So. One of the things I’ve been wrestling with lately is publicizing my own work. And, honestly? Publicity scares the crap out of me. Asking people to blog about or tweet or otherwise share my work? Yeah, no. Writing ad copy? I’d rather clean and gut food animals. Making promotional materials? Where the hell do I even begin? How do I promote myself? Who the hell knows? I wrote a blog entry last week and I didn’t even put it on Twitter because I was afraid I was incoherent and rambling. The only way people knew it existed was because my mailing list auto-notifies when a new post is added. I suck at publicity. Which is why it’s probably a good thing I’m not doing this for a living.
I mean, there are some things I am good at as far as putting on a public face. Passive advertising, we’ll call it; looking like a competent, professional adult online. I habitually “speak” on the internet, which is to say post, with proper spelling and generally in complete sentences, or dialogue-like sentence fragments. I don’t cover things in bright colors or use auto-play for any audio I might ever post. There are also some ways in which I make it harder on myself: I swear a hell of a lot. I have a strong dislike of posting pictures of myself on the internet, one might almost call it a phobia except phobia generally applies when there aren’t real, probable consequences to your actions. You don’t have to go looking very far to see the number of articles about how women are treated and judged on the internet, and it’s worse if they have pictures up. Call it self-protecting. The active stuff, though? I’m learning. But I have to develop the habits to post about my work, to track down all available outlets, and I have to develop the attitude that I am willing to put it out there or, well. See also: publicity scares the crap out of me. I will panic and back out given any chance at all.
This is the only time you’ll ever hear me devoutly and fervently wishing for a major publishing company to pick me up, because it would be so easy just to not embarrass them in public and let them do all the submitting pictures and writing ad copy for me. So easy.
All right, so. I’m working on being a better publicist for my own work, so what can I do? Apart from, you know, have good content and putting it out there on time when I say I will. First off, pick your indie publishing house carefully. I started off going with one service only to realize that I couldn’t distribute in all the formats I wanted to, and the only advantage was getting print copies, which I scared myself out of doing anyway. Don’t be me. Don’t do that. Research, research, plan, and research some more. Then decide. There is absolutely nothing worse than trying to put yourself out there as being able to do or be all these things and then realizing that you only have half an idea what you’re doing. Even if half an idea is good enough to get it done, fear will do the rest. Secondly, make friends with booksellers. Make friends with librarians. I don’t mean opportunist friends who sidle up and go “Hey, hey, little kid. Pawn this book off on you?” I mean actual friends. Listen to what they say. Commiserate with them. Share interests! And for the love of god, listen to what they tell you. Librarians are the keepers of the knowledge. Booksellers are the keepers of the lists of people who want to buy books, and how to get things to those people in exchange for cashy money.
The first two stages are the acquisition of knowledge, and the third stage comes in two parts. The first part is establishing an online personality. You are your brand, and to the extent that this personality associated with this name (it doesn’t have to be your name or even your username) and these social media accounts, your brand is you. Go out there, make friends! The world, or at least the internet, is your oyster. The second part, and I cannot stress this strongly enough, do not show your ass in public. Do not be that person. Do not go off on long-winded tirades about how X has treated you unfairly, where X stands for anything from this author to this critic to life. Whine at length to your friends, not to your audience; they generally don’t want to hear it. Do not start airing your grievances about a subsector of people who you think are uncouth freaks from Hell, do not preach or proselytize, do not be pushy, asinine, or unpleasant. As time goes on and you learn more about your audience, and as they come to learn more about you, just like in any relationship you’ll learn more about what you can say and what you can’t. Sometimes you can get away with massive trolling! Look at Orlando Jones. Or don’t, you may be blinded by his beauty. Sometimes you can get away with being incredibly uncouth and disgusting, and for that I give you Warren Ellis. Sometimes you can be fierce, or pushy, or assertive, and sometimes you may reckon that the cost to you is worth it, see also the dichotomy of women being pushy or bitchy for the same behavior that in men is called being forthright or assertive. You may decide that the people who think you’re being a bitch, you can afford to lose. By all means, kick them to the curb!
The internet is forever. Even in the rare circumstances when it isn’t, when your mistakes get lost in the noise rather than the signal, pretend it’s forever. The easiest part of having a public persona is being polite and nice online; it’s also the hardest. Get in the habit of taking a second to think before you post things online to the general population, is this something I want out there for the masses. When you get to the stage where you have guest blog posts, interviews, advertising copy listed on all the indexes, and people discover you and go to see who you are on the web, you’ll be glad you can present yourself to your new readers with an appearance of effortless grace.