to build a career as writer—and it has nothing to do with how well you develop your characters or complete your story arcs. The problem is—once you’ve beat back life’s responsibilities, cleared time and space to write, (temporarily) silenced your inner critic (who likes to drone on about why your literary pursuits are pointless), withstood peer critique, and created something you’re proud of—how the bleep do you make sure the world knows about it?
Throughout my twenty years as a writer, I have resented, feared, and avoided telling the world about my work. I’ve never been the dramatic or hyperbolic sort. I’ve always believed my work is valuable, yet I have consistently felt reluctant to “force” it on people. I preferred to believe that the work’s merit would bring it the attention it deserved. Here’s the thing: in the early years of my career, I had plenty of time to burn that fantasy, but now—two decades later—it has become crystal clear that if I don’t put my own promotional might behind my literary efforts, I may never become the writer I want to be. Overnight, it seems, a burning bush has sprung into my psyche, screeching its warnings that if I do not change my behavior today, I cannot transform the outcome of my tomorrow; that if I want to be a full time writer in the future, then today, I must announce and re-announce my work to the world as often as possible for as long as it takes.
I say all this because I suspect many writers struggle with these same issues. We want to sit in our rooms and play with words. We want to dream new worlds and characters, and navigate new ideas. We want to write, dammit! We don’t want to call bookstores, write press releases, and email radio stations. So I’ve had to give the adult in me the permission to take over. She fired my emotions, drew up a self-promotion plan, and notified me that marketing myself is nonnegotiable. If I am going to write—and I am going to write—then I must also clear a space for that writing in the world. I’ve had no choice but to become my own personal town crier, shouting about my stories, my books, and my successes in the town square (read: Facebook, Twitter, blogs, conversations, conferences, and book fairs).
Is it exhausting? Yes. Does it feel like I’m repeating myself and overstepping my bounds? Yes. Is it absolutely necessary? Yes, yes, and yes. My willingness to promote myself and my work is my willingness is taking a stand for my identity as a writer in word and deed. My ability to be a writer out loud in the world depends on my ability to tell the world—all day, every day—that I am a writer and I have work to share. Engaging in self-promotion requires me to constantly massage my anxieties and manage my personal hysterias. When I feel I am over-sharing about my work, I remember how excited and inspired I am to receive my peers’ announcements of their progress and achievements. When the feeling that I’m begging for attention or trying to convince someone of my merit starts pulling at me, I publicly acknowledge the discomfort of self-promotion then plow on sharing news of my work.
The difficulties of tooting your own horn do not disappear. They burrow away and silently morph into different modes of madness, popping up unexpectedly just when you think you’ve got this whole self-promotion thing under control. It’s a balancing act. I know that self-representation is a powerful act that can create ripples of success for me and inspiration for others. I know that going to my grave as a little known writer would not bother me half as much as going to my grave without having tried to secure a place for myself in the world’s literary imagination. After the quiet wrestling with words is complete, a writer’s work is not done. There are those other necessary acts required without which your creativity will not have a presence in the world.
More from Kiini Ibura Salaam
Ancient, Ancient: an award-winning collection of short stories.Buy it online (print or ebook): www.indiebound.org/book/9781933500966 or at Amazon.com