Several years ago I decided not to write anymore books because I hate book marketing and because I wanted to concentrate on my editing clients. Getting reviews, writing marketing materials, making social media posts, taking out adverts, doing special promotions and so on all took a lot of time, and they weren’t activities I enjoyed or had talent for. The thought of the need to market anything I wrote smothered my inspiration.
Until something happened in my life that I had to write about to help me and others examine issues and find closure for a painful period of our lives. The result is my book Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism. It’s on pre-order now at a special price and will be published on my birthday, the 20th of July.
How the book came to be written
Over the last couple of years, I wrote a lot of blog posts on the issue of abuse in Tibetan Buddhism on the What Now? blog (now the Beyond the Temple website) and in the back of my mind was the thought that I could pull the information and reflections into a book. But I didn’t know how to approach it or even if I ‘should’ write something since I was – unlike many others – never personally physically, sexually or emotionally abused by Sogyal Rinpoche, and I’m no psychotherapist or Buddhist scholar either.
Then one day I awoke knowing that a memoir format would not only ‘work’ but also writing it would be a closure for me. Publication wasn’t important. I just knew I had to write it – for me if not for others. So I gave myself a month over January to write the first draft, and since I’d been working with the ideas and had already done the research for the blog posts, the writing went smoothly, as did the revisions. And the sense of satisfaction I felt at the end was wonderful.
Until I thought of publication.
Should I or shouldn’t I publish?
I had a major fit of the ‘I’m-not-good-enough’ hang-over script from my childhood, during which I had to work out whether I would fold beneath the crushing weight of something I’d worked with plenty in the past or invoke my inner warrior and put myself forward. I had to be willing to be shot down by those who will surely lob arrows in my direction for it.
The decision to publish came because of the support of the online group mentioned in the poster above. No one said, ‘Listen to your childhood issues and be a wimp! Stay in your cave of security where no one can criticise you and you can’t fail.’ They said variations on the idea that everyone’s perspective has value, and they all wanted to see what I’d written. It made me realise that I wanted to honour the wonderful people in that group who had helped each other through a difficult time, and publishing the book would do that.
But what about book marketing?
Easy. I decided not to bother. Who cared if the book sold or not? It was for me and other members of the group. I could give it to them. It wasn’t as if I planned to make money off it, anyway. Any profits would have to go to charity.
So I made the decision, did the refining necessary, revised and self edited, had it proofed and checked, formatted and so on and now it’s all ready for publication.
A big shock – book marketing made easy
Then a weird thing happened. The kinds of things authors are advised to do to market their books started happening without me planning anything. It happened like this.
- A psychotherapist read the book and in his review said, ‘Fallout is about being with a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, but the journey she underwent is applicable far beyond Buddhist groups. It’s a sensible guide to any person who is thinking to become involved, is currently involved in, or who is leaving or has left a religious group or spiritual teacher.’
This made me realise that the book could have a wider appeal than just me and my friends.
- Because of this, I decided I should have a local event to launch the book, and so I made a book ‘sell sheet’ or poster that I could use to advertise the event. I used a Photoshop template to create what you see above, and I enjoyed making it!
- Since I now had a nice little visual to help tell people about my book, I sent it to the person who runs the Australian Cult Information and Family Support organisation (who happens to live near me) and she agreed to let me talk at one of their meetings. I then had a platform for selling my book.
- By this time my files were ready. I set up a pre-order on Amazon because that’s what you do. It allows you to talk about the book with a link to where people can find out about it and pre-order it. For that you have to set a date – a firm date. And naturally I wanted to tell my friends about it, so I did. And they got excited and started talking about it, too. That’s book marketing working – but I wasn’t trying to market anything.
- I had a pdf of the book and decided it was time to give away free copies to all those people who had helped me with it in terms of inspiration, support or just allowing me to quote them. I contacted some by email, the others replied to a post I made in the group, then I set up a Mailchimp email list (something I already knew how to do) and sent out around 40 copies this morning. In the email I said I hoped they’d all write a review and gave links. I’d asked for reviews without it being an effort!
