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Iím Not Shameless

By Jenna Glatzer


Iím 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 Iíll tell you why. All these gurus who want to teach you about "shameless self-promotion" donít seem to notice that by using the word "shameless," theyíre actually perpetuating the notion that thereís something shameful about self-promotion in the first place.

You wouldnít say you were "shamelessly cooking dinner," would you? Of course not, because the concept of "shame" just doesnít apply. No one would be cooking dinner shamefullyÖ so, likewise, thereís no reason for anyone to do it "shamelessly." Itís just a moot point.

These marketers are trying to dispel the myth that thereís anything wrong with self-promotion, but theyíre going about it incorrectly. Letís 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 youíre 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. Itís just a simple job requirement. Plumbers learn how to unclog drains. You learn how to get people to read what you write.

Whether weíre talking about editors, agents, publishers, or the end audience, the same rules apply.

Do you believe your writing is of value? Do you believe youíre 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? Itís really a simple conceptóif you are so unsure of your own writing that you donít think itís very good, then thereís absolutely no reason to inflict it upon anyone else. Do YOU want to read work thatís not very good?

Rather than sending off queries, writing bad novels, etc., youíd 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, "Iím not sure if Iím a very good surgeonÖ Iím certainly not as good as so-and-soÖ but thereís nothing else I wanted to do, so Iím 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 elseówhat would you think of it? Would you read it? Would you buy it? Would you remember it? Would you eagerly await this authorís 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 heíd rather hide his work away than risk getting rejected.

Wouldnít 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 itís hard to expose yourself; there will always be critics in the world who donít see the beauty in your work. But for every person who doesnít Ďget it,í there will also be a person whose life is changed by your work."

Now tell that to yourself.

Your talent can enrich peopleís lives. Thereís 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. Itís 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 itís "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 presenceótelevision, 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 youíll be an interesting candidate.

I donít need to tell you how many gajillions of times best-selling authors were rejected before their work sold. Does that mean they werenít very good? No. It just means the right editor hadnít 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 doesnít work if you donít have a quality product to back it up. In this case, W. Bruce had a funny book. He knew it was funny, so he didnít feel like he was taking advantage of people by asking them to spend $19.95 on it, and he didnít 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 youíll find out how quickly you can remove the "ego" (or lack thereof) from your marketing efforts. Youíre not a used car salesmanóyouíre simply telling people why they might want to read your work. Itís up to them to decide whether or not theyíre interested. Youíre 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 youíve got it!

So, donít 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 editor-in-chief of Absolute Write (www.absolutewrite.com), where writers can get a free list of more than 180 agents who are open to new writers! She is also the author of OUTWITTING WRITER'S BLOCK AND OTHER PROBLEMS OF THE PEN and other books for writers, which you can read about at http://www.absolutewrite.com/jenna/books.htm if you want to make her day.


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