What are some book launch tips and how do I supercharge my sales? Our #AskALLi Member Q&A is hosted by Michael La Ronn and ALLi Director Orna Ross, and this month they’ll be answering this question and more.
Other questions include:
- Where can I find ALLi’s Watchdog list of service providers?
- How do I vet a service provider that may not be listed in the directory?
- Is it worth entering my book for the London Book Fair Showcase in 2021?
- Does ALLi offer discounts for various worldwide conferences?
- If I translate my book into a foreign language, who owns the copyright?
- What numbers matter the most to rights buyers when authors sell subsidiary rights?
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Now, go write and publish!
About the Hosts
Michael La Ronn is the author of over 30 books of science fiction & fantasy and authors self-help books. His books include the Galaxy Mavericks series and Modern Necromancy series. You can now find his new writing course on Teachable.
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com
Read the Transcript: Book Launch Tips and More
Orna Ross: Hello everyone and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Self-Publishing Advice Member Q&A. I’m here with Michael La Ronn. Hi, Michael.
Michael La Ronn: Hi, Orna. Happy March.
Orna Ross: Happy March, yeah. Well into March already, where is the time going? I don’t know why lockdown makes time go faster, but it does.
So, you have the questions lined up for us this week. As ever our members have really interesting questions which they have put forward for us to discuss in this public forum so that everyone who’s listening can benefit from the advice. So, thank you to everyone who sent in questions. What have you got for us this time?
When is the best time to start marketing my book?
Michael La Ronn: So, the first question comes from member, Peter. And the question is, I think something that a lot of people have been thinking about, especially as we’re starting to come out of lockdown in some places, and at least here in the States, the weather’s a lot nicer.
And the question is, as a first-time author, my book is approximately six months out from being published, when should I start the search for a book marketer? And does ALLi have a list of marketers that we can take a look at?
So, that’s the specific question, but I think the more general question is, when is the best time to start marketing my book?
Orna Ross: Great question, and well done Peter to start thinking about things six months in advance, because very often we find that people with their first book, they just get through the production of the book and get it up there and then go, what now? How do I let people know this book exists?
So, great to be out there at this point., So the first thing I would say to you is yes, we can, we do have a small supply of marketing advice and implementation companies that we can recommend, and you’ll find those in the searchable database in the members zone and in the member directory. So, that service is available to you, but there is lots that you would have do for yourself, and we actually recommend that no author hires marketing help until you understand yourself what marketing is, what promotion is, how those two things differ and how you connect the dots and know what you’re doing.
So, the thing about marketing and promotion is, it’s complex and it’s multi-layered. So, you’ve got your general author platform stuff, but that is essentially everything that makes you visible as an author out in the world. Then you’ve got your specific promotion of yourself as an author, which would include things like podcast interviews, maybe interviews online, radio, TV, that sort of thing. Book promotion, which is specifically around the title and the book, but also book placement and positioning, which if it’s your first time as an author, you possibly haven’t given enough to. So that will be who are your comparable authors? Where do you fit into the publishing ecosystem? What is your category, your keywords, your niche, and so on. So, there’s an awful lot to think about and there’s an awful lot that only you can do for yourself.
In terms of when you should start, right now is the answer, I think. And Michael will have loads to say on this as well, but I think right now is the answer to every author, no matter what stage you’re at.
You begin to think about marketing the day you begin to think about writing your book, is actually the ideal. And marketing is something that, as an author-publisher, goes hand-in-hand all the way through with the writing from the very first book until, I mean, me right now, this week, I have to work out how am I going to fit in my marketing tasks with my writing tasks, they go hand in hand and the more you can bring those two things together, the more successful your marketing is likely to be. So, over to my Michael, maybe, on some of the specifics.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, the best time to start marketing is now, but make sure you do the right things. Because what a lot of people will do sometimes is hire a publicist when their book isn’t even available yet and there’s no return on investment. That’s the thing about the marketing, there’s the old adage that 50% of marketing works, no one knows what 50% it is that actually works. Just be careful early on. There’s a lot of authors early on who sometimes tend to throw money at the problem, as if they think that that will help solve it. Other people sometimes tend to spam the problem. So, if I talk about my book nonstop, then that’ll help boost awareness for it. That doesn’t really work either. So, investing in learning things like Facebook advertising or Amazon advertising or BookBub advertising, or even, this is maybe an advanced tip, but sometimes the first cover for your first book, it doesn’t work, and you don’t know why it doesn’t work. Sometimes it might help to AB test your covers. Maybe you get two covers designed and then you have people vote on which one works the best. If you’re going to throw money at a problem, that’s one way I would do it, because at least that way you can at least get your cover right.
