"But enough about me, let's talk about you... what do YOU think of me?"
-- Beaches, 1988
I originally wrote this post from the standpoint of independent authors, certainly one group very much at the mercy of our Rube Goldbergesque self-promotional models of hyper-media 2015. But clearly the conundrum extends well beyond that beleaguered demographic, and is, in fact, the bane and demand of many: entrepreneurs, creative artists, even stay-at-home moms trying to launch new parenting websites. And, I don't know about you, but I find the requisites of self-promotion to be twitch-worthy things.
Don't get me wrong; as an author, I love talking about my books. I worked hard to create them, I love how they turned out, I'm thrilled readers are enjoying them, and certainly I want you to know about them. Where I get twitchy? When I'm the one doing most of the talking. I get flashes of those obnoxious parents endlessly jabbering about their "really cute kids" while everyone else smiles tightly and averts their eyes. I prefer to talk about my books because other people asked about them, someone else wants to discuss plot and character, or how to order a dozen or two. I'd rather respond to a whole other person tooting that horn than pull out the trumpet myself.
It's hard out there for a book-pimp.
Frankly, it's hard out there for anyone selling anything these days. There's so many of us and so much product; what's an entrepreneur to do?
While business people of every ilk have always had to do some version of horn-blowing, the demand for serious self-promotion started when the entire world went DIY some years back, with everyone doing anything and everything for themselves. The trend was seen largely as a positive thing: a democratizing, equalizing, barrier-breaking thing for anyone out there with a dream. Writers could put up their own articles, artists and photographers could set up their own blogs to sell their art; businesses and private practitioners could hang shingles in the form of interactive websites, and authors, they self-published. It's gotten so democratically DIY, I half expect women to start delivering their own babies with headphones and an infographic!
And it has been a boon in many ways. The DIY market has allowed countless creators of every industry and medium to move forward without the limitations of picky gatekeepers, elitist corporations, prohibitive budgets, and miserly invitations in. But where it's proven challenging is in the wrangling (i.e., affording) of ancillary team-members who typically help creators move, sell, and promote their products. The horn-tooters, trumpet blowers, PR flacks; publicity people. And while there is not one "self-anything" who doesn't need those people doing those jobs, a big fat contingent can't afford them.
A full-time publicist for any business typically costs thousands of dollars a month, sometimes many thousands. Undeniably a big-ticket item. But even smaller marketing and promotional campaigns can get expensive, and must be cyclically and consistently rerun to be effective. Artists and others lucky enough to be affiliated with "umbrella" companies that provide some marketing and promotional support will find they're obligated to implement those efforts on their own time and their own dollar. In other words, no matter where you fall on the "self" spectrum, you're pulling that horn out of the closet.
Maybe it's because I grew up in a family of eleven children, where one had to leap up and down just to get any kind of non-generic, "oh, I see you" attention, but I find the "look at me!" aspect of most self-promotion (particularly in the glutted indie book market) to be oddly demeaning. Instead of your work drawing people to you while you stand there being quietly brilliant, you're obligated to chase after them like panting schoolgirls hoping to snag interest from the most popular guys in school (switch genders as applicable). Beyond that, it sometimes feels too self-focused, too attention-grabbing, too, I dunno... narcissistic. I'd prefer that the work itself, or someone with excellent trumpet skills, speak for me instead.
But there's no choice. As indie artists, as entrepreneurs, as business people looking to stand out in whatever crowded fields we're in, we not only have to do the job, we have to be indefatigable about finding new and clever ways to get it done. For writers, specifically, there are thousands of businesses and websites tooting their own horns in hopes we'll hire them to help toot ours (sort of a DIY "circle of life"), but the costs of those can run anywhere from cheap (various "tweet your book" sites, featured pages, book-of-the day sorts of things) to downright expensive (Book Bub, Foreward and Kirkus reviews, online ads, etc.). Some, but very few, are free. (And, oddly, in one particularly oxymoronic trend, successful "free or heavily discounted book" sales demand that indie authors pay loads of money upfront for campaigns to promote those "free or cheap" books!) But, frankly, given the "effective marketing = persistent marketing" equation, even the most economical of campaigns will add up.
So where do artists and business entrepreneurs with limited resources go? To social media, of course. It's not only what's left to them once they've tapped-out their budgets, it's the information super-highway everyone uses, regardless of product or depth of pocket. Which means social media is regularly BOMBARDED with streaming posts from all sorts of people touting the "latest with my (company, art, book, seminar, band, record, store, play, etc.)," and, in some cases, that's all they ever post. About their book. Their seminar. Their record. Their movie. Their whatever.
We get no other insight from them, no other angle on their personality or point of view; they don't connect to, comment on, or share other people's posts, and far too often their only contribution to the greater conversation is about that (fill in the blank) they've created. Which makes their social interaction akin to turning a coffee shop into their billboard.
I cannot tell you how many tweets, Facebook posts, etc., I see every day from people trumpeting their product -- usually over and over and relentlessly throughout the day- - without seeing them post or share about anything else. Which makes them a form of benign spam, and makes other people shut them out, look away, click elsewhere. That's when self-promotion becomes all the things we hate, and all the things we want to avoid doing ourselves.
My prescription, since we've got to horn-blow whether we want to or not, is this: Get involved with other people on social media; share about more than just your own creation. "Like" posts other people put up, re-tweet other ideas, products, and articles that stand out to you; jump in on a thread or two. Retweet about someone else's work. Be human. Be interested. Be involved. So when you do talk about your whatever, we're interested because we're interested in you, and you've shown some interest in us. It's an all-around happy, reciprocal social media thing, as it should be.
And until a scenario involving an enthusiastic horn blower comes my way, know I'll be out there doing it for myself on social media, too. Graciously, I hope. Forgive me if I ever seem redundant or one-note; if I talk about my books too much; if I push too hard to get you to check out a new review, or stop by my author page. I'm obligated to honor my work by wearing this hat, blowing this horn, but know I am trying to be nuanced and selective about the notes.
This thing is tricky, but I've heard practice makes perfect!
Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Rock+Paper+Music. Access details and links to her other work at www.lorrainedevonwilke.com, and her novels, AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH and HYSTERICAL LOVE at her author pages at both @ Amazon and Smashwords. Watch her book trailer for AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH here, and be sure to follow her adventures in independent publishing at her book blog, AfterTheSuckerPunch.com.