3 harmful myths about self-promotion & why it’s time to do things differently

It’s been a week since I launched Work / Art / Play – an online class for artists and illustrators to help them find their footing in this big bad digital world; and the response has been amazing. I’ve gotten so many responses from artists and illustrators who took the time to send me an email, telling me how this has been what they’ve been looking for (and why the heck was I keeping it from them for so long!) So thank you readers – I’m touched beyond belief, and can’t wait to start!

One of the core messages in my upcoming class was that it’s time to do things differently. And that means it’s not just about up-ending the competition. It’s not about tweeting your fingers off every hour of everyday with news about that same new painting, or sending in that fourth application to an illustration annual. It’s more than that and I’m going to lay down 3 harmful myths about self-promotion and why it’s time you did things differently.

Myth #1: Social media is key to making sales, getting clients, etc!

No it’s not.

Tweeting about your offerings 24/7 into the wide open world is not going to cut it. You might trigger a response (if you’re lucky someone notable stumbles onto your tweet) but for the most part it’s like shouting into a barrel and hoping for a response. Social media is merely an amplifier for your marketing efforts and is a way to connect with others on an informal level; but it’s not the whole picture (unless it is, and if it is, then you’re in trouble).

Handy hint: Stop sending pitches through Twitter or Facebook – it’s unprofessional and lazy. Plus, it’s easily forgettable compared to an email.

Myth #2: Postcards: the more the better. I need a fancy logo and name card that people will remember before I promote myself.

This is a misguided effort at best, and a time-staller at worst. Sure, creating the best name card so that people will remember you is a noble effort – but ultimately people will remember the person, not a name on a card. Even if it was printed with gold leaf on a scratch-and-sniff card.

Handy hint: As long as your name card is legible and carries an example of your work or your message, it’s time to hustle!

Myth #3: Emails don’t cost a thing. I’m just going to send one to everyone I know with a blind carbon copy (Bcc).

Again. This is just lazy, and just like shooting fish in a barrel. Would you send out a mass cover letter and a generic resume in hopes of landing a job? If that’s what you’ve been doing (no, no, no) then it’s time you stopped and put a little more effort into putting yourself out there.

Handy hint: Use names if possible. Most of the time you can do a search and you’ll find the person you want to reach, and avoid the possibility of being binned.

The biggest takeaway from all this, is how artists and illustrators need to stop putting their hopes on others, and take concrete steps to claim responsibility for their actions. So many marketing strategies out there hinges on other people’s responses instead of how you can deliver your message and story better.

And how did I know all of this? Because I’ve been on the receiving end of the above strategies. Frankly, after 6 years and hundreds of emails, it’s getting a little ridiculous, to the point where it has become a personal pain point, rather than something to be tolerated. Things can be better. You can do better.

So if you think I’m going to be advocating that you send in more postcard mailings, or take a spread in that fifth illustration annual, or to put up your portfolio up on that illustration portfolio site – I’m not. These may work for some, but ultimately it leaves too much to chance. Remember, it’s not about out-doing your peers, it’s about doing things differently in order to succeed.

And this is just a small part of what I’ll be focusing on in Work / Art / Play. If you’ve been doing things the same way without much to show for it, do yourself a favor and check it out – it might just change the way you look at your work and your business. Enrollment ends on 8th September 2013, and class begins 16th September. 


Although I’ve laid out the points above, I know that there’s always an angle that I’m missing, an opinion that I’ve not heard. So I’m curious to hear from you – have you used the above strategies and has it worked for you? Tell me your findings in the comments below!

And if you haven’t signed up for the mailing list yet – do join in! You’ll get a weekly newsletter and special members-only updates with ideas, tips and advice on how to spread your wings no matter if you’re an artist or illustrator (or both!)

[Illustration by Susanne Low]

21 Replies to “3 harmful myths about self-promotion & why it’s time to do things differently”

  1. Candace says:

    I like this.
    As an artist– like most of us here– I worry about this, too. Too much? Too little? Finding good balance of promoting oneself is tricky on such a fine line.

