Book Promotion on a Budget

by Marylee MacDonald in Book promotion

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.

message in a bottle bottle post beach sand glass bottle letters mussels letter in bottle bottle beach beach beach beach beach

Book promotion can be tough when you don’t have the money to hire a publicist, but with a little planning, you can find readers who will appreciate what you’ve written. Image from Pixabay via pixel2013

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.

action athletes competition hurdle men people race running splash sport stadium track and field water running running running running running

Image from Pixabay via Pexels

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.

author insights

Amazon’s new Author Insights page provides great ideas for finding and connecting with readers.


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.”

book promotion thru forums

Use the Google search engine to find people who are already interested in the topic.

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.


10 Responses to “Book Promotion on a Budget”

  1. Finding time to market and write and keep a roof over my head is daunting. I find that social media sucks a ton of time with little rewards in book sales. However, I’d like to weigh in on the editing thing–it’s an absolute must!!! The pastor could work with a local college student or high school teacher for his editing. Without the book having a bit of spit and shine, readers won’t enjoy what he has to say. He should approach his writing as he would his sermons which I’m sure are written to deliver his message without unnecessary distractions.
    Oh, and thanks for the tip about searching for forums. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment. You are absolutely right about the difficulty of juggling so many balls. I’ve found the same thing. It’s impossible to “do it all,” and I struggle with that constantly.

  2. Marquis says:

    I liked this writer’s post and I too live on SS income. I started writing many years ago with essays, poetry, short stories, and in retirement I finished a novel. The daunting task of editing hit me. Of course I had help from family, beta readers, and friends. Yet still some errors were missed. The one thing I learned is the editing programs work to a degree. I had used one that was developed by editors. I dumped it because it peppered the book with unnecessary that also leads to stumbling. That is if the reader reads the correct way with a slight pause with the “,” most don’t. Unless, they read poetry.

    • Thanks so much for your perspective. I’m just in the midst of publishing a book for a friend, and I thought I had gotten rid of all the errors. A friend just emailed me with six I had missed, so now, I’m uploading the book again. All any of us can do is try. 🙂

  3. This is not really about promoting your book, but I wanted to share with you a little discovery I made. There is this amazing editor out there who is offering his services for free for the first 3000 words of your manuscript. I contacted him when I was unsure about whether to carry on with my ms or not. The feedback and the detailed comments I received reinvigorated me and gave me inspiration to keep writing. His name is Dave (at ThEditors), and this is his blurb from twitter: High quality manuscript assessment and editing service. Send us your first 3000 words for a free sample edit! Email: Twitter page:

  4. Lisa Petr says:

    True about spelling and grammar.

    A free website on where he can sell his book himself and make money!!! He has a following he probably doesn’t know about, through his church and churches in his area. Speaking to them about the book, book signings, doing workshops from his book.

    Amazon is not a good choice for authors. People don’t make money unless they market themselves heavily and then not really much money at all.

    Social media is free! He can set up an author Facebook page, have a private group that discusses things from his group. He can post things from his book to educate people and set up free events and do Facebook live videos about teachings from his book. He can blog from his free website.

    He can find church speaking tours through social medua. He can guest blog on churches sites and Facebook pages. He can guest speak at churches.

    He can get pre-order for his hard copy book through all this social media and speaking tours to cover a local print on demand company to print his books. He can sell them off his own website as print on demand and make money. He doesn’t have to use Amazon.

    He could make quite a good living from his book with a little bit of learning, speaking and using his network.

    • What terrific suggestions. What you say about Amazon not being the place to make money is so true. It’s easy to get a book up on Amazon, but hard to sell the book once it’s there. Some authors have begun selling in Etsy just for that reason. Amazon is a crowded marketplace, and the annoying thing about it is that they keep your buyer’s email address. An author has no way to contact someone who enjoyed a previous book and notify that person of a new release.