Dear Abbie - The Non-Advice Podcast

Selling Yourself

June 22, 2023 Abigail L. Rosenthal Season 1 Episode 154
Dear Abbie - The Non-Advice Podcast
Selling Yourself
Show Notes Transcript

What I fear is taking the real, unmasked me into a wider arena – or trying to.

Abigail L. Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of The City University of New York.  She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now appearing in an expanded second edition and as audiobooks.  Dr. Rosenthal writes a weekly column for “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column,”  where she explores the situation of women. She thinks women’s lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of The Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal.  She’s written numerous articles that can be accessed at .

“Selling Yourself”

Where I come from, there was another name for women who did that, and it wasn’t “sex worker.”

Although writing Confessions of a Young Philosopher sometimes felt like being crucified near an ant hill – compared to marketing, the writing was the fun part.

I have never felt that anything I happened to know gave me title to expertise on anything else, so I recognize that writing Confessions does not confer the ability to market it to literary agents or editors and get it published – much less get it read! The two kinds of gifts, book writing and book marketing, appear to be almost antithetical gifts.

Writing a book would seem (in my own case) to presuppose a kind of shyness. I have lots to tell and lots to say, but would rather not tell it in the street and frighten the horses. It’s as if the person who might ordinarily be speaking hides behind the writer. “Marketing” asks her, the concealed speaker, to come out and speak up for herself.

Instinctively I identify with the Bronte sisters: Emily, author of Wuthering Heights, Charlotte, author of Jane Eyre, and Anne, author of Tenant of Wildfell Hall. After corresponding with a London publisher under the names of Ellis, Currer and Acton Bell, they descended from their father’s parsonage on the wild moors of Yorkshire, caught the train south and appeared on their publisher’s doorstep as the very last thing that was expected:


One account I’ve read of Jane Austen told that she pretended to be writing letters whenever someone opened the door while she was penning Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility et al. And of course, let’s not overlook the Amantine-Lucile-Aurore who was “George Sand,” the Mary Ann who was “George Eliot” – all those fine Georges who were really women – in the days when Not-Being-A-Woman-Writer was practically a secondary sex characteristic.

Officially, we are all way past that at the present hour. So, emancipated as we are, I should have no excuse for wanting to hide my lights under a bushel. Or, more precisely, for wanting to hide. (Never mind the lights and the bushel.)

My readers, who surely include writers and would-be writers, may feel inclined to say,

  • What’re you complaining about? Cheer up! You may never get published! Or, if you do find a publisher, the probabilities are against your getting read (now that your mother is dead).

I have to tell my conjured-up critics: you don’t understand! I’m not afraid of being known or well-known. What I’m afraid of is having to seek that condition where, virtually my whole life long, I’ve been cultivating – nay mastering – the fine art of invisibility.

If they can’t see me, 

they can’t nail me.

There are people who achieve protective invisibility by wearing a mask. To me, that has always seemed a costly expedient, since you risk becoming the mask you wear. Also, you risk missing the meaning of your daily encounters, since whatever you meet won’t know it’s you in there! So, unmasked but fairly well hidden, I’ve navigated the rapids as best I could.

What I fear is taking the real, unmasked me into a wider arena – or trying to.

Plato says that a writer is, by vocation, a politician, in the sense of a person who desires to be an influence. If written words are inscribed on a durable surface, like the pages of a book, a writer (says Plato) could even be an immortal politician.

With “marketing” – the whole process of it, not just the stated goals — I’m looking at the confrontation between being an influence and receiving multiple influences in turn. Not all of it will be bad. But some of it will be.

What I have said in Confessions of a Young Philosopher will need to be defended. For me, “marketing” means

defending –-

no longer with the armor of invisibility –

the lessons of my life.