    Do you ever wonder if– because art is subjective– that people will simply find you, like you & follow you because they appreciate your style? That your audience will grow organically via word of mouth thanks to your current fans/followers/collectors, and that’s possibly (almost?) the best we can do? Certainly not to say that we all should just drop self-promotion strategies..

    I agree that social media is not the only route to promotion, plus too much of it is never a good thing. I personally have un-followed on twitter due to an overload of irritating self-promotion tweets cramping my feed, and un-followed on instagram because of way too many repetitive “look at me” posts. I know that sounds mean, but too much is just too much and equates to obnoxious. And I don’t think a tweet is going to make someone like your art; it’s the art behind the tweet that is shared and appreciated.

    There are a few books out there I’ve been tempted to buy and read, like “The Fine Artist’s Guide to Marketing and Self-Promotion” and “Guerrilla Marketing for Artists”. I’d love to know if anyone else has read these and could recommend them?

    1. amy says:

      Oh no Candace! I definitely don’t advise dropping out on self-promotion completely – and you’re right, it’s just that there’s too many “look at me” posts; but the question is who exactly is looking?

      I think I might have read one of those books before – I’ll have to dig it out and will let you know!

      1. Candace says:

        Thanks Amy! I hope my comments didn’t detract from your promoting your course. I’m very curious about making appropriate connections and how to find people to “follow” you and your work that aren’t simply acquaintances. 🙂

  2. caroline says:

    hey amy,
    i’ve been reading pikaland for a long time now, and i’ve always enjoyed your blog a lot. i’ve found many great artists/illustrators through it, i still follow many of their blogs or flickrs up to today. i also remember how you started camp pikaland, how exciting it was and i even ended up taking a class which was fun and helpful.

    but recently i have to say i find that the blog has changed a lot, and not necesarrily to its advantage. i do think the occasional post about how to make money by selling your art or what things to avoid is helpful and fits into the whole pikaland concept. telling your readers about pikaland classes makes sense to me as well. but where has the rest of it gone?
    if i go back a few pages, there’s almost exclusively articles about what to do or what not to do in the industry of illustration. i’m sure there’s a lot of useful advice, but i just wonder how it happened that there are hardly any illustations to be seen anymore on a blog that focusses on illustation.

    maybe it was a conscious decision you made, to focus more on giving advice about the “business”. if it is i respect that decision since it is your blog, obviously. i’ve just been wondering about this for a while now because for me personally it takes a lot of fun out of the blog…

    best whishes,

    1. amy says:

      Hi Caroline!

      Thanks for letting me know your thoughts – I appreciate it tremendously!

      If you’ve read my post about the growing curve that has lead me to this point I think you’ll be able to understand a bit more about the decision. But let me explain further.

      With Pikaland, I’ve always pushed myself little by little – whether it’s starting new projects or the type of articles that I write. So every year, I grow. I know how there’s quite a bit out there who would rather see me post more illustrations – and I most probably will one day – but when I merely post about things for people to look at, it raises some imbalance in the conversation, especially it being one-sided. And with the advent of Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr, it’s not difficult to uncover new talent either. With the past few weeks of posting however, I’ve shared my thoughts, and in the process have learnt so much more – and the privilege of having true conversations with others have made me more aware of the things that are not being said, that should be.

      While I’m not aiming exclusively at the business of illustration, I am all for the betterment of artists and illustrators – mentally, emotionally, and creatively – and this is what I’m striving to address, and to give my point of view. I do realize that it might make me a little unpopular, but I feel I need to do what my heart is telling me to do, so that I can serve others to the best of my capability!

      1. Sarah says:

        I agree with the above comment. If you actually WERE an illustrator you could give your personal angle, but since you decided not to pursue it professionally you’ve joined the ranks of people who aren’t actually illustrators but write books/blogs/etc about ‘how to make it as an illustrator’ as a way to make money.
        There’s an overload of them already out there. You really need years of experience to know what works. It’s the same as somebody with a business degree thinking they know how to run a business just by having a degree.

