As I mentioned in a previous post, I’d recently picked up a copy of The Shy Writer Reborn, and I’d been putting a lot of what’s in the book to use. The revitalization of the Orrery, the return to regular long-form writing, the regular sharing of thoughts in hopes of building an audience, these are all suggestions that came out of reading C. Hope Clark’s guide to being an introvert and still managing to be a successful writer.
And yet, there’s a lot in the book that… doesn’t work for me. This isn’t because it’s wrong in the abstract, but it feels “wrong for me,” and it’s taking a fair bit of work to sort out the bits that do from the bits that don’t, and why. I admit, when I bought it, I was looking for a recipe book, and what I got was more like a scientific analysis of cooking principles, with only a few bits that I can lift and apply out of the box.
To be sure, there are things she suggests that I have done, and I feel good about doing them. Blogging was one of them. Making the links to my books easy to find was another. The site will soon be getting a facelift, which may not immediately help if people subscribe via RSS but which is still important. No matter what I may wish to pretend, the era of 132×43 text-only screen resolution is long gone, and a site optimized for lynx — or even Links — does me no favors.
Those, however, are relatively easy for me. They already fit the sort of things that I enjoy doing, and they come relatively easily without a great deal of fear or disquiet. One of the ideas she actively pushes — getting a Facebook account — is something I just won’t do. I have way too many concerns about the company, its attitudes, its business model, and the way it treats the data in its possession. She loves Pinterest also, which I fully confess I’ve just never understood. She seemed iffy on Twitter, which I can understand because honestly so am I, but I think we dislike it for different reasons.
In fact, Clark’s core approach to her book stems from an innate understanding that what motivates introverts to behave the way they do is fear. Now, that’s true of me to a very large degree; I’ve admitted as much already. However, it’s not true universally, and a lot of her advice is predicated on the idea that what’s stopping the reader from acting is fear and the adequate way to plan for it. To be fair, she never talks down to her audience; she doesn’t shy away from hard-nosed realism when it’s appropriate, but she never comes across as waggling a finger and tutting at the audience, or at the other people she’s helping. She’s one of us, as it were; she suffers and sweats and panics alongside the rest of us. It’s just that her lived experience, and the advice she dispenses from it, isn’t universally applicable, and where it’s not it’s very clear why it’s not.
One of the biggest gaps into which I’ve fallen is on the subject of sales.
I’ve had a number of talks with a number of people about the art of marketing. Now, I’m not an advertising executive; I’m an an author and an armchair sociologist, with a side of philosopher-sage. In my head, emotionally, morally, there’s a distinction that I need to draw between “telling people about a need they didn’t know they had” and “creating a need.” The line between those two may be faint and very fuzzy, but to me this is an important hair to split. I’m fine with telling people about my works. I’m even fine with making my writing available for people to decide for themselves whether they’re interested in supporting my creative endeavors, which is why almost everything is available, in some state of editing and revision, on my website. Where I have to draw the line, for my own sanity and emotional health, is at the point of trying to convince people that they’ll like what I write.
Everyone, in their communities, tends to fall into roles. When we say things like, “you’re not the same person for your spouse that you are for your boss,” we’re saying that we play a different role for one than we do for the other. We moderate — really, we modulate — our behavior to account for differences in existing relationship, in desired relationship, in social standing, in environment. We’re not the same people to our friends in public that we are to those same friends behind closed doors. We all change who are we, or at least how we act, to meet the requirements placed upon us both visible and invisible.
In my social interactions, my role is and has always been to help bolster those who already Got It. I built a community around people who were already like-minded and I invited them to be part of an experience I wanted to have, but I fully confess, I wasn’t the one who found those people in the first place. We all sort of found each other, over time, through social arenas built by others who had more energy to go looking for compatriots and contemporaries than I ever did. I piggybacked my social network off of other shared connections, and I’ve come to meet a lot of really awesome people, but I did so through the help — more help than I could ever repay — of others around me who were much more skilled at building new connections. I mostly sat on the sidelines and asked for introductions to others and struggled to keep up with the friends I had while trying to find more.
In my public role as a software developess and as a system administratrix, I never cold-call companies asking if they need people. I have sixteen years of job experience and I know all the right buzzwords. I know how to interview, and I do so very well. My last job took me two weeks to find, and I was beating back job offers from other parties up to the day I signed. I don’t have to “look for work;” work quite literally looks for me. Paradoxically, this makes me even worse at sales because I’ve never had to… er… sell myself. Before I got this good, I spent eight-and-a-half months going through The Bad because I was terrible at convincing companies that I was the candidate they wanted to hire. I was terrible at landing a job in the past, mostly because I didn’t have the kinds of skills I do today that make having to work at having work mostly obsolete, and because I’ve never really felt comfortable trying to make people want to hire me that didn’t need me.
Please note, this is not a plea for help; my problems are strictly First World. Mostly, this is an exploration of why the idea of “sales” is a hard problem when, prima facie, it shouldn’t be. I have things I would love people to read. I think there are people who would love to read them. And yet, all of my skills are built around the idea that the people who want what I have to offer are already looking for it, even if they don’t know they are. Trying to convince people that I have what they want if they’re not already sure has never been my strong suit. It feels dishonest, somehow.
I don’t even really mind advertising, per se. I’ve run ads on the Nail, and I’ve posted ads for all my books through Project Wonderful and FurAffinity. I’m fine with the idea of getting my name out in front of people and telling them that my books exist. Where my brain draws the line is, frustratingly, at the point at which I’m actually talking to people and trying to convince them that they should like what I’m doing, or even be interested in it. I can say “I wrote it.” I can’t bring myself to say, “you should read it.”
I was exploring the ideas with a roommate-to-be, and we boiled it down thusly: “I’m the barker for a bank of roller coasters. If you like roller coasters, I can tell you which ones are good for what kinds of experiences. If you don’t like roller coasters, I can tell you which way will get you back to the main strip. If you don’t know if you like roller coasters, about all I can do is point you at one and suggest you try it, and whether you do or don’t, we both learned something.”
How do you reach your audience? Do you advertise? Do you rely on word of mouth? How do you sell people on what you’re doing, or do they already want what you have?
You never could get it, unless you were fed it.