Promotion Is a Transaction

One of the most difficult parts of making a living (or making a name for yourself) in a creative field is self-promotion. Western society has a real difficulty with the idea that we should present our own work to the world, and put it in a positive light. For some reason, we believe that self-promotion is immodest and, while necessary, isn’t something that we encourage artists to learn about. Over and over again, anyone who works with artists or creative people hear that they love to make the work, but they don’t want to go around telling anyone how great they are.

What’s left out of this discussion often is the fact that promotion of any type is a transaction. The promoter is offering up something they want the consumer to see as valuable, and will be happy to know exists. So often, because creatives are told that we shouldn’t be full of ourselves or that self-promotion is gauche, we tend to promote ourselves in one of two ways:

  1. Self-deprecating: We undervalue our work and ask people to check it out, but only if they want to, and really, it’s not that great to begin with, or if it is good, we just love the process of creating the art, and it has nothing to do with ourselves, etc., etc. etc.

    This is an easy trap to get into because it allows us to feel like we’re showing the proper amount of modesty about our work and ourselves, and we also don’t treat the transaction as if we are asking for anyone to buy what we’re selling. We’re just informing people about the fact that our work exists, but there’s no underlying idea that anyone should feel obligated to read/watch/attend/buy it. This is self-defeating because we don’t actually attach any value to the work at all, and in fact will minimize it in order to appear modest.

  2. Self-focused: “I’m really proud of this, you should check it out,” or, “Let’s all try to get this video to 500 views,” or, “It’s always been my dream to have a book published,” seem like promotion, but all they do is tell a story about how the work is important to you, and not how it will be of value to your customer. While many of our friends and loved ones will of course want to help us achieve our dreams, there has to be some reason important to them that’s contained in the work you want them to consume for them to find any value in it.

When you promote, the main thing to keep in mind is that, even if you aren’t charging money for what you’re asking people to do (watch, listen, read, like, share, subscribe), time and attention are prices unto themselves, and to ask someone to give something for nothing isn’t promotion so much as asking for favors. Focus instead on the value that your audience will gain from your work. Will they laugh? Will they be entertained? Will their lives be changed for the better for taking the time to invest in your work, and will they feel they’ve gotten good value for the investment they’ve made?

It also helps to remove the stigma attached to self-promotion when you understand that your work is valuable and your customers (or audience, or fans) are actually gaining something by consuming it. If you don’t first value your own work, how can you promote it to anyone else?

Find the value in what you do, and you can sell it to anybody.

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