One of the biggest obstacles facing many authors today is Social Anxiety.
A few days ago I had a conversation with a friend about how hard it is to be an author today, especially if you’re an independent author. Gone are the days of being an elusive or mysterious author. These days, social media dominates and dictates whether you’re #successful at it, or if your book will sit and collect dust.
How do you survive #SocialAnxiety and overcome the beast?
I have severe social anxiety. When it comes to giving someone my hard earned money to force myself into a crowd of people and sit on display behind a table with not only my books, but my name and picture on a banner, I want to curl into a fetal position.
It’s not easy to talk to strangers. It’s even harder to forge a connection to an elbow-to-elbow crowd. Add the daunting task of smiling and-oh right-form coherent #words. I’m an author and I make my living off weaving words but when faced with a crowd of strangers who are sizing me up and comparing me to all the other authors around me I turn into a blank thought bubble.
Over the past four years, I’ve found a few tips to help me and I’m going to share them with you. Take what you want and need from them and maybe share some of your own in comments.
Know Your Audience
Knowing your audience is a great way to know what will help you fit in. If you fit in, you can blend in with the crowd when you need a break.
If you ever see me in a pair of jeans and a Stitched Smile Publications t-shirt you’ll know I’m struggling to get through the event. I normally don’t like to be that casual when I’m at a convention or live event, but I do what I have to, to get through it. In jeans and a T-shirt it’s super easy to slide through the crowd, hide in a bathroom, or get some fresh air without anyone really giving you a second glance.
Have a Buddy
Having an event buddy is #crucial to your survival. Someone who you have already given a heads up talk to. Someone you trust with your life. It’s sounds drastic because it is. Don’t believe me? Try having a panic attack at a con with thousands of people brushing past you like a sea of ants to a sugar cube.
Having a con buddy gives you a life preserver and ensures you don’t drown in the sea. They can take your hand and drag you to a quiet corner, they can help you focus, help you breath, and most of all they can give you a sense of grounding when you feel like you’re about to float away.
Wear a Mask
Literally and/or figuratively! I created the Queen persona to give me a way to interact with people I don’t know. I can just be a character I created and channel her power. The Unsaintly Queen fears no crowd!
Obviously, dressing up in dark fantastical clothing isn’t appropriate for all occasions (sigh, whatevs) but her “role” is still one of power and confidence. I put on my crown and I pretend. It’s easier to be a badass Queen than a fragile human. If you practice.
Practice Makes Perfect
My best advice is to start super small. Go to the #library and ask if you can host a small reading discussion or meet and greet. Check in with a small coffee shop and try to set up an event with them. You have two choices: go to a shop you know so the faces are familiar, or go to one you’ve never been so if you freak out and spill coffee on yourself you never have to see them again.
Practice your pitch. Practice answering questions. Watch yourself in the mirror and force yourself to relax your shoulders. Practice talking slowly and pausing to avoid “um” and “uh”.
And practice getting in front of the crowd. Remember, we start small and add on. Not the other way around.
Now that we have all these tools under our belt, let’s tackle the real #boss-fight: Social Media
Social media fatigue refers to social media users’ tendency to pull back from social media when they become overwhelmed with too many social media sites, too many friends and followers and too much time spent online maintaining these connections.
It’s time to compartmentalize priorities. Keep close friends and family separate from your “other world”. And honestly? Keep only family members on your social media who are not toxic to your mental health. It’s ok to block out negativity. I give you permission. They can talk to me if they don’t like it.
Schedule your posts.
This is so important I’m going to repeat it in bold. Schedule your posts. Find a quiet time, once a day when you’re not in the red zone of anxiety and limit your exposure.
Back in the old days, authors got sloshed and hid behind a handler when they did their signings. Hell, sometimes it wasn’t even really the author there! They’d just send the model used in the author pic. No one knew any better.
I’m sorry #cat-fishers you can’t get away with that these days! Nope, fans and readers troll the internet and #Google sleuth you better than any FBI agency. Remember that picture from Aunt Bunny’s wedding when you were 14, awkward, and shoving cake in your face? Yup. That’s the one they’ll find and it will get more #exposure, #engagement, and #interaction than any profound post you ever make in your entire social media lifetime.
Won the Nobel Peace Prize? Doesn’t matter: Aunt Bunny.
You Must Disconnect to Connect
If you lose connection to life, friends, sunlight you lose connection to yourself. If you have no lifeline to you and your center you will drown in the Matrix. Digital age has made it easy for us to corrupt our hard drives: Our mind. Overloading your brain with input and stimulation will wear you out in ways you can’t even process unless you take a step back.
The light from our cell phones, the glow of the computer screen, the heavy chain link of “notifications”. All of it is designed to force more stimulus at you than you can humanly process.
You need to reboot. You need to come back to the real world. Even if you’re lonely or depressed, the silent call of the internet will only make it worse.
A lonely person in real life can easily fall into the allure of the “friend count” game. You think all those people are your real friends? Here’s a test. Ask for their help. If you ask for something where they would have to give up anything; time, money, etc., you’ll find you might be stretching the true number.
Am I saying you can’t have a relationship (friend or otherwise) with someone on the internet? Absolutely not. I’m saying make it real. Call on the phone and make plans to go somewhere (please for the love of all things Cthulhu be safe about this. Do not meet with strangers alone. Do not give personal information to any stranger and just have some common sense). Go get some coffee or start a book club.
Human touch and energy is more fulfilling than anything you can acquire from social media.
Set boundaries and defend them like a badger. Limit time, and exposure to social media. Spend more time on you.
Can you succeed as an #author and still employ everything you’ve learned here? Yes, because once you master being able to face small crowds, the all-too-important human connection will far outweigh what social media can do for you.
Think about your favorite celebrity. It’s nice when they like your post or comment but would you rather chat with them on #Skype for 2 min or have dinner with them face to face?
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