Iím not sure if this is a new fad, or whether I
just never noticed it before now.
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
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
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
"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.