Problematic (Self-) Promotion


My social media feeds usually have a smattering of posts from people I don’t know asking for money, especially from friends of mine reposting messages from their friends who have fallen on hard times. Needless to say, I’ve been seeing a lot more of those posts over the past year, as the loss of work caused by the pandemic has devastated tens of millions in America alone. This is especially true for those who work in art-related professions, as the ongoing economic crisis has forced so many people to pare back their expenses to food and rent and so on.

I didn’t get the summer work I was hoping for last year, so those months were somewhat problematic for me, but this year so far has more than made up for that. Since another English instructor at my campus was promoted to an administrative position over winter break, I picked up some of that instructor’s classes, and so even with pandemic-related enrollment problems, this has been the busiest semester of teaching I’ve had in my entire career. I’m hardly in a position where I can throw money around like it was nothing, but I’m reminded every day of just how fortunate I am to have steady, well-paying work right now.

There are things I can do to share my relative good fortune with others, which I’ve been doing, but one of the choices I made in the first months of the pandemic, as I began to see more and more social media posts from artists who needed money for food and gas, was to stop promoting my books so actively. It wasn’t like I did much to draw attention to my books of classroom exercises, since those have a very limited audience to start with, but I can’t deny that I was pushing the heck out of my novel, The Prostitutes of Lake Wiishkoban, much longer after its release than authors usually do. Between my lack of self-promotion skills, the fact that I was dealing with so many other things in the months after the book’s release (most of them having to do with Mom’s passing), and the fact that I couldn’t even advertise my novel on so many platforms, I couldn’t help but feel that my novel still hasn’t gotten a fair shake. Honestly, I still kind of feel that way. My ego is probably getting the better of me here yet again, but after everything I went through to make that novel as good as I could possibly make it, I think it’s only natural to want some recognition of all that hard work.

Again, though, with all the reminders I was getting of other artists’ problems, a lot of my usual promotional efforts for my novel felt like the wrong thing to do at the time. When the fact that I’d written a novel came up in conversations, I would often actively discourage people from buying it, telling them to instead support artists who were posting about their money problems online, and to come back around to my novel after we get over the current economic crises (if we ever do). I was making enough money to pay my bills, and I was keeping busy with the research for my next book (and I know that I keep promoting my Patreon for the place to get exclusive updates about that work, but the money from that goes directly back into my research), so selling more copies of my novel just didn’t feel that important to me.

After my first play (an adaptation of scenes from my novel) entered production earlier this year, though, I offered free copies to the producer and all the actors, just to help them understand the broader context of what I’d written in my script. At least one of the actors read through the whole novel before the play was produced (and enjoyed it immensely), and getting to talk with that actor about my novel reminded me of my reasons for writing the things I write. This pandemic is challenging even some introverts like me when it comes to the dearth of social interaction, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a long conversation about my novel before this last one, and it made me realize how much I miss talking about not just my novel, but my writing (and what I hope to do with it) as a whole.

I keep a category on my Google Calendar filled with dates that are conducive to me reminding people about my novel, mostly book-related holidays and the birthdays of the biggest influences on my writing. This coming Friday, April 23, is World Book Day, an event marked by no less of an entity than UNESCO, and I’m sure that #worldbookday will be trending on Twitter for at least part of that morning. In the past, this is the kind of event that would be a no-brainer for me to post about online, along with a not-so-subtle reminder that hey, I have this novel, and it’s gotten these accolades, so maybe you should pick it up and read it, you know? Over the past year, though, I neglected to do any self-promotion for a lot of these days, simply because I was being reminded so frequently of the fact that other artists out there needed the money a lot more than I did. At least in terms of the money, not much has changed since then.

As this year’s World Book Day approaches, though, I can’t help but feel like maybe it’s time to start getting the word out about my novel again. We’re not through with this pandemic, let alone the economic calamities it’s caused, by any stretch of the imagination, and I still want people to support everyone out there — not just artists — who are struggling with food and shelter and such. At the same time, though, I’d like to think that dropping a few bucks my way in exchange for my novel isn’t asking too much. If I’m still seeing news headlines about the latest elimination on The Masked Singer mixed in with stories about daily COVID-19 death tolls, then maybe I should accept that there is a place, however small, for my novel to occupy in the middle of everything else going on in the world right now, and I shouldn’t feel so bad for asking people to read my novel. It is really good, you know.

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