“A university lecturer, huh? So, how much do you make?”
I almost choked on my wine, narrowly avoiding showering my shirt with red droplets . In the UK, where I lived at the time, this was a question you would never, ever ask – even your best friend. And yet, the cute girl from abroad had no qualms about it, although we had only just met. I managed to slip away at the first chance I got, rattled by what I perceived as a regrettable lack of manners.
A Confident Friend
I was reminded of this when I recently fell out with a good friend. She is the kind of person who enjoys announcing her worth to the world. She will tweet about her book daily, and promote it to everyone who’ll listen.
I, on the other hand, immediately shy away from anything remotely seen as blowing my own trumpet. Indeed, in my mind, doing so only reveals one’s insecurities. Naturally, her behavior made me shake my head, and one day I told her as much.
“That’s a terrible thing to say,” she said, obviously shocked. “I am a strong, confident woman. I believe in me and my work, and have worked hard to get where I am today. Why shouldn’t I be proud of my achievements?”
There’s no real answer to that, I realized, and I could see that she meant every word. It also dawned on me just how much my cultural references have to do with my reaction to her boisterous nature. My upbringing can be summed up nicely in the words of Lord Chesterfield, 4th Earl of Stanhope, as written to his son back in 1748:
Above all things, and upon all occasions, avoid speaking of yourself, if it be possible… Never imagine that anything you can say yourself will varnish your defects, or add lustre to your perfections. But, on the contrary, it may—and nine times in ten will—make the former more glaring and the latter obscure. If you are silent upon your own subject, neither envy, indignation, nor ridicule will obstruct or allay the applause, which you may really deserve. But if you publish your own panegyric upon any occasion, or in any shape whatsoever, and however artfully dressed or disguised, they will all conspire against you, and you will be disappointed.
Texas Vs. Europe
So, was Lord Chesterfield wrong and my friend right? Or was it the other way around?
Neither is the case. We are both the product of our upbringing, and we mirror the values of the societies in which we have been brought up. My very European outlook towards things seemed to her, a fiery Texan, incomprehensible. How could I market my books if I didn’t believe in them or in myself? She could not understand why I would never speak of my achievements, being instead happy to let others steal the spotlight.
Likewise, her own behavior signified insecurity to me. I could not understand her constant need to promote herself; to shout to the world, “I’m worthy.” Having no interest in doing so myself, I frowned mentally whenever she did that. From my point of view, someone who is truly confident in their own worth, feels no need to prove it.
Ironically enough, this attitude of mine was a sign of insecurity to her, whereas to me it was one of self-confidence.
Just Ask the Chinese
A major influence in my life – cultural reference if you wish – has been the Tao Te Ching (you may remember how I’ve even translated it into Greek and give away my translation for free, just so that more people can benefit from reading it).
Anyway, Taoists have this lovely concept called Wei Wu Wei. Translated literally, it means, do without doing. It signifies that people should go with the flow instead of forcing a situation, and advises against going against the nature of things.
My own nature is one of helping others rather than blowing my own trumpet. If I try to promote myself, it comes across as awkward; unlike my friend, who is able to effortlessly combine confident self-promotion with helping others. Therefore, my marketing is focused on three simple principles:
- Be real,
- be fun,
- be helpful.
If you do that, people will buy your books simply because they will like you and will want to support you. In other words, “if people like what you’re saying, they’ll buy what you’re selling.”
More importantly, though, if you’re like me, you’ll be able to market your work and your brand without mentally cringing every time you send a tweet or hit “post.” And that is something even more important than making a sale!
And your friend?
As for my friend and me, after a series of long conversations we came to realize just how much our cultural references define us, and what an impact they had in our relationships. And I’m glad that we finally managed to overcome this misunderstanding and understand how we each see the world, respecting each other’s outlook.
So, if you’re comfortable promoting yourself, do so. As for me, I’ll keep following my marketing strategy, as I’m still uncomfortable blowing my own trumpet. Or discussing my income with strangers, for that matter…
While making up your mind as to the strategy that appeals to you, why not read my children’s book, Runaway Smile, for free?
My late. beloved husband had this same issue with selling his books, so I did the marketing work for him. Never, ever forget that you have something important to say, you have a voice, and as an artist, you are compelled to speak your truth. There’s no shame in that. In fact, it’s an act of great courage. Being a creative soul is a gift that should be shared with all. Don’t hide your light under a bushel! The world needs light right now, very badly..Please share it.
