Has Elvis left the building, in a book?

If you ever have had a book proposal turned down by publishers (and haven’t we all?) you’ll identify with excerpts from this online conversation online I had recently with an author whose feelings of dreadful frustration stormed out of every one of his words: see below…

article about Elvis Presley

You have something new and interesting to say about Elvis (or another celebrity, cause or concern) in a book. Here are some thoughts on how to get that book out there and selling even if you’re not a well-known author or personality.

ELVIS FANS – I wrote an interesting book about Elvis – publishers think there isn’t a platform for ELVIS???

Looking for a publisher – here’s one critique:

“Thanks for thinking of me for this. I’ve read and talked this over with some colleagues who also handle music books. While (name of author) has a really interesting perspective, we feel pretty strongly that the market for Elvis books is so crowded that a new one would need to come from someone with a bigger platform or access than (name of author) has here. Best of luck placing this great project!”

NO ONE HAS THIS PERSPECTIVE!!!  It’s a good book! Publishing business is CRAZY!!!!  Still millions of fans worldwide.

You have something new and interesting to say about Elvis in a book. Here are some thoughts on how to get that book out there and selling even if you’re not a well-known author or personality.

Possibly you can help me? I wrote an excellent book about Elvis Presley – well done, with a great angle, called Elvis: The King of Rock and Roll. My agent loves it. But publishers refuse to see the value.

Any help? This book is ready to go. Nobody has written this perspective on how he became the King of Rock and Roll in 2 years.

The last book about him of any substance was written over 10 years ago… Guralnick devoted 45 pages to a unique occurrence in pop culture. I devoted over 300. Others write about personal relationships. This is about Elvis’ relationship with the time, the people and the circumstances that made it happen and why he was so important to society and the culture.

So frustrating.

There are clues in this writing rant that tell us a few important points:

One: his writing skills, though vibrant, aren’t quite enough to tickle a conventional editor’s fancy. Shame he couldn’t have put his proposals forward with some help from meeeeee (well of course not, he is in the USA and I am here in rural Bedfordshire, England. But you know what I mean. Someone like me.)

Two: he has not attacked the topic in the right way. Like many newbie writers he has approached his topic from a subjective point of view. Doesn’t work. He needs to slap publishers and all other key people with the fact that his book portrays Elvis in an entirely new, powerful and important way: as an evangelist for a new way of life after the grim years of WW2 and old-fashioned convention hangovers from pre-war days. His book points out that Elvis was much more than a musician: he led a cultural revolution. Why didn’t he bring that up front?

Three: given the above, why hasn’t he consulted famous gurus to substantiate his claims? Much as I think he has a very good point here, not many people are going to believe him on the strength of his opinion alone, sadly. He should find people of influence and ask them to comment. Interview them. Link to other articles that substantiate what he’s saying: not merely saying, “believe me.”

Four: he has not developed any credibility in the social media / publishing world. Much as that’s true of many of us, the bottom line is that if we want to get a trade publisher to take us seriously we need to have a following – a tribe – and an “author platform” that essentially will help that publisher get things moving for our book. This may seem to be a cheap trick. But when you unpick it it’s actually not silly. Moral: if you want to write books — any books — develop an online following first.

If you’re in Canada or the USA, you may know and love the annual Elvis celebration that takes place in Collingwood, Ontario. Hundreds if not thousands of Elvis impersonators gather in this delightful town on the southern shores of Georgian Bay (off Lake Huron) every year to celebrate their hero! 

Here’s what I said to my ranter, in my written reply:

I get your frustration! If it cheers you up, however, I can’t count the number of very famous and successful authors who have been turned down by dozens of publishers before finding the right one.

The advent of the internet and online publishing is advantageous to us authors because it gives us alternative channels through which to communicate our work.

In your shoes what I would do would be to start a blog (can be free) and serialise your book in it. You may think that’s unwise because you’d prefer readers to buy the book – actually they will, rather than go through the upheaval of printing it all out or the strain of reading it on a screen.

However the point of doing this is to promote the blog in social media (no cost to you) and gain an audience / fan base.

Once this is large enough you can then approach publishers with an added bonus of a proven existing audience for your topic – they can’t argue with that.

With this approach you should ask for and encourage reader feedback, too, which will help you to fine-tune your content.

My own understandings to learn/confirm from this writer’s anxiety

Understand that if no-one has heard of you, these days you don’t stand a chance in trade publishing as a new author of books about mainstream topics like this. If you’re an expert in your own specialised field then that’s fine, because whether you trade or self publish you know who and where your target audiences are. But Elvis is a very broad topic and as the guy’s critique said, “a new one would need to come from someone with a bigger platform or access.” In other words either go find yourself a platform or F-off, because only an author with a big platform will sell enough books to keep our accounts people quiet.

Understand, equally, that now we have so many other, effective ways to get our thoughts and writings out there, the traditional trade publishers may no longer have quite the clout they think they still have. Even some of the largest trade publishers are offering authors options in which they have the chance to pay something or everything towards the publishing of their books, albeit — in some ways — in an “under the table” kind of way. What does this tell you? Hmmm?

Understand that the internet is your best friend. Unlike in pre-internet days you now have the ability to initiate, build, develop and grow your own author persona whoever you are. This involves doing quite a lot of homework but it doesn’t need to cost much, if anything — other than your time – to establish yourself as an authority on (in this case) an entirely new and previously not uncovered element in Elvis’s influence on the pop culture of his time.

Understand that social media platforms are your other best friends. These platforms are the outlets for your book’s magic and of course, the outlets for what your book has to offer readers and why it’s different from others’ publications. In the above case the author’s assumptions are right: there are still many, many people who worship Elvis and his memory. Whether they perceive Elvis as a champion of new thinking in the post-WW2 decade or two, is another matter. What needs to happen now is promotion that explodes why and how Elvis did perform that role as a champion of new post WW2 thinking, and of course our lovely ranter’s book that champions Elvis’s incredible role in mid-20th century society.

How would you have advised this guy? I’d love to know, and I expect many others like him would too.

Please share…