The topic of promoting oneself brings to mind several aspects and related personalities of the past. There must be a huge ego thing with politicians for their self promotions which is not denied and which is a way of life for them. It could also be true for rock stars and others in the entertainment business. In the writing and publishing business, just look at the giants from the large presses and literature world. Where are the centers? They are: New York City, London, Sidney, Rome, Berlin, Hong Kong, and Paris.
How does one from Wichita make it? Or from Cape Girardeau, Missouri? Is Rush Limbaugh the exception? Maybe not. Samuel Clemens did stand up one man shows. I need to break this down for myself. Most of us are not thinking of ourselves as writers as “entertainers.” But, we are entertainers of some sort, as are graphic artists. As a brief example, I was in an art school class once. We all had to pin our work on the wall at the end of each session in order to critique and get critiqued. This was huge. The instructor was a French trained artist and at the beginning he explained the concept. Each student’s work was about 20x30 inches format, of pencil, oil pastel and turpentine media. At a glance of the 25 to 30 hanging all over one wall, one could see at a glance which work or works stood out from the others. This the instructor explained that way, “That one’s work must be different than others, that it must be treated in a style that stands out from the others.” Yet, for most of us, we are in “day jobs” and we are neither in the traditional entertainment business nor connected with media outlets. I’ll come back to this point later.
Are there two kinds of promoting? There is one kind for getting known in the publishing business world, and the other kind in the promotion of sales of one’s product.
In the first kind, sending to agents and editors is a given. The query letter is an art in itself. What I have learned is that the more editors and agents contacted, the better one gets. One simply must keep that up. It’s akin to making cold calls in sales. A writer must do that. Back in the early 1980’s I had a start up business of screen printing. I wasn’t interested in T-shirts, although I did them, but I wanted commercial business for printing adhesive decals for business. I enjoyed going to the businesses and pitching my service. I got shot down a lot. But I also got jobs from some. And that was a small industrial market. A writer has to do that too.
At a writer’s conference, I first learned about “platform.” At that time, four or five years ago, I was under the impression it was a nonfiction agent/editor thing. Platform, as I understand it, is defined as the quantity or number of your readers in your local area or region. This could be those who have bought your writing before, or who have followed your writing enough to be potential buyers in a larger market. This is what concerns editors and agents because it is a measure of your business potential. It is a business reality. Your platform could be your local circle of friends and acquaintances, or could range to your county or statewide readership.
In the second kind of promoting, that of sales and marketing a produced product, is not something a writer initially thinks about. When one actually has something in print, or an e-format product to promote is automatically assumed that the publisher will market one’s work. I suppose it is a boring thing for many creative people. After all, we didn’t start writing as business and marketing majors at university. However, that is where we should have taking courses as a secondary major or minor. Over the past few years it has become a revelation to me that certain recording artists were marketing majors. So, yes, I fall into that class of former students who ignored the business department at university. The one good thing is that most universities offer evening classes in marketing. Mostly because there was such a demand by working people to complete undergad and graduate course requirements for those working on MBA degrees. Huge trends in the 1980s were businesses seeking MBA grads.
I must admit to some embarrassment now. It was only two years ago that I was asked to write a “marketing plan” and received at least some help in seeing another writer’s example. I don’t know if it was a new thing or complete ignorance, being beyond naive, that I had not heard of this before that moment. In my defense, I had known of and created a “media packet.” A media packet is a part of the marketing plan. Just as one has to be creative in the original work, one has to be creative in writing the promotion copy for that work. Yes, you must do it all. Contact and schedule your radio, TV, online and print interviews. Write and schedule your own press releases. Plan these releases.
Schedule your own signing events. Yes, go to bookstores and get book signing event dates scheduled. My first signing event was in a small town “Books and Bagels” shop. The second signing event was at “used book store.” Hilarious?
Approaching newspaper reviewers, in order to get a local review of your work into print, is a must. If any of this sounds like “not reaching out to the masses” remember that editors and agents still want “platform.” Yes, this means making more “cold calls.” It also means making different kinds of pitches. I don’t think there is enough room or time here to cover the different types of sales pitches. For radio, TV, print media, the approaches are different as one can imagine. And that is it. You must imagine something, some best way to pitch your work, beyond the “query pitch” that hooked your editor. If you are self-publishing, the same thing applies.
Getting interviews is not easy. But, they can be had. I’ve had an interview on the radio about a World War II novel on a “hometown heroes” program. The program format was interviews of aged veterans and their stories. I had a TV interview on a small VHF station during a talk show-movie format similar to “officer and a movie” with Lou Diamond Phillips. The interesting thing about doing those were getting some stats back about their audience, and any audience response.
All this while, you must be working on new projects.
So, in the end, the best “self promotion” is being an artist with your work. That art, your work, whether, short story, poem, novel, play, or screenplay must stand out from the others being shown at the time. You must be different, original and entertaining. If you are lucky the response you get is your critique. Many can’t take the critique. You must be able to take the critique, and keep working to get better, get different, get noticed.