The introvert’s guide to the writing world.

A couple of comments on Sarah’s blogs struck me both pointedly and poignantly and over the head (because that’s the surest way to finally get my attention) – writers being entertainingly snippy… but admitting that in real life they were mice. Quiet, un-noticed and invisible in a crowd of three. Preferring our own company and a good book to the noise and chitter-chatter.

Did you nod? Say: “That’s me.”?

Looked at superficially, writing is a perfect choice for the likes us. After all it’s all about words, innit? Stringing them together in like perfect pearlescent beads, weaving it into a broad rich usekh, or a diadem cunningly wrought with rich jewels. Then readers put them on and marvel and revel in them.

Yeah right.

By design… or by intention… or they just forgot to mention… that there is no easy linkage between reader and writer. And the most brilliant of word-strings cast no scintillating light in a bottom drawer. Eventually those of us with lofty ambitions… well, beyond being read by passing earwigs (in the dark, too), figure this one out. But never fear! There is the sweet anonymity of the brown A4 envelope (and now, in a few spots, even online submission).

And that, after that those strange kindly creatures, the publishers will do all the rest. That, after all, is why you give them 6% of the cost of the book. Which is quite generous, really, after all the hours and heartache you put into writing it (that’s right, isn’t it?).

Day-after-day you trudge the trudge, shoulders stooped beneath the load of waiting and fear… to the mailbox. Eventually you probably get the form rejection letter, and know the bleakness of the unloved writer.

Which may just be the best thing that could happen to you. You may turn to the Internet, or books on how to, and discover either agents or doing it yourself.

If, like me, you are close to terminally shy about the whole interfacing with other people about your book and ‘selling’ it… you may like the agent-who-will-sell-it-to-the-publishers option. Remember those publishers — they’re the ones who are going to do all the tedious process of getting readers to experience that sequined loin-cloth of a book of yours, for the 6%. Only the agent want 15%. It all seems a bit unreasonable, but what is an introverted mouse to do? Ack! Go out and tell people what a wonderful book it is, and they should try it? You mean, like actually… uh, speak to strangers, not just eavesdrop and put the bits of their conversations in your next book. And worse, speak to strangers about your writing.

So: you bite the bullet… agree to the agent’s terms, and lo and behold, in the fullness of time… they sell your book. Now, the fullness of time varies, if you’re a cheerful (and totally disproportionate to population demographic odds, physically attractive, young, probably female, or at least officially anointed PC victim, loudly extrovert and supportive of the right party line, and selling a PC book which parrots the agent and publisher’s prejudices well. Strange, despite the mathematical improbability of this, this happens… a lot. The chances ought to be enormously slim. If someone wants to do the stats, I think you will find the bias is far worse than discrimination against any officially designated ‘victim’) it’s a short fullness, and you may find with your personality, your publisher then gives you all the support and assistance you could possibly want.

If you’re like me, a quiet guy/lass who likes the big silences, who by choice listens more than says, and doesn’t do crowded rooms well, let alone chatrooms… Welcome to hell, my friend. Because you will find that the difference between self-publishing and being traditionally published is… that YOU get 6%(newbies paperback rate) out of which you pay your agent 15%, as opposed to 70%.

Your publisher may (or my not) provide good editing/ proof reading. They will provide a cover. They may (or may not) get your book into traditional brick and mortar bookstores.

And that is where the difference ends. Well, as an independent you will not get an advance and will have to get your cover and editing and proofing done.

But when it comes to making the vital contact between your book and the reader, other than the accidental encounter in the ever-shrinking bookstore, and its ever decreasing shelf-time, everything else that traditional publishers have been able to shove off on authors has been. And mostly it is at your expense, and ALWAYS it is on your time and ALWAYS it is on those non-existent self-selling skills. Which is more or less where the self-published introvert got to, at the rejection letter and deciding to go it alone on the quality of their work.

Sadly, quality only counts when someone ACTUALLY reads it. And yes, you’ll lose them if your editing, proofing and cover are lousy. But… a lot of introverts also seem to be perfectionists. So we return to getting people to try the book… with an ill-equipped sales-force of one shy person. Which may explain why so many ‘successful’ writers
would rather be with people they don’t like, than alone. Who find a coffee-shop a perfect place to… work. People who love ‘networking’. They may also be good writers. But in maths terms the set of good writers of good stories is not only congruent with extroverts. I’d go as far as to say it is probably not even proportionally congruent, because if you’re socializing and having a good time, you’re not writing and thinking mostly about your books. It happens, you have your John Scalzi’s and Charlie Stross’s who have a large readership and appear very self-confident. It could be a facade, but they do it well.

