Authors today, whether self-published or blessed with a traditional book contract, must do at least some marketing on their own (or hire someone to do it for them). If they want a book to achieve even moderate success, they should be prepared to dip a few toes or more in the muck of commerce, beyond the pristine realm of conferences and readings.
Nonfiction writers have traditionally been more comfortable with marketing, so for them the trend toward heightened self-promotion may just represent more of the same. Fiction writers, though, especially those inhabiting the rarified kingdom of literary fiction, are another breed—one inclined to view marketing as vulgar and mercenary. To many in this tribe, self-promotion is a contaminant that poses a threat to their art, even literature itself. (See anything Jonathan Franzen has ever said on the topic for an example of this attitude.) While in principle this may be true, in practice it is potentially fatal—to the lives of their books.
This poses a dilemma: if self-promotion is a sellout/distraction, yet rejecting it precludes a wider readership or a readership period (and a writer without readers is barely alive), what is the true artist to do?
Parallel Content Delivery/Ongoing Marketing Vehicles
One approach is to fashion a strategy that conflates art and commerce, by creating content/marketing vehicles that both supplement and promote the book. This strategy is expanded literature (EL). EL can incorporate the full range of social media, including Twitter, a blog, photography (via Flickr, Facebook, etc.), YouTube—anything.
EL annotates and expands the book; and functions, in part, as a repository for the wealth of texture/background—including history, reportage, topical parallels, etc.—that cannot all fit between the covers. EL helps to make the book come alive. Also, EL gives it constant visibility, thus making the book (and its wider subject) perpetually fresh.
With an EL strategy that is smart and well-maintained (this is key), the full potential of these platforms—especially the “social” dimension—will be realized through the convergence of content, promotion, and audience interaction.
A New Paradigm: The Convergence of Literature & Social Media (Plus Merchandising)
EL represents a new paradigm—the convergence of literature and social media. Though the book is the central element and stands on its own, the concept lends itself to a multifaceted presence. It allows/inspires ample opportunities for new platforms, new content sources, and additional streams of revenue.
Even merchandising can be incorporated, in a seamless, cost-free way, via one of the produce-on-demand sites that make customizing a multitude of items (clothing, accessories, home and office products, etc.) surprisingly simple.
It is a truism that authors today must “get their hands dirty” with marketing like never before. The economic factors and (techno)logic behind this reality are indisputable, and quite well documented. (See every single blog and Twitter feed emanating from the legions of publishing professionals.)
Expanded literature can make this truism real, in a way that allows authors to promote their work without sacrificing integrity or vitality (though Franzen might still disapprove), and maybe gain a lot more readers in the process.
If you’re an author, agent, or other publishing professional and would like to learn more about how expanded literature/strategic communications can help you or someone you work with, contact me at ajeisenstat[at]gmail[dot]com, or visit my portfolio AdamEisenstat.com and LinkedIn profile.
Most visual artists can talk freely and fluidly about their work: technique and materials, underlying concepts, influences, etc. But when asked to put these ideas into writing, they often find themselves at a loss for words; or more often, overwhelmed by too many words—gushing forth from the wellspring of information/experience that collects naturally through their immersion in the creative process.
The artist is intimate with every single aspect of his/her work, which can make it difficult to focus on its most significant elements—especially when attempting to explain their art in black and white. This should come as no surprise: visual artists are generally not writers, and writing per se, which relies on a different mental palette—another side of the brain, no less—may be relatively alien to them.
An Outside Perspective is Essential
Every artist can benefit from an outside perspective on his/her work—carefully considered and directed toward a specific end. Clarity, brevity, and focus are qualities an objective voice can bring to basic marketing communications, such as an artist statement.
Separating the promotional voice from the artistic vision makes a lot of sense—like a frame that separates a painting from the outside world; facilitating the conditions that allow the art to “speak for itself.”
