49 comments on “Vanity, all is vanity – or is it?

  1. Hi Jeremy,

    I can relate to the hesitation of self-promotion and the disdain people have for it, at least on Twitter. I actually have a friend who uses every opportunity she has, be it Twitter, Facebook or in person, to market herself. Quite annoying after a few times. Not long after I realised this did I change my Twitter account and blog from company-driven to a personalised-approach.

    Having said that, a certain amount is obviously necessary in order to promote and sell yourself or your products and that’s to be expected. I do believe, however, that there’s a time and place to do so without coming off too conceited and finding that place is the key. Maybe it’s only through trial and error, or an innate understanding of when and where is appropriate that one can know for sure.


    • Hi Tyson,

      yes, that’s just it, isn’t it. It’s a kind of judgment call – or a judge-sensitive call. Overdo it and you look like a jerk. Underdo it and nobody notices!

      Let’s see if anyone else has something to say on this.


  2. Hi Jeremy,

    Timely post for me, as writing is something that I am very much interested in getting into, and a certain thing has come my way, and I’ve started to put out feelers to other teachers on twitter about ideas. It won’t be totally self-publishing, but there’ll probably be a certain onus (if only from myself) to push whatever it is it ends up being to make an impact and to appeal to teachers outside the twitter circle.

    Interesting… I’ll keep an eye on this one to see where the discussion goes.


  3. Sounds very interesting, Mike!

    But the problem for all of us is that if/when we do go on about ourselves we can look really unattractive!!

    I’ll be looking out for what you are involved in!


    • Exactly what I’m afraid of! Especially as being very new to all of this, and relatively to ELT in general.

      But as you say, if we said nothing about our stuff, how would people find it?

      Makes me think a bit about Twitter – I’ve somehow ended up with a pretty large number of tweets sent in just about over 1 and 1/2 years – too much or just enough? Good things have come for me from Twitter, but I wouldn’t want to overdo it, as you say as that wouldn’t look too good!

      I guess my think on this would be (to provide a bit more a useful comment than previous) that as long as you are not going on about it ALL THE TIME (God forbid, sending automated DMs on Twitter to new followers about how great you are – you in the general sense, of course, not YOU, Jeremy!! Just want to make that clear!) and otherwise have a sharing ethos, maybe that can balance a bit of self-publising?

      Very not sure here though…

  4. On a smaller scale, it`s like tweeting about your new blog posts. You want people to read it and comment. You want people to see the tweet in various time zones. You don`t want to RT yourself. Exactly how many times do you send out the tweet that the blog post exists? Eventually I’m sure, if you’re blog is read enough, the number decreases, possibly to none. I’ve come to decision it’s 3, for me.


    • Hi Tyson,
      sorry it’s taken me a bit of time to reply! Stuff. You know how it is.
      Yes, you are right to make the twitter analogy – how many time can we re-tweet references to our own blog. It’s two (I reckon) or max 3. Unless someone posts something really interesting, and then you van again, i think.
      In the end it’s a judgment call isn’t it. What seems OK to us? What feels as if we are vaingloriously self-promoting? I’ve done some of the latter and felt bad about it afterwards. These days I hope I’m more reserved.
      I hope!

  5. Very interesting post, Jeremy. As we discussed earlier this week, it’s not about money when you write novels, it’s about readers. Finding your first few readers, beyond your family and friends (even that can be difficult-my own husband skipped to the acknowledgments) has got to be the hardest part. The average Canadian novelist who traditionally publishes these days, doesn’t have it much easier. I’ve learned a lot from Seth Godin’s tips on building a tribe. Find a group of people who believe in you or your product or community and then let them help you do the sharing. But first, you’ve got to find that core. To do that, you have to go out of your comfort zone and ask people to read your book (and even to review it). And you’ve got to read other people’s books and review theirs. It’s like blogging or tweeting. If you want people to read yours, you have to leave comments or retweet theirs. And if it’s good, you want to. And if they’re good people, you want to even more. As I explore all of the different ideas for self-publishing, I’m sharing them in my Beyond ELT communities, through FB groups, YouTube, IDOLVine etc. This is all new for me too, but like you said, if I don’t do it, who will? The most important thing for me is that I “shipped it” and can soon get on to the next thing.

