Book promotion is the biggest challenge all writers face. I face it. If you’ve published a book, you face it, too. Every writer I know confronts the stunning reality that fewer and fewer people are reading books, even though we writers are pouring our souls onto the page.
Prior to publication, most of us have one goal–the finish the book. But, then what? Once your book is published, you very quickly realize the importance of doing what none of us likes to do: toot our own horns.
A “message in a bottle” recently washed up on the shore of my inbox. The letter came from self-published writer and former minister Michael W. Alvin, author of You’ve Been Brainwashed by Society: The Movies That Prove It. I asked Mr. Alvin’s permission to reprint his letter. I did so because I’ve heard from many of you who face the very same issues:
My wife and I live on a meager amount of Social Security. I’m sure that, if I were to tell you the amount, you would wonder how anyone could live on that pittance. Now, the problem is that my book has an important message and a very unique approach. It demonstrates that society through its educational system and its expectations of “normalcy”, forms a “personality” around a child that grows stronger as he ages. The problem is that this personality covers over the real individuality with which one is born. The true self with its unique talents is never discovered. I prove this by using the situations, characters, and dialogue from old movies that most of us have seen. I took me several years of research just to revisit these movies. I also review each movie.
Yet, as my book sinks into the “digital dust “, the only way that I can get my message across is by giving my book away through Kindle “Select”. I cannot afford the professional services of editing and promotion. Of course, sales are never guaranteed by any promotion either.My book is quite understandable and written in plain English. I’m sure that most any reader could understand it. Oh, perhaps I use “whom” instead of “who” and “me” instead of “I” in a few places. But, the reader knows very well just what I am saying. Only English teachers, snobs, and booksellers are concerned. The ridiculous thing is that it all changes every few years anyway. Now, we no longer indent paragraphs and the rules for commas and semicolons are changed. Oh, my, how will I ever be able to write? The editors, agents, and promoters have lorded it over the writers!Thank you for listening to my tirade from the real world. My next book will be called, “Coming Back to Life”. It will no doubt sink into the “digital dust” as well. In the war between form and content, it seems that form always wins in the literary field of today.Michael W. Alvin, author at Amazon and Amazon Kindle
Rather than responding to Michael individually, I want to do a “reality check” and then brainstorm some ideas that could help him find readers who will appreciate the content of his book. The big challenge is that he doesn’t have money to spend. Let’s see what I can come up with. Then, I’m hoping you’ll add your thoughts about book promotion.
Why Put Hurdles in Your Reader’s Way?
Here’s the “tough love” part of my response.
When readers discover typos and grammatical errors in a book, they’ll stumble. You can have the best content in the world, but grammar and factual errors will turn readers away simply because they’re stumbling too often.
Imagine a track-and-field event. Runners anticipate running around the track without bumping into anything. However, if, every so often, a hurdle appears, then that hurdle will cause the runner to break stride.
Let me use another analogy. What if a preacher is standing in a pulpit and saying, “but, um” or “uh, um.” What if he has a stutter that causes him to hesitate on every “M”? The content of the sermon is great, but the delivery causes listeners to feel uncomfortable, then annoyed, and eventually, to tune out.
All authors must find a way to put a clean manuscript up on Amazon. Every reader you alienate through careless use of language will not come back.
This article explains why it’s absolutely necessary to take this “cleaning up” part of the publication process seriously. If writing is how you hope to get your ideas across, then take that extra step and either improve your ability to self-edit, or find ten, sharp-eyed friends who will volunteer to go over your work.
Book Promotion Starts with an Inventory Assets
From his author bio, I see that Mr. Alvin has been a preacher. That’s a huge asset because it means he can get up in front of a group and speak.
The ability to stand in front of an audience and entertain them can be a huge benefit for an author. But preaching a sermon and entertaining a roomful of Elks, Rotarians, or Kiwanis Club members is a whole different thing. People don’t like to be preached to. They want to be entertained. Toastmasters is a great place to learn how to speak to general audiences, and the group itself can provide a source of ready fans.
Speaking Gigs Pair Well With Book Promotion
It’s always easier to sell books to people with whom you have a personal connection. If you’ve just entertained them with a talk, they’ll be more likely to buy books “from the back of the room.” Have a sales sheet so that they can order your books and sign up for your email list.
Authors who don’t have print books can still benefit from back-of-the-room sales. The Book Designer, Joel Friedlander, explains how two companies–Livrada and Enthrill–produce wallet-sized gift cards.
Need I add that cards are a lot easier to carry around than a box of books?
Set Up an Author Page
But let me not get ahead of myself. Cards cost money, and we’re looking for free ideas.
I’m going to suggest that Mr. Alvin immediately set up an Author page. Actually, any author with a book on Amazon should set up an author page. Behind the sign-in portal, authors will find a ton of other valuable information.
Amazon has new feature that’s just in Beta, meaning they’re trying it out. If you go to the Amazon Author Insights page on Amazon Author Central (first, set up an Author Central account), you will get many ideas for “expanding your reach.” Most of these ideas are free.
Find People Who Are Already Talking About Your Topic
What’s neat about Mr. Alvin’s book is that his slant is unique. If he can get online and find out where people are already discussing the topic of movies and their impact on psychology, he can join that conversation. To begin, start by typing the word “forum” into Google. Refine that by adding the words “psychology” or “education” or “group think.”
Here are a couple of forums I found:
To understand the power of groups, read this article about Google and Yahoo groups, forums, and listservs.
Become a YouTube Vlogger
It might be easier to sell ideas on YouTube and then to sell books by simply having a book listed on Amazon. Set up a YouTube channel and do a video blog about movies and/or books. That’s a good way to connect with other writers and/or with people discussing movies and their influence. YouTube videos are great for Tweets.
Mr. Alvin doesn’t have to restrict himself to topics covered in his book. Branch out! He can talk about video games and gun violence or movies and their portrayal of women. He can talk about aging or the meaning of life.
The technology isn’t expensive. Anyone with a smartphone can make a video. Here’s one “Book Sniffin’ Fangirl” did for my novel, MONTPELIER TOMORROW. As you can see, this is just the Vlogger filming herself in front of a bookcase. Keep the video short and sweet.
Establishing an Author Platform
Fundamentally, the suggestions above apply to any author with a nonfiction book. A nonfiction book allows an author to establish an author platform around the topic of that book. This author has a lot going for him: passion for his subject, a book already on Amazon, and a sense for what works and what doesn’t.
If he can find out where people are already discussing similar ideas, he’ll be able to join the conversation. And, that’s well worth doing because he’s paving the way for his next book. Essentially, he’s establishing his credentials as someone who has thought deeply about his subject and who has come up with ideas worth sharing. Don’t give up!
Now, it’s your turn. What has worked for you? Do you have one free idea Mr. Alvin could try? Please leave comments below.