The secret to becoming known for the work that you care about most without selling your soul or wasting all your time on humiliating “self-promotion”? Authentic Visibility.
Let’s do a little thought experiment. Let’s say you’re working on something big.
- A nonfiction book about women warriors throughout history.
- A graphic novel about surviving brain cancer…and what happens next.
- An app that allows users to compose text with images and music to compellingly tell their own stories using simple web-based tools.
- A series of illustrations that preserve the incredible architectural heritage of Glasgow even as that history disappears by way of developers’ wrecking balls.
- A program that helps women developers step into positions of authority and fulfil their dreams.
- A role-playing game that queers a Conan-like world and opens the fantasy door to legions of LGTBQ+ fans.
(Yes: all real projects that are currently emerging from Authentic Visibility students. You know you want to see them!)
Your work could be utterly transformational for so many people…if only they knew about it.
And that’s where things fall apart.
As you near the finish line on your amazing project, instead of getting more and more excited, a feeling of dread starts to settle in your guts.
It simply cannot be that this work that you’ve poured your heart and soul into can be allowed to dissolve like mist. It needs to make an impact, to change people. It needs to be seen, used, known, understood, loved.
It’s not that you’re some kind of egomaniac who delights in attention for attention’s sake! This is about the work.
As terrifying and overwhelming as it is, in your heart, you know: this work won’t get seen the way it needs to be if YOU don’t make it happen. After all: you’ve been laboring away in some passion-adjacent creative or knowledge-work field for ages, thinking somehow your real passion would rise to the top and become your main thing via some unseen force…
But here you are, years later, and your department head just dumped another committee appointment on you. Or unrewarding but financially sustaining client work just keeps landing in your inbox and its SO. HARD. to say no! Or maybe it’s just that you can see your professional future stretching out into the distance of years…smooth and perfectly fine. Suffocating. Impossible.
Yet, it’s not like you’ve never tried to gain visibility for your work in the past. And it’s been a mess. Agonizing over social media posts that then get maybe a half-dozen likes. Blog posts no one reads. A few nice reviews on sites that have fewer readers than your blog. A trickle of sales.
And whatever activity you managed was forced over the screaming objections of your brain: Fake! Slimy! Sellout! Scary! Humiliating! Navel-gazing!
And so—very reasonably—you retreated to your Creating Cave as soon as humanly possible.
Maybe this isn’t you. I don’t know your life. If I’ve gotten it wrong, apologies. But if it resonates, know that you’re not unusual. I drew this sketch based on reality as it was reported to me.
Fear of visibility
As I was working on a new training called, “How to Get People Wildly Obsessed With Your Work,” I started a conversation about the challenges with visibility, marketing, and promotion in the Autonomous Creative Collective— a group of highly accomplished and committed creatives.
Across the board, members were extremely interested in visibility, but also had a lot of doubts and fears about it:
Will people think I’m an egomaniac?
Will it suck up my whole life to be visible?
Will I become a slave to social media?
Is there any way not to feel embarrassed and shamed by sharing?
What if no one reacts when I share?
Do I have to make my private life public?
What if becoming more visible turns out to be dangerous?
What if despite all my efforts to become visible, I still don’t achieve my goals? Is it worth it?
What came up over and over again in the conversation was the question of what constitutes authentic visibility. How to show up without selling out — or worse, opening ourselves up to unwanted criticism, ridicule…even trolls.
At the heart of so much of it was a fear that, when you start to become more visible, you open the floodgates.
One member put it this way, “How much of our personal selves can be public property? The nature of creative work is that it is inextricably tangled up in who we are as people, if we are working with integrity, surely?”
We pour our hearts and souls into our work. So, if we share it, if we put it out there, do we open not just our work, but ourselves to criticism?
Do we have to put on a creepy facade? Will we waste precious creative time with marketing? Do we have to work with channels we hate?
Another member shared, “For me, the main issue is the word ‘authentic’ and what that means, not to me or people close to me, but to the punters, the ‘audience’ and consumers of my product that I only want to show facets of myself to. How much of our personal selves can be public property? How do we separate out the bits of us we want to ‘perform’ for the public, which bits are only for certain audiences, or for none at all?”
For the record, I definitely don’t think authentic = TMI or full transparency.
Authentic visibility means being true to who you are and what you care about, but you’re still allowed to be selective with what you share! It’s up to you to decide what about you is relevant to your work and needs to be woven into your story.
Is it all a big lie?
