Many people come to me, and they say, “Hey! Josh! When you aren’t making the big bucks as a freelance semiotic brand analyst, you’re juggling a bunch of do-it-yourself projects.”
“You mean like the websites I co-founded, HiLobrow and Semionaut?” I reply. “Or my recent book The Wage Slave’s Glossary, which I wrote with Mark Kingwell? Which was the sequel to our book The Idler’s Glossary?”
“Exactly,” they say. “Plus, your forthcoming Fantagraphics story-and-photo collection Significant Objects, which you co-edited with Rob Walker. And the kids’ field guide Unbored, which you co-authored and co-edited with Elizabeth Larsen (Tony Leone is its designer), and which Bloomsbury will publish this October. Also, you and Elizabeth have started writing a parenting series for Slate, right?”
“Right! And don’t forget my iPhone brainteaser app, KER-PUNCH!, which I created with Rick Pinchera” I remind them bashfully.
“Not to mention HiLoBooks, the quixotic imprint you’ve spun out of HiLobrow this year in order to publish your favorite science fiction novels from the years 1904-33, an era of science fiction into which you’ve conducted pioneering research, and which you’ve named the Radium Age.”
“Phew!” I say, wiping my hand across my forehead theatrically. [Laughs all around.] Then I point out that HiLoBooks is also a collaboration — with bookfuturists Matthew Battles and Richard Nash.
“Is that the secret of your DIY productivity?” people ask at this point. “Never do anything on your own?” I just nod, because I know that this isn’t the question they really want to ask. My silence on the topic of productivity encourages them to ask it: “Josh, what’s the secret of DIY promotion?”
“It’s a technique and a philosophy of life,” I reply. “Its five ‘attitudes’ can be summed up in one word. That word is Schmoozitsu.”
“However,” I continue, dashing my interlocutors’ hopes, “it would take a lifetime to master Schmoozitsu, and I’ve only been practicing it for a dozen years or so. Therefore, I don’t feel prepared to share its secrets just yet. Sorry.”
[Weeping, wailing, rending of garments, gnashing of teeth. Exeunt omnes.]
Today, however, although I still believe that I have much to learn on the topic, I’m willing to reveal the secret of DIY promotion. Don’t thank me! Thank Jeff Potter and Anindita Basu Sempere, who’ve invited me (and Laura Fitton) to participate in their SXSW Interactive conference panel on “The Secrets and Surprises of DIY Promotion,” in Austin, Texas, this March. It was they who persuaded me to break my 13-year-long silence on this topic.
I cobbled together the term Schmoozitsu from schmooze (Yiddish for “ingratiating small talk”) and jitsu (術, Japanese for “art, technique”). The term was inspired by an insight I had in 1999. The actual practice — a promotional method and philosophy of life — is something I’ve developed over the years since then. The secrets of that practice I will now share with you.
One day in 1999, I was in New York on a visit — so I looked up a few friends and former colleagues who were working at magazines, websites, and book publishers there. I was curious about their workplaces, and wanted to catch up with them. This was purely a social call, as far as I was concerned. In New York publishing circles, however, when a freelance writer visits your office, you assume that he wants something from you. So I’d sit down with my friend, in his or her office, and some of their colleagues would come over to say hello, and we’d chat. After a while, I’d get the impression that my interlocutors were on the defensive — they seemed guarded.
My friend, or one of his or her colleagues, would eventually ask if I had any story ideas, or book ideas, to pitch. Nope, I said. Was I sure? Yup. That’s when they’d start to insist: Surely I had some ideas to pitch. I should send them a book proposal! I should write a column for them! And so forth — which might have made sense if I’d been a well-known writer, but I can assure you I was not. Yet, anyway.
This happened wherever I went, on that visit. At each office, the same pattern: polite chit-chat, then probing questions about my intentions, then increasingly urgent offers. What was going on?
On the Amtrak ride back to Boston, I realized that these editors were importuned constantly by writers. So they’d developed defenses. When I visited their offices, they’d put up invisible shields to defend against what they assumed — from weary experience — would be another “attack.” But shields are heavy; unless the shield-bearer is leaning against an opponent, i.e., whose aggression holds them up, they’ll topple forward under the weight of that shield. I wasn’t pitching anything, so these heavily shielded editors, overbalanced by their own defense mechanisms, started toppling.
I didn’t want anything; I was offered everything! I had discovered a form of… jiu-jitsu. In the arena of schmoozing.
