The Complete Writer
Section VII: Publishers and Self-Publishers
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Whether you publish through a mainstream press or whether you self-publish, the bulk of the promotion job falls upon you, the author. One fairly easy way to promote your book is to volunteer to do a presentation on some subject relevant to a group’s interests.
For example, my friend, journalist and blogger Donna Freedman has offered to speak to a large writer’s group about strategies for creating popular, readable blog entries. Because the group’s main thrust is not craft but marketing, members will be very interested in what she has to say—and we hope, in her new online course on writing a blog people will read.
Similarly, I talked to a business group about donating directly to breast cancer research centers rather than to self-perpetuating organizations that function as middlemen. Members of this group are active in public service and donate generously to worthy causes, so I knew they’d be interested in the subject. And speaking about the Susan G. Komen foundation and similar institutions gave me an opportunity to plug my upcoming book on the decisions women face after they receive a breast diagnosis.
Some people believe face-to-face and radio show presentations are the most effective tools for marketing a book. One member of a writer’s group in the Phoenix area used her vacation time to visit friends and relatives in five cities, taking crates of books with her. Before leaving, she arranged to do short talks in bookstores and community centers in each town. She sold so many books, she had to order more and have them shipped ahead of her as she proceeded.
My coauthor for Math Magic, Scott Flansburg, made it a regular practice to approach radio talk show producers across the country. A “guest” appearance on one of these shows can be done over the telephone—no need to travel. He discovered that a radio show is a bottomless pit waiting to be filled, and many hosts were delighted to interview him. This, he discovered, was the single most effective way to sell the book, which became a major best-seller for William Morrow in the year we published it. His marketing agents told me that in the first year, his revenues from sales of the book and ancillary products came to $1.5 million, and a million in the second year.
Scott was a very powerful marketer, a good speaker with an engaging product. Most of us, obviously, are not going to become millionaires with our fantasy novel or detective story. But we’re a lot more likely to see some sort of profit by reaching out to the public. People can’t buy something unless they know about it!
A successful presentation can’t just have you step up to a podium and plug your book. You need to offer more than that.
Bearing that in mind, it’s pretty easy to create a public presentation that works, if you follow a few basic rules.
Consider your audience
The talk I made about breast cancer addressed a group of small business owners and executives. They’re committed to charitable works and, since most of them are middle-aged, they’re interested in health-care issues. Those who are not women have wives they care about, and so they can easily be engaged by the hot topic of breast cancer.
The material I put into the presentation may not go into the book at all, since its topic primarily concerns the kinds of choices women have to make, often on short notice and under a great deal of stress, about any number of proposed breast cancer treatments. On reflection I realized this angle would interest group members more and make them less uncomfortable than a frank discussion of what goes on inside the operating theater. For a different group, a different aspect of the topic might fly just as well or better.
Prepare your presentation thoroughly
Check and double-check your facts, and be prepared to answer any questions audience members may ask. Be sure to cover all the ground, even if briefly, within the time limit you’re given. Respecting the time limit is part of your preparation—don’t neglect this key aspect.
Write out a script and rehearse it, preferably in front of a mirror.
You should practice delivering your presentation several times—at least three, and maybe more. Ideally, your presentation should be memorized. Of course, sometimes that’s not possible—too little time is given for preparation, or you have to present complex data that’s hard to remember accurately under the stress of public scrutiny.
In rehearsing, pay attention to the amount of time it takes. It’s far better for your presentation to run shorter than the allowed time than to run over. A long-winded presentation makes the audience restless, even if it’s interesting; most people have someplace else to go. Be considerate of your audience. You can use the extra minutes for a Q&A session, which always engages people.
Don’t read your script to the audience!
Deliver your presentation as though you were speaking to a small group of friends, as off the cuff as you can make it appear. If you need a cheat sheet, list the main points in outline style and let these remind you of the content that you’ve rehearsed. Print out your notes in 18-point type, so you can read them easily under any lighting conditions.
If you use PowerPoint . . .
For hevvinsake don’t read the captions and notes in the slides to your audience! Nothing puts an audience to sleep faster.
Watch a few TED Talks or listen to NPR’s TED Radio Hour.
Study the style and demeanor of presenters. Note how the speakers move and how they engage their audiences.
Provide useful information, preferably in the form of a handout.
In my talk about the controversy around the Susan G. Komen foundation, I provided a one-page list of cancer research institutions to which anyone can donate directly. This was worked into the spiel, but it was offered separately to the group members, as a take-home.
Try not to be crass about plugging yourself.
Instead of reminding listeners repeatedly about the wonders of your new book, mention it in your bio and—ideally—get the person who introduces you to remark on it. Use your time to provide valuable and interesting information.
But make it easy for audience members to find your book.
Have a website that’s easy to find, preferably as your name—JoeBlow.org or some such—and place a link to Amazon or your own store so readers can buy. Bring business cards that carry your book’s title and a link to your book on Amazon or your website. And if you have copies of the book, bring a stack to the meeting, hand them around as a show-and-tell, and let audience members buy direct from you.
Look for the right audiences
This of course depends on your subject matter. A church group might be right for a discussion of some moral issue or—say—of philanthropy. Business groups are interested in a wide variety of subjects that bear on daily life and the well-being of members’ cities and commerce. Do a subject search on Meetup.com for groups that meet to talk about or participate in whatever your book concerns.
Don’t be shy about asking
The worst that can happen is they’ll tell you “no.” But you won’t get an invitation to speak if you don’t ask.
Speak early and speak often
You don’t have to wait until your book hits print to speak on your subject. If you have some expertise that you’re working into a book, begin giving presentations before the book comes out. Then when it’s published, you can go back to the group, remind them of your existence, and proudly announce publication.
Once you have a good presentation, recycle it
Massage it to fit the interests of other groups, work it into your newsletter and send it out to your subscribers, or revamp it into a post for your blog.
Take the opportunity to build your mailing list
Hand around a sign-up sheet and ask audience members to share their e-mail addresses. A quid pro quo is nice: you may offer them, for example, a special deal on the book or a chance at a free giveaway.
With names and email addresses in hand, you can send a newsletter to remind potential buyers of your existence. If you give a presentation before publication, a list of audience members will allow you to send them an announcement of the Big Reveal. Here, too may pitch an opportunity to buy the book at a special discount just because they were at your presentation.
Remember to give mail-list members an opt-out choice. It’s a basic courtesy, especially since some people do not appreciate finding sales messages land in their e-mail in-boxes. A number of mailing list programs will do this for you automatically.