kind of outreach is often what’s required in this social media-dependent world of ours. So, make the anonymous personal by aiming every outreach at a particular person. I designed my writers’ advice site DearEditor.com with that in mind—all my posts there are direct answers to questions sent to me by specific readers. Similarly, if I write a guest post on someone else’s blog, I imagine I’m writing the post for one of that blog’s commenters, whom I’ll have identified before laying down a single word. When I write my books, I have specific young readers in mind whom I’ll imagine holding my book and laughing in all the right places. If I’m facing a roomful of writers at a conference or a crowd at a schmoozing event, I immediately pick out a specific person to talk to so that I feel I’ve got a friend in the room from that moment on. That makes me more comfortable about being there—and more likely to say yes when other presentation invites or parties crop up.
3. Lead with a question. Ask questions to drive conversations at gatherings and events. This takes the pressure to be enchanting off of you, the person you’re talking to will feel as if they’ve just had a great conversation because they’ve shared so much, and you’ll get more comfortable being at that gathering because you’ve just made it personal (see #2 above). Plus, you’ll learn the most fascinating things about people! That’s reason enough to get out and about.
4. Channel Miss Manners. Pushiness has no place in an introvert’s efforts to reach out. Embrace niceness instead—it works better, anyway. Catch more flies with honey, and all that. Be respectful about contacting people; having someone’s email address doesn’t mean you can use it carte blanche. When someone reaches out to you, respond quickly, if only to say that you can’t respond fully right now but will by the end of the week. I’m a nice person by nature, so being nice makes me comfortable about reaching out and thus more likely to flip the switch to Extrovert Mode when the time is right.
5. Make it worth their while. I feel more comfortable putting myself out there if I’m giving the people listening to me something for their time. And what I can give is information, so that’s what I do give—at school events, at writing workshops, on DearEditor.com. You can do that, too. As you learn about your passions (your book themes and subjects, literacy, the craft or business of writing), you’re collecting info that others would like to know. Share it. If people like what you have to say, they’ll tell their friends about you and buy your books. Your outreach will be successful, and you’ll feel happy that you haven’t abused anyone’s time in the process. Happiness equals comfort equals willingness to continue stepping out.
6. Be sincere. One reason introverts don’t like reaching out is that they feel like fakes when they shine the spotlight on themselves. So don’t be a fake. Only promise what you can deliver, only compliment when you mean it, don’t imply friendship if you’re just looking for a sale or a connection, and only ask others to do what you yourself would do for others. If you are genuine in your outreach, then you are comfortable with it—and being comfortable is how introverts flip the switch to Extrovert Mode.
My style doesn’t make for the most aggressive kind of marketing, but as an introvert I want no part of aggressive, anyway. I’ve seen websites where authors barter each others’ mailing lists, assigning value to their list of addresses based on the number of buys they scored with that list. Perhaps this helps them sell books, but such used car salesman tactics send the introvert in me scurrying to the dark corners. I know that the only way to get myself to step out of my comfort zone is to extend my comfort zone—and I am most comfortable when I am prepared, nice, curious, giving, and sincere.
Deborah Halverson is the award-winning author of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies and the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth. Armed with a masters in American Literature, Deborah edited picture books and teen novels for Harcourt Children’s Books for ten years before leaving to write full-time. She is a frequent speaker at writers conferences and a writing teacher for groups and institutions including UCSD’s Extension Program. Deborah is also the founder of the popular writers’ advice website DearEditor.com and freelance edits fiction and non-fiction for both published authors and writers seeking their first book deals. For more about Deborah, check out her website DeborahHalverson.com.
*For a chance to win a copy of WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES, just leave a comment telling us:
A) what For Dummies book would you like to see out there on the shelves (That's kind of a no-brainer for me, Introverts for Dummies, of course!)
B) If you could have an on/off switch that you could flip at will, what personal characteristic would it control? (Personally, I would love a clean-freak switch that I could flip once a week, then turn off once the house was clean.)