That is such a sweet thing to say! One of the great things about our era is how easy it is to share our creativity, and I love that (I mention it in https://nicholasrossis.me/2015/12/17/writers-stop-romanticizing-rejection/ ). But I still find marketing a fine balance 🙂
Loved this post.
Thank you! 🙂
All this stuff about blowing your own trumpet cuts quite deep with me – I don’t think I have ever owned a trumpet! I was brought up not to be bigative (meaning will be supplied to any who do not know that word.)
But now I’m a (supposed) self-publisher, it’s not an easy attitude. I fight shy of social media, and every time I wonder if I should learn to tweet, the papers are full of death-threats to tweeters!
Lol – oh, Sue, how I know what you mean! 😀
There is an art to using twitter, but if you’re yourself, fun and helpful, then you’ve got nothing to fear. Check out this post: https://nicholasrossis.me/2015/02/13/my-book-marketing-secrets-brand-building/ for some extra tips 🙂
That’s the single most helpful post I have ever seen on marketing, Nicholas – will try to work towrd those suggestions, one by one.
And to spellcheck my replies!
Lol – no worries, we’ve all been there 😀
Wow, high praise indeed 🙂
In that case, you may wish to check out the rest of my marketing guides, starting with, “You just got published. Now what?” on https://nicholasrossis.me/guides/
I’ll certainly do that too!
Nicholas, what you give you get back. That’s a non-narcissistic way of promoting others that promote back. The marketing goes hand-in-hand with that. Your last statement, “While making up your mind…” read your children’s book for free worked for me. I now have 5 of your paperback books in the bookcase! I think your personality, and great effort at establishing a friendly relationship with your followers is the best marketing strategy. I’m with You & Lord Chesterfield on not publishing your own “panegyric upon any occassion,” so no disappointment against me! I’ll remember that for book marketing/promotion when I get there. Thoughtful post! Christine
Aw, I wish you lived closer so I could bring you cookies and cake. As it is, I hope that a virtual hug will do. Thank you so much for everything 🙂
Nicholas, you’re deserving of kudos, and thanks for the kookies and kake thought, and the virtual hug. Could you include virtual Greek feta cheese and olives with that? Virtual hugs back, for Electra too! Christine
Lol – when we were in Edinburgh, my mother-in-law used to send us feta by mail on a weekly basis. Surprisingly enough, it always arrived in perfect condition (except for the one time that UK mail was on strike. I’ll spare you the details).
Oh No, I can see & smell the results! When I lived in Greece I bought a huge brick of feta every week, and soaked it in water to reduce the salt content. It was a staple food for me! I could go on and on how awesome Greek food is, but then you know all about that! Christine
It is one of the things we had missed the most while in Edinburgh. That and sunshine 🙂
Excellent post! I’m with you my friend! I’m humble, and helpful. And I can live comfortably with that. 🙂
And you always leave the kindest comments 🙂
So every day we should be out kissing babies and posting those photos on our blogs, right? 🙂
ROFL – absolutely 😀
Reblogged this on Jan Hawke INKorporated and commented:
Self-promotion – are you a slave to your cultural hang-ups? 😉
Definitely enjoyed this post, Nicholas. We are indeed strongly influenced by the world and by our own cultures. Communication and respect are great mediators of differences. Indeed, our similarities become apparent and our differences help us see the world from the others’ perspective. Have a great day!
Thank you! You too 🙂
Having lived in Portugal for 11 years, I am well acquainted with cultural differences. At the end of those years, I had been well indoctrinated into the culture. Moving back to the States was much harder than moving to Portugal
Lol – sounds like you turned native 😀
I would go back in a heartbeat. And then visit Italy and Greece.
The more I learn about you the more similarities I find between us. I, too, am not comfortable talking about my achievements, “tooting my own horn”, or discussing my personal life in general. Conversely, I don’t like when others do it either. Unless, it’s a shameless plug now and then, done correctly. After all, books don’t sell themselves. But I also feel that those who constantly talk about how great they are usually have many insecurities. At least, it comes across that way… to me. There needs to be a happy medium between the two to successfully sell books while at the same time not sound aggressive. Point in fact, you don’t normally see NYTBS’ shouting about how great they are. They promote, yes, but tactfully. Stephen King comes to mind as an author who exemplifies humility, instantly making others aspire to his greatness.
