Birth of a Salesman

by Bryan

Slow day today, so I’m going to follow up on some ideas I read on my friend Jeremy’s blog about writers-as-brand-creators. This will be a break from PHILLIES WIN!-type baseball talk, but I promise to get back at it soon. I fell asleep last night at 9:45 and didn’t get a chance to write any of this down.

Jeremy uses the story of an appellate lawyer who committed suicide as a jumping off point to discuss “how most jobs are really sales jobs, even the ones that don’t seem like they ought to be.  And if anything I feel like the new economy only intensifies that.” I was already nodding along with him, and then he hit this:

I think what doesn’t get acknowledged as much is that it’s hard and sometimes tiring.  Maybe you don’t want to be updating three blogs, two Twitter feeds, and a Facebook page seven times a day, forever.  Maybe you don’t want to have to come up with value you can add to the world every day.  Maybe you don’t want to have to think about networking and new leads and selling yourself.

But more and more, I think the world is moving to a place where to be successful, we have to.

These are really interesting observations to me, especially in terms of how I thought a/my writer career would play out and how it has. The fundamental shifts in the industry have occurred right as I was trying to enter it, making it as difficult to navigate as the God-fractured ground at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. There were rats, dad.

Growing up I read stories of how people 50 years prior had walked into newspaper offices and asked for jobs and were dispatched to Queens with a pencil and paper and—ta da!—30 years later they were Jimmy Breslin, or something. I knew that had changed by the time I had a professional job, but I definitely underestimated how much it had changed. Being a reporter didn’t involve working really hard to get to the point where you could find your place in the firmament, so to speak—it’s now about figuring out your place in the firmament, then working hard, and then establishing yourself. You’ll notice that I haven’t done it as of yet, but I only recently realized that generalism is no excuse for a lack of posts.

In a way, this is reassuring. In the new media landscape, writers will have been so singularly focused for such a long time that we’ll have experts on everything. The bad side is not so much that this practice discourages inquitisiveness among reporters and “reporters”—writers are, by nature, curious people—but that people might automatically discount writing that, say, a “sports guy” does about crime. (That is not an altogether random example.) On the flip side, building yourself as a brand allows you a lot of cross-platform opportunities, so I’m not sure that’s a good example. Like, if I wrote a really good sports blog, someone might let me write about movies. But I think I would always be known as the sports guy. Or “a” sports guy, I should say. The other title is taken.

Selling yourself isn’t new, of course, but I think Jeremy’s right that it’s taken more percentage of work time than ever before. That’s something that my friend Dustin echoed in his recent comic. Building a brand has become equally about the work you put in inside the medium and the work you do to promote yourself. Self-promotion has always had its advantages, but today, it’s about survival.

I mostly just feel what Jeremy was saying, is all.

UPDATE: As I watched Twitter this morning, MediaBistro tweeted about an article called “25 things I wish I’d known when I started blogging.” Number one is “Content doesn’t matter. Promotion matters.” MediaBistro immediately followed up to say most people would say that promotion is nothing without good content.

UPDATE 2: It would appear Tommy Friedman’s column from yesterday is also somewhat about this.