Ah, the book launch. The nerve-wracking bane of the author’s life. Will my baby make it out there in the big, dark, roiling tsunami of content? Will all that love and attention I’ve lavished on my project finally pay off with some actual readers?
In the traditional world it’s getting harder to launch. Publishers are stingy with marketing dollars. Unless a publisher puts some real money behind a title, it’s not likely it will register as more than a sonar blip in the ocean of books. Your single copy is likely to be shelved in a store (remember those?) spine-out. Your publisher has to pay for better placement, and that’s usually reserved for the A-listers.
Book launch parties and bookstore signings can be fun, but are often depressing. All of us who’ve been published traditionally know the feeling of sitting in a bookstore, stacks of our books on the table, watching browsers amble by with a look of pity in their eyes as they go off to find the new Stephen King. We put out bowls of candy and colorful bookmarks, and end up eating both of them ourselves.
In the new world of self-publishing, however, you have control over the launch. So what’s the best way to go about it?
Last week I came out with my newest book, How to Make a Living as a Writer. The launch was a success. The book hit #1 on Amazon’s Writing Skills list and #2 on Small Business.
Let me offer you the simple formula I use.
1. Write the best book you can
No-brainer. Every time out, do your best writing. Study the craft. Keep working at it. By far the biggest factor in a writing career is producing quality. This is the unavoidable law of all business. You can’t sell what consumers don’t like. Ford put a ton of money behind the Edsel, a famous flop named after Henry Ford’s son (even though it sounds like something you take to cure rumblings in the stomach). The public did not like it. So they did not buy it, despite all the fancy ads. Don Draper himself could not sell Edsels.
Thus, if you give your writing 90% of your concentration you’re on absolutely the right marketing track.
2. Publish your book
I favor having direct accounts with the major retailers. Others opt for a one-stop distributor like Smashwords or Bookbaby. Some use a combination of the two. For example, some go direct with Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and then via a distributor for other sites. It’s up to you, of course, but the extra effort to upload directly is not onerous and in return you keep all the profit.
What about going exclusive with Amazon? You can find plenty of debate about that online. If you’re just starting out, however, you need eyeballs on your book. The Kindle Select program is one way to accomplish that. C. J. Lyons, self-publishing megastar, put it this way:
Newer authors with limited readership probably have nothing to lose by granting Amazon exclusivity while they use Select to build their audience. Select becomes a tool to build a presence on the bestseller lists, reviews, and solid sales figures, along with an income before expansion, much in the way that smaller presses can serve as a stepping stone to larger publishers.
One more note: Amazon now offers a pre-order option. I have not used it yet, but will probably try it out soon. (Any of you who’ve had experience with this option, please tells us about it in the comments).
3. Mailing list
The best way to announce a book is to an email list of fans. I’ve been building my list for at least a decade. So my message to you is…start now! Make it easy for people to sign up for your updates on your website. Use one of the services, like Vertical Response, Constant Contact, or MailChimp.
Yes, it’s slow going at first. You have to build a base by producing good book after good book. If it’s your first book, go to your family and friends. Send each person an individualized email. Don’t bcc everyone with a blanket announcement. Shape each email to the person and then ask if they wouldn’t mind spreading the word to their own circle of friends. Offer them a free copy of your book in return for this.
In the back matter of your ebooks have a link to your mailing list form. You want pleased readers to be able to sign up immediately. How do you please readers? See #1, above.
Be smart about your emails. You can’t just send out any old message and hope for the best. You are making a presentation. Every email is a chance to grow fan goodwill or … to have someone hit “unsubscribe.” Write, edit, and re-write those messages.
I use text only, because I want the message to be personal, not graphics laden. The latter strikes me as too much of a “sales” look.
I make my emails short. People don’t have time to sift through War and Peace. I try to make them fun to read. I’ll include some humor, talk about the book a little, then provide links. I try to stick to only one or two calls for action in an email. One is probably best.
I promise my email list that they will always be the first to know when I have a new book. If you want to see how I do it, feel free to sign up here.
My timing is to send a launch email on the Saturday after the book goes live, because of #4:
4. Blog post
On Sunday, my regular stint here at TKZ, I’ll do a content-heavy post about the book. What I mean by that is it’s not just a sales pitch. I want to make the post about something of value to the audience for the book. The least effective way to sell is to be only about the sale. I want to give people proof that the book is worth buying. You can check out my post on How to Make a Living as a Writer here.
This is, of course, a popular blog, one of Writer’s Digest’s top 101 blogs for writers. The great bloggers here, and those who are now emeritus, have been building the brand for over six years. What if you don’t have a blog, or care to create one?
Then specialize in one social media platform. I chose Twitter. Secondarily, I have a Facebook author page.
5. Twitter and Facebook
So I will make mention of the book on FB And then plan some tweets for the week. During a launch week I’ll stick to a 90/10 ratio of real social interaction and “soft” selling. Normally I’m probably about 95/5 on Twitter. That’s really what social media is for. Build your presence around sharing good content and relational communication.
That’s it. That’s my launch plan. And I don’t have to leave home to do it.
I don’t pay for publicity services, blog tours, banner ads and so on. I’m not against these things if you want to give them a go, but for me the return hasn’t been worth the investment. Concentrating on the five items in this post is the best use of my time.
Down the line, of course, there are the deal-alert services like BookBub, BookGorilla, eBookSoda and the like. But remember your best follow-up action is writing your next book. You need to think in terms of 4 – 5 books that readers love before significant momentum starts to kick in. Keep that in mind and keep writing.
Feel free to share any other ideas you think are effective for a book launch, or marketing in general. What has worked for you, either as an author or a buyer of books?