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Launching a book is the most exciting moment in an author’s journey, but it’s also the scariest. You only really appreciate the sheer scale of the competition facing you when you’re getting ready to launch your book into the world.
And launch is confusing too. There are so many strategies out there, but which one is right for you? You can easily feel that you have to do everything – which is impossible – so you end up feeling like a failure before you even start.
So let’s make things clear and simple. We’re going to show you four strategies for how to plan a book launch. They are:
- New author (first book launch)
- Intermediate author (third book launch)
- Advanced author (tenth book launch, let’s say)
- Traditionally published author
Obviously, these strategies are guidelines only. If you have specific assets (a well-listened to podcast, for example), then you’re going to make use of them in cross-promoting, no matter where you are in your publishing journey.
Likewise, you have skills and preferences and those need to play a part too. If you just hate tech, you probably aren’t going to get heavily involved in advertising. If you’re great on social media, you’re going to want to be active there. And so on.
In short, what follows is a set of guidelines for you to adapt around who you are. If you don’t follow one exact recipe in what follows, that’s not you being dumb. That’s you intelligently adapting an approach around your specific needs.
Oh, and yes, I know you want to plunge straight in here, but don’t.
The single thing which will most determine the success or failure of your book is the quality of your preparation.
If you’re so impatient to get to launch that you’ve rushed your cover, or your text, or any of the other essentials, you’ll simply be leaving a big fat heap of money on the table for someone else to pick up.
Think of launch as a bucket where you are trying to scoop up as many readers, fans, sales and reviews as possible. If you don’t make damn sure that bucket is sealed and watertight before you start, you are going to leak readers like crazy. You can work like seven devils and still not be rewarded for all your effort.
So before we get to your launch plans, we’re going to run you through a checklist. If you’re solid on all those bullet points, then please proceed to launch. If you’re wobbly on some of the checklist items, then fix those things before doing anything else.
Preparation: it’s boring, but it matters.
Your Book Launch Checklist
So you have an upcoming book, and you feel ready to launch it into the world. Here’s your checklist, organised in rough order of priority
This first set of bullets are things that you just can’t compromise on. Yes, you can theoretically publish a book if you haven’t done these things, but you can’t do it well. So for a successful book launch, don’t skimp.
- Completed text
- Professional editorial review. I’ve put this in italics, just because Jericho Writers offers a very high quality editorial service and we have an obvious interest in boosting editorial services. But I’ve been a pro author for twenty years, and I’ve never once launched a book without a third party editorial review. And you know what? My books have always got better. So: yes, I’m biased. And yes, editorial help makes a difference.
- Copy editing / proofreading. Same thing here. You will need help with copyediting, unless you want your book to go out into the world strewn with errors. We also offer copyediting help but honestly? This is an area where you can save money. If you’re friends with an English teacher, or librarian, or anyone else you trust to read a text very closely and pick up errors, then go with that. You DO need a second set of eyes to review your text. You SHOULD save money here if you can. A few errors won’t hurt anyone.
- Quality cover. Don’t skimp. Get this right. If you only 95% like the design you have, then go on until you’re at 100%. The first cover you ever make will be the most expensive, because that’s where you’re evolving the strategy for the entire series. Once you have the basic template, your future covers will be easy. But get this right.
- Amazon book description. Get this right.
- Categories and keywords. Get this right: an hour or two’s work upfront will pay dividends for literally years to come.
- Front matter. This is the “Look Inside” portion of your e-book. This is where you convert the curious browser into the brand-new reader. So make sure that the front part of your e-book helps that conversion process. You need to be clear about what your book is, and why someone should read it.
- End matter. This is so crucial. The platform for all your future launches is the readers you collect from this one. And the place to collect those readers? Is right after they’ve finished your book and are still in a state of focused excitement about it. In particular, the back of your book is the place where you need to (A) offer a free download and (B) solicit reviews.
- Free download offer. You need to offer your core readers a freebie. The basic offer is, “Hey, do you want a free story / video explainer / set of cheat sheets / anything else?” Not all readers will engage with that offer, but your best readers WILL engage … and you’ll get their email address … and that email list will form the basis of everything else you do.
- Email collection system. You can’t just offer people a free story (or other incentive). You also have to deliver it. That is going to mean you have an author website with the right technology on it, or you are going to use a third party service (like the ever-excellent Bookfunnel) to collect the email address and deliver the book.
- Email service provider. You need to be signed up with a Mailchimp or ConvertKit, or some similar company. Those guys are going to collect emails for you, automate emails, send emails, and everything else.
If you need more help with any of this, you probably want our monster self-publishing guide, which you can view for free here.
