The Launch

Few subjects quicken the blood like releasing a new book. Between the fear that this one is going to stink and the hope that maybe this one is going to be The One, the emotional roller-coaster of launch has few equals in the life of any author.

A lot has changed in launch strategies over the last ten years. The process is still fun, nerve-wracking, and almost never as successful as we hope, but there are some things to consider beyond how much time you shouldn't be spending refreshing the Amazon reports page. Start with the basics:

What Do You Want?

Most new authors - and a fair number of experienced ones - don't actually take the time to think about this. "Sell more books!" is an admirable goal but operationalizing that can be problematic. For many, the launch is an occasion, something to announce, an event to bruit about because who doesn't love a book launch? They see it as a great time to promo the heck out of a title in the hope of launching the book into Orbit ... or maybe Tor.

So what do you want? Sales, income, or readers. Pick one.

One thing to consider is the Amazon Rocket Launch. This is the one most people pursue, hoping to get a huge first day or two that will catapult their book into the upper reaches. Before you pursue this remember the mantra:

Up like a rocket,
Down like a rock.

Amazon's weighted rolling average of sales ranks punishes spikey sales so if you sell to everybody who knows you on day one, there's nobody left on day two to keep your missile from falling back to the ground.

For me, the goal is income. As a full time author, I need to cover my bills and keep food on the table. If I can afford to keep doing what I love, then sales and readers will follow. So I focus on the basics of launch to avoid the Rocket as much as I can. The strategy is called "soft launch" or "slow burn" and involves keeping the news low key and spreading it out over time.

1. I don't announce the release any more. I let fans tell me when the book is available. They often know before I do. Having them tell me - on social media - means they're also telling all their friends at the same time.

2. I actually do send an email out to my list around the second or third day. They signed up to be notified and I try to let them be the first people I tell. I just don't tell all of them at once, hoping to spread the sales out over a few days. It's not like I have a big list. I keep it trimmed down to under 2000 addresses but spreading those out can make the difference between a long, steady climb in sales and a crash ending spike.

3. I post to my blog. Eventually. Frequently that's earlier than I'd like but I only update my blog once a month and I tend to release near the end of a month so I capitalize on Kindle Unlimited (which is a different conversation).

4. Back in the day, I used to make one tweet with a link to the book. Just one. Not one a day. Not one that's repeated three times to hit all the major time zones. One. Ever.

My goal is to stay in the top 1000 on Amazon for a month. After that, gravity - and algorithms - take a toll on the heartiest of fliers. Doing that generally gets me about 5000 sales and over a million page-read on KU.

But I'm established. I spent years building my audience and growing my fanbase. What about somebody just starting out?

The rocket ride is the same should you choose to light the fuse. You might climb very high very fast. The crash will hurt just as much.

Soft launch pays dividends for those who are just starting out. Since you can't depend on your fans yet, getting the word out is where you need allies to help you. Joining a like minded group of authors who can help you is probably the single most important thing a new author can do. I have a mantra for that, too:

The fastest way to get an audience is
borrow one.

Who do you ask? How do you do that?

I've written about allies and how to find them before. There's nothing fancy or complicated about it. Compared to blog tours, swag planning, and review chasing, it's pretty low key and not as time consuming. It leaves a lot more time for what matters - writing the next book - but often feels uncomfortable to new authors who'd rather do something - even if it's not very effective - than to  trust the soft launch to do its magic.

Generating early buzz with beta readers pays dividends as long as your beta-to-release time is short (a few days or a week). The issue there is my third mantra for today:

You can't get fans
for a book you haven't released.

Whether or not you ride the rocket, here's hoping your next release brings the results you want.

Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Nathan Lowell

Nathan Lowell has been self-publishing his science fiction and fantasy since he started releasing his books in podcast form in 2007.

He frequently writes about social media, marketing, and the life of a full time self-published author.

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