Whether you’re an artist, an author, or any other kind of creative, one thing is true: it’s not enough to make great work, you also have to show it to the people. And before you get the chance to show it, you have to learn to talk about it. Whether it’s orally at a networking event or in writing in a pitch email, you have to present yourself and your project well, or you’ll never get the connections and backing you need to get it off the ground. You need to impress your peers, your fans, and the gatekeepers of your industry to promote your work properly. Unfortunately, most people don’t feel comfortable talking about their work at all. Here’s some of the most common pitfalls and tips to overcome them.
1. They Act Unsure.
Be an expert in your own work. Strangers, producers, agents, editors, art directors, executives, attractive people you’re trying to impress—they’re all going to have questions. Having the answers—or at least a reason why you don’t have an answer—about what you do, what you can do, and what you want to do makes you look prepared and competent. No one else can answers these questions for you.
“What’s your novel about?” “How long will your podcast be?” “What genre of books would you like to paint covers for?” “Will your comic be funny?” “When will it be finished?”
Never answer questions like these with “I don’t know.” Even if you don’t. Come up with an educated guess. Most people are more interested in knowing that you have a good grasp of whatever project you’re working on or the work that you do rather than specific answers. They want to know that you know what you’re doing. The secret is that a lot of the time, no one knows what they are doing! So don’t worry if deep down, you are unsure. Fake it ‘til you make it, baby.
2. They Put Themselves Down.
Having confidence in your work is difficult. But if you don’t believe in your own work, who will? Your friends can’t always be around to act as your hype people.
If you say things like, “Oh, I’m not that good” or “My paintings are okay” or “My writing is alright,” why wouldn’t the stranger you’re talking to believe you? They’re not thinking, “Ah, the humble genius! This artist must be the best! I must give them all my money!”
The fear of rejection is a real, intense thing. One way some artists try to avoid it is by setting low expectations when they talk about their work, or rejecting themselves before anyone else can.
When someone interacts with you before they get to interact with your work, it is your job to convince them that your work is worth checking out. You owe it to your own work and to yourself. If you can’t talk about your work with confidence, at least don’t put it down. Give yourself a chance.
3. They Put Down Other Artists.
It can be really helpful when talking about your work to reference the work of others, but avoid putting down other artists. There’s really no need for it and you never know who that particular artist is friends with or who that artist works with. The art community, in every genre and medium, is a lot smaller than you think. That novel that you said your novel is much better than might have been edited by the person you’re chatting with at that networking event.
An important part of being an artist, no matter what type of art you make, is being a part of a community. If you can’t talk about your own work without talking a bunch of trash, it tells people a lot more about you than it does about your work. Instead of convincing someone to read or check out your work, it might convince them not to work with you.
4. They Ooze Negativity.
Making art is frustrating. Getting projects sold is frustrating. If you’re talking about your work and mostly complaining about all the things you hate about being an artist, it’s going to overshadow the art.
Commiserating with fellow artists and creators can be a cathartic and wonderful thing, especially if there are cocktails and dessert involved. There’s a time and place for it. Give your work a chance to shine before you bury it in an avalanche of complaints.
Sometimes it’s tough to remember why you started making art in the first place. It’s not an easy thing to do. But when you’re talking about your art, let the art be the focus. You worked hard to create this thing. It deserves to be talked about in all its glory!
5. They Call Themselves an “Aspiring” Artist.
What is an artist? Someone who makes artwork. If you’ve got artwork to talk about, that makes you an artist, doesn’t it?
You’re an artist when you start making art, no matter what medium it’s in. You don’t magically become a “real artist” when you start getting paid for it or do it full time. There’s only one threshold for being an artist and that’s doing the work. Stop calling yourself an aspiring writer, an aspiring painter or an aspiring musician. The only person in the world who can say whether or not you are an artist is you, so get to it.
When you say “I’m an aspiring artist” you might mean it in the way that you just haven’t gotten paid for it yet or sold anything, hint hint. But what it sounds like is that you’re not 100% serious yet or not ready to be hired for anything. If you are serious and are ready to get paid for your work, act like it and stop calling yourself an aspiring artist.
We hate to see artists and creatives self-sabotage themselves and their work, so we’ve created a new Intensive called The Art of the Pitch. Run by Mallory O’Meara—author, film producer, podcast creator, and olympic-level pitcher—this online class will show you how to confidently talk about and write about your work and win interest and support no matter what projects you want to make. Make sure you’re on our mailing list to be notified when registration opens, and to get our weekly blog posts straight to your inbox.