Dancing the Self-Promotion Tango, Or: I’m Just Not That Into Me

So, I’ve got a new book out as of about two weeks ago, which means readings and signings and various internet-centered activities all designed to raise the profile of the book. All of which is simultaneously very cool* and very very draining.

I’m basically an extrovert—I draw energy from social interactions, or as my wife (the introvert) refers to it, feast on the souls of the living. This should make the whole promotion tango something of a joy. The reason it doesn’t is that “mostly” up there.

Where it comes to social situations where the event is all about me I have what I call “I’m just not that into me syndrome” in which the social energy flow reverses and the interaction leaves me limp and wrung out.

I suspect that’s because I was raised in the very Scandinavian-shaped culture of North Dakota and Minnesota where you are strongly encouraged not to get braggy, with values of braggy being sentences that = me+anything positive. Though I don’t have a Scandinavian bone in my body I somehow ended up culturally Scandinavian-American, I can even say “Uffda!” and really mean it.

Around here we tell jokes like: “Do you know how in love Sven is with Lena? Sven’s so in love with Lena that he’s gotten really bold. He’s started looking at her feet when he talks to her.” Self-effacement is an art form.

Naturally this leads to problems when I’m supposed to be doing things like calling the local radio stations to see if they want to have me on for interviews. In general I do it anyway, but for some reason this time my motivation is down and the effort is really kicking my butt and that’s a problem.

As problems go, it’s a much better one than the one I had a decade ago which was that I was going on ten years of writing without a single published piece to show for it, but it’s still a problem. I don’t really have a pithy conclusion here, because it’s an internal fight I’m never going to stop having. Just consider this a sort of journal entry from the conflicted intersection of self-promotion street and self-effacing avenue where I close with a question.

We all have to put ourselves front and center some time, whether it’s applying for a job, going in for an annual performance review, or promoting our newest book. How do you handle those situations?

*I’ve worked 20 years to get here and it’s exactly what I want to be doing with my life but I had to note it down here in a footnote because my inner Scandinavian is telling me that “very cool” sounds too braggy without explanation, but that not mentioning how cool it is would sound insufficiently grateful.

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  1. 1. Victor

    Self-promotion: a guy could, if a guy wanted to – but, well, it would be different, you know?

  2. 2. Douglas Hulick

    Let me get back to you in about, oh, six to ten months. ;)

    Seriously, this is something I have thinking about, since it’s going to be creeping up on me real soon. To be blunt, I have no idea how I’m going to handle it, but I know I am going to have to do *something* — as always, the questions will be “What?” and “How much?” And there seem to be no right answers for this.

    When I first started doing the con circuits a little over a decade or so ago, I sold myself pretty hard. It was a skill I’d picked up from my days as a freelancers in the gaming industry, and it seemed to translate well to the SF/F con circuit — so well that several editors and agents had assumed I was already published when I wasn’t (a double-edged sword, that). In the last few years, though, I’ve found my taste for pressing the flesh and pushing the “Me” brand has dwindled a lot — to the point that I am happier standing quietly with a drink then I am moving about and working the room. And I think that translates over to the wider self-promo ring, too: am I going to be more of the stand-in-the-corner-of-the-internet kind of writer, or am I going to get out there and push hard?

    I suspect it will fall somewhere in the middle. I know I am going to have to revive that “sell” part of myself, but I don’t know if it will ever come back quite as strong. Like you, I am mostly Midwestern born and bred, and while I didn’t get quite the level of indoctrination as a person who grew up in the MN/WI/Dakotas “ya hey der” belt, enough rubbed off that it can feel a bit awkward at times to talk “Me.” I’ll just need to keep reminding myself that 1) No one is going to do it for me, and 2) People who show up to signings, read interviews, and the like are doing it to hear about me and the book. Not sure if that will translate into feeling any more comfortable, but every justification helps. :)

  3. 3. Kelly McCullough

    Victor, not sure what you’re getting at there.

    Doug, it’s an interesting conundrum and I’ll be looking forward to seeing how you handle it as compared to some of the other Wyrdsmiths.

  4. 4. L. Jagi Lamplighter (Wright)

    I have a trick for dealing with “I’m just not that in to me” that I’ll share with you. When you go to these things, pretend it’s not about you…it’s about the book.

    The book isn’t you. The book is a story you love about characters you care about so much you wrote several hundred pages about them. Your job is to share your enthusiasm about them with those listening.

    I discovered this because I borrowed some of my characters from my husband…so they weren’t ever mine–in my thought. So I found I could talk happily about them without thinking of it as being with me. Then, I began to apply this to the whole book experience…even when talking about the writing, one can say things like “Oh, I had so much fun doing it. It would be just great if someone else enjoyed it, too.”…the way you might talk about a book you enjoyed reading or an amusment park you enjoyed visiting.

    It makes the whole thing fun instead of self oriented.

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Author Information

Kelly McCullough

Kelly McCullough is a fantasy and science fiction author. He lives in Wisconsin with his physics professor wife and a small herd of cats. His novels include the WebMage and Fallen Blade series—Penguin/ACE. His short fiction has appeared in numerous venues including Writers of the Future and Weird Tales. He also dabbles in science fiction as science education with The Chronicles of the Wandering Star—part of an NSF-funded science curriculum—and the science comic Hanny & the Mystery of the Voorwerp, which he co-authored and co-edited—funding provided by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. Visit site.

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