Self-Promotion or Self-Prostitution: Why We Resist Putting Ourselves Out There

Do you hate the idea of self-promotion? Do you tell yourself that you’re not good at it? That you shouldn’t have to do it? If you hate self-promotion, or even the prospect of self-promotion, you are not alone. No matter the genre, all artists seem to share a similar aversion. Most of us are still waiting for an agent/manager/publicist to come and rescue us from the prospect of having to promote…ourselves?

But why?

As artists, we have internalized certain agreed-upon stories, certain cultural mythologies that may be blocking our ability to put ourselves and our work out into the world. And since most of us agree that self-promotion is necessary, it’s worth taking a look at these stories and deciding whether perpetuating them is serving our art and our careers—or not.

1. The Starving Artist Story: “I’m not going to make any money at this, anyway.”

The-Lemonade-Stand1If we were running a company, a large portion of our budget would go to marketing, right? If we were selling shoes, our livelihood would depend on us getting out there and selling some shoes. Even if we were running a lemonade stand, we would understand that, in order to sell lemonade, we would need to make signs or hire neighborhood kids with megaphones to let people know that lemonade is available. If no one knows about our lemonade, then no one will buy it no matter how fantastic it might be.

But when it comes to our art, we’ve swallowed a toxic “starving artist” story, which tells us that we’re probably not going to make any money at this, anyway, so we don’t take the task of promotion seriously. In fact, most of us would probably do a better job promoting the lemonade than we would the art that we have poured our blood and souls into.

It’s crucial to realize that if you want to make a career out of your art, then you have gone into businesswith yourself. I am now the CEO of Nancy Stohlman, Inc., and my product is my work. If no one knows about my product, they can’t buy it. And then I am out of business.

But as long as we are stoking the starving artist story, then we’re going into the game already defeated. If we believe we cannot make a living out of our art…then we probably won’t.

2. The Overnight Success Story: “Once I’m famous someone else will do this.”

This is the story of the mythical artist who is catapulted into fame from obscurity with no promotional effort of their own. While this mythology is exciting, and the media loves to dangle it as some warped version of the American Dream, it’s also a bit like expecting to win the Powerball.

This overnight success story is a darling of artists and runs deep in our culture. But if you look carefully behind most successes, you will usually find a different story. Madonna made hundreds of demos with her own money and personally brought them to every DJ in New York City; Truman Capote sat for 8 hours a day in the lobby of the publisher who refused to see him. Even Rosa Parks, our favorite little old lady who wouldn’t give up her seat on the bus and thus triggered the Civil Rights Movement, was actually a veteran activist for 15 years when she was finally delivered to the right place at the right time.

Because that’s what it comes down to: “It’s not enough to be at the right place at the right time—you have to be the right person at the right place at the right time,” says musical agent Justin Sudds in his interview for “Take Your Talent to the Bank”. The truth of the overnight success story is that it is usually not overnight at all.

But what’s most problematic about the Overnight Success Story is that it is ultimately disempowering because it takes the responsibility for our careers out of our hands. Our careers become like playing roulette, and we feel powerless to affect real change. And I like playing roulette, but only with what I am prepared to lose.

3. “It’s Not Polite To Brag.” This country is still influenced by our Puritan roots, and so this story is the one that often paralyzes us into non-action.

Here’s the truth: Will some people be annoyed by your promotional efforts? Yes. But usually the ones who are annoyed, offended, or otherwise triggered by your efforts are the ones who have not yet embraced their own self-promotion. So it’s important to remember that their support or non-support for you and your work really has little to do with you and much more to do with where they are on their own path. It’s pretty hard to jump on someone else’s bandwagon when your own bandwagon is rusting in the garage. It’s pretty hard to muster up zest and enthusiasm for someone else when you haven’t put your own work out there in a big way, yet. So when you encounter this kind of resistance—and it can come from the most surprising places—be kind, and remember this quote: “Those who have abandoned their dreams will always discourage yours.”

