Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Karen Kelsky on self-promotion

Karen Kelsky at ChronicleVitae advises younger scholars to "Ignore the Haters and Toot Your Own Horn." 

Now, one of the ways she says to do this (the second one) is to introduce yourself to people at conferences, suggest getting together for lunch or coffee, etc. 

I never thought to do this when I was a junior scholar but, since I benefited from being invited to these by more senior people, I've tried to model that behavior & invite more junior people for lunches and things now that I'm a senior scholar.  Similarly, junior people ask me to get together for coffee and I'm genuinely happy to hear about their research.  This is what academics do, and I never thought of it as tooting our own horn.  It's reciprocal.

How do you feel about this, her first suggested method?
So how do you self-promote? Aside from self-citation, there are two basic avenues. The first is to send your publications to colleagues, peers, and influential people in your field. By important or influential, I mean people who are active leaders in your particular area of study, particularly those who have had an impact on your thinking. That was done in the old days via the sending of paper “offprints.” Now, sending a link or an attachment via email would be fine. Include a note that says something to the effect of: “I am sending you this article because your work has been very helpful to me in the development of my thinking. I’d welcome your thoughts on it.”
How do you respond if, on top of the email tsunami you get every single day, you get an invitation to read something that is not part of the heap of work stacked on your desk, not part of the many, many deadlines you have, and not from someone who is depending on you to turn around that article/recommendation letter/manuscript review/reader's report, etc. in record time? Do you read it and respond, or do you ignore it?

Self-promotion is part of the game in 2015, especially for new scholars.  I get that. 

Twitter (and Facebook) are a big part of self-promotion.  Indeed, some day I am going to do a study to see how many messages are devoted entirely to promoting someone's work.  (I'm guessing about 30% of tweets, down from around 40% because I unfollowed some people who promoted their posts--the same posts or articles--multiple times in a day.) 

I am heretical enough to believe that self-promotion has no relationship to the quality of the scholarship, though. Instead, it reflects the ego and self-promotional savvy of the person doing the tweeting.  That doesn't mean that the scholarship isn't good, but the number of retweets doesn't have any bearing on the quality of the work.

I have also noticed that some of the incessant tweeters are, in person, people who aren't especially good listeners. (Correlation or coincidence?)

But what's the line between letting people know about the work you're doing and annoying people by doing so?


heu mihi said...

I think that her suggestion is okay--if you remove the last sentence. Asking for feedback, even in that "I'd welcome..." sort of way, could indeed be construed as adding to someone else's workload; at a minimum, such an email seems to demand a reply (and then you'd have to make an excuse for not reading the work, etc.). More polite, it seems to me, is just saying something about how your work was influenced by hers/his and so you wanted to pass along your article, but you realize that (s)he is very busy so there's no pressure to respond. (I haven't figured out how to word this and my three-year-old wants to play with me, but that's what I'd go for if I were to send such a message!) Much less self-promotion-y; much more focused on acknowledgement of intellectual debts and a genuine interest in sharing work.

In other words: Worry less about self-promotion and more about engaging with other scholars and their ideas. But then, I'm terrible at self-promotion.

Flavia said...

Yeah, no. It's not that I think it's terribly rude; I think it's ineffective. I would only send a link to someone *I actually knew in person*, and even then I wouldn't expect that many more of them would read it than would have read it on their own.

Social media is a better venue for this, though I agree that I dislike people who make this their primary use of social media. (And again I'm uncertain that tons and tons of new readers will result; mostly you're alerting people who are already friends, or working in your immediate subfield.)

The reason you try to publish in the best possible venue is because that's its own form of promotion. And if you don't have a good network to begin with, you can't get it through the impersonal and unsoliticated act of sending someone your work.

So I say go to conferences, present good work, introduce yourself to people. And oh! Emailing strangers because you liked *their* work is always okay, as is saying as much when you meet them in person (when you're more likely to get asked about yours).

