RX: Self-Promotion for Writers
April 25, 2019 § 10 Comments
By Jennifer Case
When I was in high school, ready for my first part-time job, I remember walking into grocery stores, or through the hallway of the indoor mall, willing store managers to notice me. I fantasized that I wouldn’t have to go up to the guest services counter and do the humiliating task of asking for a job application. Instead, something in my eyes and my open, receptive face would hone them in. I could just stand there, fluorescent light shining on my head, and they’d say, “Hey! We need a new garden clerk/barista/baker, and you look perfect. Would you like a job?!”
No manager, of course, ever approached me. In the end, I had to ask the customer service representatives for applications and make sweaty, follow-up calls, but this, in many ways, is how I also felt about book promotion. I wanted the end result—decent sales and the right kind of readers—but the means of obtaining that attention…? I was a high school student all over again, staring at a list of emails I needed to write, cold calls I should make, and people I should have been networking with six months ago rather than now. I sat there, frozen, not so much with fear, but something heavier and more stone-like.
The irony of the publishing industry doesn’t escape me. Writers tend to be introverted. They spend years observing the world, sitting alone, writing and rewriting their manuscripts, and yet that first year after a book is published, they are supposed to metamorphose—suddenly and completely—into sparkly, bedecked extroverts, fully capable of contacting all the important media outlets and confidently, but unassumingly, convincing others that this excerpt/interview/craft piece/reading is worth attention. As Sarah Fawn Montgomery wrote in her post on this blog, there’s a madness to book marketing, and it can be brutal.
As well-documented by many:
- A tendency to stop responding to emails. Or to respond with over-enthusiasm and too many exclamation points.
- Sheer exhaustion, often leading to hermitism or the reclusion of oneself in backwoods cabins, teaching jobs, or volunteer work.
- A shrill rise in the voice that others interpret as—and may in fact be—desperation.
- Overuse of social media.
- Accusations of shamelessness and subsequent loss of friends (especially on social media).
- Humility, whether reactionary or innate, potentially leading to a book that falls into the great void.
- Paralyzing self-doubt.
Usually nothing more than bed rest, long walks outdoors, and plenty of (nonalcoholic) fluids. In severe cases, and when privilege and means allow: a publicist. Most cases, however, will resolve with the following home remedy:
- After each painfully arranged reading you give at an independent bookstore, purchase a book. Let them form an ever-increasing stack on your nightstand. Then, in moments of self-doubt, set aside your own work, your own hopes for your work, and simply relish the work of others’.
- Read more in the next year than you did in the two years before. Read books that have nothing to do with your own projects and do not help you understand your market or competition. Read the award-winners but also books by smaller presses. Read books written by writers with very different lives from your own.
- Allow yourself to get caught up in these books. Stay up late, turning their pages. At times, shorten your own workday to instead simply read. Memoirs, essay collections, novels, poetry: try them all.
- Let these books remind you of what made you want to write in the first place. That there is a purpose for their existence beyond sales figures and self-promotion. A purpose that has nothing to do with the egos of writers, but with something larger: The joy of reading words on a page. Of digging into complex truths. Of appreciating the lives of those around us. Of simply being a reader.
- Repeat as many times as necessary. Bank account/work obligations/dependent children non-withstanding, there is no risk of overdose.
Jennifer Case is the author of Sawbill: A Search for Place (University of New Mexico Press, 2018). Her essays have appeared in journals such as Orion, Michigan Quarterly Review, Literary Mama, Fourth River, Sycamore Review, and Zone 3. She teaches at the University of Central Arkansas and serves as the Assistant Nonfiction Editor of Terrain.org. You can find her at www.jenniferlcase.com.