It was five in the morning and my eyes were burning as they remained fixed on the upload bar of the latest video I was sharing to YouTube.
The internet connection was excruciatingly slow that dawn and I hadn’t slept at all the night before. It was finally the official launch day of my first-ever book. And now I was uploading the Book Trailer as the key point to indicate the book’s release.
The memoir had taken me nearly two years to complete. It wasn’t a breezy two years by any means. As I’m sure many authors would tell you, the writing process alone—while therapeutic at times—felt like a never ending battle of heated highs and lows.
There were days I wanted to toss my computer over the balcony out of frustration in not being able to find the words for that ONE sentence I couldn’t get to sound right.
There were emails from editors that made me curl into a ball and cry for hours before I had the nerve to compose a diplomatic response along with the suggested edits, of which took me another few days if not weeks to get “right.”
All this is to say, releasing a book is a BIG DEAL. At least it was for me.
I’d set a “Before I Die/Bucket List” goal years prior, one that admittedly I’d forgotten about at some point, that I wanted to become a published author. Through what seemed like magic, it happened all very quickly and then suddenly there I was, staring at the never-ending “upload” bar, sweating, exhausted, anxious, and on the verge of tears for this was it. Months of preparation had led me to this moment.
There was an added pressure as I’d come to learn—at some point during the writing phase of the book stuff—that I would be primarily (okay well, pretty much solely) responsible for the launch and promotion of the book.
Other authors (both of the traditional- and self-published nature) will concur that much of the success of a book relies on what the author does before, during, and after its launch.
Now, it’s been 9 months since my book came out and I’ve learned A LOT from the experience.
FULL DISCLOSURE: My background (and graduate degree) is in marketing communication and I just so happen to really enjoy marketing and promo stuff. Do not worry a hot minute if you’re saying to yourself, “Oh no, I hate marketing! I know nothing about it! I’m doooooomed!” because I’ve put together a list of 10 things (some marketing related and some not) that anyone who has ever or will ever launch a book, SHOULD know before they do.
BONUS: This is one of a series of blog posts I’m putting together on the topic. So if you still feel lost or confused or terrified after reading this one, there’s more to come. Hang tight!
In the meantime, let’s get started with the ’10 Things You Need To Know BEFORE Your Book Launch.’
1. AMAZON REVIEWS MATTER MOST
If you do absolutely nothing else in your efforts to get your book out into the world, do this ONE thing: Aim to get as many people as humanly possible to write a book review on the DAY OF your book launch. Aim for twice as many as you think you can get.
- Just like Google and Yahoo! Amazon is a search engine. And just like any other search engine, the more activity on a given page (that exists on the Internet) the more easily that page can be found.
- Amazon will rank your book higher: If your book page on Amazon is suddenly being inundated with activity (hopefully because people are both reviewing and purchasing the book) then Amazon will begin to rank your book higher and higher in the categories that you’ve designated for your book. For example, my publisher chose two categories to get the booked ranked in: “solo travel” and “United States travel.”
- Once your book reaches 10 reviews, it may be included in the “also bought” listing, as well as the “you might like” recommendations by Amazon. These are important because they may very well lead to more organic sales of your book.
- As you check in on your book sales you’ll see a direct correlation between the number and frequency of reviews being posted, to the ranking and rating of your book.
- Finally, the more obvious reasons: Reviews not only encourage OTHER reviews, but they give potential buyers something more to chew on in their consideration of purchasing and then reviewing your book for themselves.
^ The above is a screen capture from the-day of my book launch. I took this about halfway through the day when book reviews were coming in strong and steady. As you can see, with only 43 reviews (but in rapid-ish succession) we reached number 1 in our designated genre/category (as set by the publisher).
- First, know that it’s okay to ask for help and it is in no way unethical to ask for reviews. Asking for reviews does not break any rules stipulated by Amazon and as the primary person responsible for selling and promoting this “baby” you’ve spent SO long working on, your friends, family, and supporters will most definitely understand (or at least, hopefully will). This is your chance to work all the angles. And this one in particular is crucial. Don’t set it aside out of fear of how it’ll be perceived. People get it. You’ll be fine.
- One of the best ways to get a group of people to act all at once is to keep them collectively in the loop. You can do this by creating a “book launch team” via a private Facebook group. You can collect email addresses via an email provider, like Aweber – to send group emails all at once without sharing individual’s email addresses with the rest of the group. You could also use Google Forms in a similar fashion (of collecting contact info).