Schmoozitsu cannot be faked. You can’t pretend that you don’t want or expect something; you must actually not want or expect something. This does not mean, however, that you should be entirely passive, detached. Schmoozitsu demands of its practitioners that we cultivate “engaged detachment.”
Translating the above into martial arts pop culture terms, David Carradine’s character on Kung Fu was passive and detached; the characters Bruce Lee played in movies cultivated engaged detachment.
Who would you rather be like, David Carradine or Bruce Lee? Right.
Engaged detachment can take the form of any one, or any combination of the following five “attitudes.”
When promoting yourself and your work, remain centered.
Strike a dynamic balance between activity and passivity. Don’t be pushy, because that’s a turnoff. But don’t act entitled, either.
Like it says in Ecclesiastes, “Cast your bread upon the waters.” Meaning: Show hospitality, no matter how improbable a corresponding return of hospitality to you may seem.
Remain detached from the fruits of your actions, as Krishna tells Arjuna, yet continue to act.
When you’re promoting a DIY project, you’re making yourself vulnerable. When journalists and bloggers don’t help you spread the word about your project, that’s an attack. How to deal with an attack?
Absorb and disperse the attack’s energy, like a mosquito does when it’s hit by a raindrop.
Water flows into what the Tao Te Ching calls “places that men reject.” Though it may be dammed off from the main channel, water eventually finds a way around and under — and through the cracks of — every dam.
Learn to think like your “opponent.”
More important than how you promote is why you’re doing it. Remember, DIY is not only about doing things your own way, but doing things for their own sake. The process is the reward.
Don’t promote! Instead, spread the word. Evangelize. And if you must write press releases, write press releases that you’d like to read yourself.
In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche has Zarathustra bless the sun for its “superfluity.” Be like the sun, overflowing with energy. Give excessively.
Promote other people’s DIY projects, too. Not because you hope they’ll return the favor, but because by doing so, you’re helping to create a world in which your DIY project isn’t “quirky” or “kooky” but the norm.
If your promotional efforts fall on deaf ears, you shouldn’t be resentful — instead, you should be sympathetic. Your message has been rejected not out of malice, but out of ignorance and poor judgment!
When you’re “attacked” (ignored) out of ignorance like this, the only responsible thing to do is not only to defend yourself — but defend your opponents, too. Your poor opponents don’t know what they’re doing…
Keep moving, don’t ever stop.
Be slippery and resilient. Engage on your own terms.
Your opponents are not your enemies. You don’t have any enemies, only potential friends who don’t realize it yet.
Why don’t journalists and bloggers realize that they want to help you spread the word? It’s because your energies are at cross-purposes.
Redirect your opponents’ negative energy in a positive fashion.
Work with your opponents, instead of against them.
I’ve found Schmoozitsu to be a fairly effective means of spreading the word about my various DIY projects. Not 100% effective, though — because Schmoozitsu isn’t merely a technique. It’s a philosophy of living, and the goal of this philosophy of living isn’t efficiency. The goal is dynamic tension, engaged detachment, resiliency, generosity. So although Schmoozitsu isn’t 100% effective, when practiced properly, it is 100% rewarding.
I guarantee it.
MORE FURSHLUGGINER THEORIES BY THIS AUTHOR: We Are Iron Man! | And We Lived Beneath the Waves | Is It A Chamber Pot? | I’d Like to Force the World to Sing | The Argonaut Folly | The Dark Side of Scrabble | The YHWH Virus | Boston (Stalker) Rock | The Sweetest Hangover | The Vibe of Dr. Strange | Tyger! Tyger! | Star Wars Semiotics | The Original Stooge | Fake Authenticity | Camp, Kitsch & Cheese | Stallone vs. Eros | Icon Game | Meet the Semionauts | The Abductive Method | Semionauts at Work | Origin of the Pogo | The Black Iron Prison | Blue Krishma! | Big Mal Lives! | Schmoozitsu | Calvin Peeing Meme | The Zine Revolution | Debating in a Vacuum (notes on the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triad) | Pluperfect PDA (series) | Double Exposure (series) | Fitting Shoes (series) | Cthulhuwatch (series) | Shocking Blocking (series) | Quatschwatch (series)
READ MORE essays by Joshua Glenn, originally published in: THE BAFFLER | BOSTON GLOBE IDEAS | BRAINIAC | CABINET | FEED | HERMENAUT | HILOBROW | HILOBROW: GENERATIONS | HILOBROW: RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION | HILOBROW: SHOCKING BLOCKING | THE IDLER | IO9 | N+1 | NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW | SEMIONAUT | SLATE