5 Writers Who Were Shameless Self-Promoters

Books & Writing September 26, 2014

For the modern writer, self-promotion means learning how to navigate social media or publish your own content. If you’re successful, it eventually means book tours, conference appearances, workshops, and other ways to interact with readers and gain exposure for your work. Self promotion, however, is a business strategy that isn’t usually associated with literary greatness. That’s why it’s so surprising that these five iconic writers benefited from it so much.

1. Charles Dickens

As most English students learn, Dickens wrote such long-winded passages because he was paid by word. But suspenseful serials weren’t the only way that this world-famous writer squeezed more money out of his literary career. Dickens was a veritable superstar of the 1800’s, at one point becoming so famous that people snatched pieces of his hair and clothing when he was recognized in public. Fortunately, Dickens thrived in the spotlight, so much so that he spent the last several years of his life performing live renditions of his own work. These public readings had such esteemed audience members as Queen Victoria and Lord Tennyson.

2. Ernest Hemingway

Modern-day readers often romanticize Hemingway’s isolated late years, forgetting how good he was at being the star of the show. He followed in the footsteps of Dickens, becoming a celebrity with a simple image that mirrored his rugged prose. Hemingway himself actually crafted this image very carefully. In fact, it was a commodity that he marketed to various companies, from hunting rifle manufacturers to breweries and airlines. He was an adventurous, testosterone-fueled icon who went on exotic safaris, fled to Paris, covered World War II as a journalist, and ultimately spent decades in Cuba and the Florida Keys. In short, Hemingway was a character unto himself, and his many commercial contracts proved that he knew how valuable this was.

3. Virginia Woolf

Believe it or not, the notoriously private Woolf engaged in a bit of self-promoting, even for novels that critiqued such behavior. When Mrs. Dalloway was released in 1925, Woolf participated in a cheesy magazine feature that simulated the protagonist’s journey through London. Like an actress promoting a movie, she accompanied the fashion editor on a shopping spree, browsing French couture in designer boutiques.

4. Mark Twain

Twain famously financed his own grand lecture series toward the beginning of his career, at once promoting his newly published work and satirizing the nature of celebrity and self-promotion. His public spectacle succeeded in garnering more attention toward his stories and novels, but he wouldn’t need it for long. As Mark Twain the writer morphed into Mark Twain the legend, he created new versions of his own Mississippi childhood and began to capitalize on his famous characters. He even hand-wrote an advertisement for a fountain pen, claiming that he used a single pen to earn “the family’s living for many years”.

5. Margaret Atwood

This award-winning Canadian icon doesn’t need any help reaching readers. Her fiction is notorious among science fiction fans and feminists alike, thanks to her ability to dismantle social norms and explore complex ideas about humanity. So it’s not surprising that Atwood has mastered a decidedly modern form of human communication: Twitter. Atwood might not write trendy YA fiction, but she produces new work steadily and shares it with her followers and fans in exciting and unexpected ways. Sometimes it’s completely free! Younger writers should take note; Atwood is one of the best when it comes to harnessing the power of social media.

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