The Introvert as Huckster
Social media survival skills for the disinclined
I got into publishing because I was tired of the way I was being published. I didn’t think the people running the show knew what they were doing anymore. Neither did I, but in a situation where no one has a clue, I would rather bet on myself. So I started Dymaxicon.
But here’s the thing: Publishing a book today absolutely requires voluminous social interaction—and I’m an introvert. Not a mild introvert, but 97% pure on the Myers-Briggs scale. When I first saw pictures of the Unabomber’s cabin, I thought it looked like a nice place to live. I enjoy things like snowshoeing, single-handed sailing, reading, writing, designing. My favorite song as a kid was “Rocket Man.”
I don’t dislike people — in fact I love them enough to write books for them — but tragically they are also kryptonite to me. Long, intimate interactions I can handle and even thrive upon. But the day-to-day, check-in, check-out, touch-base, tap-tap, poke-poke, got-a-minute chitter-chatter that I engage in to market books makes me feel surges of panic in the middle of the night, the communication threads sticking to me like spider silk to a fly.
Introverts like me can do extroverted things. I was the editor-in-chief of a small town newspaper for a spell, and thoroughly enjoyed being the boss of a newsroom. I was even good at it; the rewards were great enough to compensate for the investment of energy.
Gearing up to handle a book launch is something I need to plan for, manage, even train my psyche for, if I hope to survive the experience. I have learned a few ways to make success more likely when I have to stop writing and designing and start shilling:
Say “no,” even before you’re asked
Carlton Nettleton wrote recently about how commitment should be binary—yes or no, on or off. Never say, “I’ll try.” I agree, if for entirely different reasons. When you say you’ll try, you’re agreeing to give that thing mind-share, and inviting communication (the old nudge-nudge, poke-poke). Instead, say “no” and even broadcast the “no” up front. I tell my friends: “I can’t make plans during book launches, but if you want to call me at 10:00 a.m. to see if I can break away for a hike, I would love that.”
I know I’m going to be drained by spending all day online chatting with all of you lovely folks. So why didn’t I go to Trader Joe’s for snack fuel and staples on Sunday before the Monday launch of Gabrielle Chavela’s novel, Part of Your World? By Tuesday night I had nothing but condiments in the house and ate a jar of pickles for dinner because I just could not face the crowds at the store.
Yesterday a good friend offered to take over tweeting and re-tweeting chatter about the books on launch for an afternoon if I would spend the time editing a piece she’d written—a welcome respite for both of us. I have handed the keys to my Facebook page over to another close friend in the past, when I was overwhelmed and couldn’t keep up, and she posted informative things about upcoming readings, etc.
Do some work you do enjoy
I have some very productive bursts in the middle of suffering through a media blitz. Earlier this week I designed a logo for a friend, and last night I designed a T-shirt to promote Tobias Mayer’s new book, The People’s Scrum, and this morning I’m writing this essay, not because I have time to, but because I viscerally needed to get my hands dirty and get away from Twitter. Makers need to make. It’s like eating and sleeping. Don’t “schedule” or “make time for” this kind of work. Do what you need to, but don’t create overhead—it’s absurd to plan for your basic needs; they should always be met on-demand.
Don’t carry other introverts
No surprise, but the literary author who didn’t have his own email address (he borrowed someone else’s to communicate) hasn’t sold well. Also no surprise that an author like Tobias Mayer, with 3000+ followers on Twitter, has done just fine. I have learned to say no to authors and projects I adore if they can’t or won’t participate in the heavy lifting.
Don’t be nice
I have learned that confrontation is important, and less exhausting in the long run than making nice. I’m not perfect at this—sometimes I simply avoid conflict—but I am never nice when I don’t mean it. Being false is ten times more draining than being confrontational.
Introverts don’t seek out high-contact situations because they enjoy them, but because they are a necessary component of something they feel passionate about accomplishing otherwise. I’ve learned that the opposite of passion is compromise—so I don’t do it. Ever.
Does this mean I never listen, never receive the ideas of others? Of course not. I’m a good listener, and I cave when I’m wrong—which I often am. But experience has taught me that if I give in when my professional wisdom informs me otherwise, even to a string of little things, I end up losing my passion for the project, and that simply cannot happen if I’m to sustain my energy through the tasks that need doing.