Most of you know I'm an inveterate self-promoter. A few less of you know that my wacky, windy career path included a pretty long stint in marketing and public relations. And, of course, my dad was an ad man, so I've been sort of breathing this how-to-make-people-want-to-want-what-they-don't-even-need thing most of my life.

The thing about marketing yourself online is that, if you Make Stuff, Write Things or need to get people to Your Shows, it's essential, tricky, and for a lot of people, not even remotely fucking intuitive.

So here, have a primer on Promoting Yourself and that Stuff You Do without Totally Pissing Off Your Friends or Being a Complete Asshole:

!. Wherever your promotion is happening we need to know the basics. What you do, why it's awesome and where we can get some. Please, for the love of god, be specific. I will never, ever forget this press release Akamai once sent me in one of my other professional lives. It lead with "Akamai is supersmart!"

BUT WHAT THE HELL IS AKAMAI AND WHAT IS IT SUPERSMART WITH? I've spent ten years mocking that press release (and yes, I know what Akamai does), and I don't intend to stop any time soon.

2. Similarly, buzz words don't mean anything. They make you sound like everyone else in your niche and they annoy people who a) work in that niche, b) deal with that niche, c) are looking for some point of differentiation. You do understand how essentially meaningless "a steampunk-inflected urban fantasy" or "a sexy, wickedly funny burlesque troupe" have become as phrases, right? Your audience needs more than that. Oh please. Oh please, oh please, oh please.

3. If you're reading this, most of you do your promotion via some combination of LJ, Twitter and Facebook, combined with efforts in the off-line world. This means that you're doing the bulk of your marketing to other individuals -- not journalists, media outlets or corporations -- and that means everything you say online is, or at least can be part of your marketing strategy.

This is where it becomes all about promoting yourself as a way to promote the Stuff You Do. And this, usually, is where people fuck stuff up.

4. There is no one true way to get this right. But there are things that are going to be more or less comfortable for you and more or less comfortable for the audience you are trying to cultivate. Make sure you read other people's blogs and twitters and Facebooks who are also promoting stuff and see how you react to what they are doing.

5. Recognize now that you'll never make everyone happy. Some people will hate you because they don't like certain habits of your typed speech, or because you're successful, or because you want to be successful, or because you post too much or too little or don't love the same things they do the same way or don't pay enough attention to them or WHATEVER. You can't please everyone, and listening to criticism is great for refining your strategy, but being reactive to it isn't -- if you're constantly reacting as opposed to listening, internalizing, making a decision and possibly adjusting course -- your personality gets obliterated by a serious of panicked choices. We no longer know who you are, what you do and why we care.

6. Please, please, please talk about stuff other than what you're promoting. This suggested other stuff includes talking about how you make that stuff, talking about the process of promoting the stuff, talking about other stuff you like, talking about ideas that interest you, trips you've taken, your personal life, etc. (More on how to integrate the personal as part of your marketing in a bit). Personally when all I hear on your blog or Twitter feed is "buy this book!" or even "I'm working on this thing" and "buy this thing!" I get bored, fast.

7. Provide a value add. This isn't just a free sample of whatever you're hawking, this is knowing that if people visit your blog or your website they'll get informed about something in some way they couldn't anywhere else. [livejournal.com profile] _tonylee_, for example, talks a lot about how to break into comics, which means we learn both about what he's doing, but how to do something ourselves. Paul Cornell is very reliable with con reports on his blog, providing us with a personal lens we can't get anywhere else. [livejournal.com profile] ellen_kushner brings home how much juggling is involved in writing; you really want this job? It may just look like that.

In the closer-to-home department, [livejournal.com profile] reannon gives us Morning Random, I do Sundries, and [livejournal.com profile] popfiend does Drama Free Thursday. [livejournal.com profile] reannon's a writer, so having a bigger audience is immediately valuable to her. Me, well -- Lots of Stuff -- and that audience thing has value here too. [livejournal.com profile] popfiend likes talking to people and making life better, but could he parlay that talking and that audience into something in the future? Certainly it's a possibility.

But what's important is that we're all talking about something that's more than what we do, yet relevant to it. And we all use formats for our posts that convey information above and beyond the content contained within those posts.

8. Be strategic when positioning yourself as an expert, a statement which I realize is amusing thanks to the context of this post. Look, I'm not saying you're not an expert or shouldn't position yourself as one, but you look like an asshole if you're acting like you're the only person to have ever self-published books that are actually good; struggled in Hollywood; started an Etsy business; been in a position to review manuscripts; or auditioned for an agent, ad infinitum. Make sure you differentiate between conventional industry wisdom about which you are in the know, your own unique perspective and your personal experience. They're three different things, that, combined, make you the best person for some people to listen to in addition to the other people they listen to. Don't try to shut out the other experts. In fact, seek them out, make friends, share community.

9. Know that people love to be peeping toms. Seriously, people love backstage stories. Now maybe I feel so strongly about this because I live in New York where the favorite past-time is looking into people's windows to see all the apartments we can't afford, but the way to win fans and influence people is to make people care about your personal life. The nature and type of this exposure is going to vary with who you are.