    And as for The Whistle at Siete Vientos, I started tweeting about it right away, and my PLN thought I was crazy. They told me Jeremy Harmer didn’t write a novel. I’m glad you’re talking about it now! I was sucked in from page one. Every word is in the perfect place. Every scene is gripping. I just read the part where …I better not say. But you can be sure I’ll be telling people to search for it on iBooks. Hope to see it on Amazon soon, too.

    • Hi Tara,

      you are something of an inspiration for me! You are absolutely right. In the words of Lou Reed, you reap what you sow! And a community of readers, commentators, writers will, in the end support each other.

      That seems what we are doing. I am lucky because I LIKED your book and am happy to say so to anyone who will listen. And that kind of binds you to me, at least until you have discovered you don’t quite like mien (yes, it could happen!!)

      We do what we can! In the end, we just want to share what we have written, and rad what others have shared. Seems like a pretty good exchange to me.

      You know that I wish you the very best luck with your writing. You deserve it.


      • I am loving your book! Had relatives here from Vancouver all weekend, and I kept sneaking a second away here or there to read another page.

  6. I have to say that I congratulate you both, support and also applaud your shameless promotion and once my life has returned to some level of normalcy …you know, after completing English for IT (see what I did there)… then I shall be by buying both of your books and cuddling up on the sofa with a hot cocoa.

    But in the meantime, here’s the thing:

    anyone who knows me – really knows me face to face (not made assumptions based on a digital footprint) they know that actually I am not a big “networker,” don’t go to parties much, am a bit of a wall-flower, don’t tell folks much about myself and when I’m a friend I’m the most loyal of friends who’ll go to the end of the universe for that friendship….

    Of course, I’ll admit – on the net and in real life, I don’t suffer fools gladly.

    Yet when I’m around good folk I do very much prefer to hear what they’re doing and thinking rather than just blabbing on and about what I’ve done or I’m doing. I like better to give than to take. Yet a while back I realized that today most people who know me, know me via the internet, as someone has really no problem sharing my work (and boasting about it…etc etc etc… a lot).

    So was this a bad thing to have done? Should I have remained a good polite girl and never shared my thoughts and opinions? Should I never have invited people to visit my blog? Check out my materials?

    The letters and emails I (still) receive versus the (jealous?) handful of those who turn up their noses provides me with that answer. For those who felt I crossed a line in self-promotion I await the day they have something to sell. 🙂

    At the end of the day, no matter what else it cost my pride to bite the bullet and leave self-promotional messages on discussion groups, twitter, linkedin…etc, etc, I simply would not be working for one of the most innovative companies in the world today (Voxy) if I hadn’t shamelessly promoted my blog and hadn’t been afraid to express opinions in public.

    I would not be writing a highly specialized course book if I hadn’t showed the world I know my bits from my bots.

    Are there things I cringe at? Yes. Am I happy with where being brave enough to be sell my wares online took my career? Yes.

    So Jeremy, Tara… if you are willing to nobly earn no crumb for your magic – so be it, be quiet about your genius and allow yourself to simply be stumbled upon.. but if instead, you’d like the world to read your works then in todays sea of data, you are the only ones that can make that happen.

    Anyway, I for one am very much looking forward to reading your books (August) and will let you know what thought.


    p.s. the quote that sits above my bed so that I can read it everyday:

    “One writes out of a need to communicate and to commune with others, to denounce that which gives pain and to share that which gives happiness. One writes against solitude and against the solitude of others. One assumes that literature transmits knowledge and affects the behavior and language of those who read…”Eduardo Galleano

    • Hi Karenne,

      thanks for coming by and commenting – and yes, I should have replied before, but stuff, you know.

      I agree that most people – teachers, speakers, managers, whatever..well we all self-promote to some extent. I guess what matters is how we do it.

      As for writing…why do we write? Because something makes us, a hand pushing us in the back, a desire for self discover6y, the sheer joy of creation. Anything else?

      Not sure.

      But that’s enough for now.


  7. Hi Jeremy.

    My reckonings.

    PLNs by definition are for learning and just as a good speaker should listen more than speak and a good writer should read more than write, so a good teacher should learn more than teach.

    But that’s the easy part. You can’t be one-hundred per cent receptive. Learning is pointless if you don’t do something with it. You must create. And if you create, you must publicise it. Otherwise it’s a wasted effort.

    That is the hard part and whether you take the self-publishing route or not, whether your work is intrinsically good or bad, getting it finished and out there is half the battle.

    • Hi Luan,

      yes, in the end, there is no option is there except self-publicity. Or leave what you have done sitting in a drawer, whether figurative or literal.

      Doesn’t make it any more attractive! But Tara’s doing a great job!


  8. Hi Jeremy,

    Great post!

    One point I’d like to make though is that even when you have a publisher, you’re still doing most of your own promotion. The link Tara posted there talks about this as well.

    It also describes how, in most cases, the writer is absolutely the wrong person to do book promotions. Writers are introspective by nature, so therefore don’t really feel comfortable tooting their own horns. When they do, this discomfort can be perceived as disingenuousness. We become snake oil salesmen selling our own books. Of course, the irony is that we actually believe in the product we’re selling…

    I am in the midst of writing my first novel, so I’m a ways off from publishing. It hasn’t stopped me from thinking about it though. Seems to me you have to completely disconnect from the book once it’s published. It is no longer “your” book — now it is a book to sell, a product that you know many people will enjoy if they have a chance to read it.

    It won’t make us natural salespeople. But it will help us feel better about trying to sell it, I think. (I hope!)

    I do think it’s important to practice selling though, since we’ll be responsible for much of the promotions whether we find an imprint or publish ourselves. In that spirit, I invite everyone to visit my own novel-writing blog at http://afewstrongwords.com and follow it. You can subscribe by RSS, by email, or follow me on Twitter (@grahamstrong) — I automatically tweet all my latest blog posts. Then, once my novel is finished and printed and ready to hit the shelves, you’ll be able to get your hands on a first edition!

    (Okay, that wasn’t so bad I suppose. I don’t feel too dirty — I don’t feel like I need a shower or anything. Maybe I’ll just wash my hands…)


    P.S. – Congrats Jeremy on your own book — going to check it out now…

  9. Great response, Graham! I love what you wrote, and I’m going to try to think of my book in that way now (as a product). It does feel a lot different to me now that it’s in my iPad and on my bookshelf, rather than in a file called Revision 77. I walked into my brother’s house the other day and saw it on his rocking chair. That is a weird feeling! I think you did a great job of shamelessly self-promoting your amazing blog about writing.

    Karenne: I’ve earned enough crumbs to buy new socks and am very proud of it. Thanks so much for taking the time to write this beautiful comment. I love the quote by your bed. I’ve learned a lot about social media through you, and not once did I feel that you were promoting yourself. You were teaching us. It’s what you do best. Thank you.

    • Tara,

      I agree with your reactions to Graham and Karenne. Also looking forward to socks (yes, get the reference), trousers, who knows a whole outfit soon. You deserve it!


    • lol – “Revision 77” – yes, it may always be Revision 77 to you. And seeing it sitting on someone’s chair should still be a special thing! (Terry Fallis recently bumped into someone on the subway reading one of his books — I think that’s one of those moments when you know you’ve made it…)

      But when it comes to selling the book — I’ve found it is easier to sell my work rather than to sell myself. That in itself takes practice, separately the “you” from the work. It certainly helps though.


  10. Hi Jeremy

    I want to address this from your post: ‘Certainly the Twitter self-publicists are, on the whole, thought less of than the ones who exchange information, have fun and share.’

    This is heresy probably, but honestly I’m a wee bit suspicious about the ‘sharing’ concept. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it can be great to share ideas and links that maybe people in your group haven’t seen. I do it myself, as it’s a way of connecting with people and ideas. But I’ve noticed that there seems to be quite a strand of what I call ‘Share!’ on Twitter and elsewhere- a kind of compulsive need to share stuff –and to tell other people to share stuff- which becomes not really about the content itself.

    If we take a look at the whole thing from a distance, we can see I think that it’s linked to a general trend to instantly share information with everybody. I suppose this is really on my mind because a couple of days ago the Vancouver hockey team lost a big competition. Afterwards a small group of thugs organised a riot in the city. They were prepared in advance to create mayhem; they had weapons, they burnt cars, smashed shop windows, beat people with sticks, and generally broke the law. For me, though, the worst part of it all was that real, normal fans in the city to watch the match, just stood around and captured it on their mobile phones and tweeted what was happening to others. For hours. All this, despite the fact that the Vancouver Police Department asked them to please leave the scene as it was dangerous and someone was going to get hurt-as they did. Most of these fans frankly just became an audience for the thugs, who enjoyed posing for the cameras. The content of the sharing came a very poor second to the act of sharing.
    So, why exactly were hundreds, thousands of people standing around ‘sharing’ this awful behaviour with everyone they knew? I’m sure if you asked them, they probably wouldn’t know- apart from the fact that sharing is what everyone does. They were there, and so they shared. The act of sharing took them away from the here and now, so that people were seen on camera smiling as they ‘shared’ shots of idiots setting cars on fire. It was almost as if they were not really ‘there’. I leave it to others to work out whether, in previous times, people might have actually acted- either gone home as requested, or got together and confronted the bullies.

    Now, OK, this is an extreme example, I know. However, I do see a connection to something that’s been bothering me for much longer than this recent event. What exactly are we sharing and why? Sharing is beguiling, even compulsive, and it sometimes takes us away from acting or creating or from really processing the content. It’s linked to the whole issue of the technology taking over from the actual content in my mind. I think we should really look at the sharing phenomenon critically and with a healthy dose of scepticism.

    I will probably follow this up on my blog at some point, as I think there’s more to say.

    • Hi Sue,

      I should have got to this sooner. I think it’s a really great set of comments. Very interesting. Is bearing witness an innocent act? Is war photography a neutral act? If you photograph but don’t intervene (because there is some ‘code’) does that make you complicit?

      And why do people share on Twitter? Altruism? or a desire to be one of the crowd, recognised etc.

      And yes I enjoy thre sense of belonging and worry that by self-publicising I may be exiled!!!

      Perhaps I already have been!


    • Hi Sue,

      The interesting thing about the Vancouver riots is that social media and video/images are helping police find the rioters. Some people have turned themselves in as a direct result — I’ve wondered myself if it is because of a guilty conscience, or because of the inevitability of being caught with their face plastered on The National.

      I’d love to say that I’d be one of those people who step in to stop the violence. I don’t think I could do it though. Really, should anyone step between a mob and a car? I feel extremely sorry for the owners of those cars, but is it worth a life?

      Cameras have become passive weapons maybe, capturing the moment not for posterity’s sake, but to allow some form of justice that perhaps wouldn’t have been available before.


  11. Great post with a “bigger question” in a local instance. Thanks Jeremy

    I’ve bought 4 of Tara’s book, and it was because I think Tara is awesome, and then I started reading her book which I thought was awesome too and wanted to share it.

    “Is it a bit British to be vaguely disapproving of people who hawk their own wares?” N. Americans I think CAN get away with the “me me” a bit more. We have show and tell at a young age, and plays, and sports where you’re ‘show’ing off. It’s engrained in our culture.

    What Tara and Gardening David do an equally great job of is PROMOTING their work by supporting others and then mentioning their ‘side projects’. A humane version of “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”.

    In any case, I don’t know that it’s too vain if the effort is not in vain… oh me and my bad puns 😉

    • Hi Sue,

      I should have got to this sooner. I think it’s a really great set of comments. Very interesting. Is bearing witness an innocent act? Is war photography a neutral act? If you photograph but don’t intervene (because there is some ‘code’) does that make you complicit?

      And why do people share on Twitter? Altruism? or a desire to be one of the crowd, recognised etc.

      And yes I enjoy the sense of belonging and worry that by self-publicising I may be exiled!!!

      Perhaps I already have been!


  12. As an ex-professional promoter of ELT books, Jeremy, YOU ARE STILL ONE OF MY FAVOURITES. Ok you were one of the first authors that I had to “look after” all those years ago (20 ejem!) in Granada (GRETA) so I have a soft spot.. But you’re still so human (forget the technology). You still pick me up and swing me round at the conference – and you still go on sharing in such a down to earth, naturally friendly way! Could talk till the cows come home about egotistical reasons for being on twitter and other social networks, but at the end of the day, I think we all know who the REAL people & professionals are out there! I am a firm believer in that whatever you do, whatever you say, whatever you write (+ to whoever you share it all with) will come back to you in all shapes + maybe when you least expect it, so Go For It!

    • Hi Karen,

      thank you for making me feel VERY GOOD!

      I love what I do – EFL, novels, music, the whole damn thing. And sharing it is the best activity in the world.

      But PUBLICISING it? Always better if someone else is doing that! Ah well.

      But yes, in the end, it will all come back to haunt us/reward us/punish us etc. We just don’t know which it will be.


  13. Hi Jeremy.

    Very nice to re-visit your blog and see this issue raised – hope you’re doing well in all of your various endeavours.

    On this issue and the potential ‘ugliness’ of promoting one’s own work, at some point a somewhat cynical soul is likely to point out that one potential way around overtly promoting something is to write a blog post about the *issue* and complications involved, and then gently spruik one’s own work by way of example!

    But here’s the thing…

    People who know you and Tara know what kind of people you are. I think they appreciate hearing what you’re doing and making. I have (and have given on as gifts) your wonderful Touchable Dreams work, and wouldn’t have known such beauty if I hadn’t heard about it from you directly. I’m going to get around to buying Tara’s book soon, as well, and really do appreciate the occasional reminder from her (directly or indirectly) that her book is out there and waiting for me.

    It’s nice to be humble, and appear to be humble. I don’t think that is necessarily incompatible with creating artistic work and letting people know about it – you and Tara still strike me as being incredibly humble. It’s not because you don’t promote your work; it’s because you produce work and have a humble approach to responding to and interacting with people about it.

    So perhaps that’s the main thing for me: it’s the follow up and womb of communication around a person’s work that really matters; not the point that a person was game enough to directly let the world know about it to start with…


    • Lessons in humility from English Raven. Wait, that could be the title of a book!

      Raven, I’m not sure that being humble is as important as having an opinion.

    • Hi Jason,

      so great to be in contact after quite a lapse!

      Yes, of course I was aware that writing about it (the novel etc) was a kind of covert piece of self publicising, and that seemed a bit ironic, obviously.

      But the issue is real – and the discomfort of publicising something you have written yourself, whoever publishes it, is still awkward. And yet, and yet. I want people to read my book, to be honest, even if they don’t pay a bean. And now – because she’s a damn nice person and seems to write really well – (I want people to read Tara too!


  14. Jeremy,

    I meant to add to my post- to come back to your comment- that it seems to me odd that people who publicise their own creative work should be thought less of than people who do something infinitely easier-share a link, say. Anyway, isn’t it all a form of self promotion?


  15. Hi Jeremy,
    You were kind enough to send me the Lulu link a while ago. I really enjoyed the book and wish you the best of success (not grammatical, but at least alliterative!) with it in the future


  16. Tara Benwell :

    I am loving your book! Had relatives here from Vancouver all weekend, and I kept sneaking a second away here or there to read another page.

    As you know, Tara, that’s the best comment anyone could get about their book!


  17. Dear Jeremy,

    As usual a thought provoking post and also one close to home. This very day I sent my children’s book to a publisher. I finished it two years ago but struggled at the thought of being so exposed and vulnerable. It is interesting that we seem to be comfortable promoting our institutions or publishers by representing them at conferences but it does feel odd to sponsor yourself, particularly when you have gone through the whole process of creating something so personal a part of you wants to hide or stay out of site. Maybe the one place I have found that is genuine sharing on line is TED.com. People talk about what they do in life but in a way that is collaborative and inspiring. Since most people have read your work in ELT I know it comforted and encouraged me that even you could share this discomfort so openly. It’s a matter of comfort level and finding yours. The only other solution is to do what some farmers do when they cannot face slaughtering and animal they raised and cared for. They swap their livestock. Perhaps you and Tara could promote each others books rather than your own. A collaborative solution to a very tricky problem.) Thanks again.)


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