Welcome back to the Life after the MFA series, where we tackle the myriad questions and concerns recent MFA grads encounter as they venture into the world of writing.
Last month, we covered the ins and outs of contests, grants, and fellowships. This month, we will move into the more precarious waters of marketing and self-promotion.
In AWP’s The Writer's Notebook, Christina Katz argues, “Writers today are cottage industries. If you work with words, all you need these days to get plugged into the global economy is a laptop and an Internet connection. If you have a smartphone and a printer to go with them, you’re ready to do business.” In “The Tech-Savvy Writer: Embrace Technology, Establish Your Online Presence, and Earn More,” she makes a compelling case for leveraging all that the Internet has to offer writers.
However, not everyone is so convinced. Peter Dirk gives us "10 Reasons Why Social Media Doesn't Do a Damn Thing for Writers" over at Lit Reactor.
Dani Shapiro discusses her own struggles with self-promotion and the changing landscape of the literary world in "Dani Shapiro on the Hard Art of Balancing Writing and Social Media" over at Lit Hub.
And Jane Friedman offers a compelling argument that there can be significant barriers to maintaining an online presence and the ability to balance the work of writing and self-promotion in "The Secret to My Productivity, Or: Thoughts About Luxury and Privilege" on her blog.
Not all self-promotion happens online. In “How to Give a Killer Reading,” available in AWP’s The Writer’s Chronicle Features Archive, Christine Vines offers some vital tips on how to make an impression when reading your work. She speaks from experience as a former reading series organizer about whether or not a reading immediately translates into book sales: “The benefit is exposure to potential new readers. And when this introduction goes well—with all the chemistry of a great first date—I could draw a family tree of the recommendations that resembles the biblical book of Numbers. And these are just the ones personally reported back to me from the monthly event that I ran.”
Looking for spots to share your work (when it’s safe again)? Try the Poets & Writers Reading Venues database. Poets & Writers also offers a Literary Events Calendar, including those taking place online that you can attend live from the safety and comfort of your own home.
For more specific advice on reaching audiences, especially for poets, check out PR for Poets by Jeannine Hall Gailey (Two Sylvias Press).
We will leave you this week with some wise words from former AWP board member Lesley Wheeler, professor at Washington and Lee University and author of several books of poetry, including Propagation, Radioland, and The Receptionist and Other Tales:
"When I get interested in authors—perhaps because I like a poem in a magazine or enjoy a reading at a conference or festival—the first thing I do is enter a name into a search engine, so I do think it’s important for writers to have websites and a few pieces online. I’m less likely to go looking for the work if I 'meet' someone through social media, but blogs, tweets, and Facebook posts have deepened my knowledge of and liking for many literary people, especially when they use their platforms to curate and celebrate the work of other writers. I live and teach in a rural part of Virginia, so my networks need to be heavily virtual. I need the news and reading recommendations I find online. And I’m more inclined to buy a book, or review or teach it, when I have positive associations with the author.
"I’m a fan of social media used generously, but I limit how often I check in. Sometimes it makes me crazy or just wears me out—in many ways, it’s the opposite of the open stillness I’m trying to find through reading and writing. It’s helpful to think of writing, blogging, reviewing, and even posting and tweeting as service to poetry rather than self-serving promotion, so I make sure to focus some attention on great work by strangers, as well as past authors who haven’t yet received enough love for their accomplishments. I figure none of us controls how our work will be received. I write as well as I can, seek to publish, and help those publications reach audiences, but after that, who knows what tiny proportion of my writing, if any, will last? Having done some net good for poetry by encouraging and celebrating others—that would be a decent consolation prize."
Be sure to join us next month, when we'll consider how to craft a robust literary life for yourself!
Communications Coordinator & Membership Assistant