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A Regency Courtesan’s Tips for Self-Promotion

May 31, 2010

In the lead up to my major career change (more on that at a later date) I’ve been struggling to find some sort of guide, step-by-step instruction booklet, or map that leads the shy girl to the land of super-mega-outgoing-hustler type person. But so far, not so good. Self promotion seems to be at once a basic concept, but also quite bewildering. The world of social networking has resulted in information on this topic being all Trees when I’d rather it be Forest. Don’t tell me how to use Twitter and Facebook effectively, I just want to know the secrets of those people who get out there and find people to help them or create projects. I want to be a Real Hustler. I found the insight I needed in the last place I expected, the memoirs of a Regency courtesan named Harriette Wilson.

Know what you want to gain from the promotion-a one night stand or long-term couple status

For courtesans like Harriette the main aim of the game was to find a protector- a long term lover and patron. But that didn’t preclude them from seeking out one-off liaisons with grateful and generous gentlemen who may not have the means for an ongoing relationship, but were willing to shower the courtesan with money and present for a short time only. These two sources of business hang out in different circles necessitating different tactics for sourcing.

Before you begin spamming the Twitter feeds of all and sundry, you first have to decide what you want to achieve out of your efforts. Do you want one-off sales/visits/clients/johns, or do you want to build on-going relationships? Is your goal notoriety, or building a great and long-lasting reputation? Knowing what you want to achieve will shape the way you go about your self promoting, and narrow the field in which you expend your efforts when you move on to tip #2.

Find your audience and then parade shamelessly while looking over your fan in a coy manner

The courtesans marketing tactics? Parties, promenading and presentation. This is all about being seen by the right people and in the right light. The sort of relationship they were looking to form (a cheap and quick roll in the hay or long-term couple-dom) informed how they approached the three Ps. The majority of a courtesan’s self promotion involved beautiful dresses,the appearance of propriety, carriages-rides and walks in parks, all in the aim of being seen by the right people. So go and get yourself a carriage and a footman… um…

Ultimately self-promotion is about being seen and drawing attention to yourself in the right way, and for the right people- potential clients/customers/mentors etc. That can be done is a variety of ways, not all of them appropriate. Now that you know what you want to achieve, you can tailor your attention-seeking to that purpose. Do you want high paying clients? Then tailor your brand and products towards that market, and get yourself/your name/your brand some attention. 

Offer value in some form even if it’s a witty turn-of-phrase and a sassy attitude

I supped once in her society. . . She was far from beautiful, but a smart, saucy girl, with good eyes and dark hair, and the manners of a wild schoolboy.  

 Sir Walter Scott in 1825, on Harriette Wilson credit

A courtesan could parade about, dress as finely as any society lady and go to all the right parties and still wouldn’t make a living if she had nothing to offer. Brains, sexual skills and beauty being the three requirements, though as the quote above suggests, beauty was negotiable. 

Just like our Harriette you need something to offer in order to successfully promote. Otherwise, what the hell are you doing? 

Figure out what you want to achieve, what your goals for your business are. This will help you to know who you need to be seen by. Find out who they are (market research can come in to play here) where you can contact or connect with them in some way. Scheme ways to get your name noticed, or be seen by them (in real life, professionally, and online), get involved in projects that connect with this group or demographic, flash an ankle, and demonstrate your value. Repeat.

One final lesson from Harriette- blackmail your lovers when all else fails




Don’t do that.

Get her memoirs here

If you want more of the the good stuff- Alex Frazen wrote two AMAZING articles chock full of self-promotion and networking advice for Yes & Yes- here & here 


6 Comments leave one →
  1. dollyasylum permalink
    June 1, 2010 6:14 pm

    Ah, brilliant! That’s an interesting and surprising inspiration! The subject of self promotion often comes up blogs, but this is such an original angle you’ve taken here. Awesomeness!
    It’s funny that you should write about this subject today, as i have been wondering lately about how exactly to go about “whoring out” my artwork and such, but without coming across as waaaaay narcissistic. But maybe that’ s a hurdle in itself- worrying too much about how i will be perceived?

    It’s a tricky one..i find myself stuck between the “i want to be anonymous” thing and the “stuff that, I want noteriety” thing. On one hand, i feel a bit too self conscious about “selling myself”, but then on the other hand i really enjoy being raw and often toy with the idea of doing something a bit “shocking”….but then also, i am yet to pinpoint exactly what it is i hope to achieve with my actions. It’s frustrating!!!! I sometimes think i should develop a whole new alter ego for myself that will allow me more creative freedom, whilst enabling me to not have to give away any unnecassary personal details… kinda like a female version of Dr Steel. ( Dr Phineas Waldolf Steel. Muso/artist./aspiring world emporer. He’s awesome 🙂 )

    It’s all very confusing. But when i am feeling less blocked up and sick i will check out those last 2 links there!

