Kyle Willey

The Ten Commandments of Showing Off (Part 2)

A couple weeks ago I started this series, which focuses on mistakes not to make when you’re trying to show off your work. It focuses on writers in specific, but a lot of these rules are going to apply broadly across any creative or business endeavor. Showing off is important for letting everyone know your strengths.

You can read it here. Today I’m going to get into some details about how to look at your posts and format them so that they actually go out in the right way.

Rule 4: Thou Shalt Not Forget Your Medium

Think about where you’re promoting stuff. If you’re on Twitter and you are fighting the 280 character limit, remember they originally designed Twitter for 140 characters. The increase was something that was in high demand for a long time, but many of the best tweets are still short and sweet.

People on Twitter aren’t looking for your story, they’re looking for your highlights. You have fifteen seconds, if even, to show off what you have. If you use all of that on text, people won’t have time to digest it before they keep scrolling.

The 280 character limit is so that you can have your tweet, hashtags, and maybe a couple well-placed @’s, not an invitation to bloviate.

That doesn’t mean promotion should always be short. There are times and places for longer posts, but it’s also worth thinking about where you want to wind up. Sometimes a blog about what you’re doing is marketing, and your making-of reaches out to certain people who like certain things. If you write historical fiction, think about writing up your research into a blog and then tying that back to your book, for instance. You could put out teasers from the world-building side of a science-fiction project, if that’s your jam.

Just remember that you need to promote your strengths. Don’t write for the sake of just writing.

If you’re writing for a marketplace blurb or a pitch to an agent, think about the formats there. You want to have something that carries your unique voice (then your writing shows the style of, well, your writing), but you also need to think about two things, which are the two essential things for any medium.

  1. Time. How much will the average person you reach out to this way read? Remember, they’re conditioned by their job/the site you’re on/their interests to pay attention to certain things.
  2. Presentation. You need to come across as if you have everything together. Marketing isn’t a product in the traditional sense, but it leads people to your product. If it’s too weak people will go away.

Rule 5: Thou Shalt Not Overlook the Audience

By this point we’ve established that you’re showing off, right?

So remember who you’re showing off to. This ties into your strength and your appeal, but you want to know who your market is. Some of this is a topic for another day (so I’ll outsource it to The Write Practice for now), but there’s an important point that needs to be made here.

Do not waste time trying to sell your work to people who are not interested because they’re not a good fit for it.

Do not, when showing off, show off to people who are interested while using tactics meant for people who aren’t interested.

If you’re avant garde, I should not see a boring and formulaic book description here.

Some of this also comes down to audience appeal.

I’m in a few writers’ groups on social media, and when there’s self-promotion people often just post their general marketing blurbs. Depending on the quality, I sometimes take notes for what to do in my own practice.

But you know what I never do?

Click through to see what they actually wrote.

But I do click through to see things sometimes, and it’s when someone comes along and makes a personal statement along the lines of:

“I just published my novel and I’m so excited!”

Why?

The person who’s celebrating what they’ve just done is engaging with the writer’s group. The blurb isn’t. They presented writers with what they’d show readers, and it didn’t build the connection in that community. If I see someone posting the same blurb they’d put on their general Twitter profile in a private writer’s group, it’s clear that they don’t know who they’re talking to.

And if I think you don’t know who you’re talking to, I don’t want to read your book!

Rule 6: Thou Shalt Not Lie (Even By Accident)

The difference between sinful pride and healthy confidence is honesty. Remember this whenever you show off your work.

The difference between sinful pride and healthy confidence is honesty. Remember this whenever you show off your work. Click To Tweet

The fundamental question that you should have in your interaction with potential readers or customers is what they’re going to get from you.

In a healthy relationship, you are giving them something they want at a price they can afford and which increases your own success. If you’re giving something away for free, you might further your network or get subscribers to your newsletter. Maybe it’s a gate-way to future things.

If it’s tiny and insulting, don’t shout about how generous you are about giving it away. It’s okay to admit that your freebie is small. It may still compel the right people.

Avoid showing off with overly subjective judgments of your own work. There is a place for some humor here (“My mom says this is the best book ever written!”) for certain writers and books.

The important thing here is to communicate clearly with regards to what you’re offering. Don’t cite comparison novels if they’re not really accurate. “Game of Thrones in space!” is a bold marketing claim. It works for The Left Hand of Darkness. It doesn’t work for Stranger in a Strange Land. Barring the fact that both were written before Game of Thrones, one of those has a thematic similarity and one does not. Full disclosure here: I’ve never read or watched Game of Thrones, so this isn’t a testament to any similarities between the prose of Le Guin and Martin.

If you just want to take someone’s money and run, show off in a way that doesn’t match your product. But that’s a bad long-term strategy and people hold grudges.

Rule 7: Thou Shalt Not Fire and Forget

Showing off writing isn’t a one-and-done process. Be prepared for anywhere you promote yourself to be a long-term relationship.

If you’ve got beautiful visual advertisements that highlight something, you’re going to want to monitor the campaign and responses.

If that’s a tweet, then you’re just going to read replies, answer questions, and check engagement.

But if you’re paying for ads (something I rarely recommend for writers, but that’s a long story), you want to make sure that you’re getting your money’s worth.

However, let’s say that you’re working on something like a blog.

Blogs generate evergreen content (which can be hard to predict, unless you’ve got the knack for it) and they also serve as a regular place for updates.

If you’re working on something like an author’s site, you might have just a couple posts for announcing major projects.

But if your site is where you show off your writing chops? Update it often. Respond to comments. Push things out to the world.

Building relationships is part of showing off. You’re signalling that you’re available. Don’t simply put in the bare minimum effort. You need to commit to the degree that it is reasonable for you to do so. A few reciprocal interactions is a great way to make people who see your writing feel heard and appreciated, and appreciating those who read your work is always important. That means you right now! Thank you!

Wrapping Up

Showing off is often a matter of showing up.

You need to do a little research about what exactly you’re going to do. Confidence alone isn’t enough to show off.

Bring a careful presentation to the table, even if it’s not perfect. Know who you’re speaking to and what they expect to see (or, better, what communicates your value to them!) before you show off.

Then build a relationship built on honesty and interaction.

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