By definition, every one of us exists in first-person present tense. Yet it's one of the most difficult tenses to write, and one in which it's very easy to make mistakes of logic. Perhaps this is because in some respects, the act of storytelling is in opposition to the act of simply being. Storytelling is invention, re-creation, the replacement of what is immediately around us with an artificial alternative. The storyteller is always a filter between us and the world, whereas true first-person present is essentially direct experience. Thus to write genuine first-person present, the author must become invisible – if you like, a filter that is entirely transparent.
Selling yourself. It sounds bad, doesn't it? It has connotations of selling out, of being all about the money. Of prostituting your art for the sake of a quick buck. But in this digital age, the ability to sell ourselves is one of the key attributes we as authors require.
It is, of course, nothing to do with money – at least, not directly. We aren't simply selling books in exchange for cash, though we hope that will be a consequence of what we do. Rather, we're selling an image. A sexy, knowledgeable and/or witty version of ourselves that the world wants to spend time with. Because when they're interested in us, they'll be interested in our work – and that's how idle browsers become readers and readers become fans.
At least, that's the theory.
I've been dabbling in this process for a while now – dabbling, because as yet I haven't actually made any books available for people to read.* And it has to be said, I'm not finding it easy. I never have. When an interviewer asks me why I'd be the best candidate for the job, I always draw a blank. Not because I don't think I'm a fast learner and a team player and a giver of 110%,** but because I feel so awkward saying so. Yes, I'm clever and creative. Yes, I'm diligent and punctual and an asset to any company. But somehow, those words coming out of my mouth sound lame and unconvincing. It's not that I don't believe I'm good. It's simply that I'm not sure I'm the best.
Something similar happens when it comes to my writing. The internet seems to be full of people shouting look at me!, and I've never been the look-at-me type. More the reading-a-book-in-the-corner type. So although I think I'm a good writer and maybe even an interesting person, I struggle with letting the world know that. With putting my work out there in the confidence that it will be enjoyed. With making myself into a saleable package.
All this is a problem, because in writing as in so many other areas of life, it's often not the most talented people*** who get results but those who can best sell those talents. I always hoped that my work would speak for itself – I always thought that writing was the ideal profession for an introvert like me – but these days, the book itself is only the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the berg is made up of marketing, self-promotion and online presence: in other words, the sell. And as it turns out, I'm not terribly good at that bit.
Reading back through this, I realise it sounds a bit whiny – as though I'm yearning for the grand old days when writers just, well, wrote. But I'm not complaining, not really. I understand the fault lies with me. If anything, this post is intended as advice to anyone who's thinking about becoming a writer. Learn your craft. Learn how to write. But also learn how to sell yourself. You'll be thankful in the long run. Because great writing without the sell is like standing in the middle of a busy station and whispering announcements: no-one's going to hear you.****
As for me, if anyone has the faintest idea how I can get over my self-promotion phobia then please let me know …
* Though there's always the possibility I might sell myself to an agent or publisher. But that's another story.
** Kill me now.
*** I'm not saying I'm one of them, by the way. Though maybe I should be saying it … Argh. You see why I struggle with this stuff?
**** Conversely, the sell without great writing is like a marvellously enticing billboard that turns out to be promoting a scam. But again, that's another story – though not a very well-written one.
A couple of weeks ago*, the wonderful Kay Kauffman nominated me for a Sunshine Blogger Award. (If you haven't already checked out Kay's blog then you should – it's full of interesting things, as well as having one of the best names EVER.)
Now, I wouldn't consider myself a very sunshiny person. More of a rainstorm. But I'll admit that from time to time, a ray of sunshine strikes me – and maybe that's when I make rainbows. So without further ado, here are my answers to the Sunshine Blogger questions.