Launching Your Book—What Works and What Doesn’t?

I’m about six months out from the launch of my next book and am working on plans for the launch. Call it a publicity plan or a marketing plan or a launch plan…it pretty much boils down to the same thing. The tough part is that I don’t have any true data indicating what works and what doesn’t.

With that in mind, I thought I’d explore strategies today. I’d love to generate some conversation about your experiences. It might not be hard data but maybe someone will come up with new ideas or even new takes on old ones!

Booksigning Events. They are at the heart of every launch but I see wide variation in how authors use them. Some go for a single, big event at a well-known venue which may come with an advertising fee. Others book events at multiple locals, concentrating on chain retailers. Some prefer to schedule with small, independent bookstores.  Authors also vary on how long the launch season lasts. Personally, I’ve done all of the above and have generally seen more response from a single big event I can blast about. With hard-cover books, I rarely sell a lot unless there is a personal connection or the timing matches a gift-giving holiday.

Online Events. More and more authors are doing blog tours or online interviews. I’ve not done much in this area…some isolated interviews but no big blog tours. Yet, I know other authors use this technique heavily. I routinely receive e-blasts about blog tours and often wonder how successful they are.

Advertising. This can be expensive and complicated. Some authors work with on-line advertising services that send information about their new release to thousands of subscribers. Others may purchase ads in local media to generate interest in signing events. I’ve tried this route in the past and seen no direct correlation to sales. On the other hand, I have received some very nice reviews in connection with ads. I’ve become selective, however, in my expenditures here.

Book related swag. This would include post cards, book marks, magnets, pens, and any other cute little item with the author’s name and a book title. The expenses in this area can also climb quickly. I can’t say that I’ve ever been able to correlate sales with swag. That said, I have found an inexpensive supplier and do like having bookmarks in my purse. I use them like business cards. It’s highly possible that someone has purchased a book as a result but there really isn’t a way to measure this.

Book Trailers. This was huge a few years ago but seems to have quieted down. Lacking necessary skills, I haven’t explored this area, though my publisher did a great trailer for me on the last book.

Reviews. I like reviews but I have never paid for them. I’m fortunate that my publisher sends ARCs to national reviewers and gets good response. I’ve sent out some of my own, locally, with mixed responses. I’ve also sent to some online reviewers. Since my last book, there is increased conversation about Goodreads reviews being important but I’m not sure I’ve heard anything quantitative. For me, good reviews from recognized reviewers are priceless. I have no sales data but they greatly enhance my credibility as an author—something that it valuable to me.

Direct announcements. I sent announcement letters to everyone I knew with the launch of my first book. I think it generated a lot of interest for the launch signings and, yes, some sales. Since then, I haven’t seen as much of an impact and my list has been trimmed. I also rely much more on social media announcements.

Press releases. These seem to work much better when sent to smaller media. My hometown paper almost always runs something when I send out a release. Metro papers don’t.

Library packets. I’m not sure if these work or not. Since my publisher markets to libraries, I do try to make contact with the libraries in Colorado as well as the state in which my story is set. I don’t know if the contact is effective but it’s a route I always follow.

Book clubs. Over the years, I’ve made contact with local book clubs and enjoy interacting with them. I usually let them know. So far, Oprah hasn’t considered any of my titles.

Radio and Television. Here, too, I’ve done little. A couple radio interviews but no big appearances. No guest spots on national morning news shows. Hmmmm….

So, readers, what’s been your experience? What do you do for your launches? Can you connect what you do with sales? What feels right?

Pamela Nowak
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Pamela Nowak writes historical romance set in the American West. In addition to widespread critical acclaim, her books have won multiple national awards. In love with history and rich characters for most of her life, Pam has a B.A. in history, has taught prison inmates, managed the Fort Yuma National Historic Site and run a homeless shelter. She was named the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Writer of the Year in 2010, chaired three conferences, and now serves as volunteer coordinator. Pam and her life partner Ken live in Denver. Their combined families include six daughters and several grand-children. Together, they parent a dog and a cat. More about Pam on her website.

6 thoughts on “Launching Your Book—What Works and What Doesn’t?

  1. Pam, Thanks for such a thoughtful post. I’m getting ready to launch a book this summer and am pretty scared at this point that I’m not doing enough. Two things I’ll be working on are list building (which you seem to have covered with your sending to everyone you know) and personal appearances at the reader conferences (Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime are great mystery venues). I’m also trying to connect with organizations that might have a natural link to the subjects in my books–pet stores and special needs communities. I’d love to hear from someone who’s worked on a grass-roots political campaign because they seem to be organized with enthusiasm more than money, and yet are very effective. Good luck to all authors on your launches!

  2. I’ve launched nine novels over the last few years. Very little has changed in terms of efficacy.

    Disclaimer: I self-publish novels. I don’t have to deal with publishers’ restrictions and I control my marketing in its entirety. Publishers have their own ideas for which I am grateful. I also don’t publish non-fiction. That’s a very different marketplace and operates under different rules.

    With those ground rules…

    Things that *don’t* work:

    – Signings. Unless you’re looking for your first dozen sales…or unless you’re doing this as part of an organized event at a fan based convention…this is a lot of work for very little return.

