Actually, after this brush with self-promotion I wanted to stab myself – in the eyes, so that I would never have to look at myself again.
It’s taken me a few days to build up the courage to write this blog-post. I’m still not entirely sure why I want to publicly embarrass myself. Mind you, let’s face it, there isn’t much public about blogging is there, unless you’re ‘someone’? But there was a lesson in my experience and I need to record it so that I might be able to reflect on it in order to remind myself of what I reduced myself to, so that it may never ever happen again. Also I made a promise to myself when I began blogging about trying to make it as an author that it would be a warts-an-all commitment.
Last week my son came to visit from the UK. One day we had a trip out to the cluster of little islands that sit just off the coast. Just him and me. It was a lovely day, weather-wise and for us two together. Until the trip home.
The ferry on the way back was quite empty. We are outdoor types so we put on out jackets and sat in the sun on the top exposed deck. There was one other person up there. She was a woman and she was reading something on a Kindle. Have you worked it out yet?
Kindles are quite rare where I currently live and so I took a pretty confident guess that she would be a native English speaker. I surprised her, I think, by asking her. (Maybe I could do this better through dialogue and into the bargain I can showcase my writing skills.)
‘Excuse me,’ I said, smiling disarmingly (with five days growth and my conjunctivitis flaring up again, she looked more alarmed than disarmed at being approached by a complete stranger on a deserted ferry deck; someone who could have been asking for spare change for another can of Special Brew). ‘Do you speak English?’
She looked a little afraid of me. ‘Yes.’
‘Good. I see that you’re reading on a Kindle.’
‘Yes. I am.’
‘What do you like to read on it?’ What a stupid question that felt like.
I noticed her eyes flit towards the stairs. ‘I..er..books really.’
‘Do you read crime fiction?’
‘Would you like to read my books? They’re free on Smashwords. Have you heard of Smashwords?’
She suddenly looked like she might scream or burst into tears. Her hand strayed towards her bag. There might have been a rape alarm in there. Or Mace.
‘Smashwords,’ I repeated idiotically.
She just shook her head quickly. ‘You’re a writer?’ she said. Maybe she was trying to buy some time until help arrived.
‘Yes. You can download my books for free from Smashwords. Shall I tell you my name, so that you can download my books and read them?’
She nodded to placate me. I told her my name. I repeated my surname. She didn’t write it down. I told her that my books were British police procedurals. She smiled tightly and tried to look enthusiastic but I could see in her rabbit-scared eyes that she had no interest in anything other than getting away from me and into a crowd.
I began to feel quite stupid. I waved at her, even though she was only sitting three feet away from me. I turned back to my son to resume out conversation. He had a face like thunder.
‘You idiot,’ he said.
‘How desperate do you think that looked? How retarded and pathetic?’
I turned to look at her for support, but she’d gone. I caught a glimpse of someone hurrying down the staircase at the far end of the deck.
Needless to say our day was spoiled. Walking home from the ferry port I had ample time – my son was no longer talking to me – to reflect on the exchange and the nature of what had induced me (reduced me) to plumb the depths of cringing self-promotion as I had done. It was an idiotic impulse. I might have been suffering from low blood sugar and not thinking entirely straight, or in my best interests. I would not do it again and I still reflect on the episode with a horrified sense of mystification.
I’m now done with self-promotion. I’m psychologically scarred. And it’s all my own fault. If people discover me then fine, if they don’t then I must suffer death in obscurity. I will deserve it for that.
What I hope above everything else is that she forgot my name as soon as she was off the boat. I can’t bear the thought that she is using me as a story to make her friends laugh, or get me on a register. The bad type.
Self-promotion is a double-edged sword. Done at the right place and the right time to the right people, it works wonders. On the other hand, replace the word “right” with “wrong” and you get what you just experienced.
BUT i wouldn’t swear off self-promotion just yet.
There were so many factors at play with your experience. I can be pretty outgoing but once I’m lost in a book, or my Kindle or iPad, reading some story I’ve especially set aside to read by myself (meaning no children tugging at my shirt for attention, no husband asking me what’s for dinner, students complaining about reading homework of one page, or anyone remotely related to me with similar intentions), woe to any stranger daring to interfere that moment of personal retreat.
Personally, though I may have been irked by the intrusion of some random stranger while I was basking in my mind palace, I’d most likely remember the name given to me and google it. She was a reader and every reader knows that without us, writers, those pages – paper, wood, or digital – would be devoid of words.
It takes guts to do any type of self-promotion and sometimes we just have to own it and learn how to use it. You did well.
Thanks for the comment and your understanding words. You are entirely right. Part of me understands that.
I very much got the feeling that I had interrupted someone who had put aside some special time to enjoy a book and I wish I’d realised that sooner and just asked her the time, or something equally forgettable. Regrets. Regrets. In view of what you say – that she probably would remember my name (under normal circumstances) – I must hope that something even more noteworthy happened to her on the way back to her hotel.
