The Tricky Art of Self-Promotion

I was at a party last weekend when the guy sitting next to me said, in classic small-talk style, 'So, what do you do?'

This was a terribly important and exciting moment for me because, for the first time in my life, I got to say, with a big grin on my face, 'I'm an author.'  As I said these words, the sun came out, rainbows shimmered across the room and tiny unicorns danced around my plate of cake.

'Oh, yes?' the chap said.  'What kind of books do you write?'

At which point, the rainbows faded and the unicorns stopped dancing and stood around looking sheepish.  I tried to ignore them and said stoutly, 'I write young adult fantasy adventure novels.'

I'm pretty sure from the look on the guy's face that this wasn't his genre of choice, but he was a polite man who followed up his initial enquiry by asking me to describe, in further detail, what my current book was about.

The unicorns edged to the other side of the table and tried to hide behind the chocolate fountain.

'Um,' I started lyrically, 'well, it's about this boy who finds out that he has magical powers, and there are people after him and ... stuff.'

There followed a pause in the conversation, wherein I am sure my audience of one was hoping I'd say, 'Just kidding.  Actually it's a retelling of the Battle of Waterloo from the point of view of a passing asthmatic swallow,' or something literary like that.  And even if I'd have told my synopsis to a well-seasoned fantasy fanatic, I'm sure they still would have said, 'Yeah, I think I've already read that one,' and gone on to look for someone more original to talk to.

This is a common problem for me.  I just don't seem to have the temperament to promote either myself or my work.  In every interview I've ever been to, I have felt (and looked, no doubt) apologetic to be there.  'Oh no, I've never done this kind of work before, I'd probably be rubbish at it.  What about that girl who you interviewed before me?  She seemed really keen!'  Similarly, when contacting publishers about my writing, my emails become a strange hybrid of pleading and apologising.  I can tell you now, they don't drool over their keyboards thinking, 'This is the writer for me!  Let's sign her up, stat!'

It's strange because I actually think I'm a reasonably smart person, and am proud of what I've achieved in the past, but anything to do with the present or the future?  Not a chance.  I even get nervous calling old friends on the phone: what if the number they've had for the last ten years has suddenly changed overnight and someone else answers?  I'd look like a fool!  What to do?  Not call them, usually.

As you can probably tell, I have self-esteem issues.

And therein lies my problem.  Because writers, if they want to survive, have to be self-promoting.  They have to be willing to pester publishers and accost agents, singing and dancing around to get their attention before some other hungry writer does.  'Look at me!  Look at me!  Look at me!' over and over until they're blue in the face, with synopses and letters of introduction flying about them like confetti.

Sound like fun?

And does the self-promotion end once you find a publisher who agrees to take you on?

Of course not!  That's when the real work begins.  There are all the traditional things an author has to do, like launches, readings, signings, book fairs and the like, but they are all for after the book has actually been printed.  So I get to cool my heels for the best part of a year, right?

Of course not!  Not in this day and age of advanced technology.  Why, there are plenty of things I could be doing to promote my as yet non-existent novel.  In fact, the contract I signed stipulated the use of social media for promotional purposes.  I have therefore gone from having one email account and one Facebook profile to having two email accounts, two Facebook profiles, one Facebook page, one blog, and my partner told me this morning that I should look into Twitter.

Joy.  I was excused badgering publishers only to be told I have to badger the whole world.  'Look at me, everyone!  Look at meeeeee!'

And when they do look at me, what do I tell them?  Magical powers 'n' stuff.

Just on the off-chance that I tell more than two close friends that this blog exists, I should say that I adore my book.  It's funny and exciting and I could just eat the characters with a dollop of King Island cream, they're so delicious.  In the right mood, I could tell of dimensions out of wack, dark pasts, shadowy figures and a plot so convoluted that it spans, in my head, to at least three more novels just to unravel it.

But put me in front of a politely interested stranger, and I just want to hide behind the furniture.  'No, no.  You don't want to talk to me.  I'm not interesting at all.'

I think a lot of writers and artists have this problem.  They want to be locked away in a small room and left to their own devices, without having to defend or promote their work.  I imagine academics applying for grants feel the same way, as do business people looking for sponsors.  Sadly, our work only starts to mean more than a personal challenge when it's out there in the world, so we are thrust into the spotlight without so much as a pair of oranges to juggle, and told to entertain.

It's okay, though.  I have a plan.  I create characters, right?  All I have to do now is to create a character called Lindsey Little.  She's an author, and she's terribly good at self-promotion.  She doesn't care what you think of her, but she thinks you should be given the right to decide for yourself.

So look at her, everyone!  Look at her go!

I'm sorry to have taken up so much of your time.