My Methodology: Here’s How I Work
Artist statements are my specialty—tailored to each individual artist and his/her work. Here is how I create an artist statement (~ 500 words):
- I thoroughly examine the artist’s work, notes, ideas, etc.—with the aid of a general questionnaire I send beforehand;
- I revise the questionnaire based on our combined notes, creating a customized questionnaire for our . . .
- Phone interview (one hour max). Invariably we uncover truths about their art they had never imagined (everyone seems to love this part of the process);
- I write the statement, and edit it based on the artist’s feedback.
For more posts on art promotion, and for links to samples of my work, go to the Writing for Artists tab.
The following post is from an e-mail message (lightly edited) that I sent to a recent client who had asked me the following: “Do you know of any ‘preferred’ ways to approach a gallery? My plan is to finalize the Website, then create a brochure/postcard about my work and send it out to selected galleries to drive them to the site for more info. Does this sound like a good plan for exposure?"
I would not claim to be an expert in “art world” promotion tactics; there are subtleties and intricacies in said world about which I’m just not that knowledgeable. (I know enough to know that I don’t know much.) Fixing your site and doing a postcard are key, but how exactly to approach galleries I can’t say for sure. Consider the following rules of thumb, though, which might apply to ANY realm to which you/I/anyone might be seeking access.
Do your research; find a handful of galleries that you believe would be receptive to your work—based on previous work shown, stated philosophy (if any), word of mouth, and whatever information you can glean. Then target those galleries through some combination of stealth, accepted practice, and, if possible, audacity (though you probably don’t want to do anything too wacky or brash). Tailor your approach to each gallery, even if only slightly; make sure that each one you contact knows you’re aware of what it shows (i.e., the art they like), and DO NOT even hint that it (the gallery) is part of some mass mailing.
A generic, “broadcast” approach will never be a substitute for diligent research and networking/personal contact. I realize that this in itself is fairly generic advice, but it’s still true. It’s EASY to send out a mass of promotional fodder and think you’ve made a good faith effort to promote yourself (come what may); it’s HARD to really find out where your work might have the best chance.
There are no silver bullets; there are no one-size-fits-all answers or approaches. Before you do anything, though: make sure that your art and your materials (Website/postcard/etc.) are the best they can be; ALWAYS try to make whatever you do—art/promotion/anything associated with your creative life—stand out. First take care of what you have the most control over (ESPECIALLY your art), and the rest might be easier than you imagine.
For more posts on art promotion, and for links to samples of my work, go to the Writing for Artists tab
Do something amazing, requiring a ridiculous amount of time and devotion. Then make no effort to promote it. Later, do the same thing again. It’s an exercise in discipline, craft, and generosity; and an investment—however elusive or indirect—in future returns.
Cultivate a reflexive hesitation to grandstand, employing your reserves of humility, personal experience, and understanding that “pride goeth before the fall.” (This is not the same thing as a reluctance to promote yourself, but rather a way to infuse your promotion with subtlety and grace.)
Hone your ability to inflate your accomplishments to oversized proportions, but practice the technique of holding back and deploying hyperbole surgically. Be like the quiet karate master—capable of overkill, supremely confident, thus exuding strength and avoiding conflict altogether.
Never show your ego to the client; your own self-worth and confidence should be taken for granted. Creating a buzz is essentially a metaphysical idea. (Has anyone ever seen or actually felt this “buzz?”) Yet the process comprises distinct, concrete steps.
Make all of these steps meaningful and organic—i.e., integrated with previous and pending steps—so that they reflect both the object of the buzz and your life’s work as a whole. Everything you do—even random, seemingly meaningless gestures and actions—influences your future, in ways both obvious and unexpected. Pursue each opportunity or exchange mindful that it may lead to more significant ones.
To learn more about writing and strategic communications that can amplify your distinction, contact me at ajeisenstat[at]gmail[dot]com, or visit my portfolio AdamEisenstat.com and LinkedIn profile.