Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Channeling Your Inner Guerilla

Once upon a time there was an easy order to the business of writing: create, pitch, publish, promote. A writer’s creative energy went mostly into her work, and the rest followed from there.

That everything’s different is old news. Your work no longer stands only on its own two feet. It requires a platform, or so goes the twenty-first century wisdom. Agents and editors urge writers to promote early and often, even if they’re still working on their first viable project.

To get your work noticed in the topsy-turvy world of modern publishing requires fortitude, courage, and a broad-minded approach. “Schmoozing, pitching, that’s your job,” says screenwriter Scott Silver. Though he admits some people are good only at schmoozing, he also points out that it’s juvenile to think that if your work is good enough, you’ll never have to promote.  Nevertheless, he reiterates, the work matters most.  

“I’ve been a Luddite most of my life,” says author Lynn Schooler. “Then they overthrew the government in Twitter, and I realized I’d better start paying attention.” These days, Schooler notes, writers have to schmooze the world, not just a person.

Though he self-describes as a bit of a recluse and until recently had only dial-up internet service, Schooler has managed to amass over 3000 Facebook friends in less than two years by applying an old principle of marketing – offering a value-added service by regularly posting scenic Alaska photos from his professional portfolio.

Author Heather Lende contends that self-promotion boils down to doing the work and showing genuine interest in the people around you. In the beginning, you might find yourself working for free, the way Lende did. Though she initially volunteered to do radio shows in Haines, she looked up a few people at NPR and mailed tapes of her shows to them.

She got her first paying gig as a writer on Monitor Radio, thanks to her husband’s Aunt Dottie, who passed on a tape of one of her radio pieces to the executive producer of Monitor Radio, who went to her church. Once she started writing a column for the Anchorage Daily News, NPR picked up Lende’s work. Whenever she called back East, Lende says, “I always asked who I was speaking to.” Editors come and go, but receptionists stay.

Author Kim Heacox echoes Lende’s advice, recalling an early meeting with an editor at Discover magazine. When he asked how she’d gotten her job, he said, “she was like a flower I’d just watered.” The interview turned into a conversation. A few months later, assignments started flowing in. In the world of what Heacox calls “You Twit Face,” he reminds writers to promote the work of others in the writing community. His cautionary note: “Be careful you don’t turn into a cardboard version of your original self.”

Should you blog? Post about your project on Facebook? Make book trailers? Schedule tours? Talk up yourself and your project every chance you get? The answers boil down to time, energy, and balance in your writing life. You need a viable project, finely crafted, though as Andromeda Romano-Lax demonstrates, it can be promoted in its development stage. Pay attention to opportunities to connect, in person and electronically, with people who might have an interest in your work. Be genuine and sincere in working your connections. Be courteous but not shy. Avoid arrogance. Get used to rejection. Support and promote the work of others, not just your own.

Thanks to North WordsWriters Symposium for providing a forum for discussion of this topic, from which many of the quotes here were drawn.