“It feels gross.”
No, not the flu. Not a colonoscopy. Not field dressing a deer. Not drinking a kale smoothie.
My friend, Russ, and I were talking about it recently and his observation was spot on. It does feel gross to promote one’s own work. In today’s publishing and arts world, though, it is necessary. If you want to be read you have to promote your work (or have a great team of people to do it for you).
Self-promotion is such a big deal that it has become a cottage industry all its own. People have built entire consulting businesses and product lines around building “platform.” Platform is the magic word, the silver bullet, the Holy Grail for any writer (or artist of any kind). It is what gets you noticed, get’s you published, and sells your wares. If thought about rightly platform is a tool and a resource, but it has become the primary end for many instead of the means it ought to be. When this happens self-promotion truly “feels gross.”
Here are two rules to remember when promoting your own work to avoid the platform trap and that nasty feeling.
1) Content is King.
Your platform is pointless if your content is dumb. It’s really that simple. In a recent episode of The Happy Rant Podcast (episode 24, for those who care) my co-host, Ted Kluck said “Start trying to be good at what you’re actually trying to do . . . If you’re going to put all your eggs in one basket put them in the writing basket. Read some good books, write some stuff that’s good, and see where the chips fall.” He’s right. To build a massive platform just to publicize weak content is like building a billion dollar stadium for a minor league team. Instead make an awesome product, something deeply true and engaging, and let others do much of the platform building for you.
At a deeper level your platform is innately wrong if its primary purpose itself. It is self-centered and arrogant. Instead of having any sort of vision or mission it exists simply to make itself more famous. (I think we should call these Kardashian platforms.)
Have a mission. Serve others with your work. Inspire them, teach them, enlighten them, entertain them. But for God’s sake make it about them and their betterment.
Ask yourself two questions about content when you are ready to promote it OR when you intend to use it to promote some other work (a la, a blog post about a forthcoming book).
2) Do you believe in it?
Do you really believe that what you wrote will benefit others in some way? Will it make them better in some way? Does it express truth in some way? Will it encourage or challenge them in some way? Or did you write it just for you, to make you look better, to get you page views, to make you a dime? (Because that’s about all you earn for writing stuff.)
If you believe it, publish it. If it is true and good publish it. If it is for you keep it. For everyone’s sake.
3) Can it stand on its own?
If you put out a blog post or article and reads like a pitch piece for your own work it can’t stand on its own. But if you write something that is a self-contained nugget of truth that ties into the theme of another work that does stand on its own. We share things we think are good, so share your work, don’t promote it. You want a reader to be able to digest that one post and walk away better for it even if they never see anything else you write.
4) Engage and Interact.
Platforms are for people and made up of people. If it simply a broadcast tool you are using those people instead of caring about them.
On social media, one of the primary platforms, have personality. Be yourself. Share your opinions, jokes, thoughts, and observations. Even, especially, when they have nothing to do with anything you’re trying to sell. And interact with people; it’s “social” media after all. Be conversational. Your platform shouldn’t be so high it distances you from folks.
When we get too enamored with platform and “audience” (another self promotion buzzword) we start thinking of people as market share. The more clicks we get or readers we have the more we “own.” We lose sight of people’s humanity and their needs. But isn’t that why we write and create – to ease burdens and fill minds and hearts? If not, please quit. Our platform is a gift given to us by generous readers, not a purchased good we can treat how we want.
People who engage us deserve our attention, responses, and thanks. They don’t always need to be deep and long; an acknowledgement and an expression of appreciation are often enough. It is proof that you see a real person who values your work and you are grateful for them. Just like good customer service builds a business, so humble reader engagement strengthens a platform, though that shouldn’t be the aim but rather a nice byproduct of not being gross.