I’m the daughter of a small business owner and a librarian; customer service and self-promotion were programmed into my very DNA. Small businesses survive off word-of-mouth news, and libraries are constantly in a position of having to justify their existence by promoting programs and services that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Growing up, I helped my parents with their careers without even knowing I was doing it: If someone asked me how my weekend was, I was full of stories about the program for kids and teens at the Shaker Heights Public library, where my mom worked. When someone asked me where I got my shoes, I told them my dad was the manager of a running store and had ordered these for me. These things were just facts to me, but looking back I realized that I was, quite literally, a poster child, broadcasting what my parents did for their careers, and in turn helping them succeed – and I did it all without even really thinking about it.
As a very young writer, self-promotion was something I never thought about, either. When I started writing, a part of me knew I was a long way away from getting published. But I was also 12, so I was naive and full of myself and told everyone who would listen that I was writing a book. And why not? It always impressed the adults. These were the days before social media, before I really knew what the words “marketing” and “promotion” meant – I was just talking to people about something I liked. It felt rewarding, so I kept doing it.
I stopped talking about my writing when I entered college. I had the misfortune of having professors who were far from encouraging of my writing and creative ideas. I was basically told, “you’re not special – everyone has a book in the drawer, and yours isn’t that good away.”
So, I shut up about it.
There were a few periods in that 4-year stretch where I would start writing again. I made a friend who was also a writer and we would talk about writing and our stories together. Social media was starting to grow, and I followed a lot of writer’s blogs, eagerly sucking up good writing advice from the online world. Maybe I would mention something about being a writer in whatever profile I created for a new site, but I would leave it at that. Writing has always been a part of me, and whether or not it was something I was actually pursuing at the time, I couldn’t define myself without throwing the term in there. Just like when I was a kid telling about my new shoes or cool library stuff: it wasn’t promotion, just a fact.
As my readers know, there was a two-year stint after college where I didn’t write at all unless it was for grad school. It wasn’t like I decided to stop, I just… did. I was beaten down from the treatment I received from academics who I thought were supposed to lift me up, and I was still recovering from the very abusive relationship I had been in in for most of my college days. I was working and trying to figure out how to make ends meet and overall was just preoccupied. My creativity got put on the back-burner, or it came out in different ways, usually through my job.
My mental health began to spiral about a year and a half into that stint. It was BAD. I was a mess. Luckily I had met and was living with the man who will soon be my husband, so I had help and love and support. But I was having anxiety attacks on a daily basis. I wasn’t sleeping. I would just burst into tears while sitting on the couch watching a movie because my thoughts had become so, so toxic I couldn’t stand to even be in my own head anymore.
So, to try and keep myself from going completely over the edge, I started listening to podcasts. And among the many podcasts I tried out were several focused on writing, including Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing. I listened to the show CONSTANTLY. To this day, I believe that podcast helped me get back to writing, which in turn improved my mental health almost overnight. I learned so much from her and her show, and I felt that little spark of creativity come to life within me once more.
In one of the many, many episodes of the podcast, Mur talked about self-promotion as a writer, and how important it is to continuously put yourself and your work out in the world, even if you don’t get noticed at first. From her, I learned the publishing industry left book marketing almost entirely up to the authors, and that young writers now had the benefit (heh) of social media as a way to make themselves known or seen my publishers, literary agents, and potential readers alike.
Her words made total sense to me – hadn’t I sort of been doing this from the start anyway? – and it was fairly easy for me to switch gears, turn from a passive social media user to an active one. Mur said Twitter was a great platform for writers to make themselves known and form connections, so I dug up my old Twitter account and joined the #WritingCommunity, where I have since slowly managed to accumulate a steady following. I began promoting myself as a disgruntled writer and found connections in other disgruntled writers, and am now a fairly active Twitter user with a growing following.