    Great article!

    • Trixie permalink*
      June 3, 2010 5:14 pm

      OMG, You totally have to read this article by an actively self-promoting artist who brings up the point that rock musicians and film makers are actively encouraged to promote their work, it’s part of the culture of their art forms. But for visual artists and writers as well its seen as cheap and tawdry. I totally agree with her point that these forms are, by tradition, curated by higher beings so to speak. The editor or the dealer or the collector who swoops down and judges the work to be worthy.
      These arbiters of value look down on the self promoter…

      “if only because it further weakens their grip on the power to determine what is good art – and more, what’s good for us..”

      Anyway! Not quite your quandary, but something to think about.

      Even if you achieve notoriety, it wont necessarily preclude you from protecting your privacy. But the alter ego thing would be liberating. Just look at Miss Becky Lou!
      On the other hand you get Miss Amanda Palmer whose persona, if you can call it that, is obviously a large part of her personality, but not the whole of it. Either way, the amount you share is always going to be up to you. Bjork being a prime example. We all know who she is, but her privacy is protected fiercely. Ditto with Matthew Barney (obvs), heck most artists I can think of right now! Isn’t that part of the intrigue?

      Now I need to go lie down, I just ate half a wheel of Brie. WHY DIDN’T ANYONE STOP ME?! I’m being fermented from the inside out.

      • dollyasylum permalink
        June 4, 2010 11:50 pm

        Woah! What an awesome article! Thanks so much for the link! Everything she says is SO fucking TRUE! That quote you highlighted there really sums it up.
        I was actually talking about something similar the other day with my friend- we were discussing how more and more indie film makers are putting their work on the net instead of focussing so much on film festivals and the like. (there was a radio discussion happening at the time on this subject, so it got us fired up!) And we came to the conclusion that it boils down to the same set of people every time who look down their noses at this type of promotion. It’s always the wanky snobs who are terrified of the idea that their exclusive little circle may no longer be the high and mighty Elitist safe haven they are used to!!!! Just as this lady points out in her article, it’s the same people who criticise it that are always whining that their work isn’t selling! DUH. It’s almost as if actually exposing the work to the masses (as opposed to an exclusive little group of the “right kind of people”) will threaten their “romantic artist” ‘ mystique. It’s such BULLSHIT! I used to get soooo sick of all that wank at art school.
        I’ve always found the whole CONTEXT thing quite amusing when it comes to Art. Put a pile of bricks on the footpath, and it’s just a pile of bricks. Put the same pile of bricks into an Art Gallery, and it is suddenly “Art”, because whoever put the bricks there is obviously an “artist” to have the privelege of placing said bricks in that sacred Gallery Space. AAAAAAGGGH! It drives me crazy.

        But yeah… that’s also a good point you make re: the privacy thing. No matter what public persona is used, if the artwork/music is the focus, the outcome of exposing the work is still pretty much the same if it becomes well known. very good point!

        Once again, thankyou so much for that link! It makes me want to just get as much artwork and creativity “out there” as much as possible, and to hell with the snobs!

        Thanks for the inspiration!

      • Trixie permalink*
        June 9, 2010 9:49 pm

        Let’s see how thin we can get these columns to go. tinytinytiny.

        I had this whole thing typed out about context and intention and doilies and being able to charge hundreds of dollars for them. But then I realised that I’m ok with charging a couple of hundred dollars for a doily because they take me hours and days and weeks to make and because they are visually appealing. But then that opens the whole bag of why is it ok to call something art because it’s visually appealing, and what separates art from craft anyway, and then my head exploded. And I died. The End

  2. June 2, 2010 10:16 am

    Great article. There really was a lot of business sense going on behind the prettiness in the old days, wasn’t there.

    One of the things I find difficult is that a lot written about self-promotion is from the US and I’m not sure the same ideas work in Australia.

    • Trixie permalink*
      June 3, 2010 4:51 pm

      There was a great series brought out in the nineties by Allen & Unwin in association with the Australia Council which was called The Art of Self Promotion and had different books for different art forms. Here’s a listing of four of them (the top four results) They included writers, musicians, dancers, choreographers, visual artists and so on. They’re out of print now but you can find them at state libraries.
      What I like about them is that they were written before the internet saturation so they give really practical advice. At least it’s another more grounded and more proactive appraoch to self-promotion since every man and his dog has become a “social-media guru” and the general advice is to spurt content (in the form of posts and tweets and everything else) and wait for people to notice you. You should check them out.

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