Introverts write lots of books. We relish life in the underground, and few activities give us better opportunities to luxuriate in the quiet than writing. When I tell people I can’t go out with them because I’m tired, they object. But when I tell people I can’t go out because I have to write a book, they relent. Even though writing means blood, struggle, and agonizing introspection stretching toward despair, it’s still better than Tuesday happy hour with the co-workers you already spent all day with.
Alas, all good things come to an end. There comes a point when your book, borne of delicious solitude, must squint in the daylight and be introduced to the world—you have to do book promotion. This is the time that I wish for a glad-handing, extroverted dynamo of a twin brother who can go out and sell my book. Sometimes, I think I was born in the wrong era of publishing; a hundred years ago, when the only media was the newspaper and maybe the occasional radio interview, I wouldn’t have had to deal with the pressure to be a public figure.
I had no idea when I wrote my first book, Introverts in the Church, that the season of book promotion would endure for as long as it has. I imagined a few interviews, an article or two, and maybe the occasional awards banquet thrown in my honor, and then I could return to my private life. Yet recently, six years after the release of my first book, when I was interviewed about my forthcoming second book, we spent probably half the time talking about my first book!
Of course, I am deeply grateful for and continually surprised by the attention my book has received. I am also amused at the irony of how people can’t stop talking about introversion. Sometimes, these conversations originate from unlikely sources. Not long ago on Twitter, J.R.R. Tolkien asked me,
“As an introvert, which Lord of the Rings character do you most relate to?”
Now, most people would assume that it wasn’t the real Tolkien who asked, but I’m fairly certain that the good professor has a smartphone and is tweeting me from beyond the grave. Because that is how introversion haunts me.
I responded to ghost Tolkien with a couple of thoughts:
“I’d say that all of Hobbit culture tends toward an introverted way of life. Cozy little holes, quiet lives, good friends.”
“Bilbo’s feeling of being thin, stretched out, like butter scraped over too much bread, captures the experience of introverts, tired out by an extroverted world.”
If I were responding to tweeting Tolkien today, as someone about to find himself in another storm of book promotion, I might say this: Book promotion for someone who prefers life in the Shire can feel like trudging across Middle Earth to throw a ring into the fires of hell.
In her beloved TED talk, Susan Cain said that many world-changing introverts—Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Moses, and I might even add Jesus of Nazareth—did not choose the public life because it was a natural fit for them. They chose a public life because they were compelled by an irresistible cause. They couldn’t not speak out.
I’m not comparing book promotion for introverted authors to marching in Selma or leading slaves out of Egypt. Yet similarly, we creative introverted types are reluctant public figures. Our energy and our creation come from solitude, and one public appearance can be enough to take all that energy back from us. Book promoting and marketing of any kind can almost feel like a betrayal to the sacred quiet that produced our creation.
For me, book promotion starts and ends with motivation. What drives you into public life? Extroverted authors may love the rush, but most introverted authors don’t. Ambition toward money or fame will likely not sustain you for very long, especially since authors don’t get fame or money anymore. We need deeper drives to keep going.
I once heard an executive of a global non-profit organization say that the company’s mission statement was so compelling “that it [got him] up in the morning.” Even though sometimes he was tired and didn’t sleep enough the night before, his organization’s mission was enough to get him out of bed.
We writers wrote our books because something powerful flashed within us. The same goes for artists, musicians, and creators of all sorts. I think we can harness that same energy to bring our projects into the light. We believe strongly in our message, and we know there are people out there who need to hear it, even if they don’t know it yet. The promotion side is not contrary to our idea; it is the completion of our idea. Writing the ideas that came to us was enough to get us out of the bed in the morning. Promotion is the hope that these ideas may inspire others to wake up in the morning too.