Some of the biggest changes in the book industry over the last decade have been the ease, prevalence, and prestige of self-publishing. As traditional publishers work with tighter budgets they are spending less on marketing the books they publish. More of the marketing burden is falling on the shoulders of authors.
One of the biggest challenges for any writer is the book launch. How to do it. Who to involve? When to start? How to get attention? There are so many questions.
We have put this article together to set up a framework of how to think of the modern-day book launch.
1. Think like a marketer
In working with writers, something that I come across often is the idea that if a book is good enough it will rise to the top and get the attention it so deserves.
For instance, I recently asked a number of poets how they market their work and some were totally convinced that they didn’t need to do any marketing because the power of their words would do the magic for them. This is delusional thinking.
To put it into perspective, think of something that has a huge following. Let’s use Marvel Comics’ Avengers franchise as an example. It has a huge global fanbase, but when Marvel Studios releases a movie, do they just put it out into the fray and rely on brand awareness or ‘how good the movie is’ to get people to watch it? You bet your ass they don’t. The latest Avengers movie, Avengers: Endgame, released in 2019, had a marketing budget of US$200 million.
Even Apple, which has a cult-like following around the world, has a marketing budget. Who are we, as writers, to think we can escape these forces of economics?
Our readers are busy. They are preoccupied with other things. They are bombarded by millions of other bits of media demanding their attention. Even if they loved our previous work to bits, we need to remind them that were are still in existence, still writing, and let them know when we have something new for them. Period.
Now that we’ve established that and are all in agreement, the question becomes how on earth do we get anyone’s attention in the melee of modern-day self-promotion?
2. Plan ahead
If you plan to launch your book by putting up a single post on Facebook on the day of the launch saying something like “OMG!!!! So excited. My new book is out! Here’s the link! Please buy a copy and share widely!” prepare for disappointment.
In the marketing world, there was a time when they spoke of people needing to hear your message about seven to nine times before it made an impression on them. That was before social media. Today that number is fifteen to thirty times. People see your post on social media and most times, in a few minutes they have forgotten about it.
So, it’s not about them hating on you or anything like that. It’s a numbers and a time game.
If you are planning on launching a book, start your campaign at least six months before your scheduled launch date for the best results.
Create a schedule of events and things that must happen before your book is launched; Find someone to design the cover, get the manuscript edited, do a cover reveal, send out advanced reader copies, get booked onto podcasts to talk about the book, get some cool graphics done for social media, send out press releases, etc.
3. Don’t do it alone
This stuff is hard work. Throw out any lone ranger mentality right now. You need help. A great way to get it is to set up a book launch team, also known as a street team. This is a group of people (friends, family members, other writers you know) who commit to helping you launch your book. You decide how big you want it to be. Some writers have launch teams of hundreds of people. The important thing is how many of them are actually implementers. It’s better to have a small motivated team than to have scores of freebie seekers who observe proceedings from a distance.
You may also decide to select one person to lead the team or several people to take care of certain roles and you can set up a private Facebook group or a WhatsApp group to coordinate efforts. For instance, I am currently setting up a book launch team and have managed to find someone I trust who will take care of media liaison. The general idea is to take as much weight of your shoulders as possible so that you can focus on the things that only you can do; for instance, giving interviews, writing guest blogs, etc.
Your book launch team will help you get the word about your book out. They will share posts about the book. They will talk to friends and influencers about it. They will amplify your voice.
Usually, each member of the launch team will get a free electronic copy of the book. You can give these away using a service like BookFunnel. You want as many of the members of the team to write a review for your book on Amazon and to help with spreading the word in whatever way they can.
Where do you find people for your street team? A simple post on social media asking if anyone wants to help promote your book is a good place to start. Another resource is a book group, if you belong to one. Let them know you are launching a book and tell them what help you need. Sometimes, just asking people opens up doorways and opportunities. Don’t be quiet. Talk about your upcoming book launch to everyone.
A third place is Facebook writing groups, especially groups where you have been active for a while. Writers understand the importance of this sort of thing and so they tend to make good members of street teams.
4. You don’t need to be everywhere
Oh the overwhelm of deciding whether to be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok and LinkedIn or just two or three of those. Or trying to decide whether to do Amazon ads or Facebook ads or BookBub ads. Or whether or not you should resurrect your newsletter for your launch.
Add to this all the other things that you need to take care of when launching a book and you have a ripe scene for hair-pulling.
The truth is many successful book launches happen without social media campaigns, for instance.
Find where your audience is. Look at where the successful authors in your genre hang out or advertise. Go there. Learn that platform in and out and focus on it. Ignore all the others or pay them little heed (at least for now).
Add to this a newsletter campaign (if you don’t have a mailing list, don’t sweat it. Use your launch as a way to gather more addresses. Offer readers a short story or a chapter from your book for free in exchange for their email address (BookFunnel makes this really easy).
And then top this off with a good ad campaign on a book promotion site (BookBub, The Fussy Librarian, BookGorilla (see screenshot above), and BookSends are examples) and you’ve got the foundations of a digital campaign covered.
5. Leverage other people’s audiences
Even if you have tens of thousands of followers on social media, appearing on the right podcasts or guest blogging on relevant blogs will expose your work to new audiences. Other examples of audiences you can get exposure to include, your community via a local radio station or newspaper, a fellow writer’s audience by doing a Facebook live together or arranging a newsletter swap (you appear in their newsletter, they appear in yours) with them.
A virtual book tour is another great way of getting new people to know about your book. There are a number of ways of doing this. One is to simply find a service that organizes these or you can line up your own series of podcast interviews, Facebook Lives, etc with different bloggers, reviewers and writers.
6. We will judge both you and your book – by your cover
If you spend months or years writing a book, why dress it up in any old cover? Invest in a good cover. You can start with budget options on a site like Fiverr.com (see screenshot above) or try others like Upwork or 99 Designs. If you want to get really serious look for a designer who specializes in covers for your specific genre. You can also get good recommendations in Facebook groups of writers for particular genres.
It’s not just about us judging your book, it’s about sales. Well-designed covers can boost click-through rates for book ads by over 50%.
7. Think Long Term
Book marketing is not just about the few days after your launch. It is about the findability of your book for as long as you want it to be available. Once your book is out in the world, what are the activities that can keep it alive? What services can you submit it to to increase the likelihood that it will be picked up by libraries? How can you use your book as a key to get you onto stages or Zoom rooms as a speaker? Can you write a series so that you leverage off the momentum of the first book to carry the following ones?