Monday, April 4, 2011

A Uniquely Introverted Approach?

In the comments a couple of week’s ago, someone said they were still looking for a uniquely introverted approach to being an author rather than settling for Extrovert Lite, and I thought that was an interesting point. It got me to thinking, what would a uniquely introverted presence look and feel like? Is there a way to craft presence that is truly based on introvert strengths and not Extrovert Lite?

If one’s idea of an introvert presence is to have to do absolutely no engaging or connecting, the answer is probably not. One exception to this might be if you wrote such a dynamic, compelling kick @ss book that the publisher gets behind it in a BIG way and does all the heavy lifting for you. Even then, they will most likely want you to have some presence, some way of your readers to find you, a web site, a Facebook or Twitter account, or a blog. But how you use them is up to you.

So how does an introvert take these tools and use them wholly in their own way?

I think part of that answer is to use them with a different end in mind; to connect with readers rather than to draw and create new readers. It is a small thing really, a shift in perspective, but one that is based solidly in the introvert’s personality and strengths.

Introvert strengths that can be used to connect with readers are:
1. We are good at connecting deeply and meaningfully with people.
2. We like to think and talk about big, important things and ideas. Not chit chat, but deep conversations.
3. While we do like to connect with people, it needs to be in keeping with our own energy levels. This is why the internet is such a huge breakthrough for introverts.

So we build our marketing presence on those three principles. In fact, it will not so much be a marketing presence but more about creating opportunities to connect. It might seem like a matter of semantics, but it radically shifts the focus and the goal of what you’re doing—and that goes a long way to taking it out of the Extrovert Lite category and putting it solidly into the Truly Introvert category.

The thing is, if you’re a writer, I’m guessing that means you had something to say, something that compelled you to give voice to the ideas and thoughts in your head. Connecting in an introverted way is simply about extending that at the edges, just a little bit.

As an introvert:
DON’T pay attention to numbers and visitor counters.
DON’T promote your work or put a scintilla of pressure on yourself to shill your books.
DON’T feel  like the focus has to be all about you.

DO pay attention to each reader that stops by—answer their comments, create a relationship.
DO have your book cover and title and appropriate links somewhere on your site or FB page, just as one additional aspect of who you are.
DO focus on and talk about things that move you, things that you care about and are passionately involved in. Chances are, those issues touch your work in some way and can be a faintly connecting thread.

As for what tools are best suited to introverts, well, I know there are many introverts out there who enjoy Twitter, but an equal number find it distressing. Luckily, there are many other ways to connect. I am one who prefers Facebook to Twitter (although I am on both) because it is mutual and it is less about connecting in real time and just about connecting. It suits my own personal rhythms better.

Blogging is also good because it allows us to have deep, lengthy conversation, rather than quick, shallow sound bytes, which I am not so fond of.

Skyping is my new favorite thing and will, I think, allow introverts to connect in a big way with their younger readers. There is something very intimate about sitting at home in front of your computer with a group of twenty, eight year olds sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor. It feels much more like a conversation than a presentation and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I also highly recommend finding someone to practice with Thank you, Sarah! Thank you, Gbemi!)

In fact, I think that is the secret to getting comfortable with any extroverted activity: practice, practice, practice until it is second nature. You just have to speak in public, network, give a presentation, tell someone your elevator pitch often enough that it is smooth and practiced and all the bumps and kinks are worked out.

When one is lacking a natural affinity for something, rock solid knowledge and familiarity can be a helluva great substitute.

The thing is though, the true trick, is to not give up before you’ve achieved at least technical mastery. That is the secret to Toastmasters—you just stand up and speak in front of people so freakin’ often that you’ve gotten used to it.

It is also hugely important to keep in mind that there are an entire array of non-internet based marketing tools out there, so if any sort of socializing feels like too much, consider one of those. Targeted postcard mailings, extensive ARC and author copy mailings to key libraries, schools, and indie booksellers. For just about the best outline of these sorts of activities, I highly recommend Saundra Mitchell’s Tools for Writers here and here. For an introvert who is just not interested in any sort of connecting or socializing, that might be the most effective use of your time and energy.

I also think that, as an introvert, it is extraordinarily easy to take a lack of comfort with an activity and label it as extroverted. For many introverts, transitions and learning in public is not a comfortable thing. But that is different than not actually enjoying the activity itself, so maybe pick an activity or two and give yourself time to master it to the point of familiarity and competence and see if that changes your view at all.

