Yes, You CAN Tell People: On Writers and Self-Promotion
March 12, 2011 § 33 Comments
A graduate student here at Ohio University had a nice literary magazine publication recently, and when I asked him for details, so I could share his good news with others in the program, he e-mailed back, “I’m not really one for self-promotion (makes me feel a little icky).”
I hear this often – “I don’t like self-promotion” or “she’s so self-promoting”– as if it were a horrible literary transgression to make the results of one’s considerable effort known and available. Why is it shameful, after having worked very hard at something, and had some success in seeing it to publication, to then tell folks? I don’t get it.
Sure, we’ve all seen authors push their work and accomplishments rudely, brazenly, and stupidly, especially in the era of Facebook. Does this mean we must rule out all mention of one’s publications, however? Must all good news and honest celebration be labeled with the same nasty brush?
Consider. Where would we be as writers (and how would our publishers ever survive) if no one ever told anyone that they had published a poem in The Kenyon Review or a book with University of Nebraska Press? The ship of Independent Literary Publishing is not exactly sailing in a sea of money right now, so why do we as writers go out of our way to make sure we aren’t helping out at least a bit? Trust me, the editor of the small literary magazine would be thrilled if three of your friends subscribed, or even bought one issue.
And it isn’t always about money, of course. Most of us in the writing/publishing community would agree that the literary arts are not enough valued in our culture, so how does sneering at any author who makes even the smallest mention of their latest publication help that along? Let’s hide that light under a million bushels.
Listen. If one of my friends publishes something, I want to know. Sometimes just for the ’feel good’ moment. Sometimes so I can track the poem down and read it. But I’ll never know, if all mention of one’s publications is seen as conceited self-promotion.
So let’s be reasonable. I’d like to propose a few guidelines for the sharing of literary success. If you agree, please share these guidelines with others, and please share your good news:
1. Self promotion is when you spam all of your friends and those who are barely friends and repeatedly say “buy my stuff,” or “look at my stuff.” We don’t need daily updates.
2. Self promotion is NOT when you share good news with fellow strugglers (like grad students in your program, or the faculty who are rooting for your success). That’s just being part of a supportive community.
3. To my mind, even a link on Facebook, or on your blog, or as a signature line in your e-mail (subtle, not blaring), is NOT self promotion, at least not the bad kind that folks want to scorn and avoid. Certain people wish to know your good news, or read your poem, or buy your book, so it is fully acceptable to tell them that the work is now available. It is, in fact, inconsiderate not to tell them.
4. Tell them once, of course, not fifty times, and give them a clean link rather than e-mailing PDFs of everything you’ve ever written.
5. If you assume your friends would hate you for your success rather than be pleased for you, maybe it is time to look for new friends. Or look at yourself.
6. Writing is not bad. Publishing your writing is not bad. Don’t treat it as if it were.
— Dinty W. Moore, editor, Brevity