You’ve written your book. You’ve gathered responses from first readers. If you haven’t proven your chops as a developmental editor, you’ve found one to work with. You’ve revised, several times. If you’re not a good line editor, you’ve brought one to your project.
Now you’re ready to publish. You submit and submit and submit until your project is signed with a publisher, or you bypass submission in favor of independent publishing, or you finagle a hybrid arrangement, perhaps a print version through traditional channels while you handle the digital versions.
Whew. Your book is about to meet its readers.
Not so fast. To get to this point is a huge accomplishment. But you’re far from finished. You’ve only entered the next phase: promotion and marketing.
In traditional print publishing, book buzz is generated almost entirely around the launch. In order to be deemed a success, a book has to break from the gates with massive orders within the first three to four weeks. Much of how this break happens is pre-determined by the publisher’s marketing budget. Each season, a handful of books are pre-selected as blockbusters, most of them written by authors who’ve gained entrance to the winners’ circle by having been there in the past. The publisher’s resources are aimed at creating launch buzz for these books among reviewers and booksellers. Co-op funds ensure that these pre-destined hits are placed face-out at the front of bookstores. The season’s other new releases receive only minor attention from publicists, and they get only minor buzz.
One of the joys of the digital revolution in publishing is that the launch window doesn’t matter nearly as much. Given the proper attention to word of mouth and online algorithms, a good independently published digital book can gain traction slowly and steadily, with sales spikes benefiting the book at any point in its lifespan.
Still, the launch matters. That’s because key players in the industry—book sellers, reviewers, librarians, and readers—are conditioned for buzz, and buzz happens best when a product is fresh. If you’re working with a traditional publisher, that means the success metrics for your title are zeroed-in on the brief window of the launch. If you’re publishing independently, you’re still going to find the most interest in your book when it’s fresh and new.
I’ve been thinking a lot about launches because I’ve got two of them looming. First up, in February: No Returns, Book One of the Battleband Saga for middle grade readers, released in both print and digital from Running Fox Books, my own press and independent author cooperative. Next up, in September: Cold Spell, literary fiction (for grown-ups), with the print version from the
University of Alaska Press and the digital
version through Running Fox.
For independent projects, I prefer a launch window of at least three months. With traditional publishers, you’ll have at least several months—more likely a year or two—to gear up for your launch. You can handle a publicist to manage your launch, but be warned: it’s not cheap, and there’s no guarantee you’ll see a return in sales.
Whether you’re publishing traditionally, independently, or within a hybrid arrangement, here are six components of a successful book launch:
- Groundwork: Only a Trump-like infusion of cash can substitute for good groundwork. You’ve written a book that’s a must-read. It fills a niche in the marketplace. Your approach is unique. Your prose is vibrant and fresh. Your story grips readers. If you’ve published before, your fans love your work and they’re eager for your next book. You and/or your publisher make sure that from cover to cover, your book is professionally produced. Once that’s accomplished, be sure you research whre your book fits in the marketplace, including the top writers and books most like you and yours. Make a sell sheet for your book, one that includes the promotional copy, your author bio, the book’s key words and categories, and ordering information. You’ll use it often.
- Network: Ideally, you’ve already identified friends and fans through personal and digital networking, and you engage with them actively, and on a regular basis, ideally through an electronic newsletter as well as social media. Before your book launches, expand these networks in a strategic but genuine ways. Genuine. I can’t stress this enough. Blatant self-promotion that’s all about you and your book will backfire. Think value-added. Enrich the lives of your friends and fans in meaningful ways, and they’ll be happy to spread the word about your upcoming book. Even your traditional publisher will expect to tap your network for reviews, blurbs, and media coverage. If you opt for a launch party, you'll invite your network.
- Web presence: At the minimum, you need an author website. You may also want a website for your book. Unless your book has been selected for blockbuster exposure, don’t expect your publisher to provide these sites for you. You’ll get some web exposure on the publisher’s site, but that’s not going to give you the presence and exposure you’ll get from your own web presence. I’m locked into a Homestead site from way back, but you’ll get a better value from Wordpress with third-party hosting and a GoDaddy domain. If your budget allows, you can hire out building the site, but unless you’ve got an ongoing source of cash, you should maintain your own site so the content stays fresh. For ideas on how to set up your site, look to the top authors and books in your niche. The book’s website should go up early in your launch period so you can link to it in all of your other pre-launch activities. Decide if you want a book trailer or other special features, like a media kit. Depending on how crucial the trailer is for your audience, you can make it yourself using Animoto, or you can hire a professional.
Copies: Make sure these get out to readers who’ll follow through with blurbs and reviews, including a few movers and shakers who have a wide reach. Ideally, you want digital files in both mobi and e-pub formats, and some softcover ARCs for those who prefer them. Include a form of the sell-sheet with each ARC. If you’re traditionally published, your publisher will ask for a list of people you’d like to receive ARCs, and they’ll add to that standard review outlets like Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. They may also make the book available through NetGalley. On my independent projects, I budget for at least one big review, like Kirkus, and for NetGalley, and for a Goodreads pre-launch giveaway. I also offer digital ARCs for review by request from the book’s website. Reading
- Tour: Plan a post-launch tour that
includes both in-person and digital interfacing with your readers. If you
only show up to sign books and pop in on the occasional blog, you’re bound
for disappointment. Plan early, and plan strategically. Think of your
potential readers, and consider the best venues for connecting with them:
book clubs, local organizations, speaking engagements. For the blog tour
component, you can hire a service like Goddess Fish to make the arrangements
if you don’t have a publicist to do this for you. If you’re doing press
releases, they’ll be more effective if they’re in connection with some
sort of newsworthy event. With some 9000 books published daily, just the
fact that yours has come out isn’t newsworthy beyond the niche groups that
have a built-in interest in your work—your
almamatter, the small town where you grew up or live now, your non-writing affiliations.
- Looking forward: It’s easy to get so caught up in promoting your book that you forget the best way to develop an audience of readers is to keep writing great books. No matter what, I devote the best portion of my writing time to actually writing—not emails, not Facebook posts, not tweets, but my next book. I refuse the notion that to be a success, a writer had to spend 80% of her time on marketing. I budget 20% of my time for promotion; the rest goes to the next book, and the next. Post-launch, I use that 20% to plan promotions around discount periods for my titles, and stay active within my network niches.