I recently got a question from an aspiring author who asked, “How can an introvert like me deal with the marketing and all of the exposure that comes with having to sell my book?”
Just in case you, too, want to go hide under a bed when you hear the term “author platform,” I want you to know you’re not alone.
These days, we authors are responsible for selling each and every copy of our books. This is especially true for authors of nonfiction.
So the bad news is that you will have to step up to the mic—so to speak. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to feel like walking the plank!
For while the online revolution has rendered self-promotion decidedly not optional, it’s also made it ever so slightly easier to—um, you know, hide.
That’s why I’m happy to present this completely unscary guide to Platform Building for Introverts.
Author’s Note: This information is aimed at writers of transformational nonfiction and will work for nearly all nonfiction topics. Fiction, on the other hand, is a totally different story (see what I did there?). Writers of novels, short stories, children’s books and more may find this information useful, but if that’s you, please know that your specific needs go beyond the scope of this article.
And with that, let’s get to Platform-Building for Introverts!
The History of the Introverted Author
There are quite a few different definitions for “introvert,” but for our purposes, let’s say an introvert is someone who prefers internal stimulation to external stimulation and who generally seeks out private or one-on-one contact as opposed to large-group social situations.
No surprise here: Introverted authors have long been, well, a thing.
In part, that’s because introverts are often highly observational and introspective, and when you combine that with spending a lot of time alone, written communication is an outlet that feels natural.
William Shakespeare was rumored to be a rather solitary fellow, and both Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen appear to have been introverts. Yet long after their deaths, their work (and their names) live on.
You see, in the past there were writers and there were personalities. While the venn diagram between them occasionally crossed, it didn’t have to do so.
But…unfortunately, that’s no longer true.
These days, great writing + great ideas/stories + personality = author. It’s all baked in.
Some authors push their own boundaries to enter the spotlight. For instance, both J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin self-identify as introverted, and we hear about them plenty.
This is harder with non-fiction, where authors have to market an idea or a method, not just a story.
Author Susan Cain, who literally wrote the book(s) on introverts, is an introvert herself. But that didn’t stop her from launching a highly successful TED talk or writing and marketing two bestsellers.
Anita Moorjani, the bestselling author of Dying to Be Me, admits that she, too, is an introvert. This delighted and surprised fans, who may not have expected to hear that from someone who was so candid about her darkest moments.
Susan and Anita both broke out of their respective comfort zones to bring their message out into the world. It can’t have been easy, but they are proof that it is possible!
How the online marketplace has changed platform building
You might have heard that the publishing industry has changed a lot since the advent of the internet, and that in the past, nonfiction authors weren’t expected to come into the publishing game with a significant (read: large) platform.
This is true; in fact, I’ve said it once or twice myself.
But there were always outliers.
In transformational nonfiction, both Wayne Dyer and Louise Hay are known for having hacked publishing by producing and self-publishing their own books.
Wayne taught courses in his topic before he wrote his book and used the transcripts to create his first draft. Then he put several hundred copies into his trunk and drove from bookstore to bookstore across the U.S. with his young daughter.
Louise…well, Louise just started her own company. (As an aside: It turned out to be a good move.)
They weren’t alone. In the 1930’s, Irma S. Rombauer, a recently widowed, 50-something housewife, thought she might support herself by putting together some of her mother’s recipes. She then did something unheard of: Added her own voice to the book, commenting on the recipes here and there.
Publishers wouldn’t touch it.
So Irma sold nearly all 3,000 copies of her self-published first edition through a network of ladies’ clubs. Five years later, the second edition of The Joy of Cooking was picked up by a small house…and nearly 85 years after that, it’s still in print.
Wayne, Louise and Irma got innovative. And they didn’t just find readers for their books. By reaching out directly, they found fans.
These fans loved the books—and they also loved the authors writing them.
And among their fans, these authors found superfans, who not only bought their books but promoted them through their own social networks (the old school kind, before social media), effectively helping the authors build their platforms.
