Social Me vs. Social Media
Thoughts on Self-Promotion and Social Media from a Funnybook Maker in 2018
So many of us feel compelled to play paparazzi for our own tiny share of social media celebrity. We populate ever-changing yearbooks, magazines, and TV channels so multi-billion dollar companies can remix our stories and sell the commercials. We trade our privacy, our creativity, and a lot of our time, in order to feel connected, feel included, and receive the validation that comes with "likes" and "hearts." And for those of us that are either self-employed or aspiring to be, it's sold as a prerequisite to being successful.
Whether you're a carpenter, farmer, or funnybook maker, social media has quietly been stitched into dreams of self-sufficiency in a way that does not necessarily benefit the quality of the woodwork, the vegetables, or the comic. And yet, as a cartoonist I admire pointed out, assuming an audience will find you without your help is its own kind of egotism.
So where does that leave the artists, writers, and independent producers of the world? I think it leaves most of us making compromises.
Lately I've been wanting to redraw the lines of my personal compromise, and if you're a person who feels the need to self-promote, I'd encourage you do the same. Take a moment to consider what your real motivations are. How can you best achieve your promotional goals in a way that feels right to you? My thoughts are below, but wait up! Grab a notepad and jot down some thoughts of your own before reading mine.
Okay, here's what I'm thinking.
Bean Can Dan's Personal 2018 Self-Promotional Guidelines:
- Always prioritize making work that is worth promoting. This cannot be emphasized enough.
- Try to promote the things you're making/doing instead of some idealized version of yourself. Do this by trying to define what elements unify your work other than the fact you made all of it. When in doubt, be descriptive so people can honestly assess if the stuff you make is stuff they'll like.
- Be willing to reach out, but don't pester people, especially other professionals.
- Teasers are fine. You work hard and don't want to give everything away for free, people get that.
- When possible, move self-promotion away from social media platforms and towards things like personal websites, email lists, live events, and even old-fashioned posters. Social media is a great place to find people digitally hanging out, but those platforms are set up by corporations to benefit their stockholders (not you and the people looking for your stuff).
- Promote your work in a way that is valuable or entertaining on its own merit. When this is not practical, promote the work in a way that is matter-of-fact and informative.
- If it's fun and people are responding well to a promotional thread, you should probably keep doing it. If it's only one of the two, make sure its not getting in the way of the work you really want to be focusing and then ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ flip a coin.
- Don't be manipulative. Don't be pushy. Don't turn desperate. Remember you're not trying to get everyone on earth to read your books, you're just trying to help the people who will really like your books find them.
It's worth noting that not everybody thinks that promoting on social media does much good for creators anyway. In my experience it does a little, but not nearly as much as actually going out and meeting people. My father sells a lot of his children's books by doing school visits. He puts on a great show that engages and entertains his readers in the same way that his books do. If you're someone that feels comfortable performing, I think this is a wonderful way for storytellers to stay true to their craft while attracting attention to their books.
Practically speaking, it's impossible to know what gains you would make as a creator if you dedicated every minute to your craft instead of promotion. If you're struggling to make ends meet with your work (like so many of us are) it's also impossible to know whether a certain amount of self-promotion would make the financial difference between you having a day job or having all that extra time to focus on your craft. But even if money isn't an issue, I don't think a book is complete until it's read. It's people reading and engaging with a story for the first time (in a way that a creator never can with their own work) that brings a story to life and completes my mission as a book maker.
There's a lot of problem solving involved in making comic books that doesn't have to do with plot or character, and if you're self-employed I'd bet that there's plenty of equivalent problems that surround whatever it is that you do or make. Whether you're dealing with lumber tariffs, health inspectors at the locally sourced farm cafe, or budgeting the size and format of your next graphic novel, you have to navigate the restrictions of the real world in a way that works for you and your project. At the end of the day, promoting your work is just another one of those things.
Try hard. Stay humble.
Is it a greater act of egotism to self-promote or to imagine people will discover your work on their own?
^These are recent posts on Instagram tagged "selfie" to set the mood, not ads.^
My father, Kevin McCloskey, never talks about "self-promotion" but he does talk about putting on a show. He helps his audience find him by tabling, giving talks, and reading his books at schools.