Saturday, August 13, 2011

Public Relations Techniques for the Introvert

The Sisters in Crime authors internet group has had a conversation thread going lately about how to promote yourself when you are a shy person. One member wrote that the SinC Los Angeles chapter has even produced a workshop on How To Give an Author Performance . "Many of our great writer/members are terrible readers/performers. But getting out in front of an audience does mean being able to read your own work and doing it with enough pizzazz to entice the audience to buy your book."

I (Donis) am not shy in front of a group, and I'm a good speaker. But I'm also slow to warm up in a social situation, at least until I feel I have a handle on whomever I'm talking to. I told a friend once that I think I was born to be an observer in this life. This is a great quality to have if you're a writer, but not so good if you need to work the room.

The point of all this self-revelation is that when it comes to promotion, what one writer is willing and able to do may be quite different from another. I actually do force myself to make the rounds at every conference I attend and talk to as many people as I can, but I'll never be as effective at it as someone as warm and outgoing as Louise Penny. However, I'm guessing I'm a much better schmoozer than J.D. Salinger, who could have bought and sold me. So as effective as that technique is, it must not be the end-all and be-all for authorly success.

In the six years since my first novel came out, I keep trying a little of this and a little of that, and attempting to judge what promotional activity works best for me. I think attending conferences is very useful. Other writers have been extraordinarily helpful to me. but I can't afford to go to as many conferences as I'd like. I'm much less promiscuous with bookstore signings than I was when I started out. After sitting in lonely solitude behind a table a few times, I now choose my bookstores and signing times with great care, and do everything I can to publicize the event beforehand. For every other bookstore I come across, I find it much more effective to talk to the booksellers.

I find that the more speaking and teaching events I do, the more I'm asked to do. I get a lot of library business. I was a librarian for 20 years, so I know a lot of library types all over the country. Book clubs are good. If you can find a non-book group to talk to that has some sort of connection to what you write about, that can be fabulous for your sales. History groups are good for me. I know another writer who sells her books at an annual zoo event and cleans up. (Makes money. Though I think she does actually volunteer to muck out cages.)

My husband, however, who is a poet, would rather stand on his head in a mud puddle while poking himself in the eye than speak in front of a group. I understand that most people are terrified of public speaking, so my publicity plan would be torture for them. There is a book that I discovered early on in my writing life entitled The Shy Writer, by C. Hope Clark, which enumerates many ways to promote yourself if the idea of standing up in front of a group makes you feel faint.

The internet is a godsend, if you know how to work it, though less so for us Luddites. It would be hard for me to host an internet radio program, because I simply don't have the technical skills. My webmaster, who is also my brother, told me that my website should be "all Donis, all the time", and not concentrate solely on my books. This gives you leeway to change your focus, if you decide to do something other than what you have been doing. Change genres, for instance, or become a playwright, or an actor. The blog tour is popular - I do a lot of guest blogging. I've been blogging weekly on this site, the Fatal Foodies blog, and my own website for years. Blogging is time-consuming, and it is extraordinarily difficult to write one interesting and original blog after another, week after week, year after year. Does blogging increase my readership? I don't know, to tell the truth. But I'm a writer, damn it, and more writing is always better than less. On my own site, I've more or less kept a public diary of my experiences as a novelist, and whether it's instructive to others or not, I have enough material for a book.

This writing game is tough. And when it comes to publicity, you just have to put your head down and go. What works for one may not work for you, so you try everything you can manage and do the best you can. The really important thing, though, is to do the best you can without making yourself miserable. Life is too short.

It is now six years and probably a hundred personal appearances later. Here is what I’ve learned:

1. It takes a great deal of practice and repetition to be witty and spontaneous on the spot.*

2. There’s nothing wrong with using your 'A' material over and over, especially when you’re traveling.

3. If you’re going to read from your novel, keep it short.

4. Look at your audience when you speak - make eye contact. They’ll like you better as a person, and you’ll better be able to judge how you’re going over and make adjustments in your presentation as you need to.

5. Don’t worry about it if you’re nervous. Your audience is predisposed to like you.

6. Always wear comfy shoes.

*One of the contributing authors here at Type M (I won't say who, but her name rhymes with Mannah Hennison) once told me that the first time she had to speak in public about her debut novel, she was so nervous that her knees were literally shaking. I have seen this person speak several times, and she is tremendously entertaining and engaging. In fact, the last time I attended one of her events I was so impressed with her skill that I began to plot ways steal her technique. So practice really does make perfect.


Hannah Dennison said...

Donis ... Great post. I absolutely DREAD speaking in public. I have also endured many solitary book signings where no one has shown up and I've been asked for directions to the bathroom.
Yes ... I seem to know that person you are talking about (ha ha). I also heard that her husband suggested that when she next speak in public, to wear long trousers so to keep those busy kneecaps under wraps.
But a big thank you for your compliments - I'm happy I fooled you.

Donis Casey said...

I love that mystery woman. Long trousers or not.

Rick Blechta said...


You have to bear in mind that Louise Penny was a very seasoned broadcaster of many year's experience before she ever picked up a pen. Few of us can hope to have her panache and polish.

To be really effective in public you DO have to practise. And there's nothing wrong with being scripted – as long as you can make it sound natural. That's where the practising comes in.

Great post, thanks.

Aline Templeton said...

Thanks so much for this helpful post, Donis. My knocking knees and quavering voice have got better over the years and things like library events I positively enjoy now. But I'm hopeless at all the internet promotion we have to do, and I'm grateful for the slot here on Type M, which is beginning at last to give me a taste for blogging!


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