Sometimes early marketing is about what you don’t do, as opposed to what you actually do, because if you can avoid the things that will eat up your money, eat up your time, eat up your patience and not bring you an ROI, you can get a better investment. So, that would be my advice on that.
Orna Ross: Absolutely, and then there are a lot of things that are essential from a marketing perspective that have to be done, that won’t actually necessarily sell books straight off, but you have to do these kinds of tasks. Like, you need an author website for example. It should ideally be a transactional website so people can buy.
You need to, as Michael said, really understand what goes into a book cover for your particular genre. All these are kind of the basics. You need a good book description. You need a one sheet about the book that media or reviewers, or people like that, can go to which gives them handy Q&A’s about the book and where it comes from. You need to know who writes similar books to you, what similar stuff is out there. All of that is marketing stuff that is absolutely essential, you have to do it.
And I think there is something else that happens with the first book, which is that authors don’t necessarily want to do the marketing work, and there are a few reasons for that. Feeling not equal to it is one reason, but also feeling, I’ve done enough, I’ve written this book, which is a huge, big deal, then I’ve had to learn all about editorial and design and get it up there and out there, and all of that is a huge amount of work. To turn around and then have to learn about marketing, and then specifically about book promotion can just sometimes feel like a bridge too far, and that’s another reason why it’s really good to start these things well out in advance.
So, until you have a website in place, until you have an email list, a reader magnet that will attract people to your email list, and a sense of your book placement and positioning, you know, where it falls out in the marketplace. I would say, hold off on doing any other marketing, get all of that in place and move on to writing your second book, if necessary. If you haven’t got all that set up to your own satisfaction.
Marketing dollars are best spent when you have three books in the can. It’s very, very seldom worthwhile, unless it’s a particular, you know, non-fiction, one-off kind of book that you’re writing for a very specific reason. For the average fiction or poetry author it is not worthwhile investing in a service on book one. You’re just not going to see that money back, and you’re not necessarily going to shift a lot of books, and that’s no reflection on the book, it’s just the nature of things.
Michael La Ronn: Agree. And remember the 80/20 of marketing, that marketing is like an iceberg, marketing is all the work that you can’t see under the surface and then the tip of the iceberg is the promotion.
So, Milena in the comments says, Orna, it is so good to hear you say this. I feel validated in my efforts. I’m writing my first book and at the same time I’m learning about marketing.
Orna Ross: Fantastic. Great. Keep going.
Michael La Ronn: Yes, indeed. And thank you, Peter, for the question that spawned our theme today.
Where do I find the IngramSpark discount code for ALLi members?
Michael La Ronn: So, next question that came through was from Charles, and there were a few other folks who had this question as well, but this is, where do I find the IngramSpark promo code, for anyone who is curious about that?
Orna Ross: Sure. So, first of all, thank you very much to IngramSpark for providing a promo code for our members. This allows for up to 50 changes or uploads on the IngramSpark dashboard this year. So, perfectly adequate for most of our members, and you’ll find the discount code in the same place that you find all the other wonderful discounts and deals that we have from our partner members, essentially the discounts and deals page in the member zone. So, just log in with your password that you set when you joined and go to the discounts and deals page.
And while you’re in there, and we find that some of our members actually forget to go into the members zone often enough or even at all, so while you’re there do take a look around at all the other things that are in there, all the other benefits and downloads and resources and everything else that’s there.
But yeah, you’ll be surprised at the excellent discounts and deals that are available in addition to the Ingram code, which is a fantastic benefit.
Can ALLi recommend a good, syndicated service for my debut book press release?
Michael La Ronn: All right. Next question is from Jack, and Jack asks, can you recommend a good, syndicated service for my debut book release?
Orna Ross: Syndication service? So, I’m not sure exactly what’s being asked for there.
Michael La Ronn: Oh, I’m sorry. I guess I left out an important part of the question. Can you recommend a good, syndicated service for my debut book press release? That’s probably a little bit more helpful.
Orna Ross: Yes, great. Well, there are a good few of these press release services that will pull out a press release about your book. Again it’s, I would think, not a great return on investment. So, our recommendation is not to do it, I’m afraid. Unless you have a particular, very newsworthy story, it’s highly unlikely to be picked up on. It will give you a Google mention, which can have some value depending on the book, but again, for the vast majority of fiction authors and the vast majority of poets, this sort of service has little or no value. It’s not hugely expensive, it can be depending on what sort of a budget you have to promote your book, and that sort of money, we would argue, is better spent on, on other things.