But the rest of the people won’t care, and in fact they will be happy that you’ve made it so easy for them to support you and your work. It is said that a person needs to hear about something five times (yes, five!) before it sticks, and most people are happy for the reminders.

Self-promotion is not bragging. It’s asking for the support we need to make the careers we want.

In this Puritan society we are told that “it’s better to give than receive,” so we give, we give, we give…but most of us have a hard time receiving. And most of us have an even harder time asking for the support we need with clarity and confidence. If I want people to read my latest story—I have to ask. If I want people to come to my my website, my lecture, or buy my latest book—I have to ask. “Hey, I’d love it if you checked out my work and passed it along.”

In our everyone-for-himself society we have attached a stigma to asking for help. In order to get over this stigma, we have to remember that artists must exist in community, and in order to create and sustain a community, you have to put yourself out there with honesty and authenticity. Self-promotion is truly about asking for the support we need, and building relationships with those who are excited about us and our work. It’s the greatest thing you can do for the promotion of art outside of creating the art itself.

So when self-promotion starts to feel like self-prostitution, remember: We promote our work because we aren’t okay with the mythology of the starving artist; we respect our work enough to take control of its dissemination, not leaving it to the agent fairies to rescue us; we have both the confidence and humility required to put it out there in the world and ask for support.

Many of us don’t promote because we would rather fail privately than publicly  We fear rejection and ridicule; we retreat into craft instead. And yes, it’s true that Emily Dickinson did no promotion. But then again, she never got to enjoy the rewards, respect, and recognition of her work while she was alive.

I want more for myself and my art.

And I want more for you, too.

Advertisements

Launching Your Book Into the World

LAUNCHING YOUR BOOK INTO THE WORLD

Individualized Coaching To Help Your Work Succeed!

spotlight (1)You wrote the book…so you’re done, right? Wrong. Whether you are self-publishing, traditional publishing, or still undecided, today’s market requires that writers build and sustain their own readership. But how? Who are your readers? Who needs your book? And how do you find them? Personalized coaching can help you uncover blocks to self-promotion, give you practical skills to approaching the market as a professional, and help you understand and take the necessary steps to not just writing a book but building a long term audience for your work. Individualized coaching will explore:

• The difference between an amateur and a professional
• Who are your readers and how do you find them?
• Self-promotion: Are you avoiding it? (You’re not alone)
• Publication—is your manuscript ready to send into the world?
• Building a long-term fan base
• Creatively marketing your work
• What’s keeping you from taking the next steps?

Your work is worth it. Give your book the greatest chance of succeeding!

4 and 8-week individualized coaching packages tailored to you and your work.

Contact nancystohlman@gmail.com to discuss your needs.

To your success!

Nancy

Self Promotion or Self Prostitution? Why We Resist Putting Ourselves Out There

Do you hate the idea of self-promotion? Do you tell yourself that you’re not good at it? That you shouldn’t have to do it? If you hate self-promotion, or even the prospect of self-promotion, you are not alone. No matter the genre, all artists seem to share a similar aversion. Most of us are still waiting for an agent/manager/publicist to come and rescue us from the prospect of having to promote…ourselves?

But why?

As artists, we have internalized certain agreed-upon stories, certain cultural mythologies that may be blocking our ability to put ourselves and our work out into the world. And since most of us agree that self-promotion is necessary, it’s worth taking a look at these stories and deciding whether perpetuating them is serving our art and our careers—or not.

1. The Starving Artist Story: “I’m not going to make any money at this, anyway.”

The-Lemonade-Stand1If we were running a company, a large portion of our budget would go to marketing, right? If we were selling shoes, our livelihood would depend on us getting out there and selling some shoes. Even if we were running a lemonade stand, we would understand that, in order to sell lemonade, we would need to make signs or hire neighborhood kids with megaphones to let people know that lemonade is available. If no one knows about our lemonade, then no one will buy it no matter how fantastic it might be.

