Before You Can Successfully Promote Yourself First You Have to Nurture Your important Network Connections
Before you can promote your work, you need to establish a professional network populated with others you have established connections with.
In today’s high tech arena, the game has changed for writers. Before the creation of the internet, the only way your work was published was if a legitimate publisher took you on, which was an extremely competitive process leading to few seeing their work in print. The only other option was to pay a vanity publisher a lot of money.
While this meant that far fewer writers were actually published, the ones that were received support that included editing, obtaining reviews for the jacket, marketing and promotion of the final product including placing it in bookstores and libraries. Once working with the editor was complete, the writer was free to begin writing something new.
Now, practically anyone can see their work published due to the number of self-publishing options available on the internet. Writers can produce their own books through free online platforms like Kindle, magazine-style articles through platforms like Hubpages, and blog posts through individual blogging platforms like Blogger and Wordpress or large blogging platforms that have established an online community like Medium.
While these options are positive for writers who want to publish their work but may not be able to sign with a publisher, all of the support functions that agencies used to provide for writers, are now carried out by the writers themselves. This means that marketing and promotion efforts are the writers’ responsibility. It also means that there is an enormous number of writers competing for readers’ attention.
My Age of Naivete
When I first started writing online, I had no idea how to promote my work nor understood the importance of doing so. I wrote for a few different platforms and established a blog through blogger. My understanding of success at the time was much like the movie Field of Dreams, “If you write it, they will come.”
I did understand that you couldn’t just write anything and have people want to read your work so I spent a lot of time writing and editing each post or article that I created. I carefully crafted my message for each piece. Then I edited and proofread them, read them out loud and edited again.
Given all of this, I figured that I would gain an audience. I wasn’t naive about this though. I didn’t expect it to happen overnight. But I thought that slowly over the course of perhaps a year, I would build an audience of followers and fans, after which things would begin to grow exponentially.
As the months ticked by with little growth, I couldn’t understand where I was going wrong. I was knowledgeable about the areas about which I was writing, I had credentials, I was writing about popular topics, and I was publishing regularly. Yet I was getting few readers, fewer followers and practically no comments.
Looking back at that time, I’m amazed at how ignorant I was. I’m not sure how I thought people would just happen upon my work or why I thought that when they did they’d enthusiastically share it with all of their friends and family.
I had ignored the fact that there were a multitude of other writers online, thinking they wouldn’t matter if my work was good enough. The reality was that many of these writers produced work that was as good or far better than mine and also had knowledge that I didn’t about marketing themselves.
It was probably two years before I began to understand that there are ways that you can promote your work, and probably another six months before I understood that today self-promotion isn’t optional, but a must if you want to be successful.
Off and Running . . . In the Wrong Direction
As I’d lost several years that I could have been promoting my work and increasing my following, I rushed headlong into the fray throwing my work at every social media platform I could find. Posting to Reddit, Mix, Flipboard, Twitter, Hacker News, Pinterest, and about two dozen Facebook groups for different sites I was writing on kept me hopping. I pinned, tweeted, posted, flipped, and hacked. I tried to become a Reddinator, but didn’t have the patience for their content requirements and negativity, so instead helped to establish a competitive site called Saidit. So I suppose I Saidit, too.
Initially, I was amazed at the difference in my traffic. This thrill lasted for about three months. But then I looked at things a little closer. I wasn’t receiving a lot of return visitors so I wasn’t converting visitors into followers or fans. I still was getting almost no likes or shares. And while the number of visitors for these first three months grew enormously, after the third month this increase began to slow until it arrived at a standstill.
Back to the Drawing Board
Looking into possible reasons for the slowdown in my traffic, I found numerous articles on how important your network is for being able to promote your work. This made a lot of sense and I realized I’d been doing the equivalent of running up to a group of strangers, throwing my work at them saying, “Read this,” then running on. It was a miracle I’d gotten any readers at all!
Being an introvert, I didn’t have the biggest network so I set out to work on increasing it in order to have more people who would read my work. Again things grew for about three months then leveled off.
I became frustrated. What could be wrong now? I pulled back on my efforts and contemplated this whole endeavor trying. Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for this whole writing gig. Without the pressure to produce new work and frenzied efforts to get it read I was able to clear my mind and think logically.
Over time, I began considering how my network might play into the ability to promote my work and what factors, positive ones and less positive ones, could affect how my network can contribute to success. I came to a simple but important realization.
A Network is Made Up of Real Live People
A network isn’t a single entity despite that being the way we refer to it. There are individual people in a network. This meant I needed to establish relationships with them.