(For more on fans, superfans and even megafans, check out this video.)
Now that this type of fan-based platform building is standard, it’s become easier for individuals to reach other individuals.
But it’s become harder for publishing companies to reach individuals.
Because when it comes down to it, what people want is that heart-to-heart connection. They want to be as excited about an author as they are about the author’s work.
The Good News for Introverts
Luckily, the majority of platform-building can now happen from home
In the past, authors were expected to go on book tours, do events, teach live workshops, be on TV and radio, etc. Whether it happened before their book launch, after their book launch, or both, authors had to get out there and promote their work in-person.
Nowadays, it’s mostly just an author and her laptop—posting on social media, videos, podcasts, blogs, creation of valuable giveaway content.
(For instance, I’m writing this from my back deck right now with not another person in sight!)
Furthermore, since gathering fans is so much more important than gathering readers, today’s authors are welcome and encouraged to put as much emphasis on selling their own personality as selling their book.
This may be of particular interest to introverts, who tend to be less interested in “salesy” marketing.
Be authentic; write about what you know and love. This sells both you and your book.
None of these factors make it easy. Building a platform is not easy; it’s a challenge. But being willing to take that challenge, despite your introverted tendencies, is a fantastic way to honor your message—
the one you were born to write.
Long story short, introversion can make platform building feel like a bigger leap. But that doesn’t mean it has to be scary.
FAQ from Introverted Authors
I frequently get questions from platform-wary introverts, and if this is you, please know that I feel your pain.
Here are some of the questions that come up most often:
- If I self-publish, do I still need a platform? You still need a platform to sell your book. 99% of self-published books sell fewer than 99 copies because the author doesn’t work on getting the word out. If you’re writing a book mostly to hand out to people you know (family, clientele you already have, etc), then you don’t need to build a platform. But if you want to help your message have maximum impact on the world—you’ll need a network through which to spread it.
- Can I use a pen name? As fun as thinking up potential pen names may be, a nom de plume is not recommended in today’s marketplace where you’re looking for long-term fans (who feel they know the real you) rather than short term readers.
- Do I need to do everything—YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, all of it? Yes…and no. It’s great to have the infrastructure in place for all forms of social media so your fans can find you everywhere. But you don’t need to be good at everything as long as you know how to work with your strengths. Some people are better with images and take to Instagram. Some like to be put on the spot and will do better with Facebook Live. Do what you do best, notice what gets the most attention, and then promote your content between platforms—for instance, tweet out a link to your most recent YouTube video, or add a selfie of yourself with a podcast host to your Instagram story, providing the podcast link in comments. You’ve got this!
- Okay—but seriously. Is any one form of media more important than the others? Fine, fine. If pressed, I’ll stand by email. From a publishing standpoint, an email list is the most valuable form of outreach, so at the very least, start building that. And…then build everything else.
- Should I hire help? That depends on your budget. Some authors invest in publicists and social media experts right away to help them develop, post and manage content. It can be a huge relief to have someone help get you started. But it can also be cost-prohibitive, and it’s not something that will necessarily translate to sales or any other form of income in the short term.
Platform-Building Tips for Introverts
I know exactly how overwhelming platform-building can be, and I hope this has brought you some confidence in the process. If you want more information, I’ve created a helpful guide aimed directly at you: The introverted author.
It will help you build your platform, which I will remind you, one more time, is your way to get your message out into the world. Building a platform is one of the best things you can do for your book—and your life’s mission.
Kelly Notaras is the founder of kn literary arts and the author of THE BOOK YOU WERE BORN TO WRITE: Everything You Need to (Finally) Get Your Wisdom Onto the Page and Into the World, published by Hay House. An editor for 20 years, she’s worked at HarperCollins, Penguin, Hyperion and Sounds True. She speaks regularly at the Hay House Writer’s Workshops and offers consultation by appointment. Find out more about how she can help you with your book.