- Keep the group in the loop with weekly or monthly updates, leading up to the launch. Send a reminder email the week before the launch, and then another on the day of. If you’re feeling ambitious and reviews are only trickling in, send another reminder email a day or two after the official launch date.
- What they get out of it: Even though some folks are more than happy to help us out for free, there will be those that require an incentive. Plus, it kind of helps that they’ve actually read your book in order to write a review at all. So, the good news is: you may be able to give your designated “launch day reviewers” an advance, free, digital copy (PDF works) of your book ahead of time! At least one month would be ideal, if not 8-12 weeks before the launch date. If you have a publisher you’ll definitely need to get permission first. If you’re self-publishing, then you’re good to go on moving forward with this plan. And please don’t worry about having given the book away for free. Again, these folks are doing you a solid by agreeing to help you out. And even if they don’t follow through, it’s on their conscious not yours. This is worth what little risk you might take in them not following through or sharing your book with others. Which, trust me – is less likely than you might think.
2. NEXT TO REVIEWS, GUEST BLOGGING CAN MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE
I’ll keep this one short because I’ve already put together a free comprehensive guide on guest blogging. Which you can download by CLICKING HERE (scroll to the very bottom of the page).
The short version is this:
Next to Amazon reviews, appearing on other people’s websites, blogs, YouTube channels, podcasts, etc. will more quickly help spread the word about your book.
The idea is – you’re being placed in front of the audience of someone with an existing platform of people who know and trust that person. This person is then giving you their endorsement by having you “on” their blog.
Make a list of bloggers who have an audience that you believe would like your book. Start several weeks out and contact these bloggers asking if you can write guest posts for them and/or be featured (maybe Q&A style) on their blog in some way. Try, if you can, to get ALL of these features to be published the WEEK of your book launch. Again, condensed traffic to Amazon = higher rankings and more sales.
While the aforementioned guide focuses on guest blogging you can apply the same tactics to most other media wherein you wish to be featured.
3. HACK YOUR *OWN* FOLLOW-THROUGH
One of the best decisions I ever made (during the writing process of my book) was to enlist the help of an accountability partner. This is someone you’d meet with regularly (I met with mine once a week) and you split the time: half the time talking about your stuff, the other half talking about their stuff.
At the time, I reached out to an acquaintance who had several books under her belt. She’s a writer by trade and a successful author. We met every Friday and I would talk about everything from how to get started on the book, to venting frustrations about the process, to sending her sample chapters. After my half hour, we’d switch to her and I’d help her work through some marketing and business stuff with a project she was working on.
Without the help of someone to hold me accountable (someone outside of myself AND – this is important – someone I didn’t know SUPER well) I’m not sure I would have finished the book.
If you’re worried about your ability to stay on task in preparing for your book launch, consider asking for help in the form of an accountability partner. It can seriously change the game.
Similarly, if you know of 2-4 people who may benefit from such a setting (perhaps you’re all working on books or – preferably – some in the group have already been published) joining or starting a mastermind group is absolutely the next best thing.
I LOVE this podcast interview from Pat Flynn featuring Jaime Tardy wherein they talk about their mastermind team, how it came to be, and how it works. For inspiration, have a listen – it’ll be well worth your time:
NOTEWORTHY: This is something you can do long-term too. It doesn’t just have to be for one project in particular. If you are able to cultivate a solid group of reliable and awesome people to meet with, even monthly, to go over your existing or future projects, books, work or personal stuffs, it’s super nice to have those people in your corner. Particularly if you’re self-employed, or wish to be.
4. YOU’RE RESPONSIBLE FOR OBTAINING THOSE LITTLE BLURBS THAT GO ON THE BOOK COVER & INSIDE PAGES
Whether you’re self-publishing or not YOU will be responsible for reaching out to those people who write the blurbs for your book.
Blurb: “A short description that praises something (such as a book) so that people will want to buy it.” – Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Therefore, it’s crucial to plan ahead for this. You need to give your reader time to a) decided if they can do this for you, b) have time to read through your book, and c) get the blurb into you before the book goes to print.
Something else I didn’t know is that many first-time authors don’t have any blurbs at all. Call me naive for sure, I just thought they came with the territory. I bring this up because, if you’re on a crazy deadline and don’t have time to reach out, follow up, and collect blurbs – don’t sweat it too much. But if you DO have the time, it certainly won’t hurt to try and get at least a few.