Just like in the offline face to face world, my relationships with specific individuals in my network were different and I formed closer connections with some than with others. Some came to feel like friends, while some felt like professional peers, and others seemed more like casual acquaintances. There were also those that felt like nothing much at all.
These last individuals were those people who came into the network solely to promote themselves without giving anything back or taking part in the network in any other way. I realized that this was exactly what I had done before coming to understand that’s not how things work.
I thought about the people I had real-life relationships with and how I interacted with them and asked myself a few questions. Were these relationships all one-sided? Would I ever ask for favors upon just being introduced? Would I ever ask for favors without ever bothering to make small talk or even ask how the person was? Would I expect, even with friends or family members, to always be the one asking for favors without ever offering anything in return? Were my relationships mercenary and based just on doing what I had to do in order to get them to return the favor? Would I try to get a business associate or customer to do something for me without first connecting with them in some way?
These questions helped me put things into perspective in terms of what it meant to establish a network. In real life, hopefully, we act in a balanced way such that we give and we get. We don’t expect others to always give to us while we sit back and enjoy the rewards. We also don’t suggest business arrangements where we propose a trade of favors without there being any kind of relationship first.
I think the last question above holds the key to how we can build meaningful networks that have a number of benefits for us and those we are interacting with. It is a matter of establishing connections.
The people we relate to in our lives are those we are connected to. They are those individuals whose company we enjoy, who have things in common with us, who we have shared things with and who have shared with us in return. They are the ones who we have built real relationships with that have nothing to do with what we need from them.
Even in professional situations, there’s an aspect of relationship building and this is a matter of both mindset and the commitment to doing more than just what benefits us. We need to view the network that we build as a place of support, relatedness, mutual benefit, being there for others, and one of joining, of coming together around common goals. Along with the way we perceive these communities, we need to be able to make a commitment to be there beyond the immediate here and now.
In the past, there have been times when I found someone online through a community I belonged to that I really liked. We seemed to be able to relate to each other and communicating with them was easy and fun. For an introvert, this is not something that necessarily happens very often. Yet for whatever reason, over time I let these connections slip away.
This wasn’t done intentionally. I got busy, they got busy, I had too many people in my networks I was trying to interact with while running several of my own groups and publications. We didn’t overlap a lot in what we wrote, and it always seemed like there were just too many people whose work I wanted to keep up with.
There are several I still look back on that I wish I hadn’t let go of, or that I’d fought harder to make it known how much I valued them. I do my best to make sure this happens now. But it is still hard.
Relationships and connectedness are the foundation of what makes it possible for us to ask for and grant favors. When we try to get people to do something for us but no relationship exists, they might do it once or twice but they aren’t going to continue to do so, nor would we if the situation were reversed.
The same thing applies to promoting our work. Without actual relationships people are not likely to help us past a certain point. Anything less comes across as taking advantage.
This is where I went wrong when I first learned about groups and sites that could be used for self-promotion. I tried to jump to the front of the line without putting in any of the work up front. I think a lot of us try to do this. We just want to see results.
But before we can see results we have to put in the work. This means paying our dues, hanging out and learning about the different sites we want to use, and actually becoming a real member of the community by becoming involved in it without initially asking or expecting anything in return at the outset.
In addition to establishing ourselves as a member of the community, it is also important and worthwhile to establish relationships with individuals in the group. This will happen naturally given enough time. There will be certain people whose work we gravitate to and which we are interested in engaging with.
The writers who wrote that work may respond to our comments and that can set up a dialogue. Perhaps we ask them for help in certain matters, which can be very helpful when we are just getting started. Observing the discussions in the group will let us discover whose style and opinions we feel comfortable with and we may weigh in on those which will also lead to friendships.
But the bottom line is, before attempting to sell the members of the group your work and get them to engage with it and help you promote it by sharing it, you have to first establish your network and take the time to get to know the community and individuals in it. Then when you ask them to engage with your work or share it with others, they won’t feel resentful and won’t hesitate to help you out.
And remember, building a network is not a numbers game so don’t favor quantity over quality. If you want to build a network that benefits both you and your connections, it is the quality relationships that will make a difference and it’s these people who will respond favorably when asked to help support and promote your work
Natalie C. Frank has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. She specializes in Pediatric Psychology and Behavioral Medicine. She frequently writes about the importance of social support for coping with stressful life events.
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You can also find links to all of the articles, essays, fiction and poetry I publish on Medium here. Thanks for reading!