The thing to keep in mind is that there ARE introverts out there who like to do things that other introverts don’t. So to say that including any of those activities is the equivalent of catering to Extrovert Lite isn’t exactly accurate. There are social, energetic, enthusiastic, communicative introverts out there.  We can learn from them.

Anne Lamott goes out there, warts and all, and is completely authentic; interestingly, one of the things people love most about her is her absolute honesty and vulnerability.

No one can tell me John Green isn’t an introvert. I also find it fascinating that his huge internet presence came out of simply inviting others to participate in the genuine connection between he and his brother. There’s a big lesson there.

Mitali Perkins is an introvert, yet she is a big user of social media—but she uses it to be involved in matters she is hugely passionate about, to connect with readers and writers, and people who care about the same things she does.

Suzanne Collins, Meghan Whalen Turner, Kristen Cashore, all have very quiet internet presences. They’ve also written amazing books that have done very, very well. But even then, Collins ended up having to go on tour to connect with her fans and Cashore speaks and reads at a huge number of events. She even talks about her road to getting comfortable with that, something that did not come easily to her. Turner seems to have been able to maintain a very quiet presence, but she is also a Newberry Medalist, so there is that.

Another approach to help you develop and maintain a more uniquely introverted presence online is to take a cue from Elizabeth Gilbert. A couple of years ago, Mary posted about how Gilbert’s technique of telling her story to just one particular person in her mind, garnered millions of readers.

Most introverts not only have that ability—to talk meaningfully with one person—but actually enjoy that activity. Find out what sorts of conversations you enjoy having, then find a way to gently and quietly bring them to your author presence.

The thing is, the internet is an amazing tool. An important thing to keep in mind is it doesn’t have to be wielded at full blare in order to be effective.

I would love to hear of any people you think have created a uniquely introverted presence, or ideas, suggestions, or tips you have that would help someone do that.


Precy Larkins said...

Thank you for this well-written post. It's very timely for this particular aspiring writer. I have just come out of my shell and started a blog--something I've told myself I was never going to do (since there are already a million and one writing blogs out there with personalities louder than mine). I like how you talk about having a quiet but strong presence. I am the kind of person who would rather sit with someone and make that connection than be surrounded with people and only flit through them. Social media can be intimidating for us introverts, but as you've noted we can make use of it to reach out to our audience.

Jay said...

One thing I've noticed as an introvert is that if you practice talking about your book to a friend/spouse (or even yourself, the ultmiate in introversion!) you'll start getting into the "I'm not making small talk, I'm talking about something I'm really passionate about," mode. When you're not confident, the extroversion needed for pitching is too much...being confident about it makes it more personable.

liz michalski said...

I love the idea of imagining you are talking to just one person at a time. I've tried to do that in one sense by creating 'secret pages' on my website. Whenever I engage directly with a reader, (either in e-mail or a signing) I pass along the codes to those pages. It makes me feel like I'm sharing a secret with a friend, a much more intimate experience.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

I love the thought of turning the attitude away from "I'm just doing a poor job at being an extrovert" to "I'm doing a good job at being who I am." I didn't know whether I'd enjoy blogging, but it turns out I do, exactly because I'm sharing my thoughts about ideas that are meaningful to me and, I think, may be meaningful to others. Likewise I actually really enjoy speaking with groups of people when I know that those people are there precisely because they're interested in some of the same things that I care so much about. But I'm still haunted by one piece I just can't seem to figure out: without that extroverted get-out-and-chat-up-a-multitude, how does anybody ever find me or my blog or my books in the first place?

Alina Klein said...

Such great points here! I put it together recently that my new "author" blog was stressing me out in a way my other one never has. I realized I was worrying about numbers and would anyone ever look at it? Gah! Would anyone ever comment?

I was writing to try to please ephemeral "other writers" and not writing what made me happy to write. Once I came to that realization the stress went away. I'm just gonna do my thing and stop trying to promote it. One link to FB, one to Twitter per post and NO messing with hashtags--so freeing! :D

As for FB and Twitter, I feel more comfortable at the latter. I don't feel guilty if I miss people's posts there, and I don't feel like such a wallflower when people don't respond to all of mine. Plus, I find it more intuitive.

