Self Promotion and Career Building: What I Told the Clarion West 2013 Class

Picture of an American tree frog on a concrete wall.Yesterday I spent a pleasant chunk of time talking to the Clarion West 2013 students, along with Django Wexler. Django and I were the “mystery muses,” a Friday feature for the CW students where people come in to chat about a specific aspect of the writerly life. Django spoke well to the experience of having one’s first major book come out, since his book (which I have read and heartily recommend) The Thousand Names just came out. He let us all know (to mass disappointment) that it doesn’t lead to being booked on the Leno or Daily Show or lavish book tours, though he did get to go to ComicCon.

I decided to talk about self-promotion and career building, since that’s advice I didn’t get a lot of while at Clarion West myself. And I came up with nine maxims, but lost that index card so I have an incomplete list. Maybe the students can chime in to tell me what I’ve forgotten.

  1. Writing always comes first. Self-promotion can become a form of procrastination, particularly if you’re playing on Facebook or Twitter while pretending it’s all in the name of self-promotion. Having the biggest Twitter following in the world won’t help you unless you’ve actually got something to promote.
  2. Be discoverable. One of the questions that always comes up in my Building an Online Presence for Writers class is whether it’s mandatory for a writer to have a social media presence and blog and all that. The answer is no, (though it’s helpful in these days, when the burden of promotion falls increasingly on the writer him or herself.) But you do need a way for someone to find you if they liked a story and want to contact you. That may be a simple static webpage where you maintain a list of your publications. It may be a full blown blog. Or it might be a social media presence (although I think this approach is not the best, because people may not be on Twitter or Tumblr or Facebook or whatever network you’ve chosen).
  3. Don’t oversell. We’ve all unfriended or stopped following people because of the unrelenting way they push their books. Out of five Tweets (or blog posts, or FB posts, or whatever), only one should be about selling stuff. The others can be kitten pictures, advice, funny sayings, whatever (one easy way to fill this quota is to promote other people), but make it something that people are interested in.
  4. Don’t be a jackass. It’s a small world and word gets around when you behave badly. Search on “authors behaving badly” if you want some examples. Professionality is important, although sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of in our charming, silly, opinionated genre. Don’t make arguing on the Internet another form of procrastination.
  5. Jealousy is okay. We all experience it. Use it as motivation for writing. Don’t put it on the Internet. Find one person you can trust and use them as your sounding board when you absolutely have to say those snarky things about an award or kudos bestowed unjustly.
  6. Say thanks. When someone does something kind like getting you invited to an anthology, blurbing your book, whatever, don’t assume it’s your due because you’re a genius. We all think we’re geniuses. SF is full of people paying it forward, but they’re more likely to do so for gracious people.
  7. Be kind to yourself. Writers are so good at beating ourselves up, at feeling guilty for not doing X or achieving Y. Don’t do that. Set goals but rather than punishing yourself for not meeting them, reward yourself when you do hit that word count. You are the person with the most to gain from being kind to you, so do at least one nice thing for yourself each day, whether it’s taking time for some activity you enjoy or giving yourself some small present.
  8. Don’t be a jackass. It’s a point worth repeating.

Some other things that got mentioned:

  • Find someone who is where you want to be a few years down the line and look to see what they’re doing, using their example to guide your actions.
  • Early on, you don’t need to go to conventions unless they’re something you enjoy for their own sake. If you do go, participate. If you can’t be on panels, try volunteering, which is a great way to meet people and network.
  • Writing process differs from person to person. Try different strategies and when you find something that works for you, do it, do it, do it.
  • For most of us, it’s easier to write if you get at least a few words in each day.
  • It is often skill in rewriting that differentiates the professional-level writer from the almost-but-not-quite-there.

And here’s something I didn’t mention, but which has come up a lot recently, as to what to blog about, both in terms of finding something interesting and not spending too much time on it: excerpts of what you’re working on both fulfills those terms and encourages you to get some words out.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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