I’m back from Austin Film Festival, where I am always reminded that people have lots and lots and lots of questions about what exactly it is writers do and how exactly do they do it. I’d do a writers panel or a roundtable every day if you let me, and since there’s no shortage of questions coming through email to my inbox, I thought I’d start up a weekly column. It’s just another way for me to procrastinate, but I prefer to call it “giving back.”
Here’s our first one.
Do you believe in self-promotion? For an aspiring writer, I struggle with how much to practice promoting my stuff. Are there any specific tips you could give to someone like living in Dallas instead of LA when it comes to promoting and getting your writing out there?
The other week I was screwing around on Pinterest (Pinterest! For when you want to place three more clicks between you and your online shopping addiction.) when I saw a Michael Kors watch that attracted my attention. I pinned it and within seconds someone commented that she worked for the company who supplied the watch, and she’d like to send it to me.
Now. Before you get all, “I hate Pamie, she brags too much,” there’s a reason I’m telling you this story. The girl who sent the watch is the girl who asked this question. And the reason she asked this question is because I wrote to her after receiving the watch (which included a very sweet thank you letter) to ask if I could help her in any way.
The reason she had sent me the watch in the first place is because not too terribly long ago I sent her a signed copy of Why Girls Are Weird.
The reason I sent her a signed copy of my book is because I found a lovely review she’d written on her website, choosing it for her book club (where she mentions we share a birthday). (…It’s only now I realize it’s slightly strange she knows that. How many authors’ birthdays do you know?)
Anyway, one reason I found her website is because it showed up on a self-google fest, but more importantly about six months before that, Emma had emailed me asking for advice.
I come to you a lost 23-year-old soul. Not really, but kind of.
Why Girls Are Weird has been one of my favorite books since I could fully appreciate it (freshman year of college). Your writing style was so different than anything I had read up until then, and it was exactly the kind of style I was looking to enjoy.
That being said, I’m a pseudo-writer and blogger myself. I could go as far to say it’s the one creative outlet that makes me truly happy. I guess I’m wondering if you have any advice for me as to how to take my word vomit and make a career out of it or at least what general direction you think I could/should be heading. Your style is very honest and funny and relatable, and I’d like to think I’m close to that as well.
Thanks, Pamela and I hope to hear back from you.
I wrote back to her:
Your site looks great. The best advice I can give you is what I would have told myself back then at 23 when I first started pamie.com: just keep going. I didn’t know how I was going to make a living being a writer back then (nor did I even know I was going to!), but I kept at writing every day, worked on finding my own voice and what kinds of stories I was passionate about writing, and then used my website as a portfolio of sorts to get work writing freelance. It wasn’t easy, and I worked very long hours writing for not much money (or no money at all, usually), but after a few years I was able to quit my corporate job and be a writer full time. I wish you the best of luck and hope your future is filled with fantastic opportunities. Keep writing!
So the answer to Emma’s original question above is right there in the history of our relationship online. If she hadn’t promoted herself in that email she sent me (which started with some nice words about me to get the writer’s ego’s attention), I wouldn’t have found her site. I went to her site because her email made her seem like not a crazy person, and her question was quick and easy to understand.
Without self-promotion, I’m not sure how anybody would get any kind of job. Most of my day is spent in some form of self-promotion, from this website, to taking meetings, to my Twitter feed to sending out outlines and pitches and samples when I’m trying to get a job where there’s more than one writer being considered.
If a company came to you and asked for you to invest in them, and then they said, “But we’re going to do zero marketing,” I don’t think you’d hand them any money. In this case the company you’re selling is yourself. And this company, if it’s anything like me, does most of its work alone on a couch. Without promotion, nobody’s going to know you’re there.
This does remind me of a few actors and writers and even an agent in Hollywood who have put billboards up advertising their existence. And I suppose, since I’m thinking of them right now, they work on some level. Speaking of, where is Angelyne these days?
I would say be careful of promoting yourself without anything to promote. Make sure you have good content and that you’re sending someone to something that’s actually there. Don’t spam people, don’t harass people, but a nice, friendly letter to someone you admire, or joining a community who might be interested in your site is a good way to go. Get some followers or Twitter and Facebook and build an audience. If your content is good, people will keep coming back, and they will bring friends.
The last part of Emma’s question, I’m going to assume she means how does she get read by people who live in Los Angeles if she lives in Dallas. And I assume she means getting scripts read, because you guys: don’t try to sell a book in Los Angeles. Those go to New York.
Okay, as I mentioned in Your Parents Will Never Wish You This Life, it’s pretty difficult to be a writer in the industry if you don’t live where the industry is. It’s a question that comes up quite a bit at a festival like Austin Film, where people are trying to determine if this is what they want to do to their lives. If you want to see how your scripts are received without leaving the great state of Texas, then I suggest you enter contests. The big ones, the ones that have clout. I’d also attend some of your local film festivals so you can be around people who do this kind of thing or aspire to do this kind of thing, so you can see if you are just as crazy as the rest of these people.
But in Emma’s case, it sounds like she’s still trying to figure out what kind of writer she wants to be. And that’s okay, especially where she’s at in her writing career. She’s figuring out her voice, how to stand out, how to be different than the next blogger. Maybe this will eventually lead her to monetize her site and get paid that way. Maybe she’ll do what I did and use her site as a portfolio to get freelance work writing for other websites that do pay money. Maybe something will emerge from her blog and she’ll realize she has a novel or a memoir or a series of comedic essays in there and she’ll become the next Laurie Notaro. Maybe she’ll write Young Adult novels or graphic novels or turn one of her better essays into the inspiration for a pilot script for a sitcom. Maybe she’ll grow her site bigger and bigger, only to one day get scared off by my overly-excited industry advances, like what happened when I reached out to this lady and this lady. Sometimes I hug the internet too hard and they run away. Because while I’m a writer, sometimes I’m a fangirl, too. I should take some tips from Emma on how to approach a writer on the Internet.
Hey, Emma: thanks again for the watch. I love it so. I hope this helps.
If you’d like to have a question answered, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: “Your Weekly Procrastination.”
Want more advice and can’t wait until next week? Did you read Making it Work While You’re Mostly Working For Free?