- There’s some debate on how influential book blurbs are, when it comes to purchase decisions. Some claim they only see blurbs as favors from friends and so the blurbs won’t be fully truthful or helpful. Whereas others make their purchase decisions based on these very blurbs.
- Regardless, they likely won’t hurt your chances of making additional sales that might not have come through without the blurbs. So, trying to collect some is likely worth it.
- Plan to send a COMPLETE manuscript to each reviewer. A reviewer expects to base their review on a final version of your book – cover and design included. Don’t waste their or your time by trying to send something that isn’t fully complete.
- Some may request a paper/printed version whereas others will be fine with digital copies. Deadlines and the experience of the reviewer may play a role in this.
- Have a spectrum of people to ask (a few that you know will say yes, a few who might say yes, and a few that you might think are too famous to even acknowledge your outreach). More importantly though, every person you reach out to should matter to your audience. For example, you wouldn’t ask a child psychologist to write a blurb for a book on how to build custom bicycles.
- When reaching out, be prepared to provide a summary of your book, customize each request to the person you’re asking (explain briefly why you’ve selected them), and expect rejections. Also be prepared to gently and respectfully follow-up with them, collect the blurb, and thank them once you’ve received it.
5. YOU WILL BE THE PRIMARY REASON YOUR BOOK LAUNCH SUCCEEDS
I mentioned this earlier but it bears repeating: What you do leading up to the launch, what you do the day-of the launch, and what you do in the weeks and months that follow the launch, will have a direct impact on the success of your book.
Before I say anymore though I think it’s worth noting that however YOU define success, is of course totally up to you.
If the act of FINISHING “that damn book” is all you need; if publishing it and knowing it’s in the world, does it for you, awesome. Wonderful. Own it. Love it. Be proud of it.
But look, this may seem obvious but I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to that don’t understand why something they’ve spent (sometimes) years creating is still on the digital bookshelf collecting specks of Amazon dust. When I ask what their promotion strategy was they look up at me as if I just pushed them down into a muddy puddle.
“Well, I guess I thought that once it was online people would find it,” they’d say.
I think we can all agree that in this age of online over-saturation – of pretty much everything – it can feel impossible to get something seen beyond our closest friends and family.
Therefore whether you fancy yourself a marketing person or not, it’s time to—at the very least—enlist SOME promotional strategies to ensure your best efforts. That’s if you wish to go beyond the “I just want to get it published and don’t care what happens next,” stage, of course. Again, no judgement either way.
Don’t hide behind the fact that you may not have a marketing degree. And can we not even bring up the idea of marketing being a sleazy or uncouth thing? Despite what some might believe, there ARE ethical and tasteful ways to share our works of art. It doesn’t have to feel awful. I promise.
Bottom line: this is your baby. Your blood, sweat, and tears. Only you can define what the success of this bad boy is to you. Whether you have experience promoting ANYTHING before or not, put it all behind you (or take the lessons you’ve learned, with you) and make this the BEST DAMN BOOK PROMOTION YOU (or your publisher) HAVE EVER FRIGGIN’ SEEN!
Oh goodness, sorry for shouting there.
I got jazzed…
…trying to pump you up, is all.
6. NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, YOU’LL FEEL LIKE YOU COULD ALWAYS BE DOING MORE
Now that I’ve pumped you up I suppose I should bring you back down? Haha, sorry!
Seriously though, if you’re in it wholeheartedly, if you’ve got your mind set on making it a bestseller, if you’ve done all the planning and prepping you could possibly handle you’re STILL going to wish you’d done more.
It’s just the nature of the game. And, there’s not a lot to say about it other than: be prepared to feel like you didn’t do enough.
At some point of course you’ll have to let that go and settle into knowing you did all you could. But don’t let it get you down, it’s just how it goes.
To be honest, I feel this way with most of my creative projects; with things that I’m the sole entity behind. I guess being self-employed lends itself that to sort of thing. But I wanted to share this with you just in case you don’t to see it coming.
NOTEWORTHY: One way to get ahead of the “I should be doing more” game is to create a month-by-month, step-by-step plan involving the promotional tactics you intend to use, when they will be created and shared, the follow through, and what – if anything – comes next. As Marie Forleo says, “If it’s not scheduled it’s not real.” Put your plan on a calendar and into real action!
