Do you want to know how to launch a self-published book? It is the most exciting moment in an author’s journey, but it can also be confusing, even overwhelming. The strategy options seem endless but which ones are right for you? How far in advance should you plan? And how much will it all cost?
Join Orna Ross and Sacha Black in this month's #AskALLi Foundational Self-Publishing Advice podcast as they guide you toward a memorable book launch that fittingly celebrates all your hard work while driving interest and sales.
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About the Hosts
Sacha Black is a bestselling and competition-winning author. She writes the popular YA Fantasy Eden East novels and a series of non-fiction books that are designed to help writers develop their craft. Sacha has been a long-time resident writing coach for website Writers Helping Writers. She is also a developmental editor, wife and mum.
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: Launch a Self-Published Book
Orna Ross: Hello everyone and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors' Foundational Self-Publishing podcast and I am here with Sacha Black. Hi, Sacha.
Sacha Black: Hello.
Orna Ross: Hello to all of you who are listening live and in replay. This evening we're going to be talking about launching your first book. So, that's a pretty exciting moment for most authors, for all authors, I think. Everybody remembers their first book launch, no matter what they did with it.
We'll be talking about how to do it, timelines, budgets, everything you need to think about, but I guess, most of all, what shape it should take and what your goals and your actual definition of success for a book launch is, because they vary really widely. It can be just an emotional thing, all the way through to something that hopefully also sells some books for you and enables you to reach your first readers with your first book.
We actually did a blog post on this very topic today, which you can find at selfpublishingadvice.org/launch and a lot of the tips and things that we'll be talking about during the podcast are there in that post. It's not just specifically about your first launch in this podcast, we're going to be focusing particularly in on the first launch.
So, Sacha, tell us about your first launch, can you remember it?
Sacha Black: Yeah. So, I was just going to say, I'd love to know how you felt about your first launch, and the reason I ask this is because I had this massive conflict and juxtaposition of feeling utterly hysterical with excitement and massive anticlimax. I remember getting the first proof copy through the post, and I was so excited to open it, and then I opened it and I was like, this is amazing, but it's just a book. It was so fantastic, and I was so filled with joy, but also like, oh yeah, it is just a book.
So I didn't know, I was filled with very conflicted emotions and then, I think this is the one thing that people don't really talk about, but after I'd launched, I fell into a pit of despair. And I think the reason for that is it's like, when they give you advice, if you get a place at the London marathon or any marathon, in the pack of information that they give you, they advise you to book a second marathon quickly after the first marathon and it's because so many people fall into this, oh, it's over, sort of, pit.
So, I think my one bit of advice for everybody this week, in this podcast, is going to be plan a second book launch, because it will pick you back up again.
Is it necessary to launch a self-published book in 2021?
Orna Ross: Yeah, really good advice. I often think that we don't realize just how much we've been through to put together a book and to get it out there into the world, because you're just so focused on the work. And then, as you say, this sort of crash afterwards is very common.
So, we're going to be looking at whether you even want to launch a book because the first question I think is, is it necessary to launch a book these days, certainly in the old traditional way.
So, my first book launch, you asked me how I felt, was the weirdest thing ever, because my first book was trade-published. So, it was a full-on physical launch in a bookstore