He doesn’t fit the unfortunate stereotype of an introvert. He’s not shy or maladroit. He doesn’t cower when you talk to him. In fact, he loves to tell stories, make deals, and mentor his team. We’re back with Gary Krebs, an introvert who has climbed the ladder in the publishing world. Currently, as vice president and group publisher at McGraw-Hill Professional, he persuades and sells for a living—and recharges his energy during his quiet time.
Are you thinking of writing a book, possibly even your first one? Today Krebs will offer his perspective on how to become a successful author—with special insights for introverts. For additional tips for first-time authors as well as insights from literary agents and publicists, check out my earlier story, “So You Want to Write a Book?”
This is the third and last part of the interview with Krebs. In Part 1, he tells how he navigated his way from an entry-level editor to publisher—and along the way wrote a book about rock stars. Part 2 offers a peek behind the scenes into Krebs’s world at McGraw-Hill, which is worth a look for potential authors. It’s always a good idea to get to know your stakeholders if you’re interested in selling something—in this case, your book idea for publication. Now more from Krebs.
NA: The number of books published each year is staggering: more than 288,000 new book titles and editions in the United States alone in 2009—and more than a million if you include “non-traditional” books, such as on-demand titles and self-published books. Isn't it daunting for authors?
GK: It’s never going to be easy for authors. There are so many books being published every year and decreasing shelf space. There is also a lot of free content and general noise out there online—everyone wants consumer attention and it’s certainly not just for books.
NA: How can a new author make a splash amid the sea of text?
GK: First and foremost, an author needs a great, sellable idea. The “positioning” or “hook” of the book also has to be unique—a great title and subtitle can help in this regard. In this current climate, platform is everything.
NA: What does it take for an author to create that platform, or following?
GK: One can’t be a successful author and drive sales with just a few good magazine and newspaper reviews. Authors today need to push at every step, be visible, and have a powerful community of followers. At McGraw-Hill we look for authors who have significant followings, such as with their Web sites, e-mail newsletters, blogs, and social media sites—including Facebook and Twitter.
NA: When should an aspiring author start revving up the marketing and publicity machines?
GK: I always recommend that unpublished authors do everything they can to build their platform early and start commanding a social media following before their book proposal is even submitted: the book Web site, the Facebook page, the Twitter account, and LinkedIn are all a given at this point. Publishers don't just look at the quantity of the author's social media efforts, but also at the impact they have—which can be determined to some extent by the number of followers and visitors and the amount of dialog interaction and engagement back and forth on those pages.
NA: As an introvert author, I know how intensive those efforts to stay "out there" can be. For me, they require a constant balancing act between sharing my thoughts publicly and finding sufficient downtime to gather those thoughts. It's not to deny my needs as an introvert; instead, it's taking care of those needs and catching my breath—and then reaching out to my readers, responding to their questions, and fielding press interviews. Then catching my breath some more.
GK: In one sense, this is really difficult for an introvert author—you have to throw yourself out there and be willing to aggressively utilize every contact you have to influence sales and be creative to come up with new ways to build the platform even bigger. On the other hand, the digital world enables a bit more “invisibility” of the author, so it is possible to get a message to consumers without actual in-person engagement, although that can be beneficial as well.
NA: What ensures a book's success?
GK: A good deal is expected of authors these days: a powerful consumer need, a catchy title, strong content, and great writing are all critical components—but even the best combination of those elements doesn't ensure success. An author has to be tenacious because the old model—such as book tours—just doesn't work anymore, unless you are already a household name celebrity. An increasing number of books are selling online, on the likes of Amazon.com and BN.com. They're also selling in ebook format—the boom in ereader devices such as the Kindle, the Nook, and the iPad—and authors need to think about creatively marketing in the digital space.
NA: How can first-time authors—particularly introverts—get the exposure they need for their books to succeed?
GK: The digital revolution doesn’t mean introvert authors can simply squirrel away in their writing spaces and post messages online. It's not enough. First-time authors need to overcome any stage fright or shyness—professional media training can help—and take whatever opportunities are out there to get exposure. To be sure, radio, TV, and even print publicity opportunities are still out there and need to be mined; appearances in local and regional bookstores can still drive buzz for a book.
NA: What else can a first-time author do to spread the word?
GK: Even more importantly, "getting out there" in today's climate means tapping into "influencers"—well-known and credentialed individuals in their fields—to not only endorse the work, but also spread the word to their powerful communities. Many authors will amass their network of contacts and will do “blast” e-mail marketing to those individuals, timed with the publication date of the book to generate excitement and sales. Authors often work with publishers to send "teaser" content, such as a free chapter of the book as a mini-ebook, with links to purchase. Working with their marketers and publicists, authors may create personal videos, such as an interview, which can get posted on Amazon.com and BN.com; an e-newsletter with related articles and links; or even do live webinars or online chats.
NA: Can you give an example of an introvert who was successful as a first-time author?
GK: At a prior publishing house where I worked we had a first-time author who wrote a book on creativity. It began as a low-profile book and the author didn’t seem to have a huge online following. Yet that author, whom I would characterize as an introvert, did something incredibly smart. She created the book with content submissions from her online community who happened to be very passionate about the subject. What happened when the finished product came out? All of those contributors ended up being advocates for the book and recommended it to their people, who also spread the word until it became viral and the book turned into something of a sensation.
NA: Would you like to add anything else?
GK: Any author is fully capable of creating that buzz for a good book with a unique perspective. It all comes down to the power of the message, the author’s passion for spreading it, and his or her ability to engage consumers and get them to buy. With consumers now having such a strong voice online—being able to post reviews, for example—authors are incentivized more than ever to interact with their readers.
Besides, what author—whether introvert or extrovert*—wouldn’t revel in the immediacy of thousands of consumers clicking the “Like” button for his or her book? At the end of the day, with the explosion of social media, introvert authors now have more opportunity than ever to communicate their vision, instruct, inspire, entertain—and reach new and old friends, followers, and fans all around the world 24/7.
*Also spelled "extravert" by Carl Jung and the communities of the MBTI® and other personality assessments such as the Five Factor Model.
Reference: “Bowker Reports Traditional U.S. Book Production Flat in 2009,” April 14, 2009.
Top photograph: Gary Krebs, McGraw-Hill
Copyright 2010 © Nancy Ancowitz