Selling yourself: marketing yourself with your own personal failures

This is the first part in a series on marketing yourself as a creative person. Obviously every solution won’t work for every person. These are just suggestions on creating an appealing personal narrative that will help you to make you and your work memorable to other people.


To sell yourself, whether in the media or just making yourself memorable to people you meet, you need to create a personal story that sticks. One powerful way to create an instant story for yourself is to point out a failure that contrasts with whatever current success you have.

Our natural tendency as humans is to hide our failings. We want to deny anything that doesn’t fit in with our current perception of ourselves. However, what we find most interesting in other people is what they don’t want us to know about them. Letting people inside some of your failures creates an instant memorable narrative.

Jim Carrey slept in a van when he was growing up. William Carlos Williams was a working doctor. Johnny Depp started out on 21 Jump Street. Bon Jovi sang on the Star Wars Christmas Album.

By the way, failure in the sense I’m using it in this article is not objective failure. Failure in this sense is anything that prevents you from living the creative lifestyle you want to live. If you are a highly paid attorney and you would rather be a novelist, for our purposes, being a lawyer is a failure. (People imagine that successful creative people don’t need to do anything but their art, so any other work is a failure. Sad but true!) If you had a big show at a major New York gallery and didn’t sell a single painting, that is also failure even though getting a gallery show in the first place is a success. If you were homeless last year and are now a rock star, being homeless is a failure even if it wasn’t your fault.

A good exercise is to imagine that you have an incredibly bored and cynical reporter sitting in front of you. He/She has been assigned to do a story on you, but only if there is something interesting to write about. This person already knows about your successes, has read the one paragraph published bio on your website and rolls his/her eyes when you start talking about your future projects. What do you do?

If you got an F in high school English and you just published a story in the New Yorker, it’s a memorable hook. If you worked as a rodeo clown for two summers in high school and you now sing heavy metal music, it’s a great story. The caricature that you drew in your college newspaper that got you expelled, fantastic! The experimental art show you participated in where you played a spermatozoa running headfirst into an egg, wonderful!

The more embarrassing the story, the better. The bigger the contrast between then and now, the better. Don’t be angry about these failures, just smile when you talk about them. You’ve moved past them. They’re part of the story. They’re giving people something to say about you.

Remember, we aren’t trying to give people a look into the truth of your inner-being, we are reducing your life to a three sentence pitch that will get you a story in the paper, on the radio or on TV. We’re giving you an easy to remember hook that will make people want to tell other people about you and your work.
One final bit of advice. Don’t lie. I guarantee you it isn’t necessary. Everybody who does something creative for a living has failed at one time or another. The more personal and unique your failure, the better the story is and the more people will want to see what you’re doing.

The one thing marketing can’t do is make the product better. That’s up to you.

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