That Eeemy-Squeamy Feeling

If you’ve been around literary networking events at all, you’ve probably met those authors who feel it is their mission in life to get everyone to buy their book. Personally. Right here. Why wait? They have copies for sale. They can sign one for you. Personalize it. Give you a plastic bag, and a bookmark, and sign you up on their mailing list, for which you’ll receive an additional bag and bookmark once you’ve recommended their book to someone else or written a compelling blog post extolling its virtues. You know you want one. Come on. Please?

Arrrgh. The only thing worse than having to dodge a persistent self-promoter is dealing with the fear that you, too, come across as an aggressive, egotistical maniac whose book can’t possibly be any good if she’s having to push it so hard.

So, where is the line between assertiveness and aggression when it comes to promoting your own work? It’s so easy to see when other people cross it—why is it so difficult to see this line in relation to yourself?

The bad news is, you can never really see it. The line moves, depending on so many factors—the setting, what your intentions are, the mood of your conversation partner, their perception of you. (Notice—the list includes things that are wholly out of your control.) But do not lose faith, because here’s the good news: if you feel slightly embarrassed by self-promotion, you definitely have the self-regulatory instincts that keep you from coming across as a crazy. Whew.

Because we fear being perceived badly, most writers actually fall into the category of not being assertive enough when it comes to self-promotion. I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought to myself, “I really want to tell Person X about my book. Is that going to seem weird? Is it too forward of me?” Never mind how much we love our work, we don’t feel socially permitted to say so. (More on this later.) Thus, the anxiety of worrying about how we’ll come across collides with the anxiety of desperately wanting to talk about our work, which drives us toward a deeper existential anxiety, and the vicious cycle continues.

There’s no perfect formula. You have to feel it out. But I do have some thoughts on different levels of self-promotion, and where each might be appropriate. For example, you can be much more forward with an industry professional in a networking setting (like at a conference) than you can if you meet at a mutual friend’s wedding. Here is my short list of promotions styles, and how to use them.

The bottom line is this: in order to be an effective self-promoter, you have to get comfortable with confronting the eeemy-squeamy feeling of Am I making this too much about me?

And then you’ve gotta just go out and do it.

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