Being an Indie author means a tremendous amount of pressure lies at our door as we release a book. Without the backing and promotional support of a publishing house, we are on our own. Success or failure is up to us, and to capitalize on the buzz rush that accompanies a book launch, we must work hard, think creatively and have a wide reach to give our book the strongest start possible.
For many this is daunting to say the least, especially when there are hordes of other books to compete against—both Indie and Traditional. Many authors are savvy with social networking as well, making it all that much harder to be heard in the tumult of other book releases, sale promo, tours and events that populate social media each and every day.
So, how to stand out? How to draw attention? Once you have done all you can to produce a quality book, blurb and cover, how do you launch it and not simply become one more droplet of water in an ocean of books?
Know Your Audience
As you brainstorm launch possibilities, take some time to really think about your reader. I don’t just mean people who like a particular genre, but the people who are most likely to love your book. What sets your novel apart from all the others like it? What themes or interests will speak to a certain type of reader? Who is your ideal readership?
Becca and I have noticed that many authors make the mistake of focusing promo far too much on other writers for their fiction. The fact is, while writers are readers, they are not the target market. So why spend so much time marketing to this group when it is only a fraction of the audience? Think bigger.
Decide who your core reader is—the guy who loves tough heroes, science fiction and problem solving, or the woman with strong family values who was touched by the loss of a child? Is it the girl who is growing more curious about relationships, loves anything to do with witches, and so is perfect for your Wiccan YA sweet romance?
Once you identify the type of person best suited for your book, think about where they might hang out online. Run internet searches for key words that tie into your book and will match their interests. Where do they go to find books to read? What blogs do they visit? What forums might they join? How can you find the communities that will be most receptive to your readership, and are you willing to get involved in them? If so, what can you do to add value to these communities?
The reason I pose these questions is because your goal should not only be to reach readers during your book launch, it should be to create FANS. These are the people who will leave reviews, try to help you gain visibility, and offer the most valuable currency of all: Word Of Mouth. They become part of your promotion team, just because they love your book and want the world to discover it too!
Okay, moving on. You know who your audience is, and that is half the battle. Now it’s about creating a launch that will attract their attention. The problem is obvious…the online world is already bloated with promotion. The good news? Many authors stick to what they know. They repeat what is done. This means opportunity for you, so turn on those creative juices and come up with something unique that will blast through all the usual book launch fare.
Becca and I believe that a book launch should be fun, unique and hold to the essence of the book. Once you understand more about your audience, you can think about what might appeal to them specifically, encourage them to participate and keep them entertained.
Do some investigation—read up on what others have done for book launches. Then, think about other industries. What neat or unusual ads have caught your eye? What contests, giveaways and themed events ended up crazy-popular? What was the appeal? When Lisa and Laura Roecker released The Liar Society (which rocks a pink-haired heroine) they donned pink wigs, and every blogger who promoted their books did so with photoshopped neon do’s. It created quite the buzz.
So, is there an idea out there that you could adapt to your book specifically, creating an impactful launch? Because when promotion has turned so much of Social Media into white noise, you need to find an idea to center on that is full of vivid color. Capturing attention is important, because you can encourage participation and maybe go viral as your audience shares word of this event you’re hosting!
Entertain, Satisfy a Need and/or Add Value
We can all agree there is far too much promotional noise out there. Everyone is shouting the same thing: buy my book! Worse, many authors use social media poorly. They send Twitter DMs and email blasts, asking people to check out their books. They join groups on Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn just to have another place to push their novel. I’ve seen authors join forums and events just to market to others. We all see twitter feeds full of promo-saturated tweets. This behavior reflects poorly on all of us, making the job harder.
So, how do we launch a book without becoming lumped in with this bad chorus? Easy. Instead of thinking about what you can get from people (visibility & sales) focus on what you can give. Your audience is tired of Buy this! Buy that! Build your launch around something you can do for others. People respond to altruism and kindness. Figure out how you can incorporate this into your launch. What can you do that will encourage people to get on board and support you? What can you do that makes people FEEL GOOD about joining in?