If you need more than that (and you probably do), we have an exceptionally good self-publishing course. That course is expensive to buy – because it’s really, really good – so don’t buy it. That course, plus a ton of other incredibly good stuff, is available FREE to members of Jericho Writers. And if you’re serious about your writing, we’d love to welcome you as a member. You can find out more about us and how to become a member right here.
What follows are things that you may well already have in place, or think you absolutely need. Advanced authors are likely to tick every one of these boxes. For newer authors – well, you can’t do absolutely everything all in a single go. So don’t panic.
- Facebook author page. You need to make sure that your profile picture is 100% consistent with your book cover visuals. You need to add content at least weekly and – this is the important bit – that your content is very narrowly focused on your ideal reader. So if you are writing non-fiction about training dogs, then your Facebook page should be very narrowly focused on that topic, and nothing else. If you have to choose between 100 passionate fans and 1000 people half of whom are there for the freebies or the cute puppy pictures, then choose the 100 every time. The “not all that interested” brigade will ruin your engagement metrics and blur your audience definition. Focus matters. Scale doesn’t – or not nearly so much.
- Amazon Author Central page. It’s an easy win this one, so you probably want to take care of it. Basically: Amazon lets you build your own author profile on their system. Will it sell books for you? Not really. Maybe a few.
- Author website with blog. You notice that I DO think you need an email collection system that works, and for most authors the actual story-for-email exchange will be done on their website. But that’s by far the most important element of any author site. If you also want to blog, then do, but it’s no big deal. If you blog, then see what I’ve said above about the Facebook author page. Narrow focus is much, much more important than just grabbing random sets of eyeballs.
- Facebook tracking pixel. If you want to use some more advanced ad techniques on Facebook, then you’ll want a tracking pixel on your site, so Facebook (in its incredibly creepy way) can watch when its users visit your site. Even if you don’t use that data now, you probably want to start collecting it, so Facebook can start populating its creepy databases.
- Twitter. Oh heck. Some people love Twitter. If you do, then you’re already on it. If you’re not, well, maybe you don’t want to be. I don’t think it sells books, so don’t worry.
The “Why Bother?” List
Somethings that people say you ought to do, you don’t need to do. Including:
- Your Goodreads profile
- Printing flyers / postcards
- Press releases
- A launch party. I mean that’s fun, and you should probably have one. But you should have one because it’s fun celebrating with your friends. It’s not a serious book launch technique.
- Book trailer. Not much point here, unless you have a significant YouTube audience, or similar.
- Giveaways, unless these are very carefully targeted.
OK. Checklist all done and dusted? Then let’s move onto three book launch plans, graded according to author experience. We start easy, and build from there.
A Book Launch Plan For The First Time Author
This is your first book launch. And your first job is to set your expectations appropriately.
You will not make much money from this book. You will not reach many readers. You will not get many reviews. You will probably lose money, if you take into account all your upfront costs.
All the same, this book launch really matters. This first-of-series book is going to be your little ambassador to the Big Wide World. It’s where the majority of all your series readers ever are going to start. So the quality of the book matters. Ditto the number and quality of reviews. The quality of your cover and book description. And so on.
Here’s your book marketing plan.
This is your first book and nobody knows you. So this is like one of those little bits of cheese they give you as tasters, when they want you to buy the whole damn cheese. It’s free to nibble, but you pay to gorge. In short: price your book free or at $0.99. Or yo-yo between those two price points. Or kick the price up to $4.99, so when you slash the price to free, it looks like a great offer to readers.
At this stage, you’re not looking to make revenue. You’re looking to:
- Build reviews
- Populate your Also Boughts with the right type of readers (more on that in a second)
- Collect emails for your mailing list
If you tick those three boxes in a satisfactory way, don’t worry too much if your revenue is small to negligible. You are building a platform for the future.
2. Ask For Reviews
At the end of your book, include a note to the reader that you would love them to review your book. Tell them how to do it and say how much it means to you personally. Those direct appeals really help secure reviews.
Oh, and it probably goes without saying that you should never buy reviews or anything of that sort. Amazon will sniff those things out and send an army of tiny robots to invade your bloodstream and turn your skin yellow.
3. Offer A Free Download
We sort of covered this in the checklist material, but it’s so important I’m going to say it again.
You need to offer your readers a free download. They get a story (or video, or cheat sheet, or whatever). You get their email address and permission to contact them.
This is the rock that stands at the heart of everything else you ever do. Don’t neglect it. Get the details right. You have to make this part work.
4. Friends And Family
It’s fine to ask your friends and family to buy your book and leave an honest review, BUT only ask those people who actually like and regularly read your specific genre. If your mother only ever readers slasher-zombie-horror books and you only write Sweet Romance, then her purchase of your romance book will be an active negative.
