Amanda Palmer on Why Artists Should Self-Promote (Bonus: How To Do It Without Selling Out!)

Last week I wrote about Amanda Palmer’s excellent keynote speech for the Grub Street Writers’ Muse and the Marketplace conference
, where she made an impassioned plea for artists to validate themselves instead of waiting for a publisher, gallery owner, studio, or other gatekeeper’s endorsement.

She also had a lot of useful things to say about self-promotion:

Another image struck me, and it was this:
the garrett.
the one in the attic.

A photo from Amanda Palmer's famous Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that raised a record-breaking $1.2 M. If you love and believe in your work, you shouldn't be ashamed to promote it.

A photo from Amanda Palmer’s famous Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that raised a record-breaking $1.2 million. If you love and believe in your work, you shouldn’t be ashamed to promote it.

i’ve thought about it before when asked about the music business.
the garrett belongs to that set of romantic notions we all had or have, painters, writers, musicians, and how they work.
“up there.”
with a pen, a paintbrush, a piano. by candlelight. alone. the space is isolated and fraught with artistic tension. drunk. chainsmoking. agonizing. creating. up here. in the garrett. separate.

down to the ground floor, out the front door: you have the marketplace. loud. the stalls of exchange. the sound of bargaining and bartering and changing cash registers. it’s crass.

it’s mundane.
literally mundane compared to the garrett. it’s on and of the earth.
i give you goats, you give me bread.
i give you a handful of coins, you give me a paperback.
i give you an amex, you give me a best buy giftcard.

the marketplace is NOT “artistic”. it’s “commerce”….
it is the WILD WEST down there in the marketplace of the internet.

carrying your fragile newborn work wrapped in a blanket through the stalls can be agonizing. the marketplace is dangerous. it’s dirty, it’s loud and filled with disease and pickpockets and naysayers and critics. it’s easier NOT to do it.

but there is another option, which is:
to YELL from your window.
to call to your friends below, your comrades in art and metaphor, and invite them up to a private party in your garrett.
this is the essence of crowdfunding.

finding your people, your listeners, your readers, and making art for and with them. not for the masses, not for the marketplace or the critics, but for your hopefully ever-widening circle of friends. and you aren’t totally protected from criticism. the minute you lean out that window and try to find your friends, you might get hit with a rock, and if you look down, you’ll see a lot of this from down there (*raises middle finger up to the sky*). you’ve got to learn to ignore that.

but you’ll also see people quietly heading to your door and knocking.
let them in. and tell them to bring their friends up.

and if possible: provide wine.

(From her transcript, and the video of the talk is at my above link.)

The most meaningful part of the talk for me was when she discussed being accused of “shamelessly self-promoting.” Many of the people I work with have a terror of being accused of that, and it really holds them back. But you can learn to self-promote and sell unashamed.

(More here.)

How to Build Your Audience and Sell Your Work
Without Being a “Shameless Self-Promoter”

My students and I have articulated the three personae people most often assume when self-promoting. The first two are:

Arrogant Idiot, who is (in no particular order) Obnoxious, Arrogant, Pompous, Rude, Grandiose, Delusional, Shallow, Condescending, Naive, Unhelpful, Grasping, Insecure, Boastful, a Big Talker, Manipulative, and a User.

Shy Violet, who is Shy, Silent, Self-Effacing, Isolated, Invisible, Insecure, Unsure, Delusional (in the sense that she’s seriously undervaluing her worth), Perfectionist, a Hoarder, Ashamed, and Guilty.

My students, who place a high premium on authenticity, fairness, honesty, and other good virtues, shrink in terror from being an Arrogant Idiot. However, whereas Arrogant Idiots unfortunately succeed all too often in this world, Shy Violets almost never do. So what to do?

Fortunately, there’s a third option, The Artist Who Shows Proper Pride in Her Work. She is:

Gracious, Grounded, Secure, Helpful, Sharing, Modest (but not too modest), Authoritative, Participatory, a Listener, a Learner, and Relationship-Oriented.

That’s the option for those who wish to succeed while retaining their integrity.

Honestly, it will probably still be challenging: you’ll have to be a public figure and very few people, including many actual public figures, really enjoy that. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether you want to make the effort and pay the price. While doing so, however, don’t forget to factor in these points:

  • For many creators, being in the public eye is not unpleasant all the time, or even most of the time. A lot of the time, actually, it’s a delight. (Like when someone tells you your work has meaning for them.)
  • The price you pay for choosing not to promote is not getting to live your dream. And that’s a very high price.

For many people, the right choice will be to proceed with their dream, promotional obligations and all.

You also have choices on how to promote. You can strive for a big, mass audience or a small, niche one–and you can choose the composition of that niche. You can also speak, blog, tweet, or form strategic partnerships. It’s okay to focus on the one or two techniques you’re most comfortable with, and even one or two of these techniques, implemented with diligence and intelligence, should enable you to find and connect with your audience.

The hard part is that you can do everything right, promotion-wise, and people will still libel and defame (or ignore) you, especially on the Internet. (Plus, you’ll inevitably make mistakes, and get attacked for those as well.) So, ultimately you need to learn to cope. Overcoming your own perfectionism and ambivalence is a great first step. And learning to cope with success-related losses will help.

Palmer’s view of the garret versus the marketplace may, in fact, be too dichotomized. (I’m always alert to dichotomization as it’s a perfectionist symptom.) As my former student Evan Webster, a visionary tee shirt designer and screen printer, wisely put it: “Part of creating a good product is figuring out how to sell it.”

I will be writing more about promotion in the next few months, and sharing some proven strategies for writers, artists, and academics. Promotion truly is an act of sharing, and also an act of self-liberation.

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