I’m not sure if this is a new fad, or whether I just never noticed it before now. “Shameless self-promoters.”
The term itself bothers me, and I’ll tell you why. All these gurus who want to teach you about “shameless self-promotion” don’t seem to notice that by using the word “shameless,” they’re actually perpetuating the notion that there’s something shameful about self-promotion in the first place.
You wouldn’t say you were “shamelessly cooking dinner,” would you? Of course not, because the concept of “shame” just doesn’t apply. No one would be cooking dinner shamefully… so, likewise, there’s no reason for anyone to do it “shamelessly.” It’s just a moot point.
These marketers are trying to dispel the myth that there’s anything wrong with self-promotion, but they’re going about it incorrectly. Let’s say that you were a cereal manufacturer, and someone started a silly rumor that your cereal contained rat poison. To dispel the myth, would you name your new cereal “Non-rat-poisoned Oat Flakes?” No. That would make people believe that your old cereal DID contain rat poison, and that you had to do something to correct it. Any kind of nod gives credence to the myth. It means you thought the myth was believable enough to feel you needed to defend yourself against it.
If you’re going to be a professional writer, you have to believe that self-promotion is not a controversial, emotional act that you must approach with embarrassment or with egotistical bravado. It’s just a simple job requirement. Plumbers learn how to unclog drains. You learn how to get people to read what you write.
Whether we’re talking about editors, agents, publishers, or the end audience, the same rules apply.
Do you believe your writing is of value? Do you believe you’re a capable writer? Are you confident in your ability to convey messages through your words?
If the answer is “no,” then why do you think anyone else should read your work, let alone buy it? It’s really a simple concept—if you are so unsure of your own writing that you don’t think it’s very good, then there’s absolutely no reason to inflict it upon anyone else. Do YOU want to read work that’s not very good?
Rather than sending off queries, writing bad novels, etc., you’d be doing yourself a big favor to take some writing classes, read books, and study your craft before trying to make a career of writing. Wait until you have the confidence that your work is top-notch before trying to sell it. If you went into heart surgery and overheard your surgeon say, “I’m not sure if I’m a very good surgeon… I’m certainly not as good as so-and-so… but there’s nothing else I wanted to do, so I’m going to give it a try,” how would you feel?
Take your writing no less seriously. Be your own toughest critic. Pretend your work was written by someone else—what would you think of it? Would you read it? Would you buy it? Would you remember it? Would you eagerly await this author’s next work?
Put false modesty aside. If the answer is “yes,” then you owe it to the world to promote your work. Take the flip side of the above equation; just as you should never put out bad writing for public consumption, you should never withhold good writing from those who would enjoy it. Imagine your favorite book. Think about how it enriched your life, how it consumed you. Now imagine the author was so insecure that he decided he’d rather hide his work away than risk getting rejected.
Wouldn’t you feel robbed? What would you tell that author?
“Excuse me, Mr./Ms. Author, but you have to get that book published because I really want to read it. It means a lot to me. I know it’s hard to expose yourself; there will always be critics in the world who don’t see the beauty in your work. But for every person who doesn’t ‘get it,’ there will also be a person whose life is changed by your work.”
Now tell that to yourself.
Your talent can enrich people’s lives. There’s no reason to be modest about it, because you already know it to be true. Your life has been enriched by other writers. Put yourself in their class, and know that there will be future readers who will feel the same way about you.
Self-promotion is not a selfish act. It’s a gift. If your work is good, then you have to let people know about it. First, you have to let editors and agents and publishers know about it. You have to present it in the best possible light, with no typos, no weak spots, no gaps or holes, no mousy pitches. Then, once it’s “out there,” you have to let the public know about it. Tell whomever can help you spread your message, any way you can get to them. Show them WHY they should help to encourage other people to read your work.
Step away from the shore and into the water. Write press releases. Call people. Ask for help from other writers. Knock on doors. Send out copies for review. Alert the media to your presence—television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and e-zines. If you see a journalist who covers topics like yours, write that journalist a letter introducing yourself and your work. If you see a magazine that runs interviews with authors, write to the editor and request one. Tell him or her why you’ll be an interesting candidate.
I don’t need to tell you how many gajillions of times best-selling authors were rejected before their work sold. Does that mean they weren’t very good? No. It just means the right editor hadn’t come along. It would have been mighty easy for any of them to stop promoting themselves, convincing themselves that it was okay to quit because if they had any talent, an editor obviously would have noticed by now. But then no one would have heard of John Grisham (“The Firm” was rejected 30 times). Or Dr. Seuss (whose first book was rejected 43 times before a friend published it, perhaps out of pity). Or Agatha Christie. Or just about every other author you can name.
To give a more modern example, take W. Bruce Cameron, whose book “8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter” hit the New York Times Bestseller List. Was he shy about self-promotion? Heck, no. He wrote to every writer he knew (including me) to ask us to call our local bookstores and ask the managers to carry his book. And when he went on tour, he made sure every television and radio station was alerted to his presence at each stop. The result? He was interviewed on CNN, CBS, and television in 13 cities… oh, right, and then came the television series based on his book.
Back to the original criteria, promotion doesn’t work if you don’t have a quality product to back it up. In this case, W. Bruce had a funny book. He knew it was funny, so he didn’t feel like he was taking advantage of people by asking them to spend $19.95 on it, and he didn’t feel bad asking his friends to help him reach a larger audience. And did we feel W. Bruce was being arrogant, egotistical, or rude by promoting his book? No, we were happy he was working to make sure anyone who would be interested in his material would find out about it.
Have the same kind of confidence in your work, and you’ll find out how quickly you can remove the “ego” (or lack thereof) from your marketing efforts. You’re not a used car salesman—you’re simply telling people why they might want to read your work. It’s up to them to decide whether or not they’re interested. You’re providing information about something of value.
If all else fails, practice writing your queries and promotional efforts in third-person, as if you were promoting the work of another writer whom you admire. Simply switch pronouns before sending, and you’ve got it!
So, don’t be a “shameless self-promoter.” Erase the shame from your vocabulary, and just be a self-promoter. The world may thank you for it.
Jenna Glatzer is the author of OUTWITTING WRITER’S BLOCK AND OTHER PROBLEMS OF THE PEN, available at http://www.absolutewrite.com/jenna/books.htmm. She is also the editor-in-chief of Absolute Write (http://www.absolutewrite.com) and a friend to small furry creatures everywhere.