Shameless Self-Promotion.

Not so long ago I was talking with some academics (or some writers, I can’t remember), and the conversation turned to another writer (or academic, I can’t remember) who was — make your choice:

  • Getting invited everywhere
  • Getting all the editing/teaching gigs
  • Getting published everywhere
  • Et cetera

And then someone said:

Well — that’s because she’s one of those.

“One of those” meant a self-promoter, a schmoozer, a networker, and — ignoring for a minute the different connotations of those terms — in the world of the academe one tended to be suspicious of self-promotion. My memory’s hazy about all of the above, but the snarky person who was practically sneering at the self-promoter? I don’t remember exactly, but that may very well have been me.

I’ve been thinking a bit about self-promotion, mostly because of my previous blog entry about “getting serious” and also because I don’t know how to do it. I’ve always been shy — I never did speak much in grad school — and can’t imagine people wanting to read my work, much more me telling them about it.

“Building a platform” — that’s for businesses, not people.

“Self-promotion” — that’s for one of those.

But there’s really no excuse, is there? Writing, even if it’s a mostly solitary activity, is as pretty darn close to the externalization of the self as ordinary people can get. And why is self-promotion almost always coupled with the adjective “shameless,” as if it were the default characteristic?

You see it when some authors plug their books on listservs; they’re apologetic, they’re sorry for the intrusion, and so on. Well, that’s me.

And so, three truths I’m very slowly learning:

  1. You cannot sit on your ass and hope to be discovered.
  2. You cannot sit on your ass and hope to be invited to speak.
  3. You cannot sit on your ass and hope to be published.

Anthem Salgado would’ve shook his head and say, “Where have you been?” — but I think they were lessons I really needed to learn for myself.

So, to make up for lost time, kind of, I thought I’d link to some recent posts, all mostly about or by me, in chronological order:

1. A little over a year ago the New York Times ran a short interview with me in its Bay Area (and online) edition. Yes, the New! York! Times! You’d think I would have at least announced something as cool as this on my blog, but no.

Susan Sward spent hours with me trying to get the words right, which just goes to show you what she (and the Times )is like. The session that yielded that photo of me, wearing that hat on the streets of Daly City? That took a whole hour. That’s what the Times is like.

2. Jack Stephens — reporter, activist, intellectual — also blogs like a madman, and back when Pinoy Capital came out he devoted a whole series of entries to my book on his blog The Mustard Seed. I couldn’t have been more flattered. They contain the sort of review and critique so detailed and exhaustive I hesitate to link to them here, in case you’re tempted to read his essays instead of my book. Hopefully they’ll whet your appetite.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

I promised myself (and him) that I’d write a long response, especially to Part IV, but yes, I suck.

3. Over the holidays my good friend the poet Barbara Jane Reyes asked a bunch of folks for holiday book recommendations. She curates the Philippine American Writers and Artists blog, and I submitted a book recommendation list back in December. (And by the way, do yourself a favor and subscribe to the PAWAINC list; it’s a total font of information with essays and calls for submission and events and fellowships, and I’d credit Barb for that too.)

4. And back in April, I was invited to read at the Daly City Public Library — except that it was way better than a reading; it was a conversation with the Mayor of Daly City, Michael Guingona. (Confession: I write about him in the book in ways that may be perceived unflattering; I actually saw his candor as disarming and utterly refreshing, especially for a politician.)

The conversation was part of the events leading up to the Filipino American International Book Festival, and here’s a column in Philippines Today by my former boss and mentor at Philippine News, Cherie Querol-Moreno (whom I also write about in Pinoy Capital), about the event.

Just don’t get me started about submissions, okay? We’re talking baby steps here.

[Update: The odd limitations of this blog (and perhaps blogs in general) are becoming clear — I’m generating a bit more discussion on Facebook and Google Plus (and that’s what it’s been like for a while now). The Google Plus link is here; add me to a circle while you’re at it.]

7 Comments


  1. ·

    Is this related to the adage about the nail that sticks up being hammered down?

    Maybe we could start a movement to divorce “shameless” from “self-promotion,” since it’s usually used in such a disingenuous way. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your accomplishments but somehow we’re taught that boasters are losers. Yet in a capitalist meritocracy (sorry) we’re also taught that you can and should pull yourself up by your bootstraps and if you don’t, it’s your own damn fault. Plus, I know that my parents drilled it into me that not only should I constantly strive to better myself but, paradoxically, no matter how well I did it was never good enough (years of therapy, anyone?).

    But I digress. Congratulations on your recent successes, and thanks for the great post.

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  2. ·

    Well, isn’t that “shameless” bit about self-promotion really a holdover from Madmen (the real ones) days, anyway? And from the days when one needed to be sponsored by a “higher” authority in order to be heard? I was quiet in grad school, too; I know what you mean. But the paradigm is changing. We still “submit” (to publishers, et. al), but are increasingly becoming partners in the publishing process; they need us.

    Anyway, I’m glad to see you self-promote, and it’s great to see what you’ve been up to lately.

    Reply
  3. Benito Vergara
    ·

    @ Valerie: I think nobody likes a blowhard (especially a theory-slinging blowhard), but in the world of academia where personal insecurities are amplified, you’re always left with the nagging feeling that the theory-head may be right.

    But yes, it’s all about no one tooting your horn.

    @ Jean: thanks — it may be a Filipino immigrant holdover on my part too. =)

    Over on Google+ I confessed that it may be clear that my previous disdain for “those people” is perhaps more clearly rooted not just in envy, but in something that was clear in my earlier blog entry: that I don’t think my work is good enough to promote!

    Reply

  4. ·

    Sunny, obviously this self-promotion is something I think about a lot, and it’s a different skill set from the writing itself. I know there are artists who don’t want to “sully” the art and art making by having to (publicly) focus on the business aspects of it. But as others have already said here and at G+, there really isn’t anyone else to do it for us, or to prioritize doing it for us.

    Thank you also for the shout out. I do the PAWA blog in hopes that others in our community will become keen to the process of submissions (which, as Jean says, is part of that promotion work), to demonstrate that it’s necessary, that we’re all participating and learning, and that there are resources which are easily accessible. I think it’s important for writers and artists to come to the “truths” you’ve come to, on their own time/schedule, through experience (which is both trial and error, or working/succeeding/failing/trying again).

    And most of all, I think it’s also very important that we recognize good work, have good work, consistently work on having good work to promote, versus self-promoting when there’s little to show for it. I think my disdain for “those people” has to do with empty self-promotion.

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