Last week, I posted about how this year I was going to get back to basics and write more, market/promote less. Part of that resolution stems from frustration at having so little time to write anymore (and how pointless constant marketing seems in the grand scheme of things), and some of it stems from a simple desire to stop talking about myself so much.
As a card-carrying introvert, there is nothing more abhorrent to me than talking about myself. I don’t even like to answer the question, “So, what do you do?” Talking about myself may be part and parcel of the whole author gig, but I just cannot reconcile myself to it (at least not as much as other authors seem to) because it seems so self-absorbed.
Additionally, it seems silly in the grand scheme of things. I mean, really: With everything that’s wrong in the world, does anyone really want to hear about me or my book? Does it change anything for the better for me to promote all the time? No, it does not. (Heck, it hasn’t even changed my bottom line all that much, much less the world.)
Maybe I’m the only author in the world who feels this disconnect. Maybe I’m nuts and everyone feels totally comfortable with the blah, blah, blah and the marketing spam and they feel like it’s somehow serving the greater good. Maybe no one else ever asks themselves, “Why am I doing this and what the hell is the point?” In that case, please disregard me. But if you share my unease with the whole concept of constantly shilling your work as you build your platform and seek to increase “engagement,” read on.
The problem is that I want to do more. If I have this platform of “published author” I want to do more with it than chase my own tail. I want to help others. I want to feel like somehow I made a difference in this world when I leave it. Noble aspirations, to be sure, and ones that aren’t going to be fulfilled by posting memes, meaningless tweets, and blathering on and on about my books.
Sure, some of that is fine. Sometimes you have to just be silly or random. And sometimes you have to post things about your books. But not every post and conversation has to be some considered ROI action where you think, “By posting this, am I going to increase my engagement just a little more?” (Engagement: Now there’s a word I’m growing very tired of. It’s not enough for a reader to simply read your book. No, they have to also want to engage with you on social media or sign up for your newsletters. I’m not into making my readers feel like cattle at the marketing trough. But that’s a post for another day.)
And not everything has to be (or, I would argue, should be) about your books. You are a well rounded person, I hope, who has other activities, dreams, and goals beyond your book. Why should those things be subsumed under a tsunami of “Buy my book” posts, or posts designed to trick people into visiting your site or book page on Amazon?
Exactly. They shouldn’t.
So what do you do when you’re utterly sick of yourself? What do you do when you feel like nothing you’re doing is helping yourself or others? Here are some thoughts.
Get out there and help others. I’m beginning to teach creative writing to disadvantaged kids and adults. I’m also looking into working on literacy programs and for library advocacy groups. If you don’t want to do something related to writing or reading, go build houses, work in a food bank, or volunteer with animals. Helping others is not only rewarding, it reminds you how little you and your book matter in the grand scheme of things. As a writer, it’s easy to get sucked into thinking that your book and writing career is all that matters, but it simply isn’t. A little bit of humble pie isn’t a bad thing. Neither is broadening your horizons.
Talk about others
If you don’t want to talk about yourself, use your platform to help some other writers or bookish people. Talk about books you’ve loved, writers you’ve met, conventions you’ve gone to, etc. Single out your favorite librarian for an interview. Interview other authors or let them guest post on your blog (about something other than their books, since you’re trying to cut down on the promotional span in the world). Heck, interview or shout out people who have nothing to do with writing but who have something to do with your other interests. It doesn’t have to be about you all the time; make it about others now and then.
Just don’t be one of those people who makes their social media feed a constant string of retweets/reposts of other people’s promotional spam. These are not interesting accounts to follow and no one cares that you’ve mastered the retweet/repost function. A little of that is okay when it’s something you really feel strongly about. However, you can help others and still be original and interesting.
Write about your other interests
I just do not believe that a writer’s blog or social media has to be all about writing and nothing else. Yes, it has to be interesting so blogging about what you had for breakfast won’t help. But I bet that you have lots of interesting things going on in your life. Maybe you have a cool day job, or a hobby that you’d like to share. Maybe you’d like to advocate for a cause you care deeply about. Maybe you can tell a story about something that happened to you and use it to help or teach others. Show the world your other interests and use those to teach, help, or bond with others.
Writing more books is the best thing you can do to increase your visibility and “engagement.” But you can’t do that if you’re always talking about yourself. Forget the shilling and write. Writing is the only thing you can control and it’s the thing you’re best at. Leverage that by producing more and shilling less.
There’s nothing wrong with simply shutting up sometimes. It’s okay to drop out of social media for a while, or to stop blogging for a few weeks. Your true fans won’t forget you and those who didn’t care won’t miss you. Take a break, go on vacation, store up some interesting experiences to share, or refill your idea bank so you can write about something other than your books.
As an author (or even someone who’s simply good with words), you have a chance to do some fantastic things. But you have to lift your head up from the constant promotion to accomplish them. Use your time and platform for things that matter and entertain, not for things that “move your metrics,” increase your ROI, or increase your engagement. Those things will either take care of themselves or they won’t. Either way, you’ll feel better about yourself if you work to be more than a shill.