7. IT *IS* POSSIBLE TO LAUNCH (AND EVEN TOUR) ON A $0 BUDGET
While it’s probable that you’ve already (or plan to) spent money on professional book design, editors, audio recording, book trailer, printing, distribution, and the like (some of which may be dependent on if you’re self-publishing or not) I strongly believe an author can host a successful book launch—and even a full fledged book tour—without breaking the bank.
Admittedly, it takes a LOT of work to plan something like this. But from experience I can say that it IS possible.
But hey, there’s a reason book launches and especially tours, are thought of as being pricey- paid advertisements, for example. Or the cost of traveling, hotel, dining out, the books themselves, etc. – for a tour.
But I had to figure out a way to launch and promote my book with little to no extra cash allocated for it.
In fact, throughout the five-month period wherein I was actively promoting and touring for my book, I barely had enough freelance work to keep me going. It was so bad at the beginning I couldn’t afford to pay rent or keep up with my student loans.
I still found a way to make it work. This is the short version of what I did:
- I took my work on the road: I decided to ditch apartment hunting in Chicago (where I was at the time) when I realized that rent + book tour expenses would not be do-able. Instead I tediously planned a 23 city book tour (which included non-paid speaking gigs at relevant festivals and events) around the country. Instead of paying rent I found free places to stay with friends or acquaintances.
- I found book tour sponsors: To cover the cost of flights and the books themselves (even though I have a publisher and I’m the author- I still had to pay the re-sellers rate for any books I wanted to have at each of the tour stops. For me this came to $10/book. At minimum I’d order 20 books for each stop). I created a media kit and pitched my heart out to at least a half dozen companies before one said yes to covering the majority of my tour stops, in exchange for promotion of their product. I found a few other businesses who were open to a promotional exchange, to round out the tour.
NOTEWORTHY: Unique advantages I had included that I work remotely (from my computer), I work for myself (create my own schedule), and I tend-toward a nomadic lifestyle (more travel than paying rent in one place). Which made this method all the more doable. I was literally city-hopping weekly, back-to-back from one city to the next (couch to spare bedroom to floor to futon) in order to squeeze in as many stops as I could without slowing down.
While your circumstances may very well be different I have no doubt that you too can find a way to make a version of this work for you– be it a full on book tour, a few stops more locally, and/or a big ol’ promotional plan that doesn’t require paid advertisements (hello guest blog posts and a book launch team!).
For more on how I landed book tour sponsors check out THIS video tutorial: “How To Plan a 23 City Book Tour on a $0 Budget.”
8. GIVE SOME OF IT AWAY FOR FREE
One of the pre-launch promo strategies that worked really well for me—to build up excitement to launch day—was to give away some of the chapters of my book for free.
It gave readers and potential buyers a look into the book, got them excited (ideally), and built anticipation leading up to the launch of the book.
I checked with my publisher beforehand and once we agreed on which chapters to share (some of the juiciest ones, naturally), I worked with an audio engineer and recorded myself reading each of the 4 selected chapters aloud.
I shared the audio on my YouTube channel as well as on my blog and related social media pages. I later re-purposed the audio and created “DRAW MY LIFE” style videos, featuring excerpts from those chapters.
You could also share the chapters in blog posts or as downloadable PDFs. You could make them accessible only to those who sign up on your email list, or even go with the old-school Twitter-fied version- tweeting some of the story line out every minute or so, like THESE folks.
There’s a lot of wiggle room here so put your creative-thinking-cap on or brainstorm with your accountability partner, on fun ways you can release sneak peeks of your book.
Depending on how much you plan to give away, I’d use a strategy like this in quick succession leading up to launch day; i.e. no more than 4 weeks from the launch date. Unless you have other ways in which you’re building to the launch as well – like perhaps memes with quotes from your blurb contributors.
9. YOU *MUST* THINK BEYOND YOUR IMMEDIATE OR OBVIOUS TARGET READERSHIP
I mean this in two ways:
- Looking to industries, people, or brands that have nothing to do with your book topic or genre- for inspiration on how to promote and sell it.
- Getting the book into the hands of people who may not seem like your immediate or ideal target readership.
Unless you already have your “true 1,000 fans” you’ve got to think bigger. I’m willing to bet your book is relatively niche-esque. In other words, it probably speaks to a very specific group or even a subset of a group of a group of people. I know this all to well as my memoir speaks primarily to single vegan females in the United States who wish to travel, potentially as a way of life. Um, yeah.
Don’t sweat it though, having a super niche-niche is a good thing because it means you can highly target that group with your promo strategies and likely sell to them on launch day with relative ease. However, the downside is if you wish for the book to reach bigger. To reach more people.
