I am often accused of being too self-promotional, although I don’t send out mass emails about every event that I do, or every poem that comes out in a magazine, or every chapbook of mine that gets published. Partly I restrain myself because I know how very annoying it is to receive dozens of emails a day promoting books I’m not interested in and poetry readings that are way too far away for me to attend. Partly I don’t like getting harassed by the dozen or so jerk-offs who harass me whenever I do anything. And partly, I know that I have a blog, website, and many other vehicles to promote my work that people can choose to go to if they’re interested–I don’t have to force it down their inboxes.
In some ways, my limitation of my self-promotion can be bad. For instance, I published my own book, so promo work that I do as an editor of that book is necessarily self-promotion and sits at the edge of poor taste. Now that Outside Voices is publishing its second book (Ric Royer‘s The Weather Not The Weather), I will be able to go all-out with promotion because it’s not my book. But perhaps Organic Furniture Cellar could have sold better if it were promoted more aggressively, that is, if I had not had to struggle with the problem of “self” in the “promotion.” For another example, perhaps if I promoted my chapbooks or readings better, more people would support the small presses that publish my chapbooks (this is not so much an issue right now, since the only chapbook that’s still for sale is Shifting Landscapes from above/ground press, but it might be an issue in the near future when my chapbooks are released from Dusie and Dos Press) or better attend the readings I give. Self-promotion is necessary, and autre-promotion is necessary, because as Shanna Compton once said, “who else is going to do it?” Even so, there are tasteful and tasteless ways of doing it.
There are forms of other peoples’ self-promotion that I can stand and even like. I like promotion that happens in one’s own sphere– for instance, ads for a poetry reading at the venue where the reading takes place; blogs and websites that advertise an author’s or press’s work; email lists that I sign up for like the DCPoetry list; emails from close friends that tell me what they’re working on. I am a pretty smart person and I can be trusted to find out about things on my own. I do not need emails about poetry readings happening in Calgary when I don’t live in Calgary. I don’t need emails about every chapbook that comes out, especially when those emails are duplicated because they’ve been sent by both press and author– I’m perfectly capable of finding out about chapbooks from presses and authors I like by browsing the web at my leisure. I especially don’t need (and this is the very apex of the kind of self-promotion that annoys me) emails about reviews of your work. I really don’t give a damn who reviewed your work.
Organic Furniture Cellar has its own blog, where I list reviews, upcoming reading dates, and recordings as well as information about where to buy the book. I think this is a good strategy. The blog doesn’t get a lot of hits, but I also don’t have to constantly annoy people with every new review or reading that’s related to my work. I can trust my intelligent readers to find the information themselves.
I think the problem of self-promotion or non-directional promotion (i.e., promotion that is not targeted at a specific audience, like mass emails) has grown exponentially since Facebook became public. Only a little while ago, Facebook was a student-only site. Since it became public, more and more poets have joined it. Perhaps more than any other demographic, poets have descended upon Facebook like locusts, making and joining events, fan pages, groups, etc., and befriending everyone that anyone thinks might be a poet (example: when Imade my romantic relationship public on Facebook, poetry people started sending my boyfriend friend requests– although they’d never met him or heard of him and in fact he isn’t a poet). It’s a bit mind-boggling how poets have taken advantage of Facebook to promote readings, presses, parties, books, etc. And to some extent, it’s fine. There are, however, cases where it is not fine, and I would like to make a rudimentary list of rules for using Facebook in a polite and reasonable manner.
1. Do not befriend people that you don’t know. You can “know” someone virtually, but if they really have no idea who you are, don’t send them a friend request. If you still feel compelled to send a friend request, please use the message function to describe who you are and why you want to be friends with them.
2. Do not invite people to events that they can’t attend for obvious reasons. It takes five minutes to scroll through your list of friends and choose the ones who live near the event. I probably only attend 1/10 of the events I’m invited to because I’m constantly being invited to events that aren’t anywhere near me. One way to make this easier on yourself is to subdivide your friends into regional lists (go to Friends–> All Friends–> Make a New List). Then if you’re reading in NYC and you want to make an event invitation, it’s easy to just invite the NYC people.
3. Limit the emails you send from your group or fan page to, at the maximum, one per month. Please send them less often than that. I want to join your group or fan page and show you that I support you and your work, but I really don’t need to know every single thing you do. Presses, especially– please condense this kind of stuff into a monthly newsletter. And please try to ensure that you don’t send me the same thing more than once.
4. Do not, under any circumstances, post advertisements on your friends’ walls. If you’re having a wall conversation with a friend and you happen to mention your book, that’s fine. But don’t post what are essentially just ads on my wall. I’m not your billboard. Use your profile to promote your work–don’t use my profile to promote your work.