The Fine Art of Self-Promotion

For the past 30 years, I have been getting paid to write stories, but last March my main source of income folded leaving me (like so many others during that time of being landlocked that we now know did more harm than good) without an income.

I had worked for a local arts and features monthly, and it relied heavily on events for advertising. No events. No ads. No paper. My boss tossed himself into a nice little retirement and said, “And you can go on unemployment.” Yeah…no thank you. Yet, what else could I do? I needed to figure out some ways to help supplement the family income, even through mine was by far not the primary one.

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In the beginning, I felt a sense of creative freedom. I could finally work on the projects I wanted. One of these was creating and selling my own silly art, which I had been wanting to do since first grade. Thinking of ideas and making things was the easy part, and at first it seemed like this was going to be an awesome idea. I can get paid to do something I love doing (which ironically was kind of what I had been doing with my writing, as I love to write as well).

The next step — the selling — is the hard part. Over this past year, I am still having to relearn the boring accounting and bookkeeping that I started when I first began freelance writing many, many moons ago, and before I took on more semi-permanent work. This is harder with art supplies than with writing. There isn’t too much overhead once you have a good laptop and a few ideas, but it is my organizational skills that are getting a much-needed reboot.

However, the part of this still seemingly new adventure that is freezing me in my footsteps, causing my heart to sink, and stomach to knot up like an old wad of gum is “promoting myself.” I really dread the idea of having to push my work on people. It is like walking into a crowded room while wearing a crazy outfit then standing up on table and saying, “Tell me what you think, people!” In a word: scary.

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Sure, I can write about myself and share my work through different blogs, but there has always been at least one degree of separation. I can promote stories through a site created by others and featuring several different writers. I can kid myself into thinking I’m not really pushing “my work,” but rather merely the site as a whole. I’m doing it for the collective good of everyone involved. This is true, but I’m an also an individual, and when you’re reading my work, it represents me more than anyone else.

Yet, when I have to show off my own items that don’t represent anyone else in any way, even through markets of many, many sellers, like Etsy, it still feels like I’m being a little bit boastful, a little bit pushy, but a whole lot of needy.

This is called marketing. If you want to create something for any other reason than a hobby or self care, it is a necessary evil.

My experience of pushing my own work online still feels very much in the early stages, despite it being over a year since I got the “heave-ho,” and “we’re closed” from my day job.

It is important to note to anyone else giving good old DIY capitalism a try, I have learned a few little things about the process…and myself.

It’s okay to like your own work.

You never want to come across as that person who is always bragging about their own accomplishments. Unfortunately, when you are trying to make some sort of living out of it, you have to learn to toot your own horn a little bit. If you’re working on something, show it off. If you’ve put something out for sale, announce it. Share what you’re doing with everyone, and keep at it. Most of us that are parents have no problem showing off the cool accomplishments of our kids on social media, so why don’t we treat our own creations similarly? You made these items. Be proud of them.

If you over-research reviews on any site, it is too easy to talk yourself out of trying them.

Someday, I’m planning on getting my own website set up for my work, but in the meantime, it’s been easier to hook up on sites like Redbubble and Society6 as a start. They handle the printing part, but take a percentage. I’m currently trying out both, as well as selling some of my small polymer items on Etsy. It is always a good idea to read artist networks and comments on how well these sites have worked for them, and which ones haven’t. If you dig deep enough through comments, you will find the cons outweigh the pros on any site, including  setting up your own site. People like to grumble and gripe, and are more likely to leave a bad review or comment than a good one. This can be the case anywhere. Heed the advice from these comments, and proceed with caution, but don’t let someone else’s bad experience scare you out of trying a site for yourself, if you really want to give it a go.

Learn to take compliments.

When you are a writer or artist, you hear the importance of taking constructive criticism, and many of us have hardened ourselves to this idea. Yet, sometimes it is easier to hear what is wrong with our work rather than be able to trust someone who tells us it is worthy of compliments. Sometimes friends and family are “just being nice” but other times, they are being honest. You did something they like, and they want you to know about it. You need confidence to sell something you made, and if you only listen to the negatives you won’t build that confidence.

Some of my “shops” early in the game. Getting something set up was the easy part. Getting people too look at it, much less drop some bucks there, was a whole other beast to tackle. Images: Lisa Tate

Be patient. Do not be discouraged.

Social media is addictive, and once you get a seller’s page set up, it will be tempting to check up on it all the time to see if there are any hits, likes, favorites, or most importantly, sales. This won’t happen right away, and I am still not getting the hits I want. There are countless others out there trying to do the same thing right now, and it will take some time for the eyeballs to fall on your page. This is why not being shy about showing off your work is important. You have to bring it to others, instead of just waiting for them to find it.

Pick several places to market your items, but keep the theme consistent.

Even if the content is slightly different on each of the sites I am utilizing, I’m keeping each one stylistically similar. I’ve given myself a consistent name, “Ghoulie Gardens,” created a little image picture and page cover that is similar everywhere. You want people to know it is you. Every art sharing site has different features and allows you to show off different items, but make sure people will be able to quickly recognize you as the seller they are seeking.

“Comparison is the killer of joy.”

This famous comment has been attributed to several people, such as Teddy Roosevelt, but it is exactly right. Yes, there are thousands and thousands of other artists and writers out there, and so much talent and creativity it will blow your mind. It will also wreck your self confidence if you start comparing your work to others. Everyone’s style is different, and if you begin comparing your work to a polished professional who has been at it for some time, you will be miserable. Look at the favorite things about your own style, and hone and improve them everyday. However, never think you aren’t “as good as” anyone else when you’re starting out. Feeling sorry for yourself is never a good look in social situations, but when you start doing this with the work you are trying to sell, it will grind your creativity, and eventually your business, to a halt.

Through all of these measures, I’ve realized more than anything, you just have to dive in somewhere. You want to create something people like, but if you don’t give enough people time to see it, you’ll never know.

We live in the age of social media, where little “likes” for a comment are an endorphin rush, but people hate the feeling of being criticized and being rejected in this little portal of existence can be soul-sucking. Yet, when helping to feed your family is at stake, you have to overcome the squeamishness.

Nothing feels more frightening than the thought of asking people to pay you money for something you made, but trust me, when you make those first sales, nothing feels better than knowing that you can to that.

Don’t be afraid, and get out there and create…and while you’re at it, if you want to purchase a sticker or something from “Ghoulie Gardens” line on RedbubbleSociety 6, or Etsy, that would be awesome.

Hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

3 comments on “The Fine Art of Self-Promotion

  1. Tim Colomba says:

    Great article, Lisa, and some fantastic advice. You’re right that you have to learn to receive compliments and believe them. That can be the hardest part, yet isn’t that what we all sort of want deep down? Self-promotion is tough because it seems to fail over and over, until one day it doesn’t. We have to be delusionally optimistic as creatives for that one day. This was a great reminder, at least for me, to stick with the crazy, insane, delusional, beautiful program. Thanks!

    1. Paul Hair says:

      Good comments, Tim!

    2. Lisa Kay says:

      Thanks Tim.
      I hope, if anything to remind everyone to be proud of their achievements and hard work. 🙂

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