Sunday, April 10, 2016

Promote Your Content: Three Simple Steps (with Inspiration from Walt Whitman)

Writing is no small task. Many of the best writers spend hours, days, and weeks laboring over a single article or post. Unfortunately, the effort is often wasted. The Internet is loaded with relevant, engaging, informative content--quality writing that no one ever reads.

Not all good writing attracts an organic audience. For new websites/writers, especially, the very act of publication can feel like shouting into the void. The problem, of course, is not the writing itself. The problem is promotion. Too often, good writers fail miserably at promotion. In fact, on social media--at least in our circles--it is nearly axiomatic: the best writers abhor self-promotion.

It is accepted, of course, that a published author has to self-promote, yet many good writers feel the need to apologize. So many self-promoting posts begin, "Sorry for the self-promotion..."

Of course, the two talents, good writing and self-promotion are not mutually dependent.

Walt Whitman, for example, practiced an inventive (and deceptive) means of self-promotion. After the publication in 1855 of his book of poems, Leaves of Grass, Whitman wrote "anonymous" reviews praising (and sometimes criticizing) his work.

"An American Bard at last," he wrote in The American Review, later declaring himself  "the largest lover and sympathizer that has appeared in literature"--a true statement, in our estimation, but still.

Whitman's "anonymous" review [Photo Source]

"I celebrate myself," Whitman famously begins his poem, "Song of Myself," a sentiment--in literature, life, and self-promotion--that has since rarely been matched.

Whitman's unique brand of self-promotion might seem outrageous today, but his impulse, in the end, is instructive. He wrote an amazing book. He believed the book deserved attention. So he engaged in relentless (shameless) self-promotion.

Of course, self-promotion need not be shameless. Plenty of authors practice self-promotion with humility and panache.

Below we offer the three essential steps for attracting an audience.

Contact Well-Known Writers in Your Niche 

Walt Whitman famously sent his first edition of Leaves of Grass to the most famous writer in American, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Emerson wrote back, "I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of 'Leaves of Grass.' I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed."

Don't expect this sort of response, but do reach out.

By contacting a well-known writer in your niche, who might be willing to share your article, or offer a quote, you might gain access to colossal audience.

KissMetrics suggests contacting influencers at scale by using BuzzStream. This is a terrible idea. If you're going to contact a well-known writer, write a personal, genuine note.

As with your writing itself, the quality of this form of self-promotion is much more important than the quantity.

Contact Your Immediate Social Circle

When contacting others, do not limit yourself to "influencers."

Your article might be of special interest to certain friends in your social network. Again, though, do not follow the terrible advice of KissMetrics. Make it personal.

Take the time to reach out to your friends via private messages. Let them know that you've written a piece that might interest them.

In this way, you cultivate a devoted (and personal) readership--a group of core readers who are more likely to share your content.

Scale with Humility and Tact--and Persistence 

"The public is a thick skinned beast," Whitman wrote, "and you have to keep whacking away at its hide to let it know you’re there."

In his quest to "sound [his] barbaric yawp," Whitman might've neglected humility and tact, but he certainly understood the value of persistence.The key to successfully promoting your work at scale, however, is humility and tact.

Read this simply-stated, genuine tweet from the writer, Dominic Smith, whose novel, The Last Painting of Sara De Vos was released earlier this week:
Simply put, without fuss. When sharing, there is no need to apologize. Just share your stuff without pretense. Here it is. I hope you have the time to read.

Of course, then, for beginning writers, persistence is important. You just want to make sure you're not overloading anyone's feed with relentless self promotion. Remember, humility governs not only how you share your stuff, but how often. There is no golden rule here. Only this: share enough to attract attention, but not enough to annoy others.

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