How to promote yourself when you’re shy

One of my friends recently asked me: how was I not on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook more often spreading the word about my blog, classes and zines? I just told her that I was a very low-key person, and that posting about myself and my work wasn’t something I was comfortable doing. I have all the respect in the world for people who choose to do so, but personally for me, it would make me exhausted, because in reality, I’m a little shy.

I chose to be quiet

I was lucky that when Pikaland first started 9 years ago, I just hopped onto the bandwagon because these apps were shiny and new. I registered an account at Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest just to see what the fuss was all about, and to connect with blogging buddies and online friends. I never thought that when I first signed up that these channels would become the social media behemoth they are today. I’m lucky – I’ve skipped so many others – Snapchat, Periscope, Vine, etc., because keeping up with what little social media channels I had on hand was frankly, already more than I could handle. I didn’t find the need to go into apps that I didn’t have an interest in (and most of them are long gone by now as well). Yes, there were the occasional pangs of FOMO (fear of missing out), but whatever urges I had to register for a new account for the new app of the day was overtaken by the need to keep myself sane, first and foremost.

Do all the things!

If you’re an artist/illustrator/designer/maker, there’s so much pressure from everyone to do everything you can for your work. Start up a blog! Email marketing! SEO! Master flat lay for Instagram! Share process videos! Pin, pin, pin! Again, if that’s what you want to do, that’s perfectly fine too. I can understand how marketing can be seen as an evil necessity; it’s the job that you have to do to get out there to get people to notice you (unless you really like it, of course!) But from my personal experience, I can tell you that it doesn’t have to be the only way, especially if like me, you’re uncomfortable with bombarding your readers, fans and family with updates about your work. I mainly promote what I’m doing through email, and only then will it trickle down to social media by way of auto-pilot. Pikaland is like a secret club where my readers get first dibs on everything.

“I’m not just doing this for you”

I suppose one can say that I’m selfish. Everything I did was to further my self-education into the realm of illustration: I started up this blog to keep track of amazing artists and illustrators. I dug deep to learn about their thinking process and trained my eye to recognise what worked and what could be improved on. I enjoyed going to illustration conferences, learning from generous teachers and meeting like-minded friends. I discovered I love teaching more than being an illustrator. Heck, even my online classes were selfish endeavours – they were based on topics that I was curious about, and were summaries of what I’ve learnt throughout the years. Putting the class together in a cohesive fashion was a way for me to remember what I’ve learnt along the way so that I wouldn’t forget them myself.

I haven’t gone down the whole social media route because I preferred my work to speak for itself. I am of sound mind – of course I know that having this mindset will keep me from growing. But here’s the catch – I don’t want to grow big. Not yet anyway. I like being small. I like interacting with my readers one-on-one. I love teaching in a small group. I don’t want to oversell and overestimate myself. I’m not in search of “likes”, and I don’t keep score. I want my students to walk away from my class with a clear purpose and a plan they’re excited about. And if that doesn’t happen, I’m happy to go back to the drawing board to do it all over again until I get it right.

It has to be a bit of a balance, I suppose.

Everyone’s different

If you like being on social media, good for you. For others, it’s okay if it’s not your cup of tea. Some people like sharing stuff. Others just like to see what others are sharing. And there are those who use social media as a self-promotion tool. Yes, there are people who were discovered through social media, but let’s not discount the fact that there are also others who get discovered the old fashioned way: blogs, newspapers, magazines, competitions, word of mouth, etc. There isn’t a one-route-fits-all solution.

Personally, I’m a very private person, and I like to process a lot of what I’m doing on my own. I find that I rarely talk to Mr. T about my work, and instead I talk to my friends who have the same interests, or my community. I prefer to keep things private and close to my heart, so it’s not hard to understand why I usually prefer doing my communications via email. This is then followed by Facebook, and trailing far behind is Instagram and Twitter.

However you feel about self-promotion through social media, I’ve listed down 3 recommendations on how you can choose what works for you:

Be consistent. Take some time to think about what you’ll be comfortable doing for the long run. Spreading yourself thin trying to be everywhere at once will knock the wind out of your sails before you even get going.
Be selfish. Do what you want to do, not what people expect of you. That way, you can have some fun, colour outside the lines, play a little and let people see the real you, and what you stand for.
Do great work. I cannot overemphasis this enough – if people put in more effort into doing great work as opposed to the time they spend on social media, then perhaps they wouldn’t need to use it so much. I may be wrong, and some people may genuinely love being on social media – but hey, there’s no harm in doing great work too, is there?