My feelings exactly 🙂
When in Rome etc, lol! I tended in the past to think that marketing and promotion were the same things but, since I’ve been self-publishing, now realise that they’re not really…
I also think that the transatlantic ‘divide’ has a lot to do with the pioneering spirit and with leaving restraints (cultural ones anyway) behind. America’s for so long been the land of opportunity for so many nationalities, but with so many on that trail. the individuals who were able to stand out had an advantage that, two centuries later with communications technology on a huge versatile growth spurt, can sometimes translate as ‘s/he who shouts loudest’ becoming top dog. The art lies in the pitch of your ‘voice’ and that’s where nurture over nature manifests most – there’s different ways to shout and where you choose to do so! 😉
Success is also different for individuals, so I don’t think self-promotion should be prescriptive – you just choose where you want your own comfort level to be and then adjust your volume control accordingly! lol
What a great way of putting it 🙂
Living in Texas has not changed my reference. Quiet confidence I call it. Well done.
Thanks, John 🙂
I understand completely. I’ve always preferred being behind the scenes than front and center. Cultures are what make us different.
Thank you! 🙂
I am an American, born, raised, and lived here all my life. That being the case, I am more like you, Nicholas. I was taught to toot your own horn is equivalent to bragging, and no one likes a braggart. I’ve tended to keep my achievements in the background. Perhaps it is generational. Possibly it is my European heritage.
Possibly. Then again, there are vast cultural differences among American states, as well. I was just reading a fascinating article on the Economist on the subject of Southern states and how they hold similar views: https://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21647625-150-years-after-end-civil-war-states-were-once-confederate-remain
“For all the economic dynamism of the South, it remains a region apart, from the bedroom to the ballot box. If you know whether a state was part of the Confederacy, it is possible to make a reasonably accurate guess about where it stands on a range of seemingly unconnected matters, from party politics to gay marriage.
In the autumn of 2014, when control of the Senate was decided in the mid-term elections, one of the best ways to predict the outcome was to look up the results of the presidential election of 1860.
Today, only five states have no minimum-wage laws; all were Confederate 150 years ago. Of the ten states that lock up the highest proportion of their citizens, seven were Confederate. A further two that make the top ten—Oklahoma and Arizona—were created since 1865 and settled in the late 19th century by southerners escaping the depression that followed defeat. In only 12 states do most residents think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Five were in the Confederacy.”
Good point. There are huge cultural and political differences from one area of the U.S. to another.
I agree. I was born and raised in the South, and I live there now. But I’ve lived and visited all over the States and can see a lot of cultural differences between the areas of the States.
Sometimes people over here forget that differences among states are just as great as those between European countries.
That was the other thing I wanted to ask. If people are raised not to talk about themselves then how would they know how each other is doing? You’d have two people trying to talk about the other, but neither would be sharing. Maybe I’m being too literal and silly with it.
Lol – it does make for a lot of guesswork. You know, maybe that’s why people have all these subtle ways of reading each other’s social status, such as clothes, jewelry and accessories like bags and watches.
Then, there are some not-so-subtle signals. Until early 20th century, Greece was predominantly agricultural. The more sons a family had, the more fields they could plow; hence, the richer and higher-up they were.
In Mani, families would build an extra floor for each boy the family had. This way, anyone passing through a village would immediately know where each family stood, socially.
I always wondered if they had to tear them down in case a son died. All that building would certainly keep builders busy!
I’m terrible at those readings. I know nothing about clothes, jewelry and accessories. Gucci bag? I guess that means the person is rich or likes such things?
Maybe they kept the floor in memory of the son? Now, does the kid get the entire floor of the house or just one room?
No idea. This was during the Ottoman occupation of Greece. A time when people in Main couldn’t have verandas, because they would get in the way of defending the house. That’s why the Mani towers resemble actual towers rather than homes:
Interesting. I can see how a veranda would cause trouble in a fight. So it’s about building up instead of out, which seems to be the opposite of homes today.