In my case I also wanted to reach those who wished to change their lifestyles, live their dreams, go big, shake things up; you get the picture. My book isn’t just for vegans. Or women. Or nomads. It’s for anyone who wants something more out of life and needs a little inspirational nudge.
- Look to brands, businesses, or even celebrity-types to see how they’re doing it. Where are they being interviewed? Can you get into that magazine or blog or on that podcast too? Who interviewed them? Can you find the contact information for the interviewer and pitch your story to them? What seems to work for them? What doesn’t? How can you do it differently or better?
- To be clear I’m NOT suggesting you mimic or copy what someone else does in order to get the same results. I’m saying, look outside the obvious circle of people you may promote the book to – and seek other angles in order to reach more people.
FOR EXAMPLE: I liked the “DRAW MY LIFE” videos that were making waves on YouTube a couple of years ago. I can’t really draw that well but seeing those sparked the idea for the “DRAW MY BOOK” videos that I ended up making this year. Which some buyers later told me influenced their decision to order my book. A seemingly random and unrelated idea turned into a successful promo strategy! And bonus- I enjoyed putting them together too.
- Guest blogging – As mentioned earlier, appearing on others’ podcasts, YouTube channel, and other social platforms is another great way to get in front of audiences that may differ slightly from yours, but still be relevant.
FOR EXAMPLE: Even though my book is essentially about a vegan female nomad, appearing on an inspirational-themed-blog like Mind Body Green (whose readership is made up of yogis, health enthusiasts, and spiritually-inclined women) would give great exposure to an audience that is open to the genre of my book but not specifically my primary target readership. Does that make sense?
10. IT PROBABLY WON’T BECOME A BESTSELLER
Ugh. I hated writing that section title and I hate even more that I’m closing out this post on such a downer. But sometimes you’ve got to bite the bullet and tell it like it is.
Look, I had my heart set on my first-ever book (or heck, any book I may write going forward) becoming a NY Time’s Bestseller. Hardcore.
I mean, I meditated on it, I researched the BALLS out of how to do it, I learned about the algorithms, and how super rich people used to be able to buy so many copies of their own book to make it become a bestseller; I spent sleepless night after night researching, reading, visualizing, and doing pretty much everything I thought possible to prepare and “create” a bestseller. To no avail.
I say “yet” because you never know. There are plenty of examples of books that became bestsellers years after they were initially released. In some cases it’s hard to spot the tipping point (continuous pushing from the author? A celebrity tweet?) and other times it’s pretty obvious (Oprah’s book club anyone?).
I mean heck, in a series of what has seemed like random happenstances, a copy of my book has REPORTEDLY ended up in the hands of a producer on The Ellen Show (OMG!), was placed into the hands of Ariana Grande (by her best childhood friend; what?!), and on the desks of people who have inspired and in many ways helped mold my marketing and promo efforts- like Marie Forleo and Tim Ferriss.
A single peep from any of these people could theoretically send my book over the edge, into bestseller’s land. ::sigh:: It feels.So.Close.
But a friend finally suggested that I submit to the fact that maybe these people simply didn’t like it. Or, more likely, they tossed it aside before opening the first page.
While there’s a part of me that refuses to give up – I know, I know – there’s ALSO a part of me (and a part of you), that needs to accept it may never happen. For WHATEVER reason(s)- most likely of which we’ll never know. And that’s okay to.
We can do what we can, and keep pushing and striving and reaching. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that whatsoever. In fact, it can only lead to continued successes of our books – in whatever form that may be.
But the more simpler and easier-to-swallow truth is that it might not get there. To the top. It may never be made into a blockbuster film either (but I’ve still got ALL my fingers crossed) or lead to Ellen sending me around the world as her lead vegan food spotting correspondent (gah!), but knowing that I’ve tried – it counts for something.
At the very least I’m proud of my efforts and you will/should be of yours too.
Don’t let the idea of NOT immediately becoming a NY Time’s Bestselling author stop you from caring for your babe and bringing it to the masses.
Do what you can. Do it well. Learn from it. And you’ll have no reason to be anything BUT proud of your efforts.
WHAT TO READ NEXT: Creating a BOOK LAUNCH TEAM: Everything You Need to Know
WHAT TO READ NEXT: 7 Steps to Planning a $0 Budget Book Tour
WHAT TO WATCH NEXT: Author Interview Series: Sneak Peek