    – Book trailers. While people point to YouTube as the place where all the cool kids hang out, it’s not where readers look for books.

    – Press releases. With 3 million titles published in the US each year, a new book happens – on average – a thousand times a day in the US. This is not as newsworthy as “Woman Gives Birth To Healthy Twins” or even “Cat Has Kittens.” While most proud fathers are unlikely to issue a press release beyond the “New In Town” list in the local newspaper, proud authors exercise no such restraint.

    Things that can work:

    – Blog tours. These are iffy. If you can connect with bloggers who write to readers (and not other authors) and in your genre, they can get your message outside of your silo. It’s possible. I don’t know how probable.

    – Advertising. This is tough with a new release and can be expensive. Forget FB ads or Goodreads banners. Ad blocking browser plugins remove them from the web page before the visitor can see them. The action is on the promo sites like BookBub and BookGorilla. Using some of the lesser known/newer ones like Fussy Librarian might work. The competition for those spaces is pretty steep.

    – Direct announcements. Email to your list. One of the first things any author should be doing is collecting email addresses from people who visit her website. MailChimp is the de facto standard. The signup widget is easy to add and managing campaigns is straightforward. Notifying those people is a must. Anybody else is rolling the dice.

    – Reviews. If you can get onto one of the genre specific review sites, that can help point readers to your book. Reviews on the storefronts themselves (like Amazon or Kobo) aren’t going to help attract attention or improve your visibility greatly. In those places sales drive reviews, not the other way around. Visibility is important, but – at least on Amazon – that’s not how you get it.

    Things I’ve no experience with:
    – TV and Radio. These are mass media tools. I operate in a micro media space.
    – Book clubs. My titles have been picked up by book clubs but none of them have sufficient members to matter. I’m not looking for twenty or thirty readers.
    – Library packets. Getting into a few thousand libraries would be cool. It’s not something I’m going to take the time to do for a few dozen.

    Things that work:

    – Soft release. While this is counter-intuitive, the reality is that Amazon’s algorithms are driven by one mantra:

    Up like a rocket, down like a rock.

    The faster you go up, the faster you come down. Sure you can beat the brush and get a nice high number of sales out of the gate if all your promotional efforts strike just right with a tail wind, but what happens on day two? If you can’t maintain the level of sales, your sales rank (and visibility) start to tank. While everybody’d love to be in the top 100, the reality is that you’re going to do much better by easing up into the top 1000 and staying there for a week (or a month). The algos are set up so the highest ranks see the most volatility. If you have a few million fans, you can get in there and stay. If you don’t, then sticking in the top 1000 (even the top 5000) is a much better place and your strategies should focus on that.

    To get a soft release, don’t announce to everybody all at once. Spread it out. Give social media a chance to pick it up and spread it for you. It’s much more effective to have people say “You need to go read Pam’s new book” than it is for you to say “You need to go read my new book.” Send your email to fans one day. Post on your blog the next. Tweet the following day. Your FB followers get the update the next. Whatever channels you use, don’t use them all at once. The results will be stickier and you’ll make more sales in the first month than you will with a hard release. Almost guaranteed.

    – Game your cats. Marketing categories are fluid. There are few hard rules. The same science fiction novel can appear in a number of different categories. Pick the one with the least competition and shoot for getting into the top 100 in that cat. Don’t lie. Don’t be GRRM with your fantasy book slathered all over the science fiction cats. (Unless you ARE GRRM and then, rock on.) Find the cat that makes the most sense. If there is more than one, follow Robert Frost’s advice and pick the one less traveled by.

    – Social media. Most authors use social media wrong. It’s not for talking about your book. It’s for being interesting. Your book isn’t any more interesting than my book. I don’t talk about my book. I’ll tweet – once – when a new title is available (part of my soft release strategy). I’ll put a blog post on my blog, but most of my time on social media is talking with people about the stuff that interests them. Twitter is really good for this because it takes only small amounts of effort scattered across the week. I don’t have to give it a lot of thought or take time away from writing or producing to do it. It’s fun. That’s a diagnostic attribute, btw. If you’re not having fun, nobody else is either. A lot of people click on FB. While many clique on FB as well, that’s a different thing. I really like Google+ better these days, but the social media scene is in flux. The point is to have fun and be interesting. People who are fun and are interesting get a lot more leverage than those who see (and treat) social media like a job.

    Just some ideas. I left a list of marketing tips for authors over on the RMFW G+ community last October. You can find it here:

    https://plus.google.com/u/0/+NathanLowell-Author/posts/VUZFX5rDbmw

  3. Interesting post, Pam, thank you, and thanks also to Nathan! Personally, I love book signings. I made a big production of it for my first two releases, staged at Tattered Cover and complete with live entertainment and a twenty-book raffle of my books, as well as books published by my critique partners. It was fun, and I had written and struggled for ten years, so it was extremely rewarding to me personally. I also took video of the signings for use on-line. I also sold a LOT of books! My mailing list was extensive, and both books made the Denver best-seller lists. Now, as an e-book indie-publisher, book signings won’t work for me, and I’ve been exploring alternative methods. My blog tour was disappointing, and I’ve had mixed success with listings. I hope to see more responses to Pam’s blog. It’s very helpful to compare these marketing notes!

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