When in Florence, I had to laugh at the Lonely Planet’s description of a palazzo. Apparently, it was equipped with all the essentials of Medieval life in the city: a spinning stairway that allowed its easy defense; indoor battlements; thick walls…
Makes sense. I’m trying to figure out how to explain my thoughts, but I’m realizing how my own upbringing doesn’t really fit into my current actions. I do daily promotions because I’ve felt that it’s needed to keep the author ball rolling. Some days are slower than others, but I get the sense that I’m doing something productive. Announcing my victories is done out of pride, but also I want to have some type of evidence that such things happened. Yet, even as an American, I was raised to be rather laid back and not revel in my victories. Not sure this was an intentional thing with me. So I tend to feel like I’m going against myself when I do all these promotions and ranking announcements. Almost like it isn’t natural, but it’s necessary because my world view changed when I looked into being an indie author. I saw plenty of talented authors fail because they did no promotion or refused to help others. So I try to find that middle ground, which leads to a lot of confusion on my part when I interact with someone that is working off a different cultural preference. Though I never realized that might have been the reason until now.
Lol – I’m glad to have offered you a new perspective 🙂
From a European point of view, I think you’re doing a great job at balancing things. Much better than me, probably, as I avoid mentioning my own work and accomplishments to a fault 🙂
I think you’re on a smart path with helping others. It creates a strong foundation of support when you have something to promote. People know you’re a helper and they want to return the favor. It’s very different and less stand-offish than the lone wolf author path.
Thanks. Mind you, it would be even wiser if I wasn’t so shy about asking for help 😀
I’m in the same boat. 🙂
I know. That’s why I’m so eager to help you whenever you ask 🙂
Same here. Though there are days I wish I could just rest while the book sells itself. Never seems to happen.
Not yet, anyway. Hey, I’m an incurable optimist, what can I say 🙂
Probably have to do it once or twice over the summer. Vacations and all that. 🙂
What’s that vacatyoon you mention? It rings a bell from back when I was at school, I think…
For me it’s going somewhere with the kid. Typically outside.
Sounds great, especially since it’s 8.30 pm over here, and I’m still staring at a monitor 🙂
I tend to do the same thing. No rest for the writers. 😉
This article gave me a good chuckle. I’m not sure if that was your intention or not, but I appreciate the laugh.
This is definitely a cultural thing, and us Americans perceive the Polite British as maybe a little too polite sometimes but, as you say, as long as we can tolerate each other’s cultural upbringings we can be good friends and get along well – like you and me. 😀
I used to work as a loan officer and am used to asking those kinds of questions: income, credit, etc, but I would never ask those questions to a random stranger on the street. Although, from my cultural perspective, your situation above seems like the girl was just curious.
One question I find myself asking, not being able to hold back, is how much you paid for your house. Maybe it’s the real estate person inside me, or habits from being a loan officer, but I’m always so curious about that. Would you consider that a rude question? I have to keep all this in mind if/when I ever travel abroad.
My sister lived and traveled in India. She said it’s common there to sit at the table with someone else whom you don’t know (here that’s considered rude) and she said one of the first questions out of someone’s mouth will always be, “How much money do you make.” The reason why they ask this is because of their caste system; they want to know if they are below or above you.
I think that the fact that the US was founded during the time of Reason, when the idea that ‘one person’ really matters and can really make a difference has made a huge impact on the way that we think. Our founding fathers put this in the Constitution and wrote several articles about it. Tons of our movies are about it (the rebel, the cowboy), social movements (rights for women, blacks, LGBT, etc) and even our politicians are praised for going against the grain for doing something that they really believe in. In my opinion, that is one reason why so many innovations come from here. And so I think that’s probably why a lot of Americans have no problems tooting their own horn (although there is a big difference between promoting yourself, having confidence in yourself and bragging).
However, if everyone really acted this way all the time, then we’d have a lot of trouble, wouldn’t we?
(btw, I was reading this article from my Google Now on my phone. Yaay!)
Yay Google Now! 🙂
I love your comment. To answer your question, I don’t know if asking for the house’s worth would be considered rude before the credit crunch, but I suspect it will, now! Mainly because houses have lost over 50% of their value…
My feeling on this are evident, Nicholas, but like the vast majority of Irish people, I have an ingrained dislike of boastfulness. From the earliest age I can remember being told “self-praise is no praise”. In the Lonely Planet guide to Ireland, they even gave the advice in the past “don’t talk yourself up: let your friends do it for you” and I think this is very true.
Of course there are vast cultural differences when it comes to speaking about ourselves, but I also think there is a vast difference between someone being confident, and someone being boastful. A confident person is comfortable with their own achievements: a boastful person needs and often forces you to acknowledge them. To me, they are two very different states of being, the former being quite attractive, the latter quite the opposite.
