Q&A: Meredith Fineman on the tricky but crucial art of self-promotion

Hello friends! This week I’m trying something a little different that I’ve been wanting to do for a while now: interviews with people I think are interesting (this will tend to lean towards internet types: writers, authors, etc since the internet is where I live). I’ve been thinking about whether to 1) do a second edition of the newsletter each week that’s just an interview on Wednesdays, or 2) do an occasional interview in the Sunday newsletter in place of a regular intro/essay.

I’d love to hear what you think! Do you think want Q&As or do you just want the regular ol’ link roundup and essay(ish) newsletter? Would you read an interview-only edition midweek? Feel free to reply to this email and tell me what you think, or you can leave a comment on this post. (And this newsletter still has a link roundup and recipes — just scroll to the bottom!)

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Today’s Q&A is with Meredith Fineman, whose new book Brag Better comes out in June, and is all about why you need to brag about your accomplishments to get ahead in your career — and how to do it in a way that doesn’t feel gross. Full disclosure: Meredith is one of my best friends, but even if she wasn’t my friend I would still be excited about this book — it’s about an idea I really believe in.

Bragging, or self-promotion or whatever you want to call it, is hard and feels really weird, especially for women, who are socialized from a young age to be modest about their accomplishments. Studies literally show that the self-promotion gap between men and women is holding women back at work. If you want to get that promotion/job/book deal/whatever, some degree of self-promotion is necessary for people to know about your work so they’ll consider you for opportunities, and Meredith’s book provides a terrific blueprint for how exactly to do that without feeling like an asshole. So here’s my Q&A with Meredith!

NC: What is Brag Better and why did you decide to write a book about bragging?

MF: Brag Better is all about being able to tout your accomplishments and feel confident in the work you’ve done — no matter where you are in your career. It gives you a roadmap of how to begin bragging, which I define as stating true facts about your career to advance it in the way you want. This could mean an internship, a speaking gig or a corporate board seat. 

When I represent individuals and train with them with my company FinePoint, I realized that nobody knew how to talk about themselves and that this was particularly difficult for women. The audience for Brag Better and my demographic is “The Qualified Quiet” — people that have done the work but don’t know how to talk about it. Bragging is a strength, not a weakness. It’s also irrespective of gender.

NC: Tell us about the process of writing the book! How long did you pitch the idea? How did you get editors interested? What was the writing, editing, publishing process like? 

MF: This is actually the second book I worked on back to back on very short timelines. I collaborated on a book that came out in 2018. Writing a book sucks; it's a combination of a marathon and a sprint. It’s a lot of “hurry up and wait,” which means you have to wait for things to clear and then they want you to deliver the book pretty much as quickly as possible. 

I’ve been pitching the Brag Better idea since 2013 — I’m not even kidding. I can’t believe it’s happening. I’ve worked with several agents on it; I went back-and-forth over proposals — it's been a really long time coming. When it comes to the actual writing — I wish there were an easier answer — you just do some every single day. I gave myself rewards like treats or walks or TV time (like I’m a toddler, or my dog Bean) after I did about an hour of writing — without specific word counts, just time allotted.

I’m really nervous but excited for this book to come out. Writing a book and putting it out into the world is a very vulnerable thing to do. Editing can be frustrating. At first I got defensive and I was like wait, this is my art! But I realized my editor really not only was looking out for me, but looking out for the best book possible.

NC: To a lot of people, especially women, bragging about your own accomplishments feels really uncomfortable. What are some tactics you'd recommend for someone trying to showcase their work but feeling weird about it?

MF: Bragging being difficult for women is the biggest “duh” in the world. You’re so not alone in this; it’s what I do for a living. You're socialized to shut up and look pretty. Everything about patriarchy tells you to be quiet, and not assert yourself. Of course it’s going to be difficult to want to speak up, not to even mention the actual backlash that can occur when you do. We all feel weird about this to some degree. There are a lot of tactics in Brag Better, but I would say you just have to start really small. Even if that simply means writing down a question to ask in a meeting, or in this case, a Zoom meeting, or just working on saying one great thing you did that week to your boss. You can start anywhere.

NC: Tons of people are facing layoffs now and looking for jobs in an incredibly tough economy where few companies are hiring. Also, everybody's working from home so there's no face to face interviews and networking is harder than ever. How can someone brag about their accomplishments and build their network if they're job hunting while being remote?

While in quarantine, I wrote an extra free chapter available to all on How to Brag Better Online and From Home. It’s on the Brag Better website. It became very readily apparent that the professional world had turned on its head; I think it will have real, lasting repercussions. Because so many people have lost jobs, and this book aims at helping you talking about your accomplishments, I hope it will be useful in a really scary time. A lot of this is about not breaking through during this extremely difficult time, but evaluating where you are. That means going over all of your current head shots, your social media profiles, and your regular bio and seeing how consistent and strong they are.

NC: Lastly — give me your top 3 quick things every person should do right now to optimize their online bragging.

MF:

  1. Buy the domain of your name and create a personal website.

  2. Rewrite your bio to make sure it’s strong and it’s consistent everywhere online. 

  3. Bulk up your email signature! It's an easy way to hand someone who you are and what you want on a silver platter and a time when we’re all busy and scared.

Learn more about Brag Better here.


Quarantine Cooking

This week I made: Korean beef bulgogi. Creamy Tuscan chicken (h/t Catherine Andrews’ newsletter for the recommendation). And tofu veggie pad thai, with a very inauthentic recipe that I approximated myself based on reading like 20 different recipes online. (It turned out fine! You CAN make your own peanut sauce!)

What I’m reading

Alison Roman, Bon Appetit, and the global pantry problem, Eater. This is a terrific piece on what I talked about in last week’s newsletter, except much deeper and better. Who gets to present global recipes divorced from context, and make them seem less ethnic, and build their success off of these global ingredients?

Is this the end of productivity?, Vox. Americans have long let work define our identities — but the pandemic is changing all of that.

I don’t feel like buying stuff anymore, BuzzFeed News. A great piece on what the pandemic is doing to our shopping and consumption habits.

The new New York will be better, The Atlantic.

We are living in the age of sweatpants and never going back, GQ.

“I had to choose being a mother”: With no childcare or summer camps, women are being edged out of the workforce, The Lily. This piece is infuriating, especially the UNEMPLOYED dad who doesn’t want to “take care” of his kid and so his wife had to dissolve the company she RAN and LAY OFF all her employees to stay home.

How women are getting squeezed by the pandemic, NYT.

Inside the book industry’s battle to stay afloat during the Covid-19 crisis, Esquire.

Two interesting and related takes on what should be next for the restaurant industry: The case for letting the restaurant industry die (Helen Rosner/The New Yorker), and Blow up the restaurant industry and start over (Marian Bull/The New Republic).

So long, summer, The Cut. An ode to summer in New York, and mourning the ways this summer will be different.

In a pandemic, is “wellness” just being well-off?, The Cut.

Please stop using the pandemic as a test of friendship, Self. The pandemic is hard and everyone is trying their best, so cut your friends some slack.


Thanks for reading! If you like this newsletter, you can click the “heart” at the top of this post on Substack or share it on social media or forward to a friend — they can subscribe at nishachittal.substack.com. You can follow me on Twitter here and Instagram here. And if you have thoughts on this week’s newsletter or suggestions to include in the future, feel free to reply to this email and let me know.