Making peace with self-promotion

_mg_7435For a couple of decades, I hated the idea of self-promotion. Not just because I’m an introvert with anxiety, although that didn’t help. To me, the phrase had so many negative connotations.

I associated ‘selling yourself’ with narcissism. With aggressive sales techniques, or celebrities showing off about their successes, accompanied with an incessant stream of hashtags and selfies.

The prospect of networking made me think of people who’d approach me at conferences, a croissant in one hand and a business card in the other, and pretend to be interested in my life, until the exact moment they established I was no one of any importance, and moved off to make a more useful contact.

Every time I heard that authors were expected to do their own marketing for their books, a sense of dread came over me. Writers aren’t typically skilled self-publicists. Shouldn’t someone else take care of all that while we composed our masterpieces in solitude?

I have to admit over the last year or so, I’ve radically changed my attitude.

I still believe egocentrism is widespread in society. But I’ve also learned that communicating what you’ve got to offer the world doesn’t mean that you have to be pushy, or fake, or boastful, or any of the things people of my personality type fear so much.

It sounds obvious in retrospect, but I realised that all the people I follow and chat to online, whose writing or art or business I’m interested in, are promoting their stuff all the time. And sometimes it’s led to me buying something from them.

But the sale felt natural. I discovered them, or they found me, because we shared a common interest. I got to know them a little and I liked their style and world view. They made me aware that they had a new book out. I suspected I’d enjoy it based on what I knew, and I was right.

In other words, we connected. That’s what good marketing is: not hard-selling, but building lasting relationships. Of course we want to make money. Our time and skills are valuable, and we have bills to pay. But people who are truly passionate about their art or their products don’t want to pressure a customer into buying something that isn’t for them.

If the idea of promoting yourself makes you cringe, the trick in my experience is to do as much of it as you can in a way that feels right for you. Through a medium you already feel comfortable in. For writers and introverts, that will most likely be blogging and posting on social media.

It’s normal to worry about what people will think. I still do all the time. But I also remind myself that everyone has a choice in what they consume online. If someone isn’t interested in what we do or doesn’t relate to us, they’re free to unfollow our account.

For published authors, there are face-to-face obligations such as book signings and events, which are challenging for people who avoid the limelight. I haven’t had to deal with that yet. I hope that I’d try and talk about things that interest me, and reach out to like-minded readers, and be kind to myself if it made me nervous.

Self-promotion is necessary to build a career, but I don’t think it has to be a necessary evil. I’m starting to realise it can even be fun. If we love creating whatever it is we create, we should be proud to share that love around, not keep it to ourselves. Even if that forces us out of our comfort zone for a while.

Finally, I don’t believe the network of relationships you form while promoting yourself has to be in any way cynical. I feel I’ve made a lot of new friends through having an online presence. And I value your companionship and support, whether you ever buy a book from me or not.

 

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The joy of finding a writing mentor

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Some years ago, I reached a low point with my writing. I’d been practising a long time and I still felt I was no good. I was working on a novel that was truer and more self-revealing than anything I’d attempted before. And nobody seemed to like it.

In retrospect, I did some unwise things which contributed to my sense of failure. I entered the story into big contests before it was ready. I shared an unfinished draft with someone I ought to have known was completely the wrong person to read my style of writing.

What they said about it still haunts me.

Self-publishing my book or starting a blog would have been unthinkable then. I was so ashamed of not being a better writer. I rarely told my friends that I wrote at all. If I did, I’d add at once, ‘but it’s only a hobby.’

I never really believed that. Inside I was certain this was what I wanted to do more than anything else. Only I was scared to say it out loud.

I knew what needed to happen if I was to have any chance of being an author. You don’t get far in the business before someone advises you to toughen up. To grow a thicker skin. And when you read the one-star reviews of some published books, you understand why.

But the more I pretended I didn’t care what people thought, the worse I felt. I had to admit that I wasn’t a naturally hard-shelled creature. And I didn’t see how that could change.

I thought about giving up on my goals. Instead, I decided to seek out one more opinion from someone who didn’t know me. That was when I came across Lauren Sapala’s website.

Lauren is a writing coach based in San Francisco. She specialises in working with writers who are afraid, stuck, or battling with self-doubt. She’s interested in creative personalities and how they can work with, rather than fighting against, their temperament.

Reading her articles, I sensed she was someone positive and compassionate who I could trust. So I contacted her, we had a discussion about my situation, and I sent over my first few chapters.

Lauren connected emotionally with my story in every way I’d hoped a reader would. She gave me some very thorough feedback on why that was the case. It was the biggest relief and the most amazing feeling.

Somebody understood what I was trying to achieve. I was no longer alone on the island.

I sent her the whole manuscript, and she returned it with more encouraging comments and suggestions for improvement. As well as being a fantastic motivator, Lauren has a sharp eye for detail and an intuitive grasp of how your characters would speak and behave. The changes she proposed helped me to make the book much stronger.

As a coach, Lauren did so much more than make me feel better about my novel by praising it. Because if she’d done only that, it would have left me still reliant on an external opinion. And I’d be immediately crushed again when someone else disagreed.

By reflecting back with such clarity her reactions to what I’d written, she taught me to see for myself what the strengths of my writing were.

She helped me internalise the belief that my story was worthwhile and important, whatever anyone said. So in future I’d be better equipped to use any constructive criticism to improve the work, while discarding the negativity of people who weren’t its audience.

The change didn’t happen overnight, and it’s still in progress. But it slowly led to where I am today: feeling brave enough to post this in public, and preparing to publish my latest book next year.

As an artist, you can be both strong and vulnerable. If you’re sensitive, and you express yourself freely and authentically in your writing, then the harshly critical responses will probably always hurt.

But an inner core of self-belief and a sense of purpose can help you embrace the pain. To let it flow through you and leave again, without assigning it any permanent power. It can help you find the courage to share your gifts again, accepting you’ll never be universally loved.

If you’re isolated and struggling with self-doubt or fear of criticism, I recommend finding a mentor (whether a coach or a writer friend) who can help you learn to trust your voice. It’ll be amongst the most valuable training you could undertake.