      2. amy says:


        I don’t tell people that I’m going to take them through the whole business of illustration. I’m teaching them about business itself — and that the ability to draw, is merely a skill. What’s wrong with the picture these days is how people think they have the skill, then automatically presume they have a business. Conversely, just because one has an illustration degree doesn’t make them an illustrator either.

        I’m saying this as someone who is on the receiving end of illustrator’s pitches for more than 6 years. Hundreds, if not thousands of them. I’ve commissioned illustrators and I’ve worked with them. I’ve talked to many – professionals, teachers, students. I’ve looked at many of their work and thought to myself “they could do better”. Not stylistically, or technically, but personally.

        I teach about creative thinking + entrepreneurship to would-be illustrators in a local college. They’ve been taught by some of the best illustrators in the field, and when they came to me, they were burnt out, confused and frustrated. Some lecturers have even given up hope on some of them. At the end of the semester, my group (with nearly a 99% attendance record) have improved dramatically on how they were able to conceptualize ideas and to come up with multiple creative outcomes. Being technically fit wasn’t the problem – the thinking process was. They also now understand that making it as an illustrator isn’t just some mystery or the fact that they need to be picked by others to be able to succeed is not entirely true – it’s through a lot of hard work and continuous learning. They’ve begun to take proactive steps to building themselves up before leaving school to prepare for the realities of working life as a result.

        So what I do, is to try and change mind sets. To bring down your own wall. To tell others that if things aren’t working for you, then find another way. I tell this to everyone I meet who hates their job, who want to do something else but worry about money, or are frustrated with their career. And yes, I’m talking specifically to artists and illustrators, because I love what they’re doing. And no matter what the people within the industry says, there is a shift coming. It’s like book publishers and book stores trying to convince people that e-books are bad and books are the only way to go. I get emails telling me how things are not working out as they’ve envisioned and how they feel depressed as they’ve gone through the circuit with nothing to show for it. There must be another way.

        What I’m sincerely asking, is how is that whole conventional illustration path working for you? Not great? Then perhaps you’d like to give my way a try? Or what if you don’t care about labels – what if being a professional illustrator isn’t what you’re going for, but you want to draw and find your audience and in the process get paid for what you like to do? What I’m teaching are things that has helped me in my own career and business as a freelance writer. There are more overlaps than you think, but I guess if you’re not open to listening and learning from others, then you just won’t find out.

        And yes I’ve asked myself a thousand times if I’m the right person to do this. But since I don’t see anyone else taking up the challenge of challenging the norm, here I am. So what I’m doing may not be for you. But it doesn’t mean that others haven’t benefited from what I’m doing. I’m prepared to be ridiculed, and laughed at, but that’s okay. I’m putting my head down to do the work, and only time will tell.

      3. Sarah says:

        Fair enough. Although to be honest, there was NEVER a time where sending postcards and bombarding people with emails made people successful. So I wouldn’t call it a ‘new thing’. This is one of the things written in ‘how to be an illustrator’ type books – all written by people who didn’t make it in illustration.

  3. Bethany says:

    I really like that you are addressing the practical side of the business of illustration. I can’t remember ever finding so much information in one place before and its so helpful to hear what others are doing with their own work. Like Caroline, I love looking at other illustrations you’ve found, but I think this new attempt at presenting more content on the business is fascinating! I also can’t help but think of my husband who is a salesman and how much illustrators and designers need to understand this skill. Its not something that is inherent in most people– it needs to be taught. You’re absolutely right about making personal connections with people you are selling your work to and not bombarding them with material. Too much of anything is bad. Making personal connections is always the way to go in everything.

    1. amy says:

      Bethany, thank you so much for the kind words of encouragement! After sleeping on it though, I do think about what Caroline has said, and while I don’t think I am going back to posting purely about the artists I find, I think I need to find a balance. There’s a bit of a push and pull these past few weeks, but ultimately it’s finding a balance that resonates with what I’m trying to achieve.

