Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Introvert Brand

Introverts in the Church is a serious book.  I didn’t realize I would have to remind people of that when it was published.  But one of the first book reviews I read, written by a dear friend and mentor, started out by saying “Introverts in the Church. No, this isn’t a joke.”  And here I thought the title was significantly less funny than other working titles I was playing with while writing it:

  1. Introverts in the Shack
  2. Three Cups of Tea…By Myself
  3. Blue Like Introverts
  4. Introverts in the Hands of an Extroverted God
  5. Girl Meets Introvert, and Keeps Looking
  6. The Life You’ve Never Wanted
  7. I Kissed Introverts Goodbye
  8. Left Behind, and Happy About It
Surprisingly, my publisher rejected those title options.  (If I were writing it now, I might try Introvert Wins and find a ragingly extroverted pastor to tweet: “Farewell Adam McHugh.”) And here I thought we settled on a boring but descriptively informative option. But apparently my book title also works as a punch line.

As many authors can attest, however, after a few months of talking about your book topic, day after day after day, you get the writer’s equivalent of the late-night giggles. You get so tired that everything becomes funny.  You catch yourself applying the topic of your book to every conceivable situation.  I started seeing introverts the way Haley Joel Osment sees dead people. As I poured the milk on my cereal, I pondered “Hmm, I wonder what type of cereal introverts prefer? Shredded Wheat has a lot of substance and depth, but Lucky Charms has layers of meaning, and the more you eat it, the more you learn about it.”  Then you realize what you’re doing and you consider pouring the weird green-colored milk over your head. Yes, I went with Lucky Charms. I am an Irish introvert, you know. Plus, they’re magically delicious. 

It doesn’t help that people you only encounter in social media tend to reduce you to your book topic.  Once I received a request to write a blog post on how introverts and extroverts can partner together in ending the international orphan crisis.  Now, this is one of the pressing global issues of our time, but is the fact that I need to retreat into solitude after extended social interaction really a significant factor in solving it?    

Another time I tweeted that my book was selling better on Kindle than in paperback, and the first response was “Maybe introverts are just thrifty.”  I’ve received a few Facebook birthday wishes that said “Happy Birthday, introvert.” Or there was the time I confessed that in college we smuggled in a student from another school to be our flag football quarterback (he was the brother of a guy on our team and also just happened to be a Heisman trophy candidate that year) and someone replied “Totally sounds like something an introvert would do.”  

Because of all this, it’s unclear to me whether this introvert thing is a genius piece of branding (in addition to being, you know, my personality type) or else an inescapable straitjacket that will limit me and be a bit of a joke.  In 20 years will people say “that book really changed things in evangelical culture and Adam has become a significant voice in the church” or will they say, in a sexy deep voice: “Adam McHugh: he is the most introverted man in the world.  He doesn’t always go to church, but when he does, he probably won’t talk to you.”  Time will tell.

This article was first printed on Rachel Held Evans’ blog – check out her book Evolving in Monkey Town