On Self Promotion & Not Apologizing For Your Work, by WWD Instructor Tori Telfer

For a long time, I felt guilty posting about my writing on the internet. And then I just stopped. I’m here to tell you that you should, too. (Stop, that is. By all means, keeping posting.)

I felt guilty because for a long time, I absorbed some not-so-helpful lessons from some not-so-helpful people, and one of those was that people shouldn’t promote themselves, that women shouldn’t promote themselves, and that “artists” certainly shouldn’t promote themselves. I was not innocent, either; over the years, I’ve cast my share of judgmental looks on people who are just out there hustling and trying to get eyes on their work. And I regret that.

I don’t know what changed last August—I suspect that, fueled by a dangerous amount of coffee and sweaty from shadowboxing, something within me just snapped—but out of nowhere, I decided to simultaneously promote my work as much as I wanted (Facebook! Instagram! Insta-Stories! Facebook again, one week later!) and to stop apologizing for all of it. It was a little bit nerve-wracking, because I heard voices in the back of my head: Ugh, she thinks she’s so-o-o impressive with her ARTICLES and her stupid BOOK. But I forced myself to ignore the voices and to just keep plugging along. Check out my latest. Come to my book signing. I believe in the article I just wrote. I think you’ll like it, too.  

It was actually an incredible relief. Suddenly, I was done: done feeling guilty that some people thought it was “weird” that I was writing about murder, or the law, or sickness, or people who believe in strange realities. Done feeling that I had to hide certain aspects of my work so that insecure people could feel better about theirs. Done with the weird freelancer apology dance: “Sorry for spamming you but here’s another article, it’s kinda long, no need to actually read it, LOL! Oh and while you’re at it, curious when my paycheck will arrive, not to bug you but it’s been four months, sorry for being a nag!”

Self-promotion for a writer—and especially a freelance writer—is nothing to be ashamed of, though plenty of people will try to make you feel ashamed, and small, and indulgent for doing it. Somewhere in the ether there’s this idea that art is made impure by the vulgar stuff of self-promotion. Of course, all that attitude does is keep a lot of artists firmly in the “starving” category, but I’ve seen people use that argument to justify their own lack of success, too. If you never go hard for your own work, you can never fail spectacularly, and you can convince yourself that the world simply doesn’t understand you.

But the hard-but-liberating truth of the matter is that no one is out there thinking, “Man, if I could just find a really great and kinda cute and self-deprecating writer to hand this fantastic opportunity to…” It took me a long time to truly realize in my bones that no one was carefully watching me from afar, waiting to hand me a trust fund/staff writer position. Quite the opposite. Last year, I found out that a man I once interviewed is in talks with a producer to have a movie made about his life. Another girl that I interviewed went viral because of my story and is now an international model. In both cases, I, the writer, was simply the conduit. Which I’m happy to be! (I don’t think I deserve to be an international model! I think often the writer should only be the conduit!) But both of these situations reminded me that, career-wise, I have to be my own best spokesperson. No one’s going to read my article and approach me to write the screenplay; they’re going to go straight to the source. I have to be my own mouthpiece; I have to create (and argue for) my own value.

As a freelancer, as a writer, as a woman who is frequently assumed to be just kinda vaguely available all the time, it is vital that I’m in my own corner. I have incredibly supportive people in my life —and not a day goes by when I am not hugely grateful for it all—but I don’t have a company behind me, or any source of income that is not a direct result of my work, or any safety nets other than the love and coffee-making skills of my family and friends. I have to be my own publicist, financial advisor, and racker-up of hustle stats. Like most writers, I am a one-woman show: there’s just one slightly overwhelmed woman over here doing all the pitching, writing, editing, copywriting, press release crafting, social media posting, newsletter sending, Excel spreadsheet-keeping, tax paying, financial plotting, goal-setting stuff of it. Because of all that work, my business generates product. I won’t apologize for the product’s existence, or the fact that I’m trying to get eyeballs on it.

Of course there are ways to promote yourself poorly: constant spamming, tasteless posts screeched in the middle of national pain, the time Lindsey Lohan posted a sexy selfie and then tried to write about ISIS in her caption. But over all my attitude toward art, which is to say work, is that the best thing to do is to do it really well and really shrewdly. The hustle, the self-promotion, the self-confidence, the paycheck then allows you to craft the sort of life you want, donate to the causes you believe in, pour energy into being a good partner, family member, and friend, COMPOST EVERY SCRAP OF FOOD WASTE YOU CAN, and generally help others. So go ahead, post that link on Facebook, and then in your newsletter, and then again on Twitter. Your work has value—and let’s be honest, we’re all too broke to afford a full-time publicist. So get out there and promote it.

And, in the interest of self promotion, I'm teaching an ONLINE class for Writing Workshops Dallas on Longform Journalism that starts on April 16th. Check it out here.

 PS: Follow me on Instagram. (“No! Days! Off!”)

Tori Telfer is the author of Lady Killers, published by Harper Perennial in 2017.