How come? Because Amazon needs to understand who the readers of your book are, and if you start, in effect, saying to Amazon “this Sweet Romance book will be enjoyed by readers of Slasher-Zombie-Horror” then Amazon won’t know how to market your book.
Key lesson: A bad sale is worse than no sale at all. Don’t be tempted.
5. Hit Your Email List (If You Have One)
Let’s say you’ve already released a free novella via, for example, Instafreebie. That release will give you a list of email addresses. You can and should go to those people and say, “hey, I’d love you to buy my book [or get the free download]. But in particular, I’d really love it if you left a review for me on Amazon. I’m just starting out in my career and those reviews are invaluable for me – and they’re so helpful to other readers too. Thanks so much.”
6. Go Narrow
Don’t be tempted by Apple and all those other book stores. You are better off going all in on Amazon. Yes, you lose the (pretty meagre) sales available from Apple &c, but in return you gain access to Kindle Unlimited readers, who may easily make up 50% of your income, or even more.
This isn’t even a marginal decision, to be honest with you. When you have 3+ books out and are making $10,000+ in sales revenue, then maybe you have a decision to make. But starting out? Go narrow. You’ll do far better.
7. Don’t Go For Pre-orders
Why would you want to drive traffic to an Amazon page that has zero reviews and which doesn’t actually let readers get a book on their devices right now this second?
Answer: you wouldn’t. So launch naked. No pre-orders at all, please.
(And yes, there are exceptions to this rule, but if you are a newbie, then you’re not one of them.)
8. AMS Adverts
AMS – Amazon Marketing Services, Amazon’s own in-house ad-platform – is a great but frustrating ad platform.
It’s great, because it’s easy to build ads that convert well and make money. It’s frustrating because the interface is dire and because the ads are really hard to scale. (Unlike on Facebook, where you just have to throw more money at the service.)
But still: AMS ads are great for new authors, because they’re cheap and because the sales and reviews will mount up over time.
(Also, and this post is in part an overview for what works in 2019, Amazon will surely give AMS a much-needed overhaul. At the moment, the interface is just embarrassingly bad. It feels like something mocked-up in-house for early testing. If Jericho Writers had an ad platform, we wouldn’t release something as crappy as this. It’s that bad.)
9. Free / Discounted Book Sites
There are sites like Robin Reads, ENT, Freebooksy and others that build large databases of readers interested in free or discounted titles. Those lists are segmented by genre, so if you write Space Opera you won’t be bothering people who only love Cozy Mystery.
You definitely want to drop some money on those sites. Get your book right in front of people specifically looking for titles like yours. And yes, those email lists go to discount hounds, but a lot of those discount hounds are looking for a new series to commit to and enjoy, so they want their “taster” experience to be free (or low cost). Thereafter they’ll be happy to pay full e-book prices.
Oh yes, and while Bookbub is the biggest discounted book site by a mile, you are extremely unlikely to get access to it at this stage in your career. So start smaller and build up.
Expert tip: you probably want to stack promotions if you can. It’s better to drop $300 over several promo sites at the exact same time, than to pay the same money in split promotions. Especially on Amazon, big, bold promos work better than multiple small ones.
Expert tip II: Use the great Nicholas Erik for an always up-to-date guide of which book sites are great and which ones are just meh. Get his insights here.
10. Blog Tours, Etc
I’ve listed this last on the checklist, because I think it’s optional. I don’t think you get a lot of readers from blog tours, soliciting reviews from bloggers, etc.
But – this is your first book. Maybe you just want to get out there and you will get some readers, and those readers are gold dust for you at this stage. So if you want to go for it, go chase around some bloggers in your niche. If you can’t be bothered, then don’t bother – and don’t feel guilty either.
Is all this doing your head in? I’m not surprised. There’s a lot to take in and it can seem overwhelming. The solution for most people will be to take a really good step-by-step course that just walks you through the entire process.
We have just such a course – here – and it’s superb. Inspirational, practical, and lavishly documented. Trouble is, our course, like all the other good uns on the market, is really expensive. So don’t buy it. That course, and a ton of other good stuff, is available totally free to members of Jericho Writers. If you’re serious about your writing & your publishing, then we’d love to have you join us. All the info you need is right here. We look forward to meeting you!
A Book Launch Plan For The Intermediate Author
This is maybe your third or fourth book launch. Some of the strategies above are either second nature to you now, or they’ve dropped away completely. (Approaching friends and family is mostly a first-book-only thing. Ditto blog tours and the like.)
