Make a habit of sharing other people’s work

One of the scariest things about promoting your own work is the fundamental reality that nobody else cares. It’s not a personal attack on the worth of you or your work; it’s just that people are living their own lives. They experience their own thoughts, curiosities, and challenges. 

You may know this in theory, but you don’t feel it in practice. Here’s how you can practice it:

Read, watch, listen to, and use other people’s creative work. If you like it, share it on your social networks or at Reddit or Hacker News. Or share it with a friend, or reply to a newsletter you subscribe to. (I wrote up a longer list of tactics here, which you can apply to other people’s work as well as your own.)

In other words, promote it on their behalf. It takes five seconds to copy and paste the title and link. Optional: Talk about why you like it, what you got out of it, or what thoughts it provoked. 

The most important selfish lesson this practice teaches you is that nobody cares about most other people’s work too. You’ll realize, “Wow, this person must’ve spent 40+ hours writing this piece, and I shared it, and it only got 1 heart.” You’ll subconsciously take it much less personally when people don’t heart your work right away. 

(You’ll also realize you need to promote your work more than once.)

A few other pleasant side effects:

  • You’ve created an occasion to connect with the person whose work you shared and build a relationship. You like their work, and they may like yours too. They may even reach out to thank you for sharing their work. (This topic is worth another post entirely: There’s a huge supply/demand problem here: most people face the problem of nobody sharing their good work, here’s your chance to help them solve it!) If you build the relationship, you’ll be genuinely excited to promote each other’s work. (That’s ideal—it can be more straightforward and transactional than that too. I once had an author ask me, “Anything you’ve written of late that you’d like a helping boost on?” I had to reciprocate. Neither of us went viral, and that’s not the point!)
  • People will trust you; you’ll slowly, quietly, build a good reputation in the community for practicing good etiquette. Many well-moderated communities have a 10:1 rule—for each of your own works you share, share 10 other people’s work. (Some say 3:1, etc.) 
  • It’s a great way to test demand for an idea; share another person’s work on the same topic. Writing a full new post takes time (totally worth doing if you’re into it, as an atelic activity for its own sake!). Sharing an existing work takes five seconds. If the post gains momentum, you’ll learn more about what other people think of the creative work—why it resonated, what questions they have about it, what they dislike about it. These comments and points are all great starting points for your own creative work, whether it’s a response or derivative, or a new work addressing one of the problems you notice. 

There are plenty of other great reasons to do this; if you want to think bigger and do more independent curatorial work, Brain Pickings and Farnam Street are essentially publications that started by sharing the best of other people’s work. And a wispier one: You’re also getting to promote work that you like, which means you’ll see more of it, and eventually create a market for it.

People want to be see good work, and people want their work to be promoted; when you share other people’s work that you like, you’re solving two problems. It sounds like the opposite of self promotion, which is exactly why it works.

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