Promoting Your Writing: Change Your Language, Change Your Mind

Writer's Wednesday: Is Self-Promotion Obnoxious?

From Writer's Relief staff:

You’ve heard it before, probably at a writing conference or between MFA classes:

Writer #1: I have a Facebook page and a Twitter page. You know—I’m really trying to build my audience and show that I have a strong social networking presence.

Writer #2 (who is probably wearing an ascot and clutching some obscure Victorian tome): Really? You use the Twitter? Oh dear me. I could never do that.

Writer #1: Why not?

Writer #2: I just can’t stand all that self-promotion. I could never promote myself like that.

Writer #1: Will you excuse me? I have to go curl up under a rock and die now.

Many of us are taught during childhood not to be self-promoters. It’s shameful and gross (right?). Don’t brag. Don’t ask people to admire you. Speak when spoken to.

After a time, this kind of virtuous self-deprecation can make the very act of mentioning that you’re a writer feel uncomfortable. “If I mention my book to this lady that I’m chatting with at the airport, will she feel uncomfortable because I’m self-promoting?” Or “If I give the friendly guy who changes my oil a little postcard with my book cover on it, will he laugh at me?”

When faced with the prospect of self-promotion, some of us have the urge to curl up in the fetal position on a comfy couch and say, “It all started with my mother…”

And yet for many writers (especially those who want to be career writers), Facebook, Twitter, and blogging are de rigueur. Skipping the social media stuff can be risky. So we force ourselves to do it despite the feelings of discomfort. The result is often that our underlying insecurities dull our efforts and make for lackluster social profiles. You might even call it self-sabotage.

But here’s the thing…if the term “self-promotion” is tripping you up and making you uncomfortable, maybe you’re using the wrong word.

Consider this:

There’s a big difference between self -promotion and promoting yourself as a writer.

Self-promotion is the guy at the party who keeps trying to impress chicks with his gnarly hot rod and mullet (never mind that he thinks it’s the 1980s). Self-promotion is the high school football player who’s willing to rough up some nerds to help his campaign to be prom king. Self-promotion is that lady at work who won’t stop talking about how much harder she works than everyone else and how awesome she is.

But you are not promoting yourself—in a sense. When you create a social media and Internet presence, you create a persona—whether you mean to or not. That persona is not you. It’s a representation of you (your brand). And your brand is just the “face” of your product. And your product is your writing. And that’s what you’re promoting.


If what you’re ultimately promoting is a product (your writing) and not yourself, is it still considered self-promotion?

If you were making soda for a living and you were out promoting your soda, would anybody say you were “self-promoting”?

We doubt it.

So when you start to clench up with nerves and guilt at the idea of telling people about your writing, stop and think. You’re promoting your product—the whole darn country revolves around the notion of the successful promotion of products. It’s not ego; it’s business. So give yourself the green light to share with the world!

(CAVEAT: You WILL be considered an obnoxious self-promoter if you start spamming your online friends with self-aggrandizing pleas for attention. It’s one thing to share your journey: It’s another to hold out your hands and say “gimme, gimme, mine.”)

QUESTION: What do you think? Are we splitting semantics—uh—hairs? What advice do you have for writers who are nervous about promoting their work?

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