Wednesday, May 6, 2015

OVERCOMING THE FEAR OF SELF-PROMOTION



Chris Knopf is a jack-of-all-trades. He studied creative writing at London University for a graduate degree arranged through Antioch College, returned to the States and, for the past 35 years, worked as an ad man with Mintz+Hoke which he and his wife have headed for many years. In 2005 we published his first mystery, The Last Refuge, which impressed me as much as the 24 thrillers I’d read by Elmore Leonard, my favorite writer in that genre. Chris’ mysteries impressed critics as well, with his being a finalist of several mystery awards, winning the Nero Award two years ago, and having multiple subright sales in 11 countries. His 13th   mystery, Cop Job (the sixth in his Sam Acquillo series) will appear in November. Last year he joined Judy and me as an equal co-partner. Working with Chris and sharing input is like working with a brother. He’s also a musician, masterful wood-worker and house designer, a seasoned sailor, shares our taste in books, knows lots of stuff and is the perfect person—16 younger than we are—to continue things here as time goes on. His blog entry comes at a perfect time, when print reviews are disappearing and much of the work of promotion falls to the authors themselves.



 Therapy for writers confronting the horrors of self-promotion
There’s a highly-successful negotiator named Herb Cohen who’s famous line is, “I care about you, but not that much.”  His point is that he’s great at negotiating for you, because his emotional connection only goes so far.  And thus, when negotiating for himself, he stinks. 

I feel that way about publicity.  I’m much better doing it for others than for myself.  I’m part of an ad agency.  Guess who stinks at advertising for themselves.  Ad agencies. 

So, I feel great sympathy when I hear authors lament the difficulty of self-promotion.  The technical aspects are challenging enough, but the emotional barriers often seem insurmountable.   Here’s how they might be overcome:

A friend of mine named Sean Cronin writes books and songs.  He’s also a behavioral psychologist who knows something about doing things that give one intense discomfort.  He loosely describes the approach as mythotherapy, by his definition modeling your behavior on someone you admire who does it very well.  In other words, become that person in your own mind, and act accordingly. 
   
You’re a writer.  You’re very good at making up believable characters.  When you’re writing them down, doubtless you become them in your own mind.  This is my prescription –   create the character of a crack publicist and self-promoter and become that person when called upon to perform the function.  There’s nothing disingenuous about this.  People do it all the time in their daily lives.  Who hasn’t become the effusively positive art critic when a child hands them a Crayola scrawl?  Actors do it for a living.  The best ones find elements of their creations within their own psyche.  They call upon a latent storehouse of observed behavior and transient emotions and bring them to the fore.

Thus, in many ways, your imagined press agent is truly you.  It’s just a version of you configured for a specific role.

This is how you can avoid committing the hazards you most fear about self-promotion, that you’ll come across as bombastic, spurious, or even worse, narcissistic.  These are important things to avoid, and we know people who’ve failed to do so.  But the problem isn’t in calling attention to themselves, it’s a failure in the relationships they should be nurturing with their audience.

And that’s the other key lesson in successful self-promotion.  As hackneyed as it sounds, it works best when you build healthy relationships – with your peers, people in the media, editors and agents, fans, librarians, bloggers, tweeters and friends on Facebook.  You do this the same way you build your personal relationships – by being the best version of yourself, with honesty, sincerity and good humor. 
    
Writing is hard.  Getting published is harder still.  You’ve had to overcome immense emotional impediments to get this far.  Learning to overcome the horrors of self-promotion is just another stage in the process. Start with deciding which part of the legitimate you would best be recruited into the mission.  Picture that person in your mind.

I’ve been picturing George Clooney.  Let’s just say it’s a work in progress. 


I look forward to hearing from you on this website. Chris can be reached at 860-305-3535. His personal website is www.chrisknopfmystery.com.  NEXT UP:  Stay tuned for another Inside the Publishing World blog from Irish Hsieh, a scout at the Aram Fox Agency. 

Marty

2 comments:

  1. Trouble is, when I try self promotion I feel like I'm painting on a clown face.

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  2. I do remember being an art critic for my kids. But my kids' work was fantastic (in my eyes at least). The trouble with imagining a promoter for myself is she looks at my work and shrugs her shoulders then turns away in search of a better client. But I do like this advice. Maybe I just need to work a bit harder on my imagination.

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