“But enough about me, let’s talk about you… what do YOU think of me?”
— Beaches, 1988
I was originally going to title this post: “I Don’t Want To Talk About My Books Anymore!” but figured it might come off as a little whiny. And really, it’s not that I don’t like talking about my books—I LOVE talking about my books—it’s that I get twitchy when I’m the only one doing the talking, flashes of those obnoxious parents endlessly jabbering about their “really cute kids” while everyone smiles tightly and averts their eyes (cannot be one of those!). I’d prefer to talk about my books because other people asked about them; someone else wanted to discuss plot and character, or how to order a dozen or two copies. I’d rather respond to a whole other person tooting that horn than pull out the trumpet myself.
It’s hard out there for a book-pimp.
See, all this self-promotion started when the entire world went DIY some years back, with everyone doing anything and everything for themselves. The trend was seen largely as a positive thing: a democratizing, equalizing, barrier-breaking thing for all those independent people out there with a dream. Writers could put up their own articles, artists and photographers could set up their own blogs to sell their art; businesses and private practitioners could hang shingles in the form of interactive websites, and authors, they self-published. It’s gotten so democratically DIY, I half expect women to start delivering their own babies with headphones and an online tutorial!
And it has been a boon in many ways. The DIY market has allowed countless creators of every industry and medium to move forward without the limitations of picky gatekeepers, elitist corporations, prohibitive budgets, and miserly invitation lists. But where it’s proven challenging is in the wrangling (i.e., affording) of ancillary team-members who typically help creators move, sell, and promote their products. The horn-tooters, trumpet blowers, PR flacks, publicity people. And while there is not one “self-anything” who doesn’t need those people doing those jobs, a big fat contingent can’t afford them.
A full-time publicist for any business typically costs thousands of dollars a month, sometimes many thousands. A big-ticket item. But smaller marketing and promotional campaigns can also run into many hundreds of dollars and must be cyclically and consistently rerun to be effective. Even artists lucky enough to be affiliated with “umbrella” companies that provide some marketing and promotional support will find they’re obligated to implement those efforts on their own time and their own dollar. In other words, no matter where you fall on the “self” spectrum, you’re pulling that horn out of the closet.
And doing my own trumpet-blowing has always made me a little queasy.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in a family of eleven children where one had to leap up and down and wave their arms to get any kind of non-generic, “oh, I see you” attention, but I find the “leaping” necessary to self-promotion (particularly in the glutted indie book market) to be oddly demeaning. Instead of your work drawing people to you while you stand there being quietly brilliant, you’re obligated to chase after them like a panting schoolgirl trying to snag the interest of the most popular guy (switch genders as applicable). Beyond that, it sometimes feels too self-focused, too attention-grabbing, too… I dunno… creatively narcissistic. I’d prefer that the work itself, or someone with excellent trumpet skills, speak for me.
But there’s no choice. As indie artists, we not only have to do the job, we have to be indefatigable about finding new and clever ways to get it done. There are thousands of businesses and websites out there tooting their horns in hopes we’ll hire them to help toot ours (sort of a DIY Circle of Life), but the costs can run anywhere from cheap (various “tweet your book” sites, featured pages, book-of-the days sorts of things) to downright expensive (Book Bub, Foreward and Kirkus reviews, online ads), and some, but very few, are free. Often you pay loads of money to set up sales in which you give your books away for free or very cheaply (always an odd oxymoron), and given the “effective marketing = persistent marketing” equation, even the most economical campaigns will add up.
So where do indie creators with limited budgets go? To social media, of course! It’s not only what’s left to them once they’ve tapped-out their budgets, it’s the information highway everyone uses, regardless of product. Which means social media is regularly BOMBARDED with streaming posts from all sorts of people touting the “latest with my fill in the blank (book, band, record, art, store, tour, company, etc.),” and, in some cases, that’s all they ever post. About their book. Their record. Their tour. Their whatever.
We get no other insight from them, no other angle on their personality or point of view; they don’t connect to or comment on other people’s posts, and far too often, their only contribution to the greater conversation is about that _________ they’ve created. Which makes their social interaction akin to turning a coffee shop into a billboard.
So my remedy, since we’ve got to do this horn-blowing thing whether we want to or not, is this: Get involved with other people, share about more than your own creation; “like” posts other people put up, jump in on a thread or two. Be human. Be interested. Be involved. So when you do talk about your whatever, we’re interested because we’re interested in you… and you’ve shown some interest in us. It’s an all-around happy social media thing, as it should be.
And until a scenario involving an enthusiastic horn blower comes my way, know I’ll be doing it for myself on social media too. Graciously, I hope. Forgive me if I ever seem redundant or one-note; if I ask too many times for you to reiterate your wonderful email response in a review at Amazon, or push too hard to get you out to a reading. I’m obligated to honor my work by wearing this hat, blowing this horn, but know I’m trying to be nuanced and selective about the notes. This thing is tricky, but I’ve heard practice makes perfect!
Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.