With COVID-19 slowly becoming less of a pandemic, it looks like it might be safe to start gathering again in large groups. This means that it is time for introverted authors to start brushing off their people skills and get ready to meet readers at book fairs and public events.
After 18 months of mostly meeting people through a screen, putting yourself out there is going to be more stressful than ever. But at the same time, it is also crucially important. You need to step out of your comfort zone and go meet people where they are.
Because waiting for them to come to you will stifle your career.
Can Introverted Authors Have Successful Careers Staying Home?
My greatest mistake as a blogger was that I gave in to my fear of meeting people. I should have been actively pursuing every opportunity for publicity, but instead, I let my self-doubt stop me from getting on conference panels, I quietly ducked interviews, and I even let my dislike of noise keep me going to parties during conferences.
I did have a successful career as a blogger, but I also know I would have been bigger and much better well-known if I had overcome my fears (actually, gut-wrenching panic would be a more accurate description).
On the other hand, I have to admit that one of my best years as a web designer was during the lockdown, when I never met people in person and I didn’t even do that many webinars.
While it is possible to have a successful career while staying home, the truth is we need to go where our customers are. I for one plan to take advantage of every chance I have to meet new people and win them over., and authors should do the same.
Yes, you can have a career even though you are avoiding public events, but it would be a shame to pass up opportunities.
How Introverted Authors Can Overcome Their Fears
You will need to overcome your fears, and here are a few ways you can do that.
One of the easier ways to talk yourself out of promoting yourself in public is to focus on the fact you don’t know what to say or how to introduce yourself. Toastmasters will get you across that hurdle.
This is an organization dedicated to helping its members learn to become public speakers, and not only will they help you learn the basics, they will also help you overcome stage fright and teach you how to cope with unexpected situations.
There are Toastmaster chapters all over the world, including in your neck of the woods. Visit your local chapter, and see if it is right for you.
Your local writing club presents an excellent opportunity for you to get used to meeting strangers and talking about your work. Join a club and commit to attending every meeting, and if you get a chance, stand up and talk about yourself.
The clubs I belong to still meet virtually, but they do give every attendee a chance to introduce themselves and talk briefly about what they are writing. This is your chance to practice what you will need to say when you go out in public again.
And once you are comfortable talking to members of the group, you can take things to the next level by either suggesting new activities or programs for the club or even by running for office.
For example, back in December 2020, I was elected president of the Riverside Writers Club in Fredericksburg. We’re still meeting virtually, but even so, holding office has forced me to get used to being the center of attention. I run meetings, interface with other officers and the public, and generally have to talk to a lot more people than I was comfortable with.
If your writing club is like mine then it will always be in need of volunteers to help run things; based on my experiences, the clubs never fill all of the officer positions. Volunteer as a candidate, and you will be voted in easily (actually, I was drafted).
Another great opportunity for you to get used to meeting strangers would be a local networking group. (Some are meeting in person again, yes.)
Whether it’s Meetup or One Million Cups, these groups exist so business people can make new contacts with other business people, and while authors don’t quite fit the mold of the typical group member, a networking group can still be a great resource for authors.
Regularly attending a group’s meetings will get you comfortable talking to strangers, and it will also give you leads on local service providers including graphic designers, printers, computer techs, swag suppliers, and accountants.
If you want additional motivation, try this: These groups can also be a great place to conduct background research for your next book. For example, talking to local lawyers will help you work out the details of a courtroom drama, and there are a hundred other professions that you might want to use in your next book.
A local networking group will count as its members dozens of experts in diverse fields, and all you have to do is have the guts to introduce yourself and ask them questions.
You can find business networking groups through Meetup, Facebook, your local Chamber of Commerce, or through BNI (a networking group franchise organization).
Conferences & Book Fairs
Once you have grown comfortable talking to people in your local groups, the next stage is to branch out and meet people at conferences and book fairs.
As I sit here writing this post in June, the earliest conference I might attend is in August, so this tip is more aspirational than a firm plan, but we should still plan ahead.
If you have a local book fair coming up, set a goal of introducing yourself to ten, fifteen, or twenty people, and don’t go home until you have met that goal.
Or, if you are attending a conference related to either your day job or related to your writing, commit to exchanging business cards with a certain quota of strangers. Don’t stop until you have filled your quota.
Once this no longer scares you, it’s time to volunteer at that local book fair. Staffing the help desk, or helping to set up and break down the booths, will give you many opportunities to talk to people.
Ask people what they are writing, and tell them what you are working on, and the conversation will grow from there.
The next step after volunteering at that book fair is to commit to being on a panel at a conference. It doesn’t matter if you are an expert; agree to be on a panel when someone asks you six months or a year before the conference, and then use the intervening period to learn what you need to know.
One thing I have learned is that if someone thinks I am a good fit for their panel then they’re probably right. I accepted a couple positions on marketing panels at the BookBaby conference in November 2018. Even though I didn’t think I knew very much about marketing for authors. I found that as I got ready for the conference that I really did know enough to be a good panelist. (I have learned more since).
Good News and Bad News for Introverted Authors
I have good news and bad news for you about venturing out into public. The bad news is that you can’t stop promoting yourself because the growth of your career will start to slow down or even stall because you are no longer recruiting a new audience.
On the other hand, the good news is that this isn’t something you have to get right the first time around. Fumbling your intro at one meeting is not the end of the world because there is always another event where you can meet new people.
Keep working at it and one day you will be the expert who advises beginners how they can promote themselves.