· Satisfy A Need: At their deepest, people like to do things for others. They like to pay-it-forward, to help, or in some way add to the world. Give them this opportunity and use crowd sourcing for good. An example would be building your launch around achieving the goal of donating to a charity through book proceeds. Have a giant meter on your blog. Have mini goals. Agree to do crazy or fun things if these goals are reached. If you can, find a tie-in to your book so you can use fun taglines. Think “Help me buy a cow!” if it’s one of those gift-based charities, especially if your book takes place on a farm, or in the third world. Find some altruistic sponsors who are willing to match your funds. Think big, then bigger.
· Offer Value: People like things they can use. Clearly, swag is often used in this regard, but it can get expensive. For me, this is where the freebies are best used—offer your audience a free story, a novella or something that ties in to your book. Then, host an event on your blog that showcases big names to your blog, like well known authors who write books similar to yours (say, Cozy Mysteries). Maybe you can team up to write a one week, blog-only Cozy Mystery in real time, and readers can guess who-dun-it. You could offer free books as prizes—both yours and theirs, or offer prizes like a private skype chat with a book club or classroom. Or name a character in an upcoming book after the winner. Cross promote with these other authors and share your audiences. Think big, and then, yes, bigger! For Jody Hedlund’srelease of Unending Devotion (which has a photography slant), she hosted a contest on Pinterest, inviting readers to pin a creative photo of her book. She was also able to give away a Nikon camera as part of the launch. Through these creative methods, she included swag and entertainment that pertained directly to her book.
· Entertain: I can’t underscore how important it is to think outside the box. Building your launch idea with a high entertainment factor ensures people will tune in, and the more they are exposed to you and your book, the more you help anchor it in their minds. Does your character love cupcakes and baking is a big focus of the book? Do something cupcake themed—a surprise cupcake delivery to someone who enters a contest tied to your launch. Or share the favorite cupcakes of celebrities on your blog, holding people’s interest! Stage a live cupcake eating contest vlog between you and a few other people who are well known to your audience. Maybe they are your readers, or other authors of books like yours. It might be blog personalities that your readers will know and love to see. Heck, it might be real celebrity types that you know or simply have the courage to ask! Jessica Bell, a author and musician, went with a Amazon Chart Rush with her novel, String Bridge, offering a free MP3 music album to everyone who bought on her date of release. This positioned her well in the charts, helping her discoverability. So ALWAYS think big, then bigger.
WHAT WE DID: Becca and I wanted to stay centered on the book’s concept by doing something that would evoke emotion, a tall order seeing as our book is a writing resource–a textbook, if you will–not a typical fiction novel built for emotional escapism. Still, we made it work by targeting a specific emotion that would appeal to all writers, no matter what genre: GRATITUDE. Our idea, the Random Acts of Kindness for Writers Blitz, allowed writers a way to show their deep appreciation for others who have helped them on the writing path. This allowed us to tie the launch to the book, satisfy a need and offer value both from giveaways and a free writing tool we gave away called Emotio
n Amplifiers. It also entertained,offering new prizes each day. Also, readers could to visit the participants’ blogs to discover who was being honored and why, and then read the heartwarming replies from the writers who were profiled. It offered warm and fuzzies all around!
Okay, you now have a great idea. Congrats! Likely this is where doubt settles in…can I pull it off? Can I make it work?The answer is always yes, if you are willing to do what needs to be done.
Here’s where you need to ask: What are my strengths and weaknesses? Who will help me? How big is my personal network? What resources are worth the time and money to pursue? Who are the influencers with my audience, and how can I get them involved?
WHAT WE DID: None of us are pros. There are always gaps in our plan, weaknesses to overcome. For Becca and I, our biggest problem was…ourselves. Neither of us liked the idea of putting ourselves out there in such an overt way. The very idea of joining the Buy Our Book! way of promoting almost made us break out in hives. We struggled with the very idea of doing a book launch—a time where it really is all about us and our book. Yet how can a person launch anything without being its champion?
