Some Anguished Thoughts on Self-Promotion

by Francisco Stork on June 22, 2014

How and when did it happen that the art of writing did not end when the novel was finished but continued on to the promotion of the work and its author? And if you believe that self-promotion is now a necessary part of the process of creation, does it have an effect on the writing? Does the quality of the writing diminish if when you start to write you see the process you are embarking on ending not in the completion of a work you love but in the work being loved? What I would like to do for a few minutes in this journal entry is explore that uncomfortable feeling that comes from the act of self- promotion. I am calling “self-promotion” all activities done by the author after the work is finished to sell the book and also to increase the author’s reputation and name recognition. I am lumping together a whole bunch of activities, I know. I’m calling self-promotion anything from attending a conference to talk about diversity, let’s say, because my book has Latino characters to notifying Facebook friends of a favorable review. I’m not saying this is good or bad, necessary or not, accepted and standard behavior or not. I want to talk about why it feels “strange” somehow – to me. There’s a part of me that honestly feels that my books are worth reading, that they have value, and promoting the book is an act of sharing not very different from wanting others to know about the great book I just read. And yet this knowledge does not take away that funny feeling, that funny smell of “ego” that comes with self-promotion. I only speak for myself here, but I think it is good for me to recognize the existence of this feeling and ask if it is trying to tell me something.

One of the things I’ve noticed in myself is that the motivation to write is different from the motivation to be read. The first is not unlike that anticipatory joy I had when, as a child, I could be alone and play with my plastic action figures. An hour or two lay ahead of me where I could imagine and pretend, unwatched and undisturbed, to my heart’s content. The desire to create is as simple and uncomplicated as child’s play. The wish to be read is more complicated. This latter wish can include the wish to be loved and accepted, the incredibly powerful need to be special in our own eyes and in others. And it can also be based on generosity, on the willingness to return goodness received and to share hard-earned craftsmanship and learning and wisdom.The problem (if I can use a word that is in itself problematic) is that the “impurity” (another very problematic word, I know) of the wish to be read affects (one can say “contaminates” to continue with the use of loaded words) the rather pure desire to create. The more I yield to, the more I actualize, the more I pay attention to wanting to be read, the less joy there seems to be in the act of writing. It is as if I were no longer alone as I played with my action figures but was in a room with adults who, although occupied with their own conversation, could hear and watch me play. My play is no longer uninhibited, sincere. It is tempered by the potential listeners nearby. And so it is with writing when the fan or the award or the future Facebook post makes its presence felt as I write.

I’ve come to understand a little better the nature of that uncomfortable feeling that comes with self-promotion. I don’t have a name for it, exactly. But I know that it is a loss of sorts. I can’t get away from feeling that every time I do it I am chipping away at something that needs to be solid, loosening boundaries of something that should be firm, damaging a fragile whole that needs to be protected for the sake of the next act of creation.

I’m not sure I have any great solutions. The fact that I am writing to be read makes self-promotion inevitable. I look for ways to protect the child at play as I talk about the author and his books. I try to keep in mind the self-less motives of wanting to be read: to touch, to awaken, to teach, to delight. The act of writing will always encompass the desire to be read. Even when writing in the journal no one will ever read, we are writing to someone, for someone. For me, it is not possible to give the deepest part of me, which is the best gift I can give any readers I may have, without in some way listening to and attending to the little voice of discomfort that comes with self-promotion.

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