Now, here’s where things start to suck: because when you’re a writer, most things have a sucky part. Self-promotion? Joining Twitter? Using the right hashtags and saying the right things? Blogging? Guess what- you’re not the only one doing it. EVERYONE is doing it. There are a few who manage to say just the right thing at just the right time and get an enormous following overnight. But for the rest of us? It’s slow-going or completely stagnant.
Social media is LOUD. It’s BUSY. And things age so quickly it’s hard to keep track. Every day, there is more information being generated than what existed in all of human history before it. It’s easy to get drowned out, left out, forgotten.
I’ve been a regular social media user for a while now – almost a decade, if not more. I studied information science in the 21st century, and a lot of what future librarians learn about in grad school is how information in the digital age is created, consumed, and then essentially destroyed in a matter of minutes. As a student, I was forced to write post after post, paper after paper about how libraries can combat this, how to stand out from the noise and the crowd so that someone sees us and uses what we have to offer. And writers are being forced to find answers for those same questions. It’s all a trial and error process, really. But it’s an exhausting trial and error process, and it’s one that seems easier to just give up on than to keep going, especially when you’ve been at it for months and months and months and feel like you’ve got nothing to show for it.
Last week, I accepted an offer to self-publish on a small subscription-based site called Channillo. I was over the mood with excitement. I’d been tweeting and posting and blogging and, of course, writing my little heart out, just trying to get noticed. And finally, it seemed like I had. Even though Channillo is tiny, it was still a chance to get my work out there, to be read. So, I picked up a third WIP, one that had been floating around in the back of my mind for a few months now, and got to work. I put forth the first chapter of Heir and Rot and Ruin with excitement and confidence. It was good. My writing was good. The story is topical and within a popular genre. Sure I might not get a crazy following on the site, not at first if ever. But I figured, with the Twitter base I was building, I would get SOMETHING.
So, I published that first chapter.
I posted the link all over my Twitter page.
I put something on Facebook.
I included the cover I’d made and the link to the story’s page to my Instagram account.
I made it a Pin on Pinterest.
And got… nothing.
Maybe a like here and there, or a “congratulations” post from my well-meaning but obviously non-writer friend-and-family group on Facebook.
I had screamed into the void, and no one had heard me. And if they did, they didn’t care.
I was crushed. Writing about it now still hurts, and it probably will for a long time. This was essentially my first rejection letter, but instead of it just being from one agent or one publisher it was from all the world.
Now, I’m just trying to keep reminding myself that the Void is huge. It sucks you in and rarely spits you back out. Twitter feeds are a mess, Instagram is overwhelming, Pinterest is all paid advertising, and let’s face it – no one uses Facebook anymore. It might not be me. In fact, chances are very good that it’s not. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.
Two weeks later, the story has about 3 followers on Channillo. The second section is in the process of being outlined and should be up in early April. Twitter is still a crap shoot but hey, every time I log on, it seems like I have at least one new follower. But I know I’ve still got nothing compared to some people on there, as the site oh-so-kindly likes to remind me.
Being in charge of promoting your writing – something you are so, so close to – it a horrible, cruel joke. Here is something that is part of you, something you loved and nurtured and cared for. You throw it in the air so it could find its wings and be free, but before it can even spread them, it gets snatched up by a hawk, never to be seen again.
So yeah, it totally sucks. I wish I had more of a success story than this, but I don’t. This whole thing is a long, drawn out process, and most of us spend a lot of time in this space between just starting out and finding at least marginal success. Perhaps one day I’ll go back and write a second part to this post, sharing more knowledge and experience awarded to me by time. Perhaps I will have found the magic formula that prevents you from getting sucked into the endless Void, and I’ll be able to share it with all of you so that you could skip this soul-crushing step in the writing process. But right now, I don’t have it.
For all you who are floating around aimlessly in the Void, know that I know you are there, even if we cannot see each other. I am reaching out my hand for you to take, even if it’s only for the purpose of comfort and camaraderie. We all seem to be being pulled in one general direction, so perhaps we’ll start to see a light as we go along. But for now, stay strong, keep shouting, and keep writing.
© 2019, Rebecca K. Fisher