This is a topic I’ve been meaning to post about since last May. (Not sure why it has taken so long for me to do so, but the most likely culprit is my general fecklessness when it comes to keeping the blog up to date. *cough*)
Self-promotion is an important part of an author’s job. (And it’s no secret this is the thing I dislike the most about writing.) Which isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, but just a reality of the publishing landscape. But I’ve come to realize that we writers aren’t the only folks who struggle with self-promotion.
Maybe it’s endemic to all creative endeavors.
When you strip out the highly successful folks, those statistical outliers who populate the high energy tail of the distribution—the J. K. Rowlings, the Bela Flecks, the John Jude Palencars of the world—you find the bulk of the population is just regular Joes trying to get by as best they can.
This was driven home for me last spring, late one night while making my way to Kansas City for the Conquest convention. I split a taxi fare with a musician I’d met on the plane, and we had a really fascinating (and, for me, eye-opening) conversation during the ride to the hotel. (I could tell he was a musician because he was traveling with a keyboard. I’m shrewd like that.)
His name was Steve Weingart. I thought at first that perhaps he was on his way to attend Conquest, since he was flying in the night before and headed to the same hotel. But no. In fact the hotel was just a stopover for Steve during months of touring. That led to a discussion of the similarities between how writers and musicians struggle to build their careers.
Of course, if I’d had the tiniest smidgen of a clue, I would have known immediately that Steve was being a little bit humble. Once I went online I found that Steve is an acclaimed musician who has played with just about everybody under the sun.
Even so, he spends months at a time on the road. In the US, in Europe, in Japan. Steve’s keyboard skills are in very high demand among touring musicians of certain styles. (What those in the writing world might call genres?) And Steve isn’t flying to these gigs in his own personal G5. Dude was sitting right next to me in the cattle coach class seats. And when he’s not flying all over the world, or sleeping in a van as his mates drive all night to the site of their next gig, he’s trying to spread the word about his work in other ways. Social networking, selling CDs on his website, doing whatever he can to keep his name and music in front of people.
(Again, in Steve’s case, his talent seems to speak quite well for him.)
I realized that this was really very similar to the situation in which many writers find themselves. I’m going to as many conventions as I can manage—all in the hope that I’ll make a good impression on a handful (at best) of folks. And when I’m not doing that I’m trying to write, trying to get more “product” out there, in the hopes it will find its way to interested readers. And I’ve even been posting to the blog with something approaching regularity the past couple of months. My absence from Facebook and Twitter is glaring and perhaps even self-destructive in this age of social networking. But I can only take so much online interaction every day. And I can’t get myself motivated to try to shout above the noise. I’d rather spend my energy on other endeavors.
But I’m lucky. I don’t have to spend months on the road at a time. I can sleep under my own roof most of the time. And I’m fortunate in that I don’t have to support myself through writing. (If I did, I would have starved to death a long time ago.)
Even so… It was an interesting taxi ride. Here was a guy, by all outside accounts a very well-regarded and hardworking musician, and a generally pretty successful one at that, talking about how much of his energy goes to the simple problem of trying to get his name known to more people. Steve is an artist who has devoted his life to mastering a completely different endeavor from writing fiction, and yet it turns out we’re struggling with the same thing.
Many writers are introverted. God knows I am. I do my best to be a personable and interesting guy. But it’s hard. It’s not something I do naturally. Or, frankly, very well. Promoting myself is a task that I dread and loathe. In a perfect world I’d be able to concentrate on stringing words together and the rest would take care of itself. But it’s not a perfect world.
I take comfort in knowing that it’s not just writers who shoulder this burden.