I realise not everyone will agree on this, but I would rather tailor my interaction to the culture of the person I’m speaking to (let alone trying to sell to), than completely pi** them off and ruin any chance of mutual understanding!
Lol – fair enough. You do realize, though, that tailoring your interaction to the culture means you’d have to be boastful when talking to someone like my Texan friend, right?
Well, I wouldn’t go that far! I suppose I mean that I would err on the side of caution by trying to avoid the more negative side. Shouters on the Internet are very easy to placate, for instance, with insincere compliments. Mostly because they’d believe anything nice said about them. But also, a total inability to grasp sarcasm can be a gift to the deafened European. 😉
I’m from your camp of thought, but I recognize that some people can also market themselves more directly with great success. It really depends on the personality, I guess. I -could- try to take advantage of the repertoire I’ve built up over the last three years trying to get people to buy my short stories, but… it feels wrong, if I do it for myself. So obviously I’m better suited to market other people’s things, which is what I’ve been doing.
It’s worth it though, when that review comes out of nowhere and says “Wow, that really touched me.” I’d definitely rather my writing speak for itself than me awkwardly stumble over trying to sell it. 😛
(P.S.- Just bought Book I of Perseus. ^_^ Don’t know when I’ll get to it, but when I do review it, I’ll make sure it’s on all the sites.)
Aw, you’re so sweet! Thank you!! 🙂
Surprisingly enough, direct marketing does work, if you can pull it off. Just not with everyone.
Oh, I agree. I probably could direct market just fine. But it goes against my nature. 🙂 So I market things I edited or put together, and little else.
Yep. Direct marketing isn’t for everyone 🙂
I’m a quiet one… well, ish! Love everything about being an Indie except the constant promoting! Perhaps that’s why I’m not a rich and famous author, lol!
I’m right with you, there, Nick! I do it on occasion, but I don’t like it, and certainly don’t feel comfortable with it. I try to make it as gentle as I can, but to be quite honest, I’d rather keep reaching people by writing my blog, and commenting on others. It may be slower, but hopefully it won’t p**s people off, and anyway, I enjoy that personal contact and friendships which you just don’t get by constantly harping on about your book.
You’ve been reading Tara’s post, haven’t you 😉
Personally, I think your way is great and I love reading your posts. Oh, and congrats on the 500 milestone! 🙂
I did! And thank you! I think your way is a great example to follow.
Aw, thanks! 🙂
Reblogged this on graemecummingdotnet and commented:
Having just shared Tara Sparling’s post about a related issue (What if Authors Behaved in Real Life Like They Behaved Online), this post takes a slightly different perspective – though I still ended up feeling the same. What do you think?
I noticed this when I was studying for my MA in Creative Writing. The American students were so much more confident about their writing and who they were than us UK students. We were much more likely to take criticism of our work to heart and get depressed. The American students saw criticism as a positive thing they could use to make their work better. Rae.
I, too, noticed plenty of cultural differences in Edinburgh, between the various nationalities. It’s fascinating to watch! Although, in my experience, the Brits were much better at taking criticism than the American students.
I’m very impressed by this post, Nicholas. I, too, am more about making myself or my work as attractive as possible. I’m less likely to promote myself though I have promoted causes or principles that are important to me. We are called, and call, differently which makes life very interesting.
Thanks! That perfectly describes me, as well. I can be very loud when it comes to causes I believe in, but never when it comes to my own work 😀
You’re welcome, Nicholas! I just read through the thoughtful comments here and was struck by the power of complementary action. Within my American environment and fortunate to have friends who represent each end of the promotion / attraction continuum. We need each other!
Hear, hear! 🙂
Lol, I hear what your saying – like you, I don’t like to trumpet my accomplishments and when a person does, it’s a sign that either they have an over-inflated ego or they’re not secure within themselves. My grandmother would definitely have told me off for trumpeting my own horn – to her it would have been a sign of vanity and that you had no manners. So I am definitely a product of the things my parents taught me and what I believe as a Christian – those are the two things that influence my out-look in life the most and they’re the things you don’t easily set aside 🙂
Exactly! We shouldn’t be so quick to judge others through our own upbringing, though 🙂
So very true 😀
I’m reading Closer Together right now. You’ve done a great job with the extra chapters! 🙂