The famous marketing guru Seth Godin wrote a book called All Marketers are Liars. Is that true? (Spoiler: Even Godin, in that very book, debunked the title.)
Some marketers ARE liars.
The marketers who imply that you’ll be young, thin, and fabulous if you buy Prada shoes? Liars.
The marketers who suggest that all you need is a simple template to grow your Instagram followers? Liars.
The marketers who helped Donald Trump spread the fable that he won the election in 2020? Liars.
Marketers have this reputation for a reason.
Marketers who say that the book Out on the Wire will give you amazing new insights into how stories work and put the tools in your hands to build better stories? Truth.
Marketers who say Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars is a rip-roaring sci-fi derby adventure that will give you a new angle on the effect of class and race divides and the impact of climate disaster? Truth.
Talking about your work in public and building an audience for it can be scary, no doubt. But when I create marketing messages that are truthful, that are completely aligned with what I believe in and who I am, I feel awesome about it. I can stand up in a crowded room and tell large numbers of strangers that, yes, they definitely should buy my book, and here’s why…and feel thrilled and powerful, not squidgy and terrified!
And if the idea of saying anything in front of a roomful of strangers makes your brain freeze, don’t worry! You don’t have to start by standing on a soapbox! There are plenty of baby steps that can get you started.
The main thing to see here is that when I have authentic visibility, aligned with my values and passions, I build TRUST with the people I gather around me.
In this way, marketing truly is about relationship-building — it’s not just a transaction — and authentic visibility is even more so.
That’s why the principle of trust is braided into through every strand of my new program, Authentic Visibility.
Trust in yourself and your vision.
Trust that you are in charge of your boundaries and what you want to share (and keep private).
Trust in your audience, that they A. exist and B. will be ridiculously excited to find out that you and your work exist, too.
The tactics aren’t that important—authentic visibility is.
As soon as you gain clarity on what you want to share, where your boundaries are, and how to talk about what you do so that its immense value becomes crystal clear to the listeners, you will want to shout it from the rooftops as well.
OK, OK, I know that sounds crazy. But just take a moment with me to think:
How would it feel to be able to meet a stranger at a gathering, and when they ask, “What do you do?” you’d be able to answer so clearly, and with such conviction, that you see their face change, their eyes go bright, as they rush to ask you to tell them more.
How would joyful certainty that you have something that will help other people, or give them happiness—and you know exactly how to tell them so—transform how you communicate via social media, in email, with groups, with clients, with your spouse and family…with yourself?
The specific methods and modes you use to communicate are secondary.
Alignment with your own true north, and having the tools to crystallize that alignment into words and actions, is all that matters.
Where creatives go off track
When they’re still mired in fear and overwhelm, plenty of creatives want to skip this step where we dig into the whys behind their work to use in marketing.
That’s when they (understandably) go looking for an “Easy” button — some kind of quickie, done-for-you, plug and play calendar or checklist of what to post, when, that will help them generate the visibility and the results they’re hoping for. And there are plenty of those sorts of checklists and calendars out there.
But the fact that the same people who say they crave that simplistic structure aren’t finding it or following through means that the only thing that will work is visibility built on fully aligned action that’s 100% authentic to who they are and what they care about.
Hey, we’re creatives. We’re not cookie-cutter people. We shouldn’t be surprised if cookie-cutter tactics designed for dudebros and Instagram influencers aren’t really a fit!
What surprises most creatives is not that, but that it actually is possible to invent and create their own specific, custom plan based on their own audience and goals…a plan that looks and feels unique and perfectly suited to who they are and what they make.
The basic principles of marketing yourself and creating visibility are actually very easy to learn and pretty simple to implement. What’s far more important is understanding the WHYs behind the visible surface tactics so that you can mold them to your own needs and ends.
That means you’ve got to define authentic visibility for yourself, and work through the fears and blocks that may have kept you from creating that kind of visibility in the past.
As I mentioned above, I’ve created a brand-new free training I’m calling, “How to Get People Wildly Obsessed With Your Creative Work” — click here to register to attend — and in it, I’m going to show you the secret that will unlock the reasons why your previous stabs at self-promotion haven’t gone as well as you’d hoped, and show you how to stop hating marketing and start creating your own Authentic Visibility.
It’s part of the jargon-free, authenticity-centered process I’ve created to help artists and creatives understand how to engage with their audience, build up a fan base, and develop authentic visibility so that they can complete the circuit with their creative work — so that they’re not just producing work, but getting it into the hands, minds, and hearts of people it will impact.
Because that, in the end, is what art is all about.