So, if press is something that you’re interested in, doing up your own press release and finding people who are specifically interested in the kind of thing that you write and where your niche is, where your keywords or categories, those things we were talking about in relation to the last question, you know, carefully honing one query to somebody who’s likely to be interested in your offering has far more value than just putting the press release out there. They’re almost never looked at by journalists.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I don’t know anyone who has had success with press releases. You almost have to do some sort of media stunt in order to get them to pay attention, and no one’s going to pay it. There’s just such a bias towards self-published writers with traditional media, even web media, that I just don’t think it’s worth anyone’s time. That’s my personal opinion.
Orna Ross: Yeah, I think that will be the opinion of most of our most successful members as well. There is a way to approach media, but it’s time-consuming, it’s not something that just kind of blasting out a press release is going to achieve for you. And you have to think of it from the journalist’s point of view, they’re getting hundreds of these every day and there was a time, perhaps it’s a very, very long time ago, when somebody having written a book was a press-worthy event, but not any longer. So, yeah divert your money somewhere else and maybe put some time into this.
If mainstream media is important and valuable as an actual sales tool. That’s the other thing, sometimes new authors just automatically go for mainstream press and press release because they think that’s what you should do, you know, it is how books were traditionally marketed. You may have read it as advice on a blog somewhere, but actually mainstream press does not sell a lot of books. So again, it’s a matter of working out carefully your strategy and why you’re approaching this person and why you think they would be interested.
Michael La Ronn: And just because you get press doesn’t mean it’s going to be good press. So, sometimes be careful what you wish for because you might just get it and you might not like what they write about your books. So, just keep that in mind too. I’ve seen stories of that, too.
Orna Ross: Definitely, and there are those who say that no publicity is bad publicity. I think it was Brendan Behan, there is no such thing as bad publicity except your obituary.
But that’s actually debatable, from a marketing perspective, and especially for a new author. Bad publicity can be very derailing creatively and commercially. So yeah, if you’re thinking about it from a marketing perspective, you should be looking at what gets most books sold for me here and $150, which is the cheapest you will get one of these press release services for, could actually be used with an assistant to do something else that could actually generate far more book sales.
Michael La Ronn: Yep. All right. And then on this topic here, Angie Scarr says, happy to hear you say this, I’ve been thrown out of a group for suggesting that some services aren’t worth it.
Orna Ross: Michael and I put a lot of time into making sure that the services we bring to you are worth it.
Michael La Ronn: Yes, we do. We do.
And Milena says, local BBC radio can be contacted easily and oftentimes it will be aired. It doesn’t cost anything and if a journalist is building up material for a story and your book release resonates, you might get an interview.
So, appreciate that comment.
Orna Ross: Thank you, Milena. And local radio, generally, and podcasts are two very good outlets for authors, and can be approached with a press release, but again, in our experience it’s best done directly rather than through a syndication service.
How do I get my self-published book into libraries?
Michael La Ronn: All right. Our next question is from member, Judy, and she asks, how do I get my self-published book into libraries?
Orna Ross: Well, we’ve got a whole booklet on this, because it’s complicated. It depends on where you live and which library, service you’re working with and so on. So, our best advice here is to log into the member zone and download your free copy of, How to Get My Book into Libraries.
But it’s getting easier. Libraries are now much more open and have systems for eBooks and audiobooks that weren’t there a few years ago. There are more suppliers going directly into the libraries. Kobo is now distributing directly to libraries as well. So yeah, libraries are not going to make your fortune, but they certainly are a good way to raise awareness of your book, and it’s well worth, of course, supporting libraries. And many of us, as authors, are very grateful to libraries as the place where we learned our trade and found so many beloved books. So yeah, it can be worth doing for lots of reasons.
And then there are countries, and the US is one of them, where you will actually receive some money from libraries, but in lots of jurisdictions, you don’t, it’s not something that is lucrative in any way. So yeah, download the short booklet, How to Get Your Book Into Libraries. That’s the best advice.
How can I be sure that I am following the proper steps from start to finish of book publishing to ensure success?
Michael La Ronn: Okay. Now, our next question is from Shondalyn, and there’s a lot here and I apologize, Shondalyn, that we won’t be able to get to all of it. But essentially, the question is, I am new to self-publishing and new to ALLi, and I’ve written a first series of children’s books. I’ve gotten feedback from beta readers and have edited them numerous times. I’ve taken lots of notes from different places on self-publishing, and most people in their resources are very different.
The first question, which is the one I want to make sure we hit is, how can I be sure that I am following the proper steps from start to finish of book publishing to ensure success?