I completely understand what you are saying here. I’m with you – the whole self-promotion thing – well – as some of my younger characters say – it blows chunks! I tried a couple of lame attempts when we were vacationing – I’m a writer, I do a blog – want to check it out? OMG – pathetic. I recently got on Twitter and twenty million tweets a day by people saying buy my book, buy my book aren’t much better. When I applied for grad school the competition was really fierce and I said to myself – fine – if they want me OK, if they don’t – screw them. (I got in and it gave me this Frank Sinatra I’ll do it my way thing) That is just the way I am feeling about self-promotion – my book will be out in March – people can get it and read it or not. I just can’t be bothered with all this toot your own horn crap. There’s my rant. I guess your story touched a nerve. On another topic – can we email about Joint Enterprise sometime?
Hope you are well. Thanks for the comment, as always. I feel just like you say about self-promotion. Maybe, given time I’ll have to try to get involved but really – I just want to write. Tooting your own horn just about sums it up and it’s not naturally me. Happy to talk about JE, but a little seed of dread took root in my stomach at the mention. It makes me think that there could be something horribly wrong that I missed and you’ve spotted. Gulp! The music must always be faced sooner or later. Best wishes.
I wrote my comments up on your comment page for Romney and Marsh on your blog.
I actually think you were brave. Think of it this way – what you are doing is important to you so you put yourself outside your comfort zone to try to drive it forward and make progress. Yes it didn’t work out & maybe that’s not the way you want to do it again. But you went for it. That’s brave. You should not be cringing about it – you should be celebrating your crazy impetuous drive to succeed!! 🙂 Of course you’ve also possibly traumatised the poor woman…but hey ho – success doesn’t come without a price 😉
I wish I’d been drunk. Then I might have had an excuse. Seriously, you are absolutely right with positive your comments. Thank you for them. I will take heart and regroup. And a happy thought – if she was traumatised, maybe she lost her mind and everything in it including my name.
My gut reaction is “business cards”. Although part of me can’t believe I’m even suggesting it. Business cards are basically a totem for the whole office lifestyle that I became self-employed to avoid! But bear with me.
Like you and everyone who’s commented, I find self-promotion horrific. Writing is for when I don’t want to talk to strangers, that’s the point! It’s a hobby for introverts. And now we have to actively go out and harrass people into liking us? Bleugh and double bleugh.
But unfortunately we can’t control the marketplace. Self-promotion and marketing are the only way to succeed at the moment. So the trick is to make it as painless as possible.
In the situation you described, having a little card with your name, website and book series/title on it seems to solve lots of problems:
It immediately shows you aren’t just making things up (being approached by strange men with strange stories is scary. I don’t know where this story took place, but I’m also insanely worried that people are going to steal my gadget when I travel)
It means you don’t have to loom over her repeating your details and wondering why she’s not writing it down.
It allows you to get out quickly and gracefully if she’s not interested, but might provoke a conversation if she is.
If she is interested, she’ll have the details for when she inevitably forgets about it. If this is holiday destination then it’s likely she’ll be bombarded with far more interesting sights and sounds than an author and his book. Even with the best of intentions she might not have remembered about it six hours later.
It also gives her the chance to think about you when she’s not so surprised. Sure, the card might go into the ocean, but it’s just as likely to go into her handbag for politeness sake, only to be rediscovered at a more opportune moment.
I can’t see a downside, other than cost. In fact thank you for sharing this story – I hadn’t considered getting cards until now, but maybe it’s not such a horrendous idea.
And Michelle S is right: you did a brave thing! I think maybe it would have been better to wait and see if she took a pause from her reading. If nothing else, reading is a fairly clear sign that someone wants some alone time. Maybe she just thought it was a little rude. But I shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. Next time you’ll be prepared!
Well, already I like you. Would you like to read my book? That’s a joke by the way. Don’t go.
Business cards are something that I have thought about – this is one reason that I think we could get along. I think that regardless of their ubiquity they could really have a positive affect on sales. They are cheap and small, can be colourful and engaging and there is something about their conciseness and petiteness that I believe people generally find appealing. You could buy a thousand for not too much and just leave them everywhere – trains, cafes, pubs – I’m talking on surfaces not on noticeboards. If I see a business card on a notice board I ignore it. If I see one ‘discarded’ on a table I usually steal it because I think someone left it there by accident. It helps if it’s shiny and pretty.
Tom Bale (a real author) said on his blog that he had a stack of bookmarks made and randomly handed them out. He even said that he went knocking on doors of strangers. How desperate must he have been? And he’s published! But I think he’d have been better off with business cards and if he had to degrade himself with cold-calls just slip them through the letter box and beat a hasty retreat. Have some pride.
You made me laugh – that’s the best thing anyone can do.
I’m still waking in the night drenched with the sweat of my embarrassment at the event that was the impetus of this post. I am dealing with it, but it’s a slow and painful process. What it has done is help me to understand that I’m not cut out for blowing my own trumpet, overtly.
Best regards and I’m going to check your blog out properly very soon.