Selling Books by Giving Back
By Irene Watson
Promoting a book to make money doesn't mean you can't be human or caring. By giving back to the community, authors create positive images of themselves and get their faces and books in front of people who otherwise might not be interested in or ever hear about their books. Selling yourself by helping a good cause will not only help you to sell books, but in the end, you will feel good about yourself and feel more connected to your community and the world at large. You might also have some great experiences that will inspire your future books.
While you could go work in a soup kitchen or just donate money, authors can find ways to contribute to their communities that also will help to promote their books. Following are just six of hundreds of possibilities for how authors can give back:
- Visiting Senior Citizen Centers and Assisted Living Homes. Senior citizens represent a large portion of the reading public, largely because they have more time to read. They also appreciate visitors and interacting with others, and they are likely to tell all their friends and family members, who include children, grandchildren, great-nieces and nephews, in-laws, and cousins, about a book they like. In other words, senior citizens have a lot of connections and can provide great word-of-mouth referrals for your book. Especially if you are writing about history, healthcare, or topics especially of interest to seniors, you might find a group of seniors to be the perfect audience for your book and your message. Many senior centers, assisted living, nursing, and veterans' homes have reading groups and book clubs, and they are always looking for ideas for event planning. Authors might choose to volunteer to read to seniors at these facilities once a week or month, or simply visit and give a talk about their books. During the visit, be sure to pass out cards or book markers; seniors may not always have the best memories and might not remember your name, but if your book interests them, they will show books they buy or book markers to their visitors and tell them about your book. Seniors also enjoy engaging in the discussions, and if authors are willing to listen, they will have great stories to tell-material for future books.
- Speaking at Career Day Events for Students. Budding young writers are everywhere, and offering to speak to high school students or college freshman at career day events, or participating in events like Young Authors, can be a great way to give back to your community and provide the encouragement needed that you received or wish you had received as an aspiring young author. Besides speaking to aspiring writers, authors who have written non-fiction books might wish to speak to future historians, doctors, businessmen, or other groups of students whose field of study is relevant to their books' topics. While students don't typically have a lot of money to buy books, that doesn't mean they won't remember the encouragement you gave them and buy your books when they are older, and they might also tell their parents about your books or ask for them for their birthdays or holidays. Best of all, authors will be planting a seed in young people so that new "keepers of the flame" are born to carry on the gift of writing and storytelling.
- Public Radio and Public TV fundraisers. Public Radio and Public TV stations love to offer gifts to their listeners and viewers as incentives for donating to their stations. While your book may only cost $25, viewers who give the station $100 might receive it free with their donations, which sells a book for you and helps out the station so it can afford to buy more programming to enrich people's lives. These stations will want to buy your book at a discount, usually equivalent to what bookstores desire, such as 40 percent. You may not sell a lot of books or make a lot of money directly through this venue, although some authors have done very well this way, but it is a great way to advertise for your book, and while all the viewers might not donate the amount needed to get the free book, you can bet many will buy the book at regular price at bookstores or online. In addition, you'll now have media contacts at the station who might invite you back when your next book comes out, or interview you, or recommend you to other stations. Some authors have even had local PBS stations make films out of their books if their books are of local interest to their viewing audience.
- Donating Books. Donating a book may seem like a financial loss, but it can result in publicity that helps sell books, and again, it provides a benefit to an organization. Many libraries that receive donated books from authors have connections with the local media and will take a photo of the author donating the book for their newsletters or even the community spotlight sections of local newspapers-great publicity in exchange for one donated book.
Benefit dinners are another great place to donate books. Communities are always hosting spaghetti dinners and other events to raise money for people who have cancer, leukemia, or other health conditions that result in large medical bills. Donating a book to help with a raffle or auction at one of these events will not only help you get public attention, but it may help raise money that could save a life.
- Promoting Literacy. As authors, we love to read. But can you imagine not being able to read, or not having books to read? Illiteracy is a major problem from which poverty, prejudice, and many other social ills stem simply because people cannot read, and therefore, cannot be informed or educated. Multiple ways exist for authors to help with literacy.
Don't forget adult-education programs where you may find more people interested in your book. If your topic interests them, your book could be a stepping-stone for them in learning to read.
I know of one author who got a grant to offer a workshop where she'll help at-risk teens write and publish their own books. She's found editors and book printers who have agreed to donate time or print books at cost to help these students publish their books, which will give them the confidence that if they can write a book, they can achieve anything they want in life.
- Donate a Dollar for Every Book Sold. Many authors have donated a dollar for every book sold to a charity or cause that is important to them. This situation is especially true with non-fiction books. A book about Alzheimer's might result in a dollar per book sold going to the Alzheimer's Association of America. A children's book author might donate a dollar per book to causes that promote literacy. A wildlife book might result in one dollar for every book sold going to the American Humane Society. Beyond sharing their profits, authors are likely to sell more books, the volume of sales thereby making up for the loss of profit per book. Furthermore, you can speak at conventions for these causes or sign books at conferences. People are more willing to part with their money when they feel it will go to a good cause and they'll getting something for it, like a good book.
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.
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