But when it comes to our art, we’ve swallowed a toxic “starving artist” story, which tells us that we’re probably not going to make any money at this, anyway, so we don’t take the task of promotion seriously. In fact, most of us would probably do a better job promoting the lemonade than we would the art that we have poured our blood and souls into.

It’s crucial to realize that if you want to make a career out of your art, then you have gone into businesswith yourself. I am now the CEO of Nancy Stohlman, Inc., and my product is my work. If no one knows about my product, they can’t buy it. And then I am out of business.

But as long as we are stoking the starving artist story, then we’re going into the game already defeated. If we believe we cannot make a living out of our art…then we probably won’t.

2. The Overnight Success Story: “Once I’m famous someone else will do this.”

This is the story of the mythical artist who is catapulted into fame from obscurity with no promotional effort of their own. While this mythology is exciting, and the media loves to dangle it as some warped version of the American Dream, it’s also a bit like expecting to win the Powerball.

This overnight success story is a darling of artists and runs deep in our culture. But if you look carefully behind most successes, you will usually find a different story. Madonna made hundreds of demos with her own money and personally brought them to every DJ in New York City; Truman Capote sat for 8 hours a day in the lobby of the publisher who refused to see him. Even Rosa Parks, our favorite little old lady who wouldn’t give up her seat on the bus and thus triggered the Civil Rights Movement, was actually a veteran activist for 15 years when she was finally delivered to the right place at the right time.

Because that’s what it comes down to: “It’s not enough to be at the right place at the right time—you have to be the right person at the right place at the right time,” says musical agent Justin Sudds in his interview for “Take Your Talent to the Bank”. The truth of the overnight success story is that it is usually not overnight at all.

But what’s most problematic about the Overnight Success Story is that it is ultimately disempowering because it takes the responsibility for our careers out of our hands. Our careers become like playing roulette, and we feel powerless to affect real change. And I like playing roulette, but only with what I am prepared to lose.

3. “It’s Not Polite To Brag.” This country is still influenced by our Puritan roots, and so this story is the one that often paralyzes us into non-action.

Here’s the truth: Will some people be annoyed by your promotional efforts? Yes. But usually the ones who are annoyed, offended, or otherwise triggered by your efforts are the ones who have not yet embraced their own self-promotion. So it’s important to remember that their support or non-support for you and your work really has little to do with you and much more to do with where they are on their own path. It’s pretty hard to jump on someone else’s bandwagon when your own bandwagon is rusting in the garage. It’s pretty hard to muster up zest and enthusiasm for someone else when you haven’t put your own work out there in a big way, yet. So when you encounter this kind of resistance—and it can come from the most surprising places—be kind, and remember this quote: “Those who have abandoned their dreams will always discourage yours.”

But the rest of the people won’t care, and in fact they will be happy that you’ve made it so easy for them to support you and your work. It is said that a person needs to hear about something five times (yes, five!) before it sticks, and most people are happy for the reminders.

Self-promotion is not bragging. It’s asking for the support we need to make the careers we want.

In this Puritan society we are told that “it’s better to give than receive,” so we give, we give, we give…but most of us have a hard time receiving. And most of us have an even harder time asking for the support we need with clarity and confidence. If I want people to read my latest story—I have to ask. If I want people to come to my my website, my lecture, or buy my latest book—I have to ask. “Hey, I’d love it if you checked out my work and passed it along.”

In our everyone-for-himself society we have attached a stigma to asking for help. In order to get over this stigma, we have to remember that artists must exist in community, and in order to create and sustain a community, you have to put yourself out there with honesty and authenticity. Self-promotion is truly about asking for the support we need, and building relationships with those who are excited about us and our work. It’s the greatest thing you can do for the promotion of art outside of creating the art itself.

So when self-promotion starts to feel like self-prostitution, remember: We promote our work because we aren’t okay with the mythology of the starving artist; we respect our work enough to take control of its dissemination, not leaving it to the agent fairies to rescue us; we have both the confidence and humility required to put it out there in the world and ask for support.

