by Kim Kelly

lady drum

BANGING YOUR DRUM

Self-promotion is a weird little kettle, isn’t it? Those of us who work for ourselves – whether you’re a writer or a plumber or florist or an Elvis impersonator – have to talk about what we do or no-one will know that we exist. And if no-one engages our services, we can’t pay the bills.

More importantly, if we can’t share what we love to do, then what’s the point of doing it?

There seems to be an increasing squeamishness about the whole idea of promoting our own work, though, particularly among writers and other artists.

‘Sorry for the shameless plug!’

‘Apologies for this moment of media-whoring but…’

So we begin our posts throughout our networks, letting people know about the release of a new book, a gallery exhibition, a new show, a radio interview, a library talk.

Why should we feel compelled to grovel and cringe like this, though?

Yes, as Australians we’re champion cringers by tradition. We have to be careful not to be seen to ‘big-note’ ourselves – bragging and swaggering is a sure fire way to lose credibility, not only among friends, but even your mum will tell you to pull your head in. Likewise, if you’re seen to be too clever or too good at what you do, you’re torn down by ‘tall poppy syndrome’ – a curiously Australian phenomenon in which we selectively revive our long-dead egalitarianism for the purposes of attacking anyone who dares to stand out from the crowd.

And yes, it’s also true that we’re all a bit tired of being sold something everywhere we turn, here inside this extraordinary intersection of extreme capitalism and digital revolution that’s boggling the lot of us right now, but what’s got me curious lately is that it seems to have become fashionable to play coy at selling your thing at all.

Writers I’ve known for decades, who previously had no difficulty banging all manner of drums, are suddenly putting on the virtual blush, while some younger writers seem to think a sprinkling of false modesty is required with every spruik. Why?

Of course I’m always sympathetic to the shy. I know what it’s like to be rabbit-in-the-headlights terrified of taking my wares to market. Learning to simply feel okay about talking in public has been a massive achievement for me over the past couple of years. Anyone who lives with anxiety will know what a savage prison it can be. Breaking free of it doesn’t seem something anyone should apologise for. Indeed, learning to stop apologising for myself when I haven’t done anything to be ashamed of, has been a specific goal of mine – and one I’m very happy to say I am netting most of the time these days.

So what are the usually un-shy really cringing at here? Let me hazard a guess, go on.

Writing, like most other artistic pursuits, is a game dominated by the lucky, lucky life-lottery winners of the middle class – by those who have the time, or the financial ability to take the time, to shake their creative tail feathers – and the blushing apologisers perhaps don’t like the way social media exposes the reality that have to get their hands dirty with the business of promoting their own work, largely because no-one else will.

What?! You mean writers don’t all have personal social media whoring assistants to do this boring, commercial crap for them?

No, they don’t. Most writers make big sacrifices to pursue their art, ones that only their perplexed tax accountants will ever know the truth about. And besides, with ever shrinking publicity and marketing budgets across the publishing board, there is literally no alternative to self-promotion.

Well, there is, I guess. One could refuse to participate. But there’s another great Australian word for keeping one’s pleasure to oneself alone, isn’t there? Starts with ‘w’ and ends with ‘anker’. (Oops. Did I say that? Yes, I think I did.)

Really, though, while self-promotion does seem a little awkward and strange sometimes – for example, I often avoid looking at my author photo when I’m on social media, not just because it scares me but because I get so sick of looking at it – without it, I couldn’t communicate with my readers.

And it’s communicating with readers – the little exchanges we have about my stories, and their stories, and all sorts of stuff, both silly and serious – that not only makes my day, but makes me feel more and more okay about being in the world. It’s you, dear readers, who continually help me break down my walls of doubt and fear. And that would never have happened at all, if I wasn’t here, banging on, doing this thing I love…