Writers on The Internet: I’m God: Online Self-Promotion for Writers and Rappers

When we first started dating, my boyfriend said that I needed to maintain both a Twitter account and a blog.

“You don’t even have a Facebook account,” I objected.

He explained that his career as a neuroscientist doesn’t involve much self-promotion, so he doesn’t need social media. But as a fiction writer, I needed to build a following. There was a rap star, he told me, who built his entire career on his Twitter follower fanbase.

“He’s not even a good rapper,” he said, nodding enthusiastically.

“But I am a good rapper,” I insisted. “Writer, I mean.”

It’s been almost two years since I first learned about Lil B, the rapper and historical online figure, and I still have not gotten the hang of self-promotion. Most of my tweets are about my dog. Now my border collie has a fanbase, and I’m left in the dust.

I’m also in an MFA program now, and the topic of Internet persona comes up a lot. I’ve been encouraged to tweet by a couple of my professors, which seemed bizarre at first. But one professor said that since it’s so easy to connect with everyone, people are suspicious of you if you’re not an online presence. Where have you been? the Internet asks. You’re late!

So I have made small efforts to promote myself. I post links to my stories published online, especially my flash fiction stories. The flash form is short enough that many of my Facebook friends might read it, even those who wouldn’t buy a lit magazine. Build a fanbase, I think. You’re a rap star.

Writers are, in general, an awkward bunch. That’s why you’ll find so much booze flowing at writer’s conferences. We barely know how to talk to one another. When writers are online, we’re in our comfort zone: we exist only through our words (and a few carefully chosen Instagrams).

This reminds me: I was at a party last weekend, clumsily milling about with fellow MFA students, when one poet said she’d recently read a book called Self-Promotion for Introverts.

“Tell us what you learned,” we said, hungrily. “We need to know.”

It was during that conversation that someone else brought up a writer who is a genius self-promoter, someone who seems completely comfortable in his own skin, both online and in person. He’s an aggressive tweeter, a gifted bookseller.

“He’s the perfect example of a writer whose entire career is built on connections and self-promotion,” a fiction writer said. “Which just makes me think he’s full of shit.”

I agreed at the time, and part of me still agrees now. But if we don’t promote our own work, who will?

One of my favorite authors, Karen Russell, once told Esquire magazine that she thought writers could learn from rapper’s oversized egos: “Can you imagine Alice Munro or Cormac McCarthy telling their fans “Envy me. I’m literary fiction’s MVP”? Sometimes I wish they would! It takes real courage, I think, to write forward in the face of self-doubt.”

Russell doesn’t have a Twitter, and her Facebook account is maintained by her publisher. Russell is the Beyoncé of the lit world; she doesn’t need social media at this point. Beyoncé only has a Tumblr/Twitter/Self-Directed HBO Documentary for personal amusement, to sprinkle more glitter on top of her mythology.

For the rest of us, those still slogging through the slush piles, we do need to self-promote, even when it feels pointless or delusional. Lil B raps in his song “I’m God”: Somebody tell the ocean, I’m the best now / Somebody tell the trees, I’m here now.

I’m come to believe that online activity bolsters self-confidence in your work, and even self-worth in a larger sense. Every time you’re Tweeting or Facebooking or Instragramming you are quieting telling yourself: I am going to tell my story because it is worth telling.

So because we admire those who live their lives loudly online, and because we understand those who are more reluctant to, NANO Fiction has asked some writers to share their cyber experiences and their own perspectives on being a writer and online self-promotion. The essays will appear online. We hope you’ll come back to read them. Until then, you’re the best now. You can tell your Twitter followers that NANO Fiction said so.







Annie Hartnett is a recent graduate of the MFA program at the University of Alabama. She is currently at work on a novel and has stories forthcoming this year at Unstuck magazine and Indiana Review.