So for your third or fourth book launch, you’re going to use all of the above strategies – where they make sense – and then add / elaborate as follows:
1. Sophisticated Use Of Email Lists
With our first book launch, we just thumped out a “buy my book now” email to the few names we had on our list, and we got what we got.
OK, but that was then. Now we have a stronger list, and we can play things a little more cleverly. Because here’s the thing:
- Amazon likes email-driven sales surges (and drives your book high up the bestseller charts as a result)
- Amazon LOVES strong and steady sales surges, especially those that continue over four or (play safe) five days.
So , assuming that we have a decently performing list of, let’s say, 2,000 names or more, we’re not just going to bang out a “buy my book” email on the day of launch. Instead, we’re going to divide that list into three or four roughly equal slices, and launch emails on day #1, day #2, day #3, with reminder emails to non-openers on days #3, #4, and #5. (Or something like that. The principle is more important than the exact way you choose to implement it.)
The resulting steady pattern of sales will signal to Amazon that this book isn’t a one-day wonder. There’s real selling strength behind it. That signal will prompt Amazon to work harder, and for longer, than it otherwise would.
This simple, free email strategy remains the most powerful single strategy at your disposal. If you do this well, and little else, you can still achieve great things.
2. Get Reviews From Your Best Readers
Once you are developing your email list nicely, you can go to your best readers and offer them an Advance Review Copy of your forthcoming book, in exchange for a review once they’ve read it. You’re not asking them for fake reviews. You want honest verdicts. But crucially, you want anyone with an ARC to post their review within 48 hours of your book being launched. That’s the part that really, really matters.
How come? Because with all your activity around launch, the visibility of your new title will never be as high as this again (give or take a huge Bookbub promo, perhaps.) That visibility means that a ton of totally new readers will be finding your work for the first time. And that means, you want to populate your page with reviews as soon as humanly possible. Waiting 30-60 days for the reviews to populate organically will slaughter your conversions at the time when your Amazon book page has its maximum levels of traffic.
So get your readers engaged early. And feel free to nudge them. Get the reviews, and get them fast!
3. Series Listings In Your End-matter
The best place to sell your e-books? Your other e-books.
As you start to build out your list, make sure you go back to the e-books you already have out on sale and list all your titles. Make sure that you include the series number and a very short blurb (50-100 words is plenty) for each book. You also, of course, need to include purchase links for each book with link text that’s more tentative (“Find out more”) than pushy (“Buy now!”).
4. Remarketing Ads On Facebook And Google
Both Facebook and Google let you “remarket” to your “almost-but-not-quite” customers.
So Google allows you to push ads at people have who have recently visited your website. Facebook does the same, but also lets you market to specific audience groups – for example, people on your mailing list, or people who didn’t open and click your launch email.
Because these ads are going to a very warm audience, they tend to have an excellent conversion rate, with good CTRs and low CPCs.
Even so, before you start to advertise with any kind of meaningful budget, you do need to test carefully to get the right creative. It remains a lot easier to waste money with ads than it is to make it. Take care!
5. Series-level Promos
Now that you have a series of books to play with, you can get a bit more creative with the way you structure your promos. You should no longer think about promoting a book, but about the series. So if you’re launching #3 in your series, you might want to arrange things like this:
- Book #1. Free promo. Use Freebooksy, ENT, and other sites to promote the freebie. Make sure you stack promos to deliver downloads in the necessary volumes.
- Book #2. Use a Kindle Countdown deal to earn 70% royalties at $0.99. Maybe use some of the other promo sites to support this offer. Maybe try some remarketing ads, using a carousel to display all three of the products you have for sale.
- Book #3. Launch, launch, launch! This is where you’re going to spend most of your firepower.
You’ll use your email list to support the launch, of course, but you’ll probably want to draw attention to the other offers too. The more your whole series increases its visibility in Amazon, the more new readers will pour into your series as a whole, with all the lovely readthrough sales you’ll collect over the long term.
6. Think Kindle Unlimited
If you’re still intermediate in terms of sales and list, then you should stick with Kindle Unlimited. It’ll simplify your life, and make you more money.
But you also need to have a KU mindset, because the way you make money on Apple/Kobo/etc is different from the way you’ll earn money on KU. The essence of effective Kindle Unlimited marketing is simple. You want to achieve big bursts of visibility. As much visibility as possible, extended over a minimum of four days, but ideally for a week or even more.
That extended big-burst visibility will earn you money for weeks and weeks. You’ll see a surge in page reads that dies off slowly rather than fast. Granular, drip-drip-drip marketing techniques cannot achieve this effect. On this model, you’d do much better to have a big budget, 0% ROI promotion that really lifts visibility, than to have a couple of nicely performing little campaigns that achieve decent ROI but don’t really impact visibility.