write

How to promote your work without selling out

I have a little confession to make.

The promotional aspect of the whole blogging thing is not one I usually cherish.

Often it feels, with Twitter and Facebook posts, with emails to friends and “casual” detours in conversations to the topic of my new blog, that I’m a hustler. That I’m trying to sell myself to my readers. That I’m desperate for their attention and will do almost anything to get it.

I don’t think I’m alone in this anxiety.

In this strange new age when we writers have to promote our own work, it can feel very often that we’re Faustus, tempted by the devil Mephistopheles. Mephistopheles is money, fame, recognition. None of these things are “evil” in themselves, but they are powerful distractions from our true identities.

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“I was walking among the fires of hell …” / gags9999 / flickr

Unfortunately, a lot of writers do end up selling their souls — that is to say their originality, their true ideas, the work of sitting down to write — just so that they can perform better in blog clicks and book sales.

A lot of writers do end up selling their souls just so that they can perform better in blog clicks and book sales

Fame and recognition is fantastic (and a little money is not so bad, either), but sacrificing my writing for these things is not something I want to do. I knew that if I was going to promote my work in an authentic way, I needed to get to the core of what I’m trying to do with this blog.

Why am I creating it, anyway? And why do I think others will want to read it?

I can now say that my best advice when it comes to promoting your work is this: “find your cherry tree.

Find your cherry tree.

You see, a couple of weekends ago, I went to Alsace, a region in Northeastern France. Wanting to get out in the rosy sunshine, I went for a walk with my boyfriend. We waded through the tall, thick, scratchy grasses, and the sun baked our skin. We staggered uphill. We sweat.

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A wheat field in Alsace, France. Photo by Rebekah L Mays

Just when I was rethinking the entire decision to go out that day, we stopped in front of a massive tree.

“It’s a cherry tree!” my boyfriend said.

And I saw that he was right. We picked as many cherries as we could reach. They were perfectly ripe, and the juice ran down our fingers, and our thirst was quenched and we were no longer hot in the shade. It felt we’d discovered a place no one had ever found before, and even though we knew that couldn’t be the case, the sensation that we were explorers stayed with us all day.

Back in the quiet house when we were alone and it started to rain,  I sat down and wrote in a frenzy about our adventure that day.

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Cherries / ZeroOne / flickr

And that, I realized, is what I’m writing about here: place and good writing, two things that go together so well. It amazes me how merely getting onto my two feet and seeing a little more of the world than I did yesterday can transform the quality and texture of what I’m crafting almost instantly.

And that, I realized, is what I’m writing about here: place and good writing, two things that go together so well.

That’s what has changed and challenged my work, and that’s what I think will help so many other writers if they continue to travel and discover new places — as long as they come back at the end of the day and write it down.

So if you want a reminder of why you’re doing what you’re doing, whether it’s managing a blog, or writing a novel, or starting a new business, find your cherry tree. Find a story, or an image that represents your message to you. Once you do that, write it on a piece of paper and stick it to the wall. Print it out on a picture and hang it over your computer. Get outside and visit it, if it’s a physical place you can go. In other words, keep it close to you somehow.

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“Cherry Tree Hill – Barbados” / Brook Ward/ flickr

And then all the promotion, the tweets and the posts and the email blasts, will have a purpose. It will be about sharing that message with others rather than hawking some product.

You’ll be able to relax in the knowledge that you’re actually giving away a very precious part of yourself, and at the end of the day that’s a generous thing to do.

Rebekah Lee Mays is an American freelance travel writer who’s lived and worked in Europe for the past three years. Her fiction has been published in Hobart and the Forge Literary Magazine, and she currently studies literature and creative writing a few blocks from the Luxembourg Garden. Litlag was born out of her experience blogging at the Prague BLOG, where some of the articles here were originally published. She tweets @smallbeks.

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