One of the biggest challenges my fellow creatives have to face is self-promotion. A lot of people who excel at creating art, music, writing, performance and so forth, who can express themselves beautifully through their chosen media, freeze up like the proverbial deer when it comes to promoting what they do. Sometimes it’s an acute case of introversion, something I had to work hard to overcome. And it’s no secret that there’s a high correlation between creativity and low self-esteem and/or excessive self-criticism. Plus when it comes down to it, most of us would rather be making cool stuff than telling people about it; we like to show, not tell.
However, if your art is going to end up being anything more than a hobby–and it’s okay if it stays that way–you have to be good at getting the word out and talking up your creations. Or, to put it in more blatant terms: you have to be able to sell yourself. (Cue dramatic scary music.) This, of course, bothers a lot of people. We’re taught not to brag, and that anyone who stands out will end up getting knocked off their pedestal soon enough. And, sadly, many of us have had people in our lives telling us that we were worthless, or that our art wouldn’t go anywhere. Years of that can really do a number on your confidence.
Even among creatives, there’s this narrative that if you promote yourself and your work you’re narcissistic, selfish and only in it for the money. I tend to think that’s rather a sour grapes sort of attitude, but it’s also symptomatic of that ongoing tendency toward self-devaluation, in this case projected outwardly onto more active promoters.
But you know who else has to be self-centered and all about the money? Job candidates. Nobody complains about them talking about themselves, or negotiating a higher pay rate. Hell, those things are encouraged and praised! They’re signs of a real go-getter that you should totally hire for your company! It’s just another way in which self-employed people, especially creatives, are held to unfair standards in this society.
What if you thought of yourself as being a job candidate every time you promoted a new show you were doing, or a new piece of artwork, or story or book or article? You’re putting your best foot forward, fancy outfit and all. Okay, maybe in some cases the outfit is actually a book cover, but you get the idea: first impressions are important. And you have a limited amount of time in which to engage your potential employer, convince them of your skills and qualifications, and keep your fingers crossed that you get hired. “Being hired” may mean selling a concert ticket or a book or a print, but it still comes down to someone considering what you have to offer of sufficient value for them to compensate you for it.
Really, the main difference is in scale and timing. In a day job, you interview with one or more people at a single company, and if they accept, then you either sign on for a contracted time, or you stick around until either they get sick of you or you get sick of them. Either way, a successful interview means you get to stop interviewing for a while. With self-employment, every day has interviews, and that will always be a permanent part of my work. My day is full of them–with potential art customers, potential publishing allies, potential event venues, potential reviewers, even potential artistic patrons. On the bright side, I can get a lot of these interviews done in one fell swoop. My blog post earlier today about preorders being available for my newest book reached lots of blog subscribers, and will continue to catch the attention of people who come across my blog. The only further communication necessary is if someone either contacts me with specific questions, or make my day and buys the book.
And you know what? Interviews are just a normal part of my job–and yours, too. It doesn’t mean you’re a narcissist, even if you *gasp* enjoy the promotional end of things. Nor does it make you a money-grubbing sell-out; as detailed here, it’s totally okay to want to have a roof over your head so your art supplies and computer don’t get wet in the rain.
If you still have misgivings about that whole promotion thing, that’s okay. But you can at least lay to rest the worries that putting yourself out there somehow makes you less moral than someone with a day job.