What helped us look at the whole thing differently was going back to our roots, our brand. Becca and I are Writers Helping Writers. This is who we are. Helping writers succeed is what we are about. We decided that in order to have enthusiasm for our release, we had to find a way to add value and/or be altruistic. If you are struggling with any aspect of your launch, think about how you can bring it closer to who YOU are, and YOUR brand.
I know the gut reaction to risk is to avoid it. But here’s the thing—we perform our best when we challenge ourselves and have a little ‘skin in the game’. So don’t fear it. Use it to push yourself harder to make your launch the best it can be.
WHAT WE DID: Becca and I took many risks, but two very big ones. First, we decided to sideline our book during our week long launch event. Yes, you read that right—we mentioned that our book was releasing, and that was it. No cover splash. No book giveaways. No excerpts or interviews. (This all came later.) For RAOK for Writers to really work, we had to make it 100% about celebrating writers, not our book. We even requested that the original participants NOT give our book away as a RAOK gift to reinforce this message.
Another big risk was to try and solicit sponsors for the event, one that was being put on to celebrate the release of a SELF PUBLISHED BOOK, at a time where most of the industry still had a bad attitude toward Indies. Yeah, we were scared. Big time. But we started with a business geared toward writers that we had a good relationship with, wrote a letter, and the ball started to roll. Eventually we ended up with 6 sponsors and a week’s worth of prizes, including an amazing 1-year webinar pass and mentorship from NYT Best selling fantasy author Tracy Hickman. How? We just believed in the message of celebrating the contributions of writers, and sent him a letter explaining what Becca and I were trying to do. It is that simple–you lose nothing by asking. Remember this as you approach people to help you with your launch!
Once you have the idea in place and need people to participate both by spreading attention online and helping you reach your audience, make it easy for people to say yes. Be organized, and clearly outline what you want to do. Personalize your communication as much as possible. Be clear in what you need of them, and how you will support them in turn. If they need to write blog posts for their blogs, write up a template for them to use if they wish to make it easier for them. Make sure they have what they need, answer questions and always, always show gratitude for their involvement. You will be crazy busy before and during launch, and afterwards, you will be as limp as a piece of celery left on the counter for a week. So after it’s over, even though you are utterly exhausted, don’t forget to let your supporters know how much you appreciate them!
For launch events, make sure it is easy for your audience to get involved as well, be it a giveaway or commenting or any other aspect of joining in. Communicate, and interact. Enjoy the event and react with enthusiasm. Visit other blogs that are helping you with your event and COMMENT. Share their posts online, and encourage traffic back to your blog and website as much as possible.
WHAT WE DID: If you would like to see more about how Becca and I coordinated our RAOK for Writers Blitz, you can find all the posts here, and the post where we asked for help for our launch event here. We wanted to keep the RAOK event a surprise, and so we risked again and asked people to sign up without knowing the specifics. Over 100 bloggers signed up to start with, and as the week progressed, that many again joined in to keep the Random Acts Of Kindness going! This is the power that honing in on a universal need like paying-it-forward can have.
You worked so hard on your novel, and now it’s ready to share with the world. As you lay plans to launch it, remember to think big… then bigger!
Have a question about book launches? We’re happy to help however we can, so ask away!
~Angela & Becca
Angela Ackerman is one half of The Bookshelf Muse blogging duo, and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. Listing the body language, visceral reactions and thoughts associated with seventy-five different emotions, this brainstorming guide is a valuable tool for showing, not telling, emotion. Angela also writes on the darker side of Middle Grade and Young Adult, and is represented by Jill Corcoran of The Herman Agency.
Becca Puglisi is one half of The Bookshelf Muse blogging duo, and co-author ofThe Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. Listing the body language, visceral reactions and thoughts associated with 75 different emotions, this brainstorming guide is a valuable tool for showing, not telling, emotion. Becca also writes historical fiction and fantasy for the YA audience.
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