If You're Proud of Your Work, Promote TF Out of Your WorkIf You're Proud of Your Work, Promote TF Out of Your Work
If You're Proud of Your Work, Promote TF Out of Your Work

A post by Yancey Strickler on the Metalabel Substack stopped me in my tracks. Why can it be so difficult to stand proudly by one's own creative work? Promoting one's work non-stop is part of doing the work, despite the discomfort it may cause.

Contributed By: Julian Bleecker

Published On: Tuesday, June 18, 2024 at 13:13:20 PDT

Updated On: Wednesday, June 19, 2024 at 14:05:05 PDT

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A post by Yancey Strickler on the Metalabel Substack stopped me as I was grocery shopping last week, partly because I caught a glimpse of a reference to Tyler the Creator as I glanced down at my phone.

I’m closely tracking what Yancey and the Metalabel gang are doing and trying to figure that all out so I couldn’t help myself but to see what he had posted.

It was a simple post with a simple story that would be familiar to all creative-first creatives. That is, those who feel that they can’t help but create and would do so (and probably do) absent the incentive to make money.

How do you get your work “out there” in a world where mixing the creative consciousness considers money to be both necessary and quite evil.

Yancey told a story about writing a book and being an author. Once the book was published, he assumed that was that.

Wrong.

Turns out, that may have been the beautiful authorial part but that wasn’t the end of the work. In fact, in some sense, it was just the beginning.

Now you have to promote the work. That’s Hard for a particular kind of creative consciousness to do as it can feel like prideful boasting — the kind of ‘prideful’ that is Biblically sinful. The kind of pride that is the opposite of humble. The kind of pride that one assumes others will see as boasting and self-promotional.

I’ve gone through similar challenges. The first photo book I published was about 12 years ago. I spent a year photographing women skateboarders at a time where there just was none of that. I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign called Hello, Skater Girl and it was a real workout for my brain: not the book making, the self-promotion of the book.

It hurt. Bad.

I wondered why some friends were not backing it?

I had some friends unsubscribe from my email list.

I was constantly checking to see if I would cross the threshold. All along the self-promotion hurt my psyche in ways I never thought were possible. Stressful. The lesson that came out of that was a bit of a tatters of bewilderment and resentment and a constraining of the criteria for what counted as a friend. No bueno.

Years later, I ran another successful Kickstarter that was the marketing launch of my company OMATA. That hurt as well, in a similar way.

Both projects were successful by any measure that mattered to me — funded, manufactured, out in the world to a warm, welcoming community of customers/owners.

Yet I had trouble realizing and feeling the success. It was not until much later that I realized what happened. In fact, it wasn’t until years after I published the photobook when two of the women represented the value of the work to contributing to greater awareness of their favorite sport (and both going legitimately pro), and months after I closed a deal for the sale of OMATA. It was through that realization that I learned how to be proud of the work I do outloud, and then be able to voraciously promote the work I do as if I truly care about it.

I’ve had former collaborators who simply are not able to do that. Bewildering, but I get it. And it is wrong and ultimately selfish in a sense to your collaborators who assume this burden.

I used to understand not wanting to be self-promotional. I thought it was too closely associated with being crass, or selling discounted lip gloss, or a loud ‘drop-shipper’ guy.

But now I do not understand it, particularly as nowadays you don’t even need to get out of bed to celebrate with pride the work you have done. There literally is no excuse beyond a petulant, whiny “I don’t wanna..”

The first step towards a feeling of freedom and independence is to learn how to be honestly self-promotional.

(Maybe we need a better word that doesn’t carry the semantic baggage of ‘self-promotion’.)

I get how it can hurt to be self-promotional, in the same way it can hurt to run 5km if you are not used to running, or don’t run at all. I get how it can hurt, in the same way it can hurt to make your bed if you are not used to making your bed ritually. The hurt is in the head, in the psyche. You know how to promote your work. Heck — there have never been so many channels, outlets, platforms, stacks and nozzles to do so probably in the history of human communications channels. Used to be you would have to take out an ad in the local newspaper (done that back in the day when my dad took me to our local paper — Hello Princeton Packet! — to put in a classified ad!) or put up signs around town, or whatever.

You see, particularly for independent projects, there’s a quantity of work that has to be done amongst a small team — maybe just two, three, six people..whatever it is. And the things that do not get done sit like the laundry that needs to be folded or the groceries that need to be put away, and those things, like bags of groceries or an unmade bed, will not get sorted out on their own. And if you’re not the sort who can get after those things that you do not want to do but need to get done — then we cannot work together as the load will end up getting carried by someone else, and that someone else typically ends up being that one, two, or five other people. And if those others are similarly pre-disposed to pull a cork on a second bottle of Malbec rather than do another and another and another blog post or Podcast or social media promotion, then what you’ve done is the fun easy bits leaving the hard-it-hurts-I-don’t-wanna bits to, well — that one left person.

It has finally gotten to the point where this now has become a criteria for clarifying who I want to work with, and who I do not want to work with.

Think of it less as “self-promotion” and more of being proud without being prideful. Excited to share your work. Resilient against the naysayers or the doubters and haters. Recognize that you had a feeling, a thought, a flash of inspiration that you were able to translate into something that hopefully conveyed your inspiration into some other tangible shareable form — a film, a book, an essay, some visual art, a song, a cover of a song. Whatever. Celebrate the mysterious bit of vascularized meat in our heads that turned something into something that you can put into the world.

Back to Yancey (parenthetically one of the founders of Kickstarter) and Tyler. The Yancey post leaves us with a little segment from a tidy little event Tyler is doing in which he is bewildered at why creators do not promote the beautiful hard work they do.

That caught my attention and tuned me in more deeply. I’m inspired by Tyler. We met once and it gave me a chance to do one of the (other amongst many) things my dad taught me — besides how to put a classified ad in a newspaper — which was this: anytime you have a chance to greet someone who gives you a good feeling and inspires you, greet them honestly and with humility. All you need to say is, “Hey, man. I really appreciate what you do. Thank you.”

I said that to Tyler once. I also said, “Hey, also? Look over there — we’re going to get a photo together.”

That photo sits on the pin board here in the Near Future Laboratory studio as a kind of keep-grinding talisman.

Julian Bleecker and Tyler The Creator
The middle third of this is real. The photo was taken 2x3. As a photographer who started out shooting 35mm with a normal, human, camera (Canon A-1 and Nikon F2A), I have to say: I do not have an eye for portrait orientation nor an fondness for it in blog posts like this. So, I turned the 2x3 image of the real Julian standing with the real Tyler taken in June of 2013 on Fairfax Ave in Los Angeles, into a 3x2 image with some 2024 image gen tools. So that pink-eye kat and whatever that greeble is on the right? That’s all AI generated. Tyler standing with me? That’s real. Just ran into him on Fairfax near the Golf retail shop is all.
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Why do I blog this? 
Promoting one's work is part of doing the work, despite the discomfort it may cause. This should be taught in every art school or wherever creatives are meant to become 'creative'. In fact, it should be a definition of what it is to be creative. It is is a characteristic of selfishness to not share your work, or expect others to do it, particularly in the mode of independent creative production.
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