Let’s Put On a Show! The Introvert’s Dilemma
The other day Monica Edinger writes to me, ” I hate performing in public and am far more comfortable shmoozing at dinners and lunches. You seem to be just the opposite.” An interesting statement, to be sure. For while I love me a good lunch and dinner shmooze, I certainly won’t pass up an opportunity to grab a spotlight and milk it for all it’s worth (I also believe a healthy mixed metaphor early in a blog post is good for the constitution, but that’s neither here nor there). Case in point, my recent hijinks alongside Jon Scieszka, hosting the Children’s Book Choice Awards Gala. But Monica wasn’t writing me to merely comment upon my inclinations to dance to Uptown Funk in a purple tux. Recently she wrote a blog post that takes on a problem that I would argue has existed since authors first started to hawk their own books to the public. In Should I Take Up the Banjo? or The Question of Charisma, Monica addresses Paula Willey’s recent statement in a really remarkable BEA round-up post that it’s unfair that the children’s book creator occupation calls upon its denizens to be more of the camp counselor types than of the “cave-dwelling cheeseeater” variety. Monica disagrees to some extent, saying that it wouldn’t be fair to say that everyone is called upon to act this way since we always have introvert role models like Suzanne Collins to consider.
All this reminds me, to a certain degree, of a blog that existed from 2007-2012 that addressed this very issue. Shrinking Violet Promotions was begun by a core group of around seven children’s and YA authors, but was run primarily by authors Robin LaFevers and Mary Hershey. The site included everything from an Introvert’s Bill of Rights and a section dedicated to those that want to quit when their sales tank, to Jung Typology Tests, interviews with introverts, and thoughts on marketing. It was a good supportive site but like many on the web it couldn’t sustain itself beyond the five year mark. In its time it was really the only place I’d ever found that addressed this issue of the writing persona vs. the public persona.
Because the fact of the matter is that you don’t have to be a song and dance man (woman/small inanimate object/etc.) to be a successful children’s author. That is not to say, though, that knowing how to pluck a banjo, use a yo-yo, or sing “Hello” in front of a bunch of juggling children’s book creators won’t be a huge asset to you. Without naming names, I can think of a couple authors and illustrators who are merely okay book creators but do such wonderful live performances that you almost forget that the quality of their books is only so-so. I agree with Paula that to sell yourself is to sell your book. And I agree with Monica that it’s not something publishers should assume that their authors and illustrators are comfortable doing. That said, I sympathize the most with the librarians in this case. How so? Well, many is the librarian or bookseller who has hosted an author or illustrator to a packed house only to find that the person has no ability to keep or hold the attention of their intended audience (i.e. small fry). I once hosted a picture book author of a truly fine, engaging, rhythmic book. It was only when the person started to speak that I realized that (A) They had the world’s quietest voice and I didn’t have a microphone and (B) They had no sense of rhythm when reading their book aloud. They could write it, sure. But read it? That takes an entirely different set of muscles.
Yet it behooves us to remember that that author didn’t get into the business to become a performer. They like, and are very good at, writing for children. But in our current era of self-promotion, publishers often don’t have the money and/or the time to spend on every one of their creators. As a result, you start trying to figure out what your special skills are. I won’t lie to you. I’ve honestly tried to figure out how I could work spinning on a spinning wheel into my talks (it’s my one craft-related skill). Also, Monica’s a teacher and I’m a librarian and I feel those occupations really do give you a leg up when you start in the book creation business. You know the material that’s already out there and you know how to engage the attention of kids. It’s those folks who come into it cold and do it for the love of the books alone that sometimes find themselves out to sea. Fair? Not a jot. But as Shrinking Violet and Monica’s post proved, you’re hardly alone.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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