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I have reached out to local-ish Shakespeare profs to introduce myself and talk about things going on in Shakespeare. I didn't really think of it as self-promotion as much as I thought, "It is so LONELY being the only Shakespearean at HU. No one knows what I'm talking about." So I mainly wanted to have people to talk to. Friends.

Now, I'm also revising my SAA paper from this past session, and I was thinking of sending the final article to the session leader (who is now retired) and saying "Hey, this is what happened to the article once I revised it. Isn't it wild how these things grow and change?" And then leave it at that. If he wanted to give me feedback, I'd be over the moon, but I wouldn't necessarily expect it. As busy as I am, I know other people (even retired people) have other things to do.

I think of what I'm doing as being friends with people, rather than being shamelessly self-promotional. But maybe that's the naive narrative I'm selling myself in order to make myself feel better about it. I don't really think so. But it could be.

sophylou said...

This is funny timing, since once I get the conference paper I just gave revised into an article draft I'd like to send it to a more senior scholar who showed interest in the article I had published last year, and whose work significantly informed the conference paper; she's aware that I've been working on something related to her work. Part of me wants to do it to be friendly; at the same time, I want to apply for a travel grant in the fall and I will likely need a couple of references for that. So I do need to get my work out a bit... it's especially an issue since my current research is quite different (different time period, different questions) from my dissertation research.

Flavia, one of the most fun things about the conference I just went to was getting to meet people whose work I've admired and having the opportunity to tell them that, and why. I guess it's networky, but it was also sincere and more about wanting to make friends/colleagues.

undine said...

Heu mihi--I think that's the part that bothers me: if it's being done to alert me to something interesting, fine, but if it's a self-promotional gambit the way Kelsky describes, I'd be annoyed. Of course, it may be hard to tell.

Flavia, emailing people (even strangers) to say you like their work is a good idea. I think you're right about social media: if someone's already following you, they'll likely know about the article via other means.

Fie--No, I don't think you're being self-promotional about it. As Heu Mihi and Flavia say, it's really about sharing work and finding a community.

Sophylou--see, she already showed interest in it, so I would agree with you that she'd like to see it.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I sometimes don't even get time to read offprints that *friends* send me, let alone complete strangers. So: no.

On the other hand, I'm VERY generous with my time at conferences, and every year more so. I actually enjoy that, and see it as a way of paying back all the people who helped me when I was coming up.

Historiann said...

I'm sorry I missed this post. I think Karen Kelsky's advice frequently veers from the obvious to the terrible. I agree with everyone here who sees sending unsolicited work to stranger with a note "welcom[ing their] advice" as incredibly obnoxious and, yes, a presumptuous addition to someone else's workload. This is even worse than the emails I get all year long from junior high and high school students wanting to "interview" me about things completely out of my expertise instead of reading a book about it themselves. At least those students are probably clueless about the etiquette of academia. Grad students and junior faculty shouldn't be.

Heu mihi has it exactly right: worry less about self-promotion for the sake of self-promotion, and more about engaging your community of scholars. You just might learn something, and help yourself and others as well.

xykademiqz said...

I email papers to folks in the field with the words
"Hi Professor Fancypants, I enjoyed your papers Paper 1 and Paper 2. Here are some of my group's recent papers on Topic 1 and Topic 2; I thought you might find them of interest.
Best wishes, Xykademiqz"

(If I somewhat know the person, I will open with "Hi Bob, it was good to see you at Conf 1 last March. I enjoyed...")

I always get a response email. When people send me their stuff, I always at least open the attachment and skim it to grasp what it's about and what the main finding are; I forward to students but rarely read the whole thing unless the main finding is really of big interest. Anyway, many of my colleagues say that they always at least open the attachment, too.

profacero said...

What Historiann said.

There is, however, a Mexicanist who does a lot of self-promotion on Facebook in a really interesting way -- he promotes his stuff but also a lot of other peoples' stuff that he likes. I don't know him but I Friended him because I want the bibliography. He likes Friends and will tell you about restaurants, or software, or whatever. It is quite clear that the real purpose is to promote himself and his brand, so to speak, but it is all so congenial and non obnoxious that it attracts.