Orna Ross: Well, we have done our best to outline the seven steps, the seven processes of publishing, which apply across all forms of publishing, and these are pretty set. Whether you’re a trade publisher or whether you’re a self-publisher, the actual processes are very set. So, they are editorial, design, production, distribution, marketing, promotion, and rights licensing.
But, of course, within each of those processes, there are lots of different ways in which you can approach these things and you’ll get conflicting advice. There are lots of perennial debates in the author industry where there is no right answer, there is just, you know, the right answer for you at a particular time.
And so, there is no black and white definitive list that somebody can say, this is right. And even if we were to go and see all your books and see your strategy and know what you want to achieve, still there are going to be some questions to which there isn’t a right or wrong answers. So in a way, looking for that is asking for the impossible.
Having said that, there are general practices that are tried and true, and based on business principles as well as publishing principles and writing principles. And so, we try to make a recommendation on these perennial sorts of debates, and I can’t know exactly what steps you’re referring to, but to give an example, the perennial debate as to whether you should just upload to Amazon or publish wide, we would recommend publishing wide based on the business principle that relying on one outlet is risky and you are better to make yourself available wherever there are readers, in as many formats as possible, in as many territories as possible.
So, that would be an example, but yeah, have you anything to add on that specific?
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I would just say, just go through it and you’re probably going to make some wrong steps or some miss-steps in the process. That’s the thing about self-publishing and it’s something I’ve been telling a lot of authors is that you don’t know what all of the steps are necessarily until you’re all the way through the process.
You know what the big picture is, but it’s the little pictures, it’s the pixels sometimes that are missing, and the best way to the best way to understand what those are is to publish your first book for the first time. Because then, when you do your second book, you’ll be like, why did I do that? That one thing that I did, it made no sense. So in many respects, you don’t know what you don’t know until you do it the first time. And that’s what I just tell people is to get that first book out, a lot of things will become clear once you do that.
Orna Ross: That’s completely right, yeah. Learning by doing rather than trying to get everything right in your head, upfront. It makes a lot of sense.
What is the best way to market my Christian leadership book?
Michael La Ronn: Yep. Okay. The next question is from Colon, and this is a very specific question and that is, what is the best way to market my Christian leadership book?
Orna Ross: Again, it’s one of those un-answerable questions. So, just knowing that it’s a Christian leadership book isn’t enough to be able to tell you the best way to market it. And again, the learning by doing principle applies. So, everything in self-publishing, particularly when you’re doing it for the first time, but really always, all the way through, is best done in that spirit of exploration and experiment. So you do something, you make your best guess, and you make your best effort and you put it out there and you learn from the doing of it. And from that, then you refine, and you know better the next time.
But I think there’s a lot you can do with a research level around marketing non-fiction, in particular, which is what your book is. And it’s much easier, in online terms, to market non-fiction than fiction or poetry, because you can get very specific with your categories and your keywords, and you can make sure that your book is set up for exactly the people that you want to read the book.
So, the best general advice when it comes to marketing is to take a look at the category on Amazon and the other online retail stores, see what other books are there up at the top in the bestseller lists. Look at what they are doing in terms of marketing, go back and look at their websites, look at their Facebook pages, look at their other social media pages. Look at the kinds of words they use, the kind of images they use, the book covers that are popular in the genre, themes that you can see that apply across a number of authors. There’s just so much you can do at the research level in that way, which will give you ideas. In the doing of that you’ll get lots of ideas.
There’s no best way, actually, to do these things, they are very subjective, like writing a book. There’s no such thing as, you know, what’s the best way to write a book, beyond do the things that are essential, and then after that apply your creativity and make sure you’re reaching out to the readers who have a need for this book, that you’re actually narrowing your efforts so that you’re focusing specifically on them rather than trying to reach more widely. The more narrowly you can define your marketing efforts, the more likely they are to be successful.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, and this is just an idea, I don’t know if it’ll be helpful to you or not Colon, but it looks like the target audience of this book is ministers of churches, principles and lecturers at theological colleges, and other leading Christian groups. New media seems to be all the rage right now, or at least has been for quite some time with churches. So, why not create some sort of sermon-ready media that can easily be inserted into a sermon that a pastor is doing, because if it’s all about Christian leadership, then maybe that’s what that looks like. So, maybe creating YouTube videos that are like two minutes in length that would give a congregation something to think about, or that would give a pastor a great idea for a theme of a sermon.
That’s, kind of, what I think about when I think about Christian leadership. If that’s the way you want it to do it. So, to me, this sounds like something that would be a great candidate for a blog or a YouTube channel possibly, or a podcast, something where your target audience could easily consume the lessons that you want them to learn.
