(Me, reading at a bookstore in San Diego. Doing public events used to be a real problem for me because I’m a natural introvert. Photo by Keyan Bowes.)
This week, we’ll focus on self-discovery as a vital component of a writer’s career and your Public Booklife. Wednesday, I’ll discuss strategies for improvement as a way to minimize the kinds of stress that actually take away from creativity in your Private Booklife.
It’s certainly possible that in the distant past you did not need to promote your work. It’s possible that in the past all writers needed to do is turn in the manuscript and let the reviews, the interviews, and the incoming royalty checks wash over them. But today, unless you’re Salman Rushdie, Stephen King, or Margaret Atwood, you do need to be able to promote your work. Even if you have a contract with a major publishing house, you will need to coordinate some efforts with that publisher’s publicity department. You will need to become accustomed to the uncomfortable feeling that you are somehow being less than true to your core creativity while out hawking your wares.
For this reason, you need to find the level and the type of engagement that makes sense for you and your life. You need to be able to reflect your true personality, you need to find strategies that suit what you’re “selling,” and you need to find ways to separate your writing from your promotional efforts.
Not every writer is good at everything. You might be shy. You might be bad over the telephone. You might be unable to type a concise email. However, before you rule out certain approaches to promotion you’re going to have to really analyze your core strengths and weaknesses, not just rely on random self-perception. You might be shocked or delighted at what you find out as a result.
For example, I’m assuming you’re good at writing—but what kind of writing? Writing nonfiction is different from writing fiction. Writing advertising or PR copy for your own work is different than writing general nonfiction. You might find out that what you think is a strength is actually a weakness. In writing about your own work, you might tend to be more modest or, conversely, too bombastic. You might make assumptions and leave out information because you already know it. In short, it can be as hard to write about yourself as it is to keep putting yourself out there for publicity purposes.
An important component of your analysis will be getting honest feedback from friends and colleagues, as well as giving yourself the distance to make your self-analysis valuable. For example, if you think you’re bad over the phone, tape a conversation and play it back to not only make sure you’re right but to identify exactly why you’re bad at phone calls. This process may be challenging or unsettling to you. If so, good! It’s supposed to be uncomfortable, but better for you to feel foolish or exposed in your own home than to look foolish or be exposed in public.
After you’ve completed this analysis you’ll still want to concentrate on what feels comfortable to you and doesn’t stress you out too much…but you’ll also want to confront one or two things that do make you uncomfortable so you can grow and change. If you can compartmentalize the unfamiliar in this way, it should also reduce the “sweat factor,” as I call it. Simply put, other people will sense when you’re uncomfortable, when you’re nervous, when you don’t really have confidence in what you’re doing. If they sense that, then they’re going to associate the lack of confidence with your book as well as you.
The good news is that you can find other people to do those things that make you really uncomfortable. If following a traditional publishing route, you have access to a publicist at your publisher, and you probably also have friends with different skill sets willing to help out. And, if you have enough money, you can always hire someone.
In extreme cases, you may just have to avoid certain situations, the key being to not feel guilty about it. I have one colleague who used to force herself to go to conventions and meet people because she felt she had to for her career. But, as she herself admits, this did her
more harm than good because she gave off an aura not just of shyness but of extreme, intense, debilitating nervousness. She doesn’t do many conventions any more. That decision has helped her personally and with her career.
>>Test this section of Booklife: Do you think there are skills so essential for a writing career that every writer must try to master them?