Many of us don’t promote because we would rather fail privately than publicly  We fear rejection and ridicule; we retreat into craft instead. And yes, it’s true that Emily Dickinson did no promotion. But then again, she never got to enjoy the rewards, respect, and recognition of her work while she was alive.

I want more for myself and my art.

And I want more for you, too.

Finish That Manuscript: Free Workshop Preview Tuesday, June 25th

Summer Project #1: Finish That Manuscript

Each book we write brings us closer to understanding how to write a book. What phase of the finishing process are you in? And…what’s it costing you to not finish?

Three Types of “Finishing”

1. Crossing the Finish Line. In this phase, you’re creating, allowing, and writing yourself to the finish line of that first draft, where you can write The End and give yourself that well deserved glass of port.

In this phase you need the support, motivation, and commitment to get to the end. A first draft is like a lump of clay—it doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does need to be complete before you can start shaping it into the grand vessel it will become.

2. Alligator Wrestling. In this phase you’ve finished a first draft and now you’re in the revision—re-visioning—process. Re-vision. Seeing again. Sometimes it’s hard to see your manuscript with fresh eyes—like looking for your sunglasses when they’re on your head. Yet the true writing magic usually happens in revisions.

In this phase you need new ways of seeing your manuscript differently, both in pieces and as a whole, as well as identifying your strengths and weaknesses as a writer and inviting the potent potential of unexpected possibilities into your work.

3. Becoming a Player. In this phase you and your manuscript prepare to enter the public arena, and the “finishing” has just as much to do with you as a professional. This is the point where we usually long for an agent to swoop in and do all the uncomfortable work of promoting ourselves, but the catch here is that if we want to be taken seriously, we have to start playing seriously.

In this phase you need help with promotional and professional materials including bios, queries, how and why to excerpt, and learning how to avoid the mistakes of looking like an amateur—regardless of your publishing goals.

*Tuesday, June 25th at 7 pm MST, join me for a 30-min FREE WORKSHOP PREVIEW.

Contact me for registration information at nancystohlman@gmail.com

 

Friends vs. Fans: What’s the Difference?

Fans of German rock band Tokio Hotel scream during a concert in LisbonA friend loves you. A fan loves your work.

It’s as simple as that.

Now if you’re lucky you will have both: friends who are also big fans of your work, and fans who become friends. But the distinction is important, and as artists, I believe our level of success is tied to how well we understand the difference.

And I’m not just talking to writers, here. I’m talking to all artists. For example, when Kinky Mink was in its infancy, we relied heavily on our friends to fill our audiences. This is normal—fans don’t just find you because you make a Facebook page after all, they have to be cultivated. And you do this by starting wherever you are.

But it’s a bit like your mother telling you how talented your death metal band is, or how your novel/sculpture/painting/play is brilliant. You’re always left with the lingering question: Does she love me or my work?

At some point an artist has to cut the umbilical cord and find his or her true fans. And I hate to break it to you, but these may or may not be your friends.

Don’t believe me?

Writers: How many of your friends bought your book but didn’t read it? Or read it but didn’t have much to say?

That’s because they are your friends, not your fans. They love you, not your work.

Think about it from their point of view: Imagine I have a friend who’s an amazing country singer. Well, I don’t like country music. So while I may genuinely wish her all the success in the world, and I may even go to some of her shows to show my support, I will never be a true country music fan. She may be brilliant, and I may be proud of her, but what she ultimately needs is a room full of country music fans, not a room full of others like me who would never attend if our friend wasn’t playing.

This is where many of us go wrong. During those early Kinky Mink shows when I was still relying heavily on friends, I would be hurt when certain friends wouldn’t come (and here’s a big loving shout out to all those who did!). Now when Kinky Mink plays I cast a much wider net, cultivating those who resonate with our music, not just warm bodies to fill the seats. This is true of literary readings, gallery showings, film screenings, and every other kind of event where an audience–live or not–is needed.

The truth is if we can’t expand our audience/readership/patrons beyond those we have a personal relationship with, then we aren’t reaching our full potential as artists. If you don’t find your fans, then you will be forced to make 10,000 new friends if you want to sell out an arena or a first-run of your book! Whew!