But that’s just kind of my first thought, but yeah, everything Orna said. Go ahead, Orna.
Orna Ross: Yeah, that’s a great example full of reaching out directly to the people you most want to reach. And I think, if there’s a “best way” to do a marketing, it’s that type of thing.
It’s where you get really clear about your target audience, your target readership and you think creatively about ways in which you can reach them. So, I think in the community, generally, when it comes to marketing, we get a lot of advice of the, what you might call the standard stuff, you know, do Amazon ads, do Facebook ads, that kind of thing.
But there are lots of more creative ways in which we can reach out to the readers we want to reach, and it is easier with nonfiction. So, even in terms of finding those pastors and those leaders, that becomes a relatively easy thing compared to say, finding the readers for a historical fiction novel or something, which is not half as easy.
So, yeah, I think you should be well-rewarded for some very specific efforts there. So, good luck with it.
Where can I get help with keywords for AMS campaigns?
Michael La Ronn: All right. And that was the questions we had for today, but we do have some questions in the comments. Sharon Turner asks, keywords for AMS campaigns, can you help?
I can take this one if you want.
Orna Ross: Well, I was just going to, yeah, you take it and then I’ll see if I can help out.
Michael La Ronn: Okay, I was going to recommend, Publisher Rocket by Dave Chesson. Great tool, it’s a tool that I use all the time. You can put in a topic and it’ll spit out, you know, not a thousand, but a lot of keywords that you can export.
So, that’s a paid tool, but it’s worth the money in terms of the time and effort that it saves you.
Orna Ross: Yeah, because again, with keywords, it’s all about getting very specific to your niche and it’s not possible for you to even, you know, it’s very time consuming for you to do the searching on Amazon that will dig up the keywords, and even when you do that, you’re limited by your own thought patterns. Whereas Dave has done all that work for you.
There is a divide in the community as to whether it’s best to use loads of keywords on Amazon ads or whether you’re better off to go very specific, and there are lots of other debates about Amazon ads as well but certainly, you won’t go wrong with Publisher Rocket.
Michael La Ronn: Yep, and there are other tools as well. That’s the one that I personally use. You can do it manually, but it’ll take you forever.
Who can help with my author rebrand?
Michael La Ronn: So, next question is from Katherine. She says, hi Orna. I’m about to launch a rebranding effort and I’m wondering who I should turn to for assistance, a designer who does branding or a marketing professional?
Orna Ross: I would say, if it’s branding, I think it’s worth doing a session with a book marketing specialist, who specialize in author branding and book brands. So, unless you have a designer who is very clued in specifically on that, I still think, just at the conceptual level and before you engage your designer, that it would be well worth having that conversation.
You could do it with the designer, Katherine if you’re fairly sure where you’re going and you have the sort of designer that you can have that kind of conceptual conversation with, some designers are much better working to a clear brief, and don’t really want to get too involved in the branding side of things, some are more open. So, it very much depends on the designer, but I would think, for a rebrand, obviously it costs money to do your covers and to get everything aligned for your rebrand. Presumably it will involve a change of book descriptions as well, perhaps.
So, before you do it, I would say it’s worth investing in a professional who actually specializes in branding and rebranding, but must be a book, don’t go for a general branding person, it must be a book specialist, somebody who understands the very particular nature of book branding.
What’s the best strategy for choosing my book editor?
Michael La Ronn: Yep. Okay. One last question from the comments and then we’ll wrap. And this is from Marie Nicholson, I’m about to publish my first book. I have shortlisted three editors, would you advise contacting all three at the same time? I was thinking of sending them the same 1000-word sample to see which person is the best fit.
Orna Ross: I think that’s a great strategy. I’m a big believer in the three quotes for everything I do to my house, and I think that’s a great way to do it. You get a general feeling for the editor as well, which is just as important as how much it costs, is just how you work together, you know, whether you look forward to their emails, that kind of thing is important, and you can get a sense of that in that process as well. So yeah, that’s the way I would approach it.
Michael La Ronn: I agree. I agree. And then Angie says, I just love the no-bull, supportive style of ALLi.
Orna Ross: Thank you, Angie. That’s great. Thank you for being here and thank you for everyone who’s listening and will listen. And thank you, especially to those of you who sent in your questions. Hopefully the answers were illuminating.
You can write to us as a member, anytime at [email protected], and ask any self-publishing question you may have.
We’re here every month answering some of those questions publicly, if that’s what you would like also. And of course, don’t forget there’s our member forum which is also a great place to put out your question and get lots of different answers from lots of different authors who have been there and done that already.
So yes, until next time, happy writing and happy publishing.
Michael La Ronn: everybody.