Some people are so good at self promotion that you barely realize they’re tooting their own horns as you’re marveling at whatever they just accomplished. I’d argue that writers are rarely among this breed; too many of us feel uncomfortable talking about even our truly stellar feats—while a smaller group swing the other direction and crow about every single victory (“I wrote twelve words today!” “Week 472 on the New York Times bestseller list!” etc.) until they make everyone around them cringe.
Like so many of my colleagues, I’ve struggled with how to promote my writing. Although I’m proud when I do good work and when good things happen as a result, I worry about whether I’m being too shy—or too self aggrandizing. Over the past few months, however, two simple questions have dramatically changed my approach to self promotion. Before I undertake any promotional effort, from the minor (think tweeting) to the major (starting a new blog—hello, the WAHM diaries!), I ask myself:
1. Is it helpful? In the age of “brand you,” you may feel like you have to sell yourself as a product—and let’s face it, that can feel icky. Why not think of yourself as a service instead? Talking about yourself gets old really fast, but providing other people with information doesn’t. After all, there’s arguably no better way to advertise yourself than to be useful.
To wit: While I was preparing for bookstore events for my novel, The Art of Forgetting, I felt nervous. I regularly speak about freelancing and journalism—sometimes in front of several hundred people—and I’m rarely anxious beforehand. I thought about why this is, and realized that it’s because I feel like I’m being helpful when I do these presentations, and it feels good to be helpful. I was nervous about my readings because I was envisioning having to sell the audience on the novel. The solution: I switched up my material so that it was more information-based (for example, I talked about the phenomenon of brain injury and also talked about my writing process and some insights I’d had while working on the novel). The result: I was able to speak with confidence and the audience was engaged.
2. Is it fun? I use the word “fun” loosely here, but in essence, I mean: Is it something I’m really excited or happy about? Is it something that others will get a kick out of? For example, last week I received a couple very nice reviews for Forgetting. Needless to say, I was thrilled about all of them, but one from the Chicago Tribune genuinely made my month. It was thoughtful, the reviewer described the book exactly as I would have myself, and as a bonus, I’ve been a loyal Tribune reader for eons and was reading in Chicago the day after the paper covered Forgetting, so the timing could not have been more perfect.
So, the Tribune review was the one I chose to Tweet about and post on Facebook because darn it, I was really excited about it! (I still am ). Because I hadn’t been posting every single review I’d received, I didn’t feel weird or guilty about mentioning it, and I had dozens of people read it and respond with warm, genuinely congratulatory comments. That fit my definition of fun.
There may be instances where you may have to promote yourself and you won’t be able to answer “yes” to one of the above questions. But for everyday promotion, these can be an invaluable tool in toeing the line between keeping your name out there and being annoyingly self-congratulatory.