I’ve written recently about the (potentially) unfortunate necessity of promoting yourself as an author these days. My own basic take on this situation is that the best way to promote yourself also happens not to be the kind of boorish and/or slimy stuff you think about when using the word “promotion.”

Rather, by taking a sincere interest in the community of writers/artists/whoever around you, by engaging with that community via participation in social forums, attendance at readings/events–essentially by speaking up and being a person–you can create a social context within which your own work has meaning. Really, it’s a stupidly simple attitude and perspective shift that can help you avoid despair, or at least some of it.

Anyway, someone who’s way ahead of the game with this kind of stuff is the author/filmmaker Michael Kimball. I recommend taking a look at his blog to see what kinds of projects he involves himself in and/or invents–it’s both inspiring and plain cool. One of the projects he’s gotten a lot of attention for (NPR interview included) is called The Life Story Project.

The Life Story Project is easy to explain: he interviews people (mostly other writers or artists), and crunches their life story down to fit on a postcard, which he then mails them, and also posts to his blog. Check out the archive. It’s amazing. In 20 years, this is going to read like a who’s who of the early internet author scene. It’s not just an interesting collection of life stories, but an historical document of connections between people. What reinforces this second point, and adds a new layer of interest/complexity to the project, is that he’s now bringing in other writers/artists whose stories have already been told to interview yet more writers/artists, playing a kind of asexual Cupid.

Michael doesn’t go around talking about how this project has helped raise awareness about his own writing–even though it undoubtedly has–for two reasons: 1) it’s not about him, and 2) he’s incredibly cool and humble about the whole thing. What he will talk about is how responsive and encouraging and supportive the community has been all along.

Anyway, here’s where I admit that, as you already know if you’ve clicked that link to the project, my own life story is now part of it–written by an author whose work I greatly admire, Kim Chinquee. What’s more, I just agreed to spread the love by writing up someone else’s life story. So here I am, writing about this project because I’m involved, and talking about Michael Kimball. See how that works?


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SHYA SCANLON is the Fiction Reviews Editor for The Nervous Breakdown. Scanlon's work has appeared in the Mississippi Review, Literary Review, New York Quarterly, Guernica Magazine, Opium Magazine, and others. His book of prose poetry, In This Alone Impulse, was published by Noemi Press in January, 2010. In 2009, his novel Forecast was serialized online across 42 journals and literary blogs as part of the Forecast 42 Project. Forecast will be published by Flatmancrooked in December, 2010. He received his MFA from Brown University, where he was awarded the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction. Please visit him at www.shyascanlon.com.

4 responses to “A Self-promotion Life Cycle”

  1. Greg Olear says:

    The cat’s out of the bag, Scanlon. Had no idea your life story was so unorthodox. More pieces about growing up on the commune!

    • Shya Scanlon says:

      Well, it dissolved when I was still quite young, so I can’t really speak to it much. It now lives primarily in my instinctual drive to create one myself–though my arrogance won’t permit me to call it anything other than “semi-permanent artists’ retreat”.

      You wanna go in on a farm upstate?

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