But, to follow on my examples from earlier -- if you're on Twitter, you know Tony is planning his wedding. If you read Paul's blog, you know he's deeply moved by his political convictions -- he won't speak of them often, but when he does, it's because he cares, not because he's gotten caught up in the dogfight. If you follow Ellen's LJ, you know she's currently traveling in Finland, but if you really want the travelogue you should probably follow her partner (an awesome author in her own right) [livejournal.com profile] deliasherman's blog instead. Meanwhile, [livejournal.com profile] reannon let's us know a lot about the reality of the writing that pays the bills and balancing it with the writing we want to pay the bills; [livejournal.com profile] popfiend talks about the inspiration to function better that his wife provides him; and you lot all know that without Patty I both wouldn't know what day it is and yet would feel compelled to schedule everything in concrete six months in advance. I also wouldn't have a pick-axe under my sink. Come on, you love that detail! It's pure gold.

Anyway, these are all personal details which, by themselves, aren't necessarily that interesting, but when combined with the how we do what we do, and the why we do what we do provide a three-dimensional picture that's a lot more appealing than "Akamai is supersmart!"

Such personal details also give people a reason to regularly visit your online outpost. I've probably got at least another week before I can give you my Dragon*Con schedule. I've an exciting bit of publishing news I won't be able to talk about until August. The timescales related to my academic work are nearly geologic, and I can tell you about auditions, but do you really care unless I've landed the role? The personal is the thread through the process, and gives you something to tune in for in addition to the official news about the stuff I do.

10. The platform you love is not the platform everyone else loves. Which is to say, LJ is not for everyone. Nor if Facebook; I loathe Facebook and I'm bad at it because I just don't get it. But I maintain an account there and at least try to put my official news and occasional personal updates there to reach an audience I might not otherwise. Twitter drives a lot of people mad, and I don't use it as well as I could, but being there? That's never been a question, and balancing the personal with the promotional there is just as critical as anywhere else, and possibly harder. (You want to see someone who's really good at it? Check out @stenoknight who posts mostly about her work, but makes it clear how it threads through her life).

11. Be attentive to matters of hierarchy. Without a doubt this is a place where a lot of people, including me, get tripped up. It's nice to have fans or to joke about one's minions, but class issues are Really Sensitive Stuff in the US, the UK and around the world. Whatever choices you make in this regard you will piss someone off, so please make your choices with your eyes open and try to remember a writer is nothing without readers, a performer is nothing without an audience and in the world of social media the people who are attentive to what you do are your marketing team. Treat them with respect. In a lot of ways, they are way more important than you.

12. For that matter, foster conversation, also known as "It's not all about you." There are two reasons for this - the first is people want to feel special. Making people feel special is about making them a part of what you do. Second, you don't have time to answer every single comment to every single thing you say individually. If you can foster an environment on your blog or other online presence that gets people who are interested in what you do talking to each other you're creating loyalty, generating page views, making people feel special, freeing up your own time to do other stuff, and, most importantly, learning from your audience.

13. Be committed. No one likes people who flounce, and no one gets motivated to watch a TV show when they can't tell from episode to episode when the next installment will be on. Look, you don't have to post every Thursday at 9am, but making sure you pop up at some sort of relevant interval is important.

14. Have a sense of humor, and I say that as someone who's really serious. But having a small business, attending cons, being a writer, working as a performer, doing public appearances, trying to sell stuff are all activities that involve a lot of weird indignities. Use this stuff. Don't try to be cooler than you are. John Barrowman and his somewhat bizarre Twitter presence sure doesn't try, and that's why it works; it's not just because Barrowman's a big star; it's because it's human, sometimes embarrassingly so. Own your awkwardness!

15. Do good works. Getting involved with a charity auction, fundraising through a blogathon, letting people know what causes you support are all ways to further help those causes and promote yourself. Goes without saying that this is a time where the more you make it Not About You the better this plan works, right? (Although personal stories about why you're committed to a cause are good and speak to number 9 and can help elicit more attention for the cause in question).

16. Recognize that you are aspirational. Whatever it is you are promoting, just by virtue of the fact that you are promoting you are doing something someone else wants to do. This means that you are, among other things, a certain sort of role model. It's important that you balance the cool stuff you get to do because you are successful at X Thing with crappy stuff you have to deal with because you are successful at X Thing. If I only talked about being a guest at Dragon*Con or Patty and I going on a cruise, I'd be more insufferable than I am. If I only talked about my whining about scheduling, I would also be more insufferable than I am. Show the good stuff because it inspires and the bad stuff because it's makes it easier for people to relate to you -- don't fucking air dirty laundry about your business dealings. There's a difference between public banter, private gossip, talking out of school and getting the three confused is a bad plan.

17. Seriously, on that note, I won't tell you not to gossip because you will. I do. Gossip is one of the currencies of the world. You should gossip. But it's all about a time and place for everything, not creating drama and being able to own your shit when you fuck up and amends must be made.

18. And remember if you are name, anywhere, in any way, no matter how small the community, if you do dumbass shit in public, it will get out, and the reports of whatever it is you did will be an exaggerated version of whatever did actually happen. Life is a game of telephone; play judiciously. And be willing to ignore what doesn't matter, can't be changed, or is an untruth it's not actually useful to refute. There's rarely as much benefit as you think to getting the last word in.

19. Finally, know that lists are crap. They can never address every situation or personality, and in the digital age they become obsolete fast. The most important thing you can do in your self-promotion on-line is add at least ten more things to this list for yourself.

May 2016

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