And this is why self-promotion is so important. If you continue to rely solely on your friends, you are doing everyone a disservice: 1. You are keeping yourself from finding your fans, and 2. You are keeping them from finding your work.

A true fan will resonate with your work whether they ever meet you or not. So thank your friends for holding down the fort while you got started (thanks!) and commit to finding your true fans.

And for every person who is (or becomes) both, consider yourself doubly blessed.

Self Promotion is Not a Dirty Word: Six Tips For Writers

ImageIf I hear another writer tell me they are no good at self promotion, I will eat my computer. Let’s face it: We all want to be left alone with our writing and let someone else handle the promotion part. I mean, I’d love to have checks arrive effortlessly in the mail as well. But most of us realize that this is not a reality in today’s world, and that the fantasy of someone important happening to stumble upon us in our scotch-laden bunker and catapulting us to success with little effort is just the last dying breaths of the Oprah mythology.

So let’s get to work. Here are six basics to help every writer step confidently into their own advocacy.

Step One: Write a good bio. I emphasize good, here. We are writers, this one should be easy—so why does your bio put me to sleep? It’s because even writing a bio is often the first resistance that writers must face. If you find yourself saying, “I don’t like to praise myself” then I ask you this: If you can’t praise your work, how do you expect anyone else to? Find that balance between impressive and humble, between professional and still reflecting your writerly personality. Read lots of other bios and make note of the ones that stay with you. First impressions are important, and your bio is often the first contact a potential reader has with you.

 Step Two: Take a real bio picture. You don’t have to spend money on this, but don’t just crop your face from the group New Years Eve shots.  You must know someone who knows someone who is dabbling in photography—do a little bartering. Buy them lunch in exchange for giving them a subject to practice on. Take a walk and take a few dozen interesting pictures. My first author headshot, taken by Ivan Gomez, was shot while we were playing with his new camera and walking around my neighborhood, and I still use it today. Again, it’s all about first impressions: your potential reader will only take you as seriously as you take yourself.

Step Three: Have a website. Facebook doesn’t count. It’s important for people who are or will be looking you up on the internet to land on a real website: one concise place where they can find out about you, see your pic, read your publications, check out your upcoming events, and purchase your work.  Again, you don’t have to spend money on this. My website (here) is hosted through wordpress.com, which is free, and there are plenty of other free sites. If later you want to upgrade to a particular domain (such as my nancystohlman.com above), you can always reroute your domain name to your blog for minimal fees—less than $20 a year.

Step Four: Publish stuff. This kind of goes without saying, but you would be surprised how many writers guard their work as if it can only be published in one holy glob—and it ultimately puts them in a position of trying to publish a novel with no other publishing credits. The best way to get people excited about your work is to let them read pieces of it. It’s impossible to be excited about your work if it is guarded away in your bunker. So publish stories or excerpts, offer to guest blog or write book reviews for your colleagues—but publish stuff. I personally aim to publish 12 pieces a year—which means I send out at least three times that many.

Step Five: Thou Shalt Not Promote By Internet Alone. Get out of the house! Again, the days of hiding in your bunker are over. If you want to gain readers you have to be part of the community and publicly promote your work by reading it at literary events in your town. Can’t find a literary event in your town? Then it looks like it’s time for you to start one. Some of my earliest public appearances were “salons” held in the generous living rooms of others. Invite some other writers, bring some wine, and you have just created a literary event that may grow legs and a become a vortex of community.

Step Six: Support other writers. It’s easy to get into a scarcity mindset—a fear that there is not enough money or readers for everyone, and that every other writer is a threat to your success. That is just not true—there is plenty for everyone, and the best way to get the flow coming back to you is to send it out to others. Openly support the work and promotional efforts of your colleagues. We are all in this together, and we all do better when we all do better.

Happy Writing!

~Nancy Stohlman

Questions? Email me at nancystohlman@gmail.com