Perceptions are funny things. We really *are* all different sorts of introverts. ;)

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I love blogging for just the reasons you mentioned--I don't care if blogging is on the way in or on the way out or squarely in the middle. Blogging is like a writing exercise for me, and I have great commenters who stop by and add to the discussion.

I also find my online experience is enriched when I'm commenting on other people's blogs and Twitters. My advice to anyone starting out online would be: put 20% of your effort into your own site, and 80% leaving thoughtful comments on other people's sites. (YMMV, of course!) I'm still trying to find my own optimum balance, but I'm definitely trying to reach out more.

Sarah Stevenson said...

I love the initial question about how to avoid being an Extrovert Lite! And, of course, I enjoyed reading your thoughts in response, and everyone else's.

I've found Tweetdeck (a social media app) to really help me a lot when it comes to Facebook and Twitter. You can set it up to receive updates from both, and from multiple Twitter accounts, and you can comment to Facebook from there, too. For me, it feels a lot less overwhelming to just have one "window" open where I can glance at both Twitter and FB, as opposed to addressing each one separately. (Which I sometimes do, of course, when needed.)

But there are plenty of days when the thought of any kind of social media or going online makes me feel exhausted, and that helps me realize that breaks are important, too. :)

Gerri Lanier said...

* Thanks so much for this encouraging post! Although I have a long, long way to go before actively marketing a book, your words put me at ease since I was worried about the time when I'd reach that point.

I've always been more at ease introducing people and hosting events. But, whenever it comes to putting myself in the spotlight by talking about my endeavors, I stumble.

Social media is sometimes overwhelming for me and, little by little, I'm trying to connect although I don't have much to offer yet. Your comment about building relationships struck a cord so, with that in mind, I can take baby steps in gaining more confidence.

R.L. LaFevers said...

You're so welcome, Cherie! And I'm glad the timing of the post reinforced the direction you're going in!

Jay said: "When you're not confident, the extroversion needed for pitching is too much...being confident about it makes it more personable." This is so, so true. Key, in fact.

Alina, that is such a great example of the exact same activity--but with different goals--can feel so radically different. Thank you for sharing that!

Great suggestion on the commenting/blogging ratio, Jen. Although hard to do sometimes. For me, and I suspect other introverts, it feels very brassy to comment on other people's blogs, even though I know they want me to. Like I told Anne, we will have to talk about that some more.

Liz, I love the idea of secret pages on your website. What a brilliant idea!

Anne wrote: I just can't seem to figure out: without that extroverted get-out-and-chat-up-a-multitude, how does anybody ever find me or my blog or my books in the first place?

You know, I think this might be the topic of a post or two on it's own, because you're right--I think it's one of the hardest elements to nail. Altho Jen Hubbard makes some excellent suggestions...

That's a great tip, Sarah! That having all the input coming from one channel makes it seem less overwhelming. I might have to try TweetDeck again and this time make sure I master it before giving up. (That seems to be a bit of a theme here today, doesn't it?)

Gerri, so glad the post helped put you at ease! That is one of our aims here, at SVP.

Tena Russ said...

As a new visitor to your blog, I will come out of my cocoon to say that I find it enormously helpful and reassuring. Thank you!

Extrovert Lite, LOL.

Alyssa said...

I agree with Tena- this blog is amazing. The posts I have read so far have been extremely intelligent and I learned a lot from them, as well as being encouraged from them. Thank you!!

Chris said...

I'm supposed to be preparing for my speech in a couple of weeks but I'm stalling, fretting and surfing the internet instead...

Thank goodness for this helpful post to get me back on track. Better go write my eight pages and then practice, practice, and practice. Sigh.

Margo Berendsen said...

"we are good at connecting deeply and meaningfully with people" - yes, way to play up our strengths!

That comment above - put 20% into your own site, and 80% into others - wow!!! that really got me thinking.

Joyce Alton / @joycealton said...

Thank you! Thank you! This is something I struggle with a lot. I'm not comfortable with cold marketing but I recognize some kind of online presence is needed. I've been slowly making my way into the internet, taking baby steps and challenging myself.

I'm one who values the deeper conversations and friend connections, getting to know people as people rather than collecting them. I've been having a friendly debate with a couple of writer friends who are much more extroverted than I am about this very topic for some weeks now. So reading this blog post, knowing that there are others who feel the same way about sincere networking, really made my week.

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