Saturday, August 23, 2014

Self-promotion is labor

Buried deep within Teddy Wayne's Styles piece on social-media self-promotion is an aside that should be at the front and center: "And, to be fair, most artists and small-business owners must act as their own publicists or risk obscurity and bankruptcy."

Yes. That. Work-related self-promotion online is self-oriented, yes, but not in the ego-stroking, 'likes'-feeding-narcissism sense. Or, to be more accurate, the ratio as Wayne presents it strikes me as off. Obviously it's nice if people like the work you're proud enough of to share on social media. And some of it, if the thing you've written is about a cause you care about, may be about promoting that cause. But if the thing you're sharing depends on an audience for you to go on doing it for pay, you're sharing because sharing is - at least implicitly - part of your job.

Put another way: If I share something I've written on social media, it's not to make someone I went to school with, haven't seen in 15 years, who unbeknownst to me is an aspiring writer for that very publication, feel bad about himself. Nor is it to really show whichever English teachers or high school classmates may have found me less than brilliant that, see look, someone found my thoughts worthy of publication! It's not, to be clear, that I lack any neuroses in those or related areas. It's just that all of that is secondary to my understanding of how this aspect of my career works.

The best I've come up with is to save the more shameless share-share-share for Twitter, which is something I use more professionally than personally, and to save Facebook shares for things I think friends and family might want to see. (Pinterest and Instagram are just about pretty pictures, and, fine, my not-so-secret aspiration for Bisou to become famous in Japan; to then be invited to Japan to go on some kind of grand poodle tour; and to become host of my own YouTube channel, Blogging With Dog.) But this is by no means an absolute or deeply-thought-through divide, and... and basically anything posted to Facebook - positive or negative - is going to annoy somebody (some find all posting annoying, but are nevertheless on Facebook because it's their address book, which... I can kind of understand), so at a certain point, you just have to not worry too much about it.

Oh, and I wrote another thing. Which you already knew if you are my friend or follow me on social media.


Moebius Stripper said...

I'm constantly surprised to learn about the extent to which self-promotion has become an arms race. If everyone cut the amount of self-promotion they did by 80%, I doubt the amount of attention anyone got would decrease that much (certainly not by 80%) but opting out will harm anyone who does it.

But it's gotten to the point that the quality of one's work is less important than one's ability to sell it. On the academic front, every now and again I get a work email advertising a grant-writing *conference*. Three days, $600. It would be better if readers of grant application were taught to identify applicants who are talented but not good at selling themselves, but it appears that that is not to be. (I have a friend, a non-native English speaker, who's a brilliant mathematician but a so-so writer. He's been passed over for mediocre academics who are better at selling themselves. It's a lousy state of affairs, not just for my friend but for academia.

I'm finding myself dealing with this now - I wrote a book and the next step is to find a publisher. It's absolutely daunting. According to everything I've read, I'm expected to spend as much time marketing my work as I did producing it. I don't need the money and hate the business side of this to the point that I've made a conscious decision to spend the time I'd have spent marketing just writing another book, but I realize that's not an option for everyone. And it's not a great one for me, really. At first I was surprised that professional marketers haven't stepped in to fill this niche (I'd gladly turn over a large-ish percentage of my sales to someone who took on all of the promotional work), but they have: problem is, to land one, you then have to spend half your time marketing yourself to *them*. And even if you've landed one, you're *still* competing for eyeballs, so you'd do best to promote yourself anyway. And around and around we go.

Anyway, sorry if I've veered off topic, but to bring it back to your post: yes, absolutely, self-promotion is labour, but I wish we could de-escalate it.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Agreed that it would be nice if it were somehow outsourced. The problem is, there's not enough money in... well, in writing and the arts, at least, for that to work out. To give an extreme but commonplace example: A freelancer making $100 for an article isn't likely to pay some other entity to promote said article. Unless your time is officially worth a ton, it's easier just to retweet the publication's tweet yourself.

The problem I see with de-escalation, then, is that the underdogs in whichever arena are the people without publicists (and, I suspect, on average... women). The de-escalation would almost have to start with publicists for there to be any improvement. But the people who feel queasy about self-promotion tend to be the very same people who could stand to be more self-promotional.