There are no hard and fast rules about using outlets like Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Sure, there’s lots of things you can do to help it along – hash tagging, commenting, posting at a certain time of day, etc – among hundreds of tips out there that will hopefully help bring you the fame you’re looking for.

Just don’t forget to do the work first and foremost – you’ll realise that it’s the one thing that won’t go away ever, even if those platforms disappear one day.

A guide to email pitches (for shy artists)

This topic has made me think a lot in terms of how differently people approach self-promotion these days. But I’m also keenly aware of how a lot of things still stay the same. In spite of the popularity of social media, I think that emailing is still a very important form of self-promotion. I deal with email a lot, even before I started this blog. I used to work in publishing, and as an editor you get a lot of emails and letters, pitching an event, new work, or a launch. I know that even with the rise of social media, email itself has not changed much.

It’s a pity that this form of communication hasn’t gotten a lot of attention because it’s one of the best ways to get your work out there. When done right, it can open doors, make people notice you and bring you opportunities you might not even know of. So it would stand to reason that emailing blogs, magazines, news portals, etc., should be a piece of cake right? Turns out, not really. I’ve met many artists who were uncertain about the best ways to write an email, and it’s a nail biting affair. When’s the best time to write? How should I sound? What should I do if they don’t reply? ARGH! I’d roll up my sleeves and listen so that I can help them formulate a plan.

A friend came to me about this problem recently, and I’ve come to realise that my advice is pretty much the same each time, and that I should probably start to just compile my thoughts in a proper manner. So if you’re shy, introverted and unsure of how to write in a way that will allow your personality (and work) to shine, I’ll be writing a guide that on how to pitch yourself via email. It’ll be ready within the next couple of weeks, but if you’re interested to know when it comes out, just click the button below and enter your details when prompted so that I can send you a note to let you know when it’s ready!

What about you?

Do you have a particular preferred channel or method when it comes to promoting your work? I’d love to hear from you – leave me a note in the comments or send me an email to share!

[Illustration: Jon Klassen]



  advice, creativity, resources


6 thoughts on “How to promote yourself when you’re shy

  1. Youtube is another fantastic platform for marketing. Of course, it’s going to be quite daunting for shy people to get on. But you don’t really have to show your face on Youtube though. I’ve seen many artists who just post videos of their drawing process and talk. That’s all and they manage to get a good following on Youtube.

    What I like most about Youtube is they really want to promote good content. They use their algorithm to look for engaging content and promote them on the homepage and also on the Related Videos sidebar. No other social media channel that I know of do this kind of push marketing. Most other social media channels relies on the user to do a search.

    For those willing to explore sharing their work through Youtube, it is definitely going to be worth their time.

    As for me, my presence is created through my blog. The key as you mentioned is consistency. I don’t think I’ve actually actively promoted my blog other than posting links on Twitter and Facebook. But over the years, I think the work speaks for themselves and gets out.

    • That’s a great suggestion Parka! YouTube is always on the back of my mind because it’s a great platform, almost like the new version of blogging (vlogging). Some people are comfortable with speaking on camera, and while I’m alright with audio (podcasting perhaps?), facing the camera is a bit daunting because I don’t have a good setup at the moment plus the fact I’m a little self-conscious, etc. Who knows I might give it a spin one of these days?

      • Yeah, it’s sort of like podcasting. But because it’s on Youtube, there has to be something visual. Most artists just show themselves painting while narrating on the background without the need to show their face. The first few times may be awkward but you’ll get better with speaking. I cringe whenever I watch my first few talking videos. LOL.
        You can see some examples by searching “iraville” or “happy d artist” on Youtube. Those are just two of the many examples out there. They do show their face at times but it’s really not necessary.

  2. Thanks for your candid advice in this post.

    While I don’t necessarily consider myself shy, I’m extremely introverted and tend to be a generally reserved person. Even though I’ve done marketing for other creative professionals, promoting myself has never come easily. Self-promotion can feel disingenuous when you’re typically a quiet-type of person.

    I appreciate your 3 recommendations – I’ll be keeping those points in mind every time I start to feel stressed about marketing myself.

  3. I used to be shy as a child so I can relate to you so much. Thankfully over the years I have grown in confidence and as a person. YouTube is indeed a very handy promotional tool for people who are lacking on confidence

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