Ten Tips for Shy Authors

Many authors are shy and introverted. They want to write their books, but they don’t want to market them. However, no one will read the books if marketing efforts aren’t made, and even a shy author is still the best salesperson for his or her book. Meeting one’s public is not as difficult or frightening as many authors may fear.

Meeting potential readers and trying to sell your book can feel overwhelming for an author, especially an introverted one. Authors tend to forget that readers are often pre-determined to like them because being an author implies that you are a “celebrity” in their eyes. Since readers are likely already warmed up to want to talk to you about your book, here are some simple tips for making contact with potential readers that will help you to sell books. Since most shy writers probably aren’t going to be out doing public speaking right away but might be coerced into doing a book signing, I’ll focus primarily on how to build rapport with potential customers at your book signing.

1. Visualize the Event Before You Go

I can’t begin to tell you how important it is to visualize the event before it happens. It will calm your nerves and prepare you for success. So many authors are nervous about their first book signing—will anyone come, will I sell any books, will people not like my books—that they forget to enjoy themselves. Make sure you are prepared to go early so you’re not rushing around at the last minute to get ready. Then spend five or ten minutes sitting quietly and envisioning everything going smoothly from arriving early to talking to readers and selling books. You will then go to your signing feeling calm, excited, and ready to succeed. You can use the points below to help you visualize how to make the event successful.

2. Arrive Early

Nothing is worse than being late, or at least being nervous about being late. Give yourself plenty of time to arrive early. You’ll want time to get used to the location, to feel comfortable there, to set up your table, place your books on it, lay out bookmarkers, put up a poster, whatever is necessary. You will feel better from being prepared and that will make you more open to meeting people calmly rather than feeling stressed because you’re unpacking books five minutes after the book signing is supposed to start while a customer stands waiting for you to talk to him.

3. Build Rapport With the Staff

Whether it’s a public speaking event or a book signing, getting there early also gives you the opportunity to befriend the staff. This contact is extremely important. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to book signings where the store staff have told me horror stories about other demanding, late, or rude authors whom they haven’t invited back. You want to make friends with the staff. If you make a good impression, the bookstore employees or conference planners are just as likely to say good things about you to your potential readers. Being friendly with them will also make them more likely to lead customers over to where you are signing books and to recommend your books to customers in the days and weeks following the event.

4. Greet the Audience Individually Beforehand

If you are speaking in public, it’s a good idea not only to get there early but to engage the audience members individually so you have friends listening to you. Don’t hide in a nearby room so you can make a splashy (cheesy) appearance or sit up front looking uncomfortable. Stand by the door and shake hands or walk among the audience, introducing yourself to people and getting to know a little about them. Ask them why they came and what they would like you to talk about. Remember, you’re the guest speaker—you’re a celebrity in their eyes—they will love the personal attention. Even if they are shy, they will remember you and like you. I once was asked to speak to a group of teachers, which included dinner before my talk. I sat next to a woman who was not a member but just a guest of the group. I heard afterwards from one of the teachers present how privileged the woman had said she felt to sit next to the guest speaker at dinner even though she wasn’t a member of the group.

5. Prepare Remarks and Comments Beforehand

If you’re shy, thinking of things to discuss beforehand can really help to break the ice. It may be as simple as commenting upon the weather, about a recent event in the community, bringing up something about your book that will relate to your audience, or even simply planning to notice things about people that you can comment on (not their personal appearance, but if you’ve been to Rhode Island and someone is wearing a t-shirt that says Rhode Island on it, you can use that as an icebreaker). Being friendly is a soft-sell—you’re selling yourself as a nice person, and that will help to sell your book, even if you don’t mention your book. Once you make people feel comfortable with you, they are likely to ask you about your books and then you can sell them.

6. Don’t Hide

Recently, I went to an event where numerous authors were signing their books. I knew one of the authors quite well—had spoken to him on several other occasions, but I didn’t speak to him at this event. Why? Because he had his laptop propped up on his table and was busy typing away. Twice I walked past him and not once did he look up so I did not talk to him, and I certainly didn’t buy his book. No one wants to feel they’ve interrupted a writer, not even to buy one of his books. I’ve seen other authors sit and read books and never glance up. I understand you’re shy, but what these behaviors tell the audience is, “Don’t bother me.” Trust me, they won’t, and you won’t sell any books.

7. Don’t Build an Invisible Line

Some authors sabotage themselves when speaking to their public. While you may not be shy, something as simple as introducing yourself as “Mr. Richardson” or “Ms. Lovelace” is going to turn customers off more quickly than if you say you’re “Fred” or “Ellen.” Readers want to be treated like friends, and formal names create a distance with readers. Body language, looking bored, or ignoring customers by not saying hello will also build invisible lines which make customers feel you don’t really want to talk to them.

8. Sell Yourself

In selling your book, you need to sell yourself. When you meet people at book signings or other events, they will do business with you if they like you, so be personable. Rather than say, “My book is about” say, “I wrote this book because of an interesting experience I had.” Tell them about yourself. Give them an interesting presentation about you—your book is only an extension of you. Make them want to know more about you, which in turn will lead them to wanting to purchase your book.

9. Give Them Something Tangible so They Remember You

Even if people don’t seem inclined to buy your book, be friendly. Hand them book-markers, offer them candy if you have some at your table, or at least a brochure. Few people will refuse to take such items if only to be polite. More importantly, they have something to bring home with them. Many will throw away your marketing pieces, but when they clean out their pockets or shopping bags, it will at least remind them one more time about your book.

10. Stay in Touch

The best way to stay in touch with your readers is to invite people to sign up for your email newsletter. Always have a signup sheet on your table, and don’t be afraid to ask people to sign up. That way, you can stay in touch with them in the future through monthly updates or just to let them know when you are doing a book signing or have a new book out. For the shy author, a newsletter will allow you to stay in touch with your audience without having to talk to them in person and you may be better at presenting yourself through writing in the newsletter than speaking to them. Plus, you’re building a relationship with those readers so they will keep coming back, and next time you do a book signing, people on your newsletter list will show up—ready to buy your book so you won’t have to work so hard at selling.

Follow my advice to overcome your shyness in meeting your public, and then follow it again and again. Do as many book signings and public speaking events as possible. The more you do, the more you will become comfortable being a public figure. Remember, people are already pre-programmed to like you just because you’re an author, a celebrity, so you have nothing to fear. You wouldn’t want to meet your favorite author, only to have him or her only say two words or ignore you completely, so make sure you give your potential readers an experience that will delight them and that they will long remember, simply by your being friendly.

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.