How disgusting it feels sometimes, to point to something you made and say “you might like this, internet person.” No matter how many hours you spent editing and pruning and perfecting, it’s often hard not to feel like some cheap huckster. What right have you to to bother people with your trash?
The wire-tightrope of self-promotion is very hard to walk. On the one hand, you have thousands of perfectly excellent sites battering out their page views in obscurity. On the other you have the social media experts. The middle mark is difficult to hit.
Have you ever tweeted a link at someone internet-famous and immediately felt like a charlatan, only to be proved right when your tentative offering goes completely ignored? It’s a particularly bitter sting that few can accept placidly. Not only was your gift spurned, unwanted, but everyone saw it. You imagine them smirking behind their hands as they parade past your abject, muddy form, prostrated by shame.
We think we’re so damn enlightened nowadays, but the tender machinations of our individual personal branding campaigns would put any 18th century courtesan to shame. The prevailing attitude is a sickening, disingenuous one. Sharing things not based on their merit, but on how many microns it’ll inflate our social standing. So many great pieces of writing go unnoticed because they don’t stand out as 120-character summaries.
To your left sits the gaping maw of the beast that swallows all of your ambitions in cringing inferiority. On your right, the false plastic knight of over promotion. “Hey I saw you guys were talking about [something] and I wrote something about [a completely different topic] that you might like! Hey, great article, check out my blog if you liked this! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!”
The path you must walk between these two is narrow and winding and I don’t know it any more than you do. I do, however, have a feeling that most of those who know the way are lying to themselves.
Often the mavens of personal branding spread their knowledge around, too. You’ll hear a lot of lies about how to get the magic pageviews you’re dying for. Almost all of them will lead to you compromising yourself to produce something shareable, popular, and low quality.
There’s another flavor of half-truth that I’ve heard, which comes from those who have reached some modicum of success with good quality work. Just do good work, and the readers will come. This sounds like the wise path, and heartening for the 100-pageviews-a-day writer. Keep plugging away.
Thing is, a lot of the big names you hear about were either lucky, became known first for something other than writing, or happened to have friends in high places who shared their stuff repetitively. How many genuinely great pieces do you see from the big names? No, seriously. There’s an awful lot of backslapping from the lower ranks, but it seems to be for the tritest of nonsense sometimes.
That’s not to say, I hasten to add, that there aren’t genuinely excellent writers at the top. There really are. But there’s more to it than just excellent writing.
You can’t just do good work, you have to cultivate relationships and promote what you’ve done. That is, if your goal is for more people to read and enjoy your stuff.
So how do you succeed at that and not feel like you need a shower?