By Ali Shaw, Executive Editor
It was in the midst of a fun-loving conversation with other writers in Indigo’s weekly write-in when suddenly I could hear anxiety creeping into one person’s voice: “Yeah, I’m almost done with revision, but when the book comes out, I’ll have to actually do events for it, and that’s terrifying.” The other heads on the Zoom screen nodded in agreement.
It’s an age-old stereotype that writers are introverts, and while it’s not always true, often it is. We don’t like the idea of talking about ourselves at happy hours, much less the idea of standing at the front of an event space with a podium, mic, screen, and projector while two hundred expectant eyes are trained on us.
Did just reading that scenario make your palms sweat? Mine too.
But, I’ve spent a lot of years studying how other introverts make the book hustling magic happen, and I’ve led more than a few events myself in that time, so I’ve got some tips that just might help you too.
1. Be confidently you.
No matter what the event is, no one is there to see you pretend to be someone you’re not. I know, imposter syndrome is pervasive, which makes it seem appealing to invite an imposter persona in to take over in place of the authentic you. Don’t let it. Your story came to be because you wrote it—no one else has had the same experiences, same ideas, same writing process, or any of those other details that make you, you and your book, your book.
Need a boost when imposter syndrome is at its strongest? Let me ask you something: Do you remember all those nice things your editor told you when they read your manuscript? The way they rooted for your main character or changed their own kitchen setup based on your book? The way your publisher cheered when you signed your contract? That was genuine! Remember that. Reread the kudos that readers, reviewers, friends, and family have sent you. Let them play on repeat in your mind as you head into those readings and book festivals.
You belong here. You worked for—probably—years to be here. Own it. Try to be present for it. Smile, meet your fans, answer their questions, sign books, and treat yourself afterward.
2. Choose events where you’ll be as comfortable as you can be.
If speaking to a large crowd like a conference keynote isn’t for you, consider a book-fair-style event like the Oregon Historical Society Holiday Cheer book sale.
Or if that’s not your gig either (yikes, small talk!), consider visiting small chapter meetings of a writing association, like the Willamette Writers regional chapters, or individual book clubs. In these settings, you’ll get to be passionate about what you really love with a small group of others who are also passionate about writing, story, and characters.
If a small group still feels too big, consider going on a radio show or hosted podcast, like Between the Covers, where you get to have a conversation with just one person, the host, who will probably give you a list of questions in advance so you can plan how you want to answer them.
If you must do a larger event (say, your publicist got you an amazing gig like a launch party at Powell’s that you’d be crazy to turn down, anxiety or not!), consider this same format where you have a trusted friend or colleague be on stage with you to ask you the questions and guide the conversation.
All you have to think about is being your authentic self with that one person. Everyone one else is just part of the backdrop.
3. Allow imperfection.
I have this phrase hanging on my wall. I probably should have it tattooed on the backs of my hands.
I 100 percent get that urge to be perfect, especially when it comes to others watching me. Why do you think I became an editor? To strive for perfection, of course.
But the truth is, events never go off totally smoothly. Ask the officiant at my wedding who said my name was Allison (it’s not). And if the late Brian Doyle was here, he’d probably tell you about that time the mic I handed him, which had worked fine for ten events leading up to his, broke partway through his presentation to 180 booksellers and he decided to just use his “dad voice.”
And I’ll tell you one of my most embarrassing stories: I was just stepping up to the podium to welcome 159 booksellers and 20 authors to the annual PNBA Signature Dish. “Good evening,” I started. The room hushed. I am wonderfully excited, my brain led me to say next, but as I got through “I am wonderful,” my brain went, That’s redundant. It’s not like there’s unwonderful excitement. But the words had already started coming out of my mouth. I held my breath. The room was silent. And then I laughed, “Did I just say that I am wonderful?!” And I explained my mental stumble. Two hundred of us laughed and laughed, the authors nodded along, and the booksellers patted me on the back afterward and said, “But you really are wonderful!”
Imperfection is beautiful. It makes memories. It lets people see that you’re human.
Imperfection is perfection in a different shape.
So maybe your palms sweat. Maybe your voice shakes. Maybe you say something you didn’t mean to say.
The other introverts in that crowd are thinking, They’re doing amazing. Maybe someday I can do that too.
And, as you pull off your authentically imperfect presentation, hopefully everyone in the crowd is thinking, I’ve got to buy this book!
Ali Shaw has imperfectly emceed events with guests ranging from two to two hundred for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association trade show, Sledgehammer Writing Contest, literary journal readings, Indigo anniversary parties, and more. She’s also read her own work for events like the Get Nervous series, Voicecatcher and Cirque readings, and open mics. She even sings karaoke, off key. Her next gig is alongside Indigo’s Olivia Hammerman for the Introvert-Friendly Network hosted by Brad Krueger on October 18. But on normal days, Ali prefers quiet conversations with her dog.