It just seemed silly to give away all those books without asking for reviews in return. How many reviews I’ll get, I don’t know. My point here is that it wasn’t an effort because in this instance, every one of those people deserved a free copy, anyway. No way could I not have given it to them for free. Many have said that they’ll buy the book as well – that’s because they are lovely people!
- When I was looking for a template for the book poster above, I came across a template for a media kit, and it looked so lovely, I figured I should try doing one. I also realised that since there were a couple of Buddhist online magazines who should be interested in the book, it was probably worth doing – unlike with a fiction book, it has a newsworthy topic of interest. So I started working on it, and I enjoyed it! Making it look visually appealing appealed to the artist in me.
- Once the media kit was done, I then had to send it somewhere. I hadn’t thought that far ahead, but once it was done, I wanted to share it – so I did. I sent it to those magazines and some newspapers who had reported on Sogyal Rinpoche scandal back in 2017. And I shared it with my online group – those who had gone through the time covered in the memoir with me. And I also shared it with all those people I gave a free copy to, asking them to send it on to anyone who might write an article. Will it have any effect? I don’t know, but a few people have said they’ve sent it to journalists. So who knows? The point here is how automatically and how smoothly this has all happened.
- I need a holiday now. But everything is in place. I’ve done the sort of things it’s advisable for authors to do to get a buzz happening. Already I have 5 times more pre-orders than I ever got for any of my fiction.
- I’m off to a conference next week to deliver a paper on the topic of my book, so I’ll be taking some copies to sell – just in case. But this is another thing, authors are supposed to do – give talks. Thing is, here, someone else organised it for me because she thought it would be a good idea.
- On the publication date, I’ll remind all those people that I’d like a review, and I’ll let all my social media and email contacts know (those who have signed up to hear about my books), and I’ll up the price because I promised a cheaper pre-order price. And I’m talking to the local library about a date for a local launch. Other than that, I have nothing planned. Will all this sell books? I don’t know. It will certainly help. But it doesn’t really matter because this isn’t a money making exercise – it is, however, an important topic for people to know about. I’m just amazed that I did any of it at all.
Why did the book marketing flow so easily?
Because I have a street team! A street team is something I tried really hard to get together when I was writing fiction, and despite my efforts, it never really happened. A street team is a group of people – usually on Facebook or some other social media group – who care about your books and want to help you sell them. In this instance, I never tried to set up a street team, the support group I’ve been moderating for the last 2 years has just turned into one all by themselves.
It’s because I’m part of a community and I’m known and supported (mostly) within that community. There are several related Facebook groups around the issue of abuse in a Buddhist context that together form a fairly considerable community all of whom will be interested in my book.
Other than that it’s because abuse in religion of any kind is an important topic, one I and others feel passionate about – who gets this passionate about fiction? It’s because the book will (hopefully) provide support for people in similar situations and closure for those who went through the last 2 years with me.
What does this mean for you in terms of your book marketing?
Book marketing, be it fiction or non fiction, is easier and more effective if you have a topic of interest and are part of a supportive community based around that topic of interest.
Alternatively, just being part of any supportive community where your writing will be of interest to members can make a huge difference. AIA Publishing authors who have made their money back on their publishing costs all did so by selling directly to communities of which they were a part through talks, parties, and several book launches in different towns and cities. The cheapest way for your fans to get a paperback is to get it from you directly, and it’s also the way you, as an author, will get the most return – even selling it relatively cheaply.
I don’t recommend writing a book and then seeking out a community in order to sell your book. That’s the wrong way around. You’ll just come across as someone only there trying to sell their book. Rather, be part of a community, become known and trusted in the community, and let your book ideas emerge from your shared interests. Then you will have a supportive group behind you, particularly if the story you tell isn’t just your story, but reflects the stories of others as well.
If you’ve already written your book, then find communities based around the topic of interest and see if you can give a talk there. Did you write about Jews in the Nazi era? Then seek out Jewish groups, and so on. Is your book about a Latvian who immigrated somewhere else? Then contact the Latvian clubs.
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