      I’m really glad that I have you guys here to bounce ideas off of, and for that I’m truly grateful! x

  4. Chioma says:

    What a refreshing read. I feel so much pressure to be a social media gadfly right now, especially living in Brooklyn where so many other twentysomethings like me are centering their lives around “selfies” and becoming the next internet sensation. People have literally told me if I put more pictures of myself I would get more followers and sell more prints. It’s all just so crazy. I just want to be an artist not a trendy brand.

  5. cotey bucket says:

    Hey Amy,

    You are so right. I won’t lie I love the twitters, the face book, and the lot. And when I come out with a new podcast say, I plug the hell out of it. But that’s not me trying to sell. It’s me leading people to great free content and giving them a chance to share in an experience. I guess what I’m getting at is so much of what’s missing from these methods you described is value. None of thee exchanges were about the receiver, they were all about the sender (look at me I’m so great ) and I think that’s the biggest reason they’re never going to work.
    You have great success because you provide massive value, we know that, and we love you for it. That’s the real big marketing secret right there: provide mad value.
    (rant). Always great stuff amy, thanks.

    1. amy says:

      There’s nothing wrong in plugging or in selling Cotey! But doing it the right way – that makes all the difference between the ones who flashes their stuff around but get frustrated when it doesn’t work, and those who are in it for the long haul. And apart from value, it boils down to the mindset of the artist as well, and once that part is in place, the rest is going to be easy.

  6. This was a great article. I do however have some thoughts. Most people say that social media & postcards etc are the only way to get yourself noticed. I’ve been trying to transition my career over from design to illustration for the last few months quite seriously and have found social media useful but very time consuming and tedious at the same time. It has not however generated any sales for me or gotten me any commissions. So my question at the end of the article is if overdoing it on social media is not good then what is considered good self promotion practice that will generate traffic, sales and commissions.

    1. amy says:

      Hi Agnes! As a general rule, good promotion practices starts with fostering good connections, and also being authentic. It’s a lot like dating, and dancing, in a sense!

  7. Dana says:

    I agree that blanketing the earth with your images and info. is not the best strategy for getting a job, an art gig, a date, anything. People-to-people contact of some sort is invaluable in all situations.
    I want to weigh in on the website, too. I find this website extremely useful. If I want to see illustrations, I go to Illustration Friday or Google images or individual illustrators’ sites.
    If I want real information/thoughts/ideas about BEING an artist, I come here. This is one of the very very very few sites I visit regularly. I love it!

    1. Thanks Amy. Those things take time to build especially the connections part! I can’t help seeing these stories of people whose blog took off right away or sold something on the first day their shop was open and things just organically took off. I always feel like I’m doing something wrong. I hope that your course will demystify some things for me!

  8. Lia Craven says:

    I enjoy your insights into the art and illustration business and I hope someday to participate in a class when my life gets a little more settled. I appreciate your efforts!

  9. Laurel says:

    HI everyone! This is so refreshing to read. I am starting up a new jewelry line, and the social media component is giving me night sweats! Breaking me out in hives. Inducing panic attacks!! For as fantastic as social media is, for me, it is the one thing that is so hard to successfully do, and so daunting. And discouraging.

    Amy, will the info in this course be useful to someone starting up a jewelry line?

    1. amy says:

      Hi Laurel!

      I had a look at your portfolio and I think what you’re doing is fun! If you’re thinking of going along the lines of infusing your jewelry line with art/illustration, then perhaps this will be up your alley – but if you have any questions don’t hesitate to send me an email at amy@pikaland.com! (I’m sorry for the late reply – I didn’t see your comment until today!)

  10. I actually think you have written interesting articles the last half year 🙂 it’s a sweet surprise (haven’t visited Pikaland for a while).

    For me, this year is the ‘changing’ year. I worked my ass of promoting myself the last two years (yes I also send postcards..)..slowly some publishers got interested in my work. I haven’t yet got a big job from a publisher but I have worked on pitches and got a pretty good job offer (but in a city far away so that was a no). And I’ve got other jobs that came from people I met 1,5 year ago.
    What I’m saying is…I guess promoting doesn’t work instantly at all. Nor can you say you aren’t doing your best if you don’t get jobs. And try to work out what works or not is something you can only do on the long haul.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *