A Successful Indie Author Gives Tips for Introverts

Over a number of months I’ll be featuring guest bloggers who’ve had some success with self-publishing, in print and with ebooks. Some have been traditionally published and others have ventured out as indie authors. By having many authors writing in various genres around the world speak about the publishing experience and sharing helpful tips, hopefully their insights and suggestions will smooth out your road to success.

Today’s guest post is by author Donna McDonald from KY:

As a writer, I am a natural introvert who uses writing a story to escape from real life. It’s one of my favorite author perks. In full introvert mode, everyone in my life watches me burrow down into the writing, the characters, and what is going on in my head. But how do readers find the books of introverted writers like myself, who just want to set them free in the sales channel ether of the Internet and cross their fingers?

The truth is readers often don’t find them. That is the business dilemma no author can avoid, and the million-dollar miraculous exceptions are few. Some marketing is necessary, no matter how you are published. Social media is the easiest and cheapest form. For the indie author walking the jungle path of self-publishing alone, it is critical to make good decisions about it.

You Can’t Hide from the World

From others who swung the machete long before I entered the jungle, I learned that I would have go looking for my readers mostly by myself. I also knew I would have to make a genuine connection with them when I found them, which is the real fear introverts hide from the world. I wasn’t going to get by without actually talking to people. You can laugh at this, but every introverted writer knows the discomfort of venturing out of the book and back to real life. My fiance teases me every day that I’m only pumping my own gas now because they take credit cards at the pump. I won’t deny it. Some days I just don’t feel like interacting with anyone, barely even him. I’m just lucky he loves me.

Learning to “Play Nice”

Yet on social media, any social media, not only do I have to interact with strangers (aka readers), I also have to be extrovertly chipper about it. No spewing angst or frustration allowed, unless it is with enormous amounts of humor and heavily veiled. I shun politics, religion, and controversy whenever I can. Also, I was told by others I admire to thank everyone for every comment. I do so with my fingers crossed that my author ego can handle the strain of playing that nice. For a natural introvert, putting my author “self” as well as my books out for open critique is not just difficult. It is painful.

And I won’t lie. In the last year or so of my Indie publishing journey, I have suffered some personally as I stepped from behind the secluded and much safer creativity of writing and into marketing the work to people I didn’t know. Yes, the jungle path was cleared for me by others, but make no mistake, it remained a jungle when I entered it. I learned this quickly, dealing with mistakes I made that lost me followers, and perhaps readers.

Secrets to Successful Social Interaction

Here’s the problem I had that took me a while to figure out. So many try to reduce fun social media venues like Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter to just “marketing.” When you do that, suddenly ALL your interactions create the impression with your followers that you have an advertising team in a boardroom somewhere planning how to lure them into buying your book. We all hate endless, boring, rephrased commercials, and this is a bad reputation to develop online as an author.

Of course, I tell myself that is not how it is with what I do on social media, but at first it felt like that, probably because I wasn’t taking the time to meet my followers and actually look at what they liked. How can you do that? Look at their main Facebook page. What do they post about? Look at their Twitter profile. What do they tweet about? It’s not hard, not even for an introvert, but you have to want to provide value. That’s the most important aspect of the decision to use social media.

Readers Are Real People Just Like You and Me

Fortunately, I kept reading blog articles from Indies I respected and pushed past the fears of my overactive imagination about promoting myself. Along the way, I discovered an ethical alarm inside me that usually lets me know when I’m crossing the line from “entertaining” to too much “marketing.” When I start becoming more a business person than a “real” person on my social media, I remind myself that the readers I have met there are families of soldiers waiting on loved ones to come home from war. They are real people fighting cancer, raising families, losing jobs, and starting over just like I did when I finally published. They are not only marketing consumers of my work. Instead, they are the reason I write and publish, and their real life with real problems is what prompted them to read my books in the first place. I was their escape from their life and when I understood that, social media suddenly made a lot more sense to me. Do you see how that truth works so nicely with my introverted writing self escaping to write for them?

Let me tell you right now it’s a relief to handle social media in this manner, to forget when I can that I am an author trying to sell books. I’ve cut my problem with feeling like I have to be clever in half by simply retweeting and sharing FB posts—with credit to the originators. I like that I have become for my followers “the author they talk to online” or “an author friend.” When they share me or my work, it’s because they want to.

Genuine Connections Are Gems

The introvert in me winces at times when I put out a post or comment or “like” something because it still feels strange to do that with people I only know online. And frankly, I think there are way more extroverts on Twitter, which I am still trying to figure out. Who else but an extrovert would start their day with “Good morning, Tweeps! How are you today?” and then have thirty exchanges while they’re dressing for work? Yes—I live with one of those and know it is true. He does it on FB with his military friends.

My follower numbers are conservative and unimpressive to the person looking at the jungle path with trepidation. My followers do not number in the thousands on any site yet, but I think I will over time—maybe a year or two. I don’t dwell on it. Every time a reader recommends me, or repins a pin, or RTs my funny tweet, or shares an FB post or quote, I gain more than just a book sale. I gain another genuine connection which starts an organic cycle of my work selling itself by just making people happy enough with me as a person to tell others about me who might read my books. You cannot beat word of mouth recommendations that social media friends and followers make to each other. It’s an introvert’s dream marketing scenario.

Don’t Forget To Have Fun

Let me tell you numbers so you can truly believe me. Right now, I’m averaging over 4,000 books a month in sales. No, I’m not one of the exceptions who hit millions. Some months I have sold 6,000. Some I have sold 2,000. Growth has happened slowly and over time just as all the successful Indies before me have said would happen. My advice to reluctant social introverts is to take the time to find your social groove and make sure what you do is fun for your followers whichever social media you choose to use. Work at making your online persona a popular person as well as a popular author and your marketing will grow out of your connections.

Donna McDonald is the author of multiple contemporary romances and a new science fiction romance series. She self-published her first two books in March 2011, one of which remains free at most ebook retailers for those interested in trying her work. This year she is writing full-time and thinks it is the best job she has ever had. Her favorite thing about writing is hearing that she makes readers laugh.

Connect with Donna on Facebook and check out her website here! Get DATING A COUGAR and THE DEMON OF SYNAR free for a limited time!

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  1. This is a very informative and heart-warming post, Donna. You have impressive sales and I’m sure that this is due both to the quality of your work and the gentle approach you advocate here.

    1. Martin, thanks for the comment.

      I like your description of using a “gentle approach”. Maybe this is easier for me because I have over ten titles published. My hopes are not hung on 1 or 2 books. I can tell you that not all my books are sterling sales performers.

      The second title in my first series (Dating Dr. Notorious, Book 2 of Never Too Late series) used to sell less than 50 copies a month across all channels. That reality went on for months and months. I just kept on writing which is the advice so many truly successful indie authors always give. Now that title, after over a year being released, several improvements to quality, and a few reviews, is finally selling in the hundreds each month. I can only shake my head and believe that all the time I spent doing what I mention in the article is finally paying off. There is some magic to marketing that I do not understand. lol

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this. I’m an introvert, but I’ve been able to come out of my shell quite a bit online. I’ve made some amazing friends and learned an incredible amount. I do love social media, and I never thought I’d say this, but I enjoy Facebook so much more. Even though it’s mostly with fellow writers, I find I can actually have conversations there. Twitter, especially since Triberr came along, is more and more filled with links and harder to have a good chat. I try to tweet organically throughout the day, ask how everyone is doing, share a funny pic or fact, but I always wonder if it makes a difference.

    Great post!

    1. Stacy, thanks for the comment.

      I have author friends with no more than 3 titles who I would describe as extroverts. Their numbers more than double mine. One even sells in the tens of thousands of books each month and made the NYT list. She worked really, really hard to market her books. I know this for a fact because I watched her do some things that made me wince while at the same time I was nothing but envious. I have no doubts at all that she is reaping the benefits of her work by both her sales and the NYT list.

      I admire her, but I have no illusions about ever emulating her efforts. I still listen raptly to her stories though even though many I would never do. lol

      So I will climb quietly to the top, doing what I do, fully aware this could take a long, long, long time. I try to add one more marketing avenue each month, like a new review site or a new listing pointing to work. For example, I do routinely advertise at Goodreads, but only in a small way.

  3. Thank you for your honest and insightful article. I’m also a card-carrying introvert – and dang proud of it. In my senior years I’ve become more comfortable in crowds of strangers (face to face), even enjoy it. However, I’m still very reluctant to put my author foot out there in cyberspace, fearing I’ll just be thought of as annoying or, heavens forbid, get rejected. I’ll be giving more thought to your suggestions and follow through on the wonderful folks who follow me. Thanks

    1. Feather, first let me say–I love your name! Then let me tell you, I am 54. I was 52 when I published my first book ever in March of 2011. I turned 53 two short months after.

      I could not get published traditionally because not even small presses thought they could sell my work. Why? I write romances featuring older characters. The heroine in my first novel is 50, a retire model turned business owner. The heroine is a medically retired Marine who is 38. It’s called “Dating A Cougar”. I tend to describe it as a romantic comedy, but it’s classified as a contemporary romance. The title was a farce that my then 60 yr old friend suggested which has since turned out to be marketing gold as much “cougar” interest abounded online. But since I am a “cougar myself”, I was following the “write what you know” school of advice. I consider it a happy accident and that entire series is “Dating A…”. The series is called “Never Too Late” because I truly do believe that. Main characters ranged from 50-28 in the series, until recently. Book 5 features a 67 yr heroine and just released. It is doing quite well and I am hearing good things from readers, who by the way range in ages from 20-86.

      My bottom line advice is this–don’t let age be a block to anything. Many “boomers” are out there and hungry for stories they can relate to that don’t feature older characters in dire and depressing ways. Yet lots of younger readers like them too.

  4. I used to feel like facebook was just another way for me to stand by myself at a party. But I’m learning that FB and Twitter can actually help we introverts escape our shells in a safe place. As long as we remember to think before we post, and as you say, have fun.

    Thanks for a wonderful reminder. I’m just starting on this Indie venture myself. Just created my Wayward Cat Pub (sounds like an ale joint, I know) Twitter account and have yet to post anything! I’ll relax now and have some fun.

    1. Thanks for the comment Dianna.

      I will admit that some days I look at FB and see 36 posts, several private messages, and a few friend requests, and I literally start sighing as I respond. Like most writers, I just want to write my stories. However, in the 36 comments I am told that one likes the new book, one just found the first series, and another has recommended my work to everyone she knows because it made her laugh. You will find that you simply don’t want to miss those. I don’t know if traditional authors have that thrill or not, but it is very ego boosting for an unknown who through social media feels she is becoming known. I’m in my second year and talking to readers still feels good. I have found my zen place about it.

      Plus the positive social media exchanges and comments offset the inevitable–absolutely inevitable–fact that you will get some negative comments about your work if you are genuinely putting yourself out there. It is a fact that not everyone will love your work. When I starting getting the 1-2 star reviews occasionally, they hurt badly. To offset, I would pop over to the Guestbook on my website and read the 90+ positive comments. Then I go back to writing feeling it all balances out. A mix of social media and ways to be contacted ensures that you get a rounded view.

  5. Thanks for sharing all these comments, Donna. What I’m finding as I’m so neck-deep now in marketing and social media is that I have no time to write. This year I’ve probably averaged about two days a month to work on my novels (and I have one due October 1 to my publisher). Of course, I also edit full-time, and handle this blog, which spreads out to something like 50-100 comments online, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., a day. And yet, response cannot be ignored. So time management is hard, and finding time to write is even harder. if you want to have a tribe and community and interact with fans, you need eighty hours in a day. So maybe one day someone will find a safe way to clone humans so that we can relegate one of ourselves to all the social media!

    1. I am always looking for help with managing time. I absolutely hear you about the quantity. I wrestle with over 100 interactions a day myself. It boggles my mind that I do this now when two years ago I barely knew what social media was.

      Recently, I found Hootsuite, a social media management tool. There are others and I’ve tried trial versions of several on my Mac. I have to say I like Hootsuuite best so far. It allows me to schedule my output (like new release tweets and posts) to many of my social media sites. To respond to comments though, I have to set aside time and look for them. What I don’t feel is that I have to have 20 simultaneous discussions going on at once. Maybe others feel they do. I have even learned to ignore my phone if I’m busy and “call them back”, which many of us have lost the ability to do.

      One new idea I’m going to try next is giving myself two free days out of five regular work days a week to do no social media. That time would be set aside for just writing. I’m not doing well at saying I’m only going to do an hour a day. My hour turns into however much time I think it takes and suddenly I’ve lost the whole morning.

      I have writer friends who manage to limit their social media work to 45 minutes a day who sell exceptionally well. I’m studying their methods like a scientist would study a bug under a microscope. Perhaps it is my nature to want to respond–immediately. But how immediately is “immediately”? Can commenting on most FB posts not wait a day?

      I certainly hope so, but agree it is very hard to set boundaries when you care about those you are interacting with on a regular basis.

  6. Hi Donna, Ever since I met you at the Salem writers conference, I have been inspired by you; your ‘Never too Late’ series was a joy to read, and I am now self=pubbed as well, with my first book released in late June. Ive sold 108 copies, but I’m very optimistic about the future of being an ‘indie’. I tend to linger too long on FB during the morning hours, promoting my book and helping to ‘share’ books of my writer friends. I believe ‘playing nice’ is the way to go. Much good luck with all your future stories; I’ll be there to support you, and btw, I didnt publish till I was 55. We ‘older women’ must stick together!

  7. Thanks for sharing, Donna. I’m always looking for ways to promote and I admit I spend too much time on FB and not enough time writing. But with my first ‘indie’ book on Amazon and doing pretty good, I want to follow up with the sequel by October. I’ve sold books in 7 weeks self pubbing than I have with a pub house over a 3 year period. You have been an inspiration to me ever since I met and spoke with you in April at the NEC writers conference. It was a pleasure to meet you and share wonderful conversation. I adore your “Never too Late” series, and being nearly 60, I think its time to have books that depict older couples. I wish you much success with your future books, and I hope to meet you again someday.

  8. Can identify so easily with this post. Interacting with others has its good and bad days. I too stay away from controversial posts on social sites. I mainly repost to limit my comments, sometimes if asked a question, I go into panic mode, so weird. Still looking for my social groove and despite the success of my 1st 2 novel releases, it’s still daunting. Yet, slowly pulling back the layers to engage more. Thank you so much for sharing and your tips. Congrats on your wonderful success!

  9. Thanks for standing up for introverts everywhere.

    How much and what kind of marketing/networking did you do before you published your first two books, if any? What was your hook when you didn’t have anything to sell yet?

    I’ll assume some goodly part of your target market skews older and doesn’t have the social media presence of younger readers. How do you reach them? Do you do any offline marketing, and if so, what has worked best for you?

  10. These are great thoughts and a good topic. Ebooks and self publishing are popular with the younger generation. They are equally popular with the older genre. This has led to the increase in the number of authors. Introverts are not an exception. 🙂

  11. This is a very wise and honest post. Once you see readers as being just like you it makes it easier to connect. Twitter is full of other writer, often selling millions of books and it can be intimidating.

  12. Hi Donna,

    I just found this post–and I’m so glad I did. I’ve ramped up my own social media efforts and seen my ebook sales nearly double–with an hour or two a day of extra effort on my part. Despite being a card-carrying introvert (I won’t even go through drive-throughs), I feel freer on social media than I ever would in person. I actually like taking the time to cultivate conversations through the keyboard…I don’t hold myself back the way I do in person, always worrying that I’ll say something dumb, have to clear my throat too many times, or that my mascara is clumped and that’s all the other person will see. I like your idea about taking several social media days off per week, though…I may be selling more books, but my next one isn’t getting written because of it. Thanks again for the inspiring post!

  13. Hey! I realize this is somewhat off-topic but I had to ask.

    Does running a well-established blog such as yours take a massive amount work?
    I’m completely new to running a blog but I do write in my diary every day. I’d like to start a blog so
    I can share my own experience and views online.
    Please let me know if you have any kind of ideas or tips for
    brand new aspiring bloggers. Thankyou!

    1. I’m not sure if you are asking me or the author of this post, but I will say yes, writing a blog takes a lot of work. I write more than 100,000 words on my posts, which is like a full-length novel, each year. I write an entire book for my year-long course each year to put on my blog. and then there are dozens of comments a day to respond to and all the marketing and promoting of the blog on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. I think, though, a blog is THE best way to get known and grow fans, readers, and followers. Also guest blogging is crucial, so being an expert in something you write about is essential.

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