What I realized a little while ago, with some dismay, was that if you're not going to work for someone else and sell whatever they're selling (a product, a service, a program), then you're going to have to sell yourself. I don't mean prostitution obviously and I don't even mean sell out, as in somehow lose credibility or legitimacy or integrity, I don't mean necessarily give up what mattered to you in order to make a name for yourself and/or a profit. But I do mean sell, promote, "brand" yourself to some degree, attract people to your shows or to your gallery openings or your massage table or to the bookstore to buy your book or sign up for your course or follow your twitter feed. You can work for a publisher and help sell books, or a government agency or nonprofit and help sell a program by writing grants. And that all seems somehow okay, and not obnoxious. At a publishing house, a content editor works on the text and jacket while the acquisitions editor has to pitch her books to the sales team, and both editors do less selling than members of the sales and marketing team, generally. And other jobs involve hardly any selling per se—teaching high school, serving coffee. The selling is mainly done by other people. But it's there. Someone is selling in order to uphold the structure that makes your job available, whether it's the principal, the coffee shop owner, or senator who keeps your programs funded. When you don't have someone else holding up that structure, you have to hold it up yourself. But there is something somehow dirtier about promoting yourself than about selling a product, even one we can all agree nobody needs, like knee-pads for toddlers. This presents a dilemma. 


  1. Yeah...it's definitely a self-promotional time--although maybe it was always that way. Reading your post, I was trying to think of exceptions...but even self-published authors on the Kindle (which seems pretty pure) have to get people to read it. I guess they don't have to try necessarily...but if they want to make money, they do. I guess it's just part of the capitalist structure?

  2. Oh gosh I feel like self-published authors have to go into overdrive to promote themselves generally. I think you're right...after I sent that post out I kept thinking about Karl Marx. I suppose it's naive to think of anything existing apart from the economic structure we're all a part of. What's tricky is the unseemliness of self-promotion. So often, it seems to me, those who enter into a field where they end up needing to self-promote are the ones least able to perform the circus act required to do so effectively.

  3. That last sentence is gold. "So often, it seems to me, those who enter into a field where they end up needing to self-promote are the ones least able to perform the circus act required to do so effectively." Lord, if that isn't me. The evolution of the web and social media have created one giant marketplace; brand yourself or risk being unknown (and possibly broke). By my nature, I'm just not a self-promoter. I find the act of selling, pitching, etc utterly exhausting. In fact, I read an article on this topic last night by a publishing-marketing guru and immediately felt tired. However, I think there's another angle. There's sales/marketing/branding, the jargon for which is so easily detectable even when artfully done, and then there's genuine engagement. What's amazing is the way sales people are upping their game by using jargon that stretches itself toward the personal and seemingly genuine. I have an acquaintance who sells leggings and dresses at little parties and online. (The 80s kid in me will forever think of Mary Kay and Avon when it comes to this stuff.) It's a great way for moms to make a buck from home, and social media is a ready platform for sales. This acquaintance's recent social media promo, a call-out to recruit new sales people, really struck me. It began with a very personal story, a sort of mini-memoir about an elective surgery, then went on to mention her kids and husband, then her higher calling to sell this brand. She had recently been to the brand convention in NYC, where they'd clearly imparted some clever tricks and very well-written scripts. The promo had a decent enough hook and was just the right word count--I read through the whole thing. And then I felt myself internally recoil. Am I being judgmental? Is using your personal story to sell leggings any different than using your personal story to sell a memoir or art? Recently I've become more engaged on Twitter, where the content is higher-caliber and not dictated by a manipulative algorithm and the self-promotion is more straightforward. I retweet articles I feel genuinely passionate about. I'm shy about tweeting because I feel like I don't really have the hang of it. And because it's an opportunity to brand myself, I feel self-conscious. I don't know that I'll ever develop the energy to be a self-promoter. For now, I aim to remain engaged and forge genuine connections.


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