Most of us don’t.

Which leaves me trying to provide tips, as someone who is very bad at this, and could be world’s most perfect bad example without effort.

I can only tell you what I do or would like to. You can do better or otherwise, but you have to do something.

You can work on SEO – the subject of a whole post sometime.
You can spend money on getting someone else to help (beyond me, but I’d like to).
You can get volunteers, friends fans to help. They’re going to be hampered by you (mine are), but hey, we all carry our friends.
You can find friendly forums and participate. They become familiar and less hard to deal with. Small ones are best, if less powerful. At least they can be dealt with.
You can develop (probably from those forums) a SMALL linkage of friends in the same boat. Small is key. Introverts handle small groups quite well. And give back. It’s ALWAYS more giving than taking. Avoid ‘takers’ who don’t give back.
If you have to deal with large groups, make sure some of the support comes along.
Find ‘secure’ patches you can retreat to.
If you have to do so ‘live’ and human-to-human… Be like an actor. Put on a persona, play it like it was one of your characters. Focus on a person (or couple of people). Speak to them. Ignore the rest.
Have time -and place – to escape. To be alone.
Never despair, keep pushing. There is a down-grade or at least a leveling of the incline for the little engine… so long as it thinks it can.
And always have a kind word and bit of support for your fellow introvert-writers. There are far more of us than them.

That’s about my offering.
What have you got to suggest?

9 comments

  1. “If you have to do so ‘live’ and human-to-human… Be like an actor. Put on a persona, play it like it was one of your characters. Focus on a person (or couple of people). Speak to them. Ignore the rest.”

    Yes. I spent a decade teaching software design, on stage sometimes 40 hours a week. I learned to “put on my instructor costume”, mentally putting on a larger self that reached out across the room. It took practice, but it became effortless. Soon I was comfortable addressing a crowd of 100 or instructing a room full of 20 or more. It really just took practice.

  2. This introvert handles small groups (less than ten, more than three) and big groups (over 50) well. It is the middling and smallest sizes that I have trouble with, especially if it involves being sociable. As for solutions, I try to break the middling groups into smaller sub-groups, then go, listen a bit, make a few comments if appropriate, then move on. When confronted with only one or two people, I tend to freeze up unless they drop something I can use to get them talking. It doesn’t help that when I’m not concentrating on smiling and acting cheerful, I look very stern or unhappy.

  3. I have a set of “writer clothes” that I only ever wear at conventions – and at cons or anything else “official” I’m playing a part. One of the things I do for that is that if I’m at a con, when I’m not in my hotel room, I’m on duty – and I do my best not to go back to the hotel room at any point between when I leave in the morning and when I stagger back there at night.

    How well I do… I have no idea. I’ve been told I look like I’m glaring when I’m worried, and I often need to just sit quietly for a while.

    As for social media… I stink at it. Really, really stink. I usually have to tag onto someone who’s better at it than me, such as the other contributors here.

    Small definitely helps. So does – oddly – refusing to give a damn what anyone else thinks. The mental space of “this is who I am and I belong here being who I am” can be an effort at first but it stops you giving out “I’m scared and I don’t want to be here” vibes – which means that you’re a lot less likely to get any kind of push back.

    1. Kate, the bully mentality does pick up on ‘I’m scared’ . I can’t DO 14 hours of people – Need retreat to the room or quiet spot every 2 hours or so. I am quite disciplined about coming out again 🙂 Mostly.

      1. I know very well that if I go back to my room I won’t leave again 🙂 I’ll usually find an empty seat somewhere and park in it for a while until I’m okay to face the hordes again.

        And yes, the bully mentality is why it’s important to get into the “I belong here” mental space. I’ve yet to find any gathering of people without some level of bullying.

      2. Hi, Dave. I also find the sustaind people contact hard, especially if there is no defined setting – i.e. I’m fine on stage, because it’s a performance, but in a crowd at the bar – anxiety city. Thankfully there is the hotel room to retreat to at most cons.

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