So You Want To Be A Public Philosopher?

Some ideas, strategies, and advice based on my own experiences. YMMV. 

 

All photography on this site is by Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa.

1. First ...

2. What Kinds of Things Can I Do?

  • Write op eds.
  • Engage the media.
    • If you are based in a university, investigate what resources it has to help get your message out. Many have excellent press and publicity offices who will work with you using their expertise and media contacts. If this kind of support is available to you, use it!
      • To give an example, here’s a press release UBC's public affairs office made with me.
    • You can also contact media outlets or journalists directly.
      • In my experience, it's easiest to get media interested by doing some of the other things listed in this section, then publicizing these achievements on social media, alerting journalists to their existence, etc.
      • Building relationships with reporters and columnists who might be interested in your work is very valuable.
      • Watch out for news hooks connected to your work. Many journalists will be more interested in hearing from you if what you are offering them is timely. Following relevant keywords with Google Alerts is one way to do this.
    • Pitch yourself as an interview guest to some of your favourite podcasts or radio shows.
      • In my experience, radio and podcast interviews work very well as a method of philosophical engagement with a wide range of audiences. I find myself doing a lot of these.
    • If you belong to philosophical organizations or projects, they may be interested in publishing and promoting your work. Take advantage of any channels this opens to you.
    • Write essays/articles for popular magazines.
      • Again, be aware that some venues will want to see a pitch first rather than a finished piece.
      • Some excellent high-visibility places to land a philosophy essay include:
  • Give public talks.
    • If you host one at your own institution, take advantage of any press or publicity services they have to get the word out (and the audience in).
    • Offer to give a talk at a local high school.
    • Contact local organizations who might have an interest in your topic, such as non-profits, local businesses, or arts and cultural organizations, and offer to give a talk.
    • If you know the organizers of talk series, local TEDx events, etc., pitch them your ideas.
  • Do some DIY online writing.
    • In addition to social media (see Part 3), a good option here is Medium. In some ways this is the next generation of blogging. It enables you to create professional-looking online articles of any length that embed well in Twitter, Facebook, etc.
      • As an example, I recently used Medium to post my "Letter to Rosie," a response to a young girl who appeared on the podcast This American Life discussing philosophical questions.
      • Including a picture is a good idea. Especially when your piece embeds on social media and other platforms, this grabs attention and encourages readers to click through. If you happen to be or know a photographer, awesome. There is also Pixabay, a good source of free images.
  • Make some YouTube videos.
    • A video of yourself giving a live talk is one relatively painless option here.
      • If you're giving a public lecture, check if the host (or your own institution) can arrange for it to be professionally recorded, and if so, whether you (or they) can post the video online.
      • This gives your talk a life beyond its "live" audience.
    • "Explainer" videos that tackle a philosophical concept or idea can also work well.
    • Be aware that YouTube can be one of the worst places on the web for vile abusive commentators. (I generally recommend turning comments off on YouTube.)
    • Once posted, YouTube videos can be embedded in your own website, on social media, etc. They are very shareable.
  • Make a podcast.
    • Successful current philosophy podcasts include:
    • I recommend being (or becoming) an avid podcast consumer before attempting to produce one yourself. That’s the best way to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and what kind of formats and structures might suit your project.
    • Podcasting is much more time-consuming than it might appear. Editing is a big task, and again requires its own skill set.
    • The Free Music Archive is a good source of music across all sorts of genres, most of which you can use freely in your own podcast (as long as it's non-commercial: check the licenses for small print).
    • This advice from Helen Zaltzman of The Allusionist (one of my personal favourite podcasts, about etymology) is well worth a read.
    • Investigate whether your institution has resources available to help you make and promote a professional-sounding podcast (e.g. studios, sound editors, or experienced podcasting academics willing to advise you).
  • Enter some contests.
  • Write a trade book.
    • Once you have a significant project, platform, and/or profile you may have success pitching a book directly to a trade press (or to a university press that also publishes trade books). You may even find they approach you. (This was how it went in my own case.)
      • It's well worth doing some research to find a good fit for your book. Does the press reach the size and kind of audience you are looking for? Do you see their books out in the world beyond academic libraries and university bookstores? Etc.
    • If you can, seek representation through a literary agent. You will get a better book deal, and help with the process of writing, publishing, and promoting.
      • Here's a list of literary agents in Canada, maintained by the Writers' Union, together with information on how to approach an agent once you have a manuscript.
      • And here's some advice for the US context from Penguin.
      • It is a considerable achievement to secure a literary agent. It may be easier to build your profile and platform first; when things take off agents may approach you. (Again, this was how it went in my own case.)

3. As You Go

4. Further Resources, Help, and Support

 

Please send me suggested additions and corrections to any of the above! I can be contacted here.