Thursday, July 21, 2011

Self-Promotion

In a recent conversation with a family member, I referred to a particular author's popularity as "a triumph of marketing over content." Harsh, I know. Yet I felt somewhat justified in the remark because, well, calling the individual's titles pabulum gives pabulum as bad name. But as the days rolled by I realized that the above remark revealed something about myself that I hadn't really considered: I abhor self-promotion, no matter how forthrightly handled or honestly presented.

Seems I'm not the only one. Nathan Bransford (Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow) has blogged about his dislike of it:
If self-promotion were an insect, I would squash it with the world's biggest fly swatter. If self-promotion were a field I would burn it and salt the earth so it could never live again.

It doesn't feel right to stand in front of a crowd and shout, "Me!" and no matter how much you try and cloak the self-promotion in elaborate disguises, it can still feel kind of icky. And if you don't enjoy the spotlight, self-promotion in all its forms can be downright terrifying.
Ah, if only I could've stopped reading there. But Bransford continues:
And yet I know what I would tell someone else who has a new book out: You have to do it. No matter how much you might dislike it, no matter how much negative feedback you get about it, no matter how much it makes you cringe, you gotta do it. You have to give your book a boost, you have to make your network aware of it, you have to do everything you can to help it sell. The era of being just an author, if it ever existed, is over.
See, my dilemma is that I not only detest the self-promotion of others, I also hate doing it for my own stuff. Sending stories out into the editorial void and hoping some inherent excellence will draw an audience like iron to a loadstone is more my speed. And if I'm honest with myself, it's probably a prescription for obscurity. True, anonymity needn't necessarily carry a stigma, but who says networking has to? Aidan Fritz wisely points out that the term can encompass lasting relationships as well as ephemeral professional contacts. Friendships can fuel all sorts of success.

(Picture: CC 2007 by oooh.oooh)

16 comments:

Chestertonian Rambler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chestertonian Rambler said...

For me, it helps to think of promotion (including self-promotion) as product-based. That is, if something is good, it is worthy of promotion. Google + seems to be good; I tell my friends about it. I'm more subdued about projects I'm actually involved in, sure, and include the appropriate disclaimers. But if I work at something, and if I really care about it (enough to invest massive amounts of labor), it seems I should care about encouraging others to share my enthusiasm.

In fact, *not* self-promoting when self-promotion is called for can be intellectual dishonesty. I know this isn't a religious blog, but I think there's a healthy metaphor with those who are timid about expressing their religious beliefs. Sure, we know proselytizers who get a kick out of being obnoxious and whose attempts to convert are self-serving and counter-productive. But that doesn't mean that everyone who talks about their faith should be lumped in the same category. Why shouldn't the principle scale down to less fundamental issues, such as the importance of a book? (Though again, in both cases politeness is essential, but not always present.)

Scroll through the blogs of, say, John Scalzi or Brandon Sanderson or Howard Taylor. (Strangely, SF authors seem better at this than fantasy, crime, &c. authors. See also Heinlein, Bradbury, &c.) It is quite possible to be honest, non-pompous, optimistic, AND self-promoting. Also, no one can say these authors aren't respectful of the fact that many readers won't be interested in what they're selling. Their stance is one of a salesman with a product he believes in and uses himself. They don't have to be rude or greasy, because they know that to people who (like themselves) want what they're selling, all they have to do is accurately and compellingly present their creations.

It also may help to have business sense, or have long conversations with the sort of small businessman whose lives depend on building up loyal clientele. Those people tend to have a deeply ingrained sense of the necessity to navigate between the equally deadly errors of self-focused rudeness (here's why I am better than everyone else, the fool says) and a foolish refusal to consistently and optimistically back your own products (our band really sucks, wanna come to our concert?).

Jim Murdoch said...

I think what I hate about self-promotion these days is that it doesn’t mean so much promotion-done-by-yourself as promotion OF the self. Marketing is a part of modern life. An essential part. There is just too much of everything going on for us to wade through it all and make informed judgements. It can be in your face, it can be subtle. The sad fact is that most of us have a limited bank of talents to fall back on in this life. One of mine is a facility with words but that doesn’t mean because I can string a sentence together on a bit of paper that I’m eloquent in person because I’m not, far from it; I’m self conscious and generally rather uncomfortable in groups. So I avoid them and try to focus my relationship building to online where I can focus on one person at a time like this. I wish I didn’t have to do quite so much of this but that’s how I keep people aware of me. It’s like spinning plates: I run around sites frantically making a wee comment here, a wee post there, a ‘like’ on Facebook . . . look at me, look at me, I’m still here and by the way I’ve a new book coming out in the Fall.

From all accounts even those who get deals with traditional publishers are finding that more and more is being expected of them. It’s not enough just to meet your deadline and thenturn up and do a couple of book signings and think you can get away with just that. The world is changing and like it of lump we have to move with the times of we’ll get left in its wake.

Loren Eaton said...

CR,

In fact, *not* self-promoting when self-promotion is called for can be intellectual dishonesty. I know this isn't a religious blog, but I think there's a healthy metaphor with those who are timid about expressing their religious beliefs.

This is a very good point and one I should remind myself of on a number of levels. It's similar to the idea of false humility, which can get really tiresome if you've ever spent time around anyone who employs it.

It also may help to have business sense ...

There is a good reason why I'm currently in an MBA program ...

Loren Eaton said...

Jim,

Yeah, that's a difficult thing to do, but I think you handle it with a light touch, which is nice. Myself, I just need to overcome my (irrational) antipathy toward it.

A new book, you say? Do tell us more.

Jim Murdoch said...

I keep putting of writing the blurb for this one. In my head I know exactly what the book is about but I’m finding it hard to say in a way that might actually encourage people to buy it without actually misleading them. I’m a huge fan of Beckett’s writing as you know. I would never set out to write like him but when one of my friends read my new book, which is called Milligan and Murphy by the way, he described it as “a love letter to Beckett.” I retorted with, “It’s really only a postcard to Beckett,” but the fact is that it’s set in an imaginary Ireland where these two ‘brothers’ find themselves – at the tender age of forty – running away from home without any idea why they’re actually running away or where they’re going. The reason, we the readers find out, is that they are being manipulated by some higher power. But who? And what is his agenda?

Beckett’s canon includes a number of male pairs, most notably, Didi and Gogo, Hamm and Clov and Mercier and Camier. Beckett stated outright that Hamm and Clov represented Didi and Gogo in the years to come and so it’s not unreasonable to picture Mercier and Camier as earlier versions of them. The thing about them though is they’re not very likeable. So my Milligan and Murphy are my version of what Didi and Gogo might have been like when they were (relatively-speaking) young.

I’m just doing a final edit it on it. My friend above is an Irish writer and he’s been checking my Irishisms.

Scattercat said...

@Jim

That actually sounds like a fun book. :-D

---

On topic, I really hate promoting myself. Mind you, I also hate socializing and trying to make friends. Like, I'm happy once I *have* friends but I loathe all the hesitance and work required to get through the acquaintance stage. I never know if I'm saying the right thing or the wrong thing. I know for a fact that I come off as an abrasive and arrogant snob most of the time even when I'm trying not to, so I'm terrified of that happening. I don't like talking about my work or trying to 'sell' because mostly it's crap and doesn't work the way I wanted it to.

The ONLY reason I'm on Facebook is because it's just expected of authors to be locatable online. And then Google+ came out and all the authors migrated over there and I just went, "Oh, for pity's sake, I can't DO this much more." It is exhausting trying to talk to people and be friendly and personable, and slowly but surely the Internet is being taken over by this need to interact and "network." (God, just the word makes my skin crawl.) I miss the days when I was alone on the Internet. It's getting to where there's no safe place to be an introvert.

It's just tremendously unfair. The personality traits and qualities that make one a good author are nearly the opposite of the traits and qualities one needs to become a successful author. At this point, I'm leaning towards, "I will, then, be a toad."

Jim Murdoch said...

@Scattercat – Thank you, Nathaniel, I’m actually quite pleased with this one. I worry a little – well, more than a little – that people who know nothing about Beckett won’t get it but you write what you have to write and if anyone likes it then that’s a bonus. As far as all the authors buggering off and joining Google+ my big question is: What are they all doing there that they couldn't do on Facebook? It’s why I’ve kept clear of Twitter because what’s the point if it’s all the same people who I’m friends with on Facebook who are for a big part made up of the people who read my blog and whose blogs I read anyway?

Chestertonian Rambler said...

For me, G+ is good because I live in multiple sets of circumstances. My writing friends may be interested in my writing habits, but bored to tears when I post paragraphs of Latin or snide comments about medieval literary critics. My extended wants to hear every detail about my trip to Rome, but again doesn't speak Latin and often doesn't understand my writing.

G+ allows me to post to certain circles, so that I can say *more* about focused subjects, and then only send those posts to people who want to hear them.

Also, I trust G+'s security settings, its chat function isn't pathologically counterintuitive, and it will integrate with other Google products.

In other words, my love of G+ is described by xkcd: "What is it?" "Not Facebook?" "What is it like?" "Facebook." "Oh, well, that's all I ever wanted anyway."

This may or may not apply to authors who only use Facebook for one use, though. Still, you can avoid annoying ads.

Loren Eaton said...

Jim,

Hmmmm, sounds like a more sinister version of Waiting for Godot. My experience with Beckett is rather limited (mostly to Endgame, which I liked because of its genre allusions to post-apocalyptic nuclear war).

You've piqued my curiosity.

Loren Eaton said...

SC,

It's getting to where there's no safe place to be an introvert.

I understand that! My self-imposed loneliness is almost a hat I take off and put on at different times. Like, when I know I need to socialize (and we all do from time to time), I'll take the introvert hat off. But, goodness, sometimes it's awfully nice to put it on and hole up in a corer with pad and pen or a good book.

Loren Eaton said...

CR,

You know, this blog is about my limit for social media. I mean, I have the Twitter account (@ISLF), but I have a terrible time keeping up with conversations on it. Facebook? Google+? Who would have time to work anymore after all that socializing?

Jim Murdoch said...

If you fancy a review copy, Loren, send me a note of your address. It's not dark though.

jmurdoch@ntlworld.com

Loren Eaton said...

Believe it or not, I actually like quite a few books that aren't dark. Suppose I should post some reviews of them ...

Aidan Fritz said...

Scattercat, I like your definition of happy once you make friends but not liking the process. I'm this tortured extrovert that likes people, but only likes people I know. Yes, this is a chicken and the egg problem and loneliness is often the result ;)

Loren, squeed at the link to my maunderings. I think I would draw an analogy between self-promotion and sports. I don't watch sports on TV (I think that's how I find time to write) and I'm not big on talking about sports. Both of these feel like they are meta. However, I enjoy playing sports (even if I'm not good).

I think the same thing applies to some degree to self-promotion. CR mentioned Scalzi, et al. I think Tim Pratt and/or Tobias Buckell are good examples who either talk about their life or interests with occasional references to books released (but never more than one post) so that it's more like a little bit of news.

Loren Eaton said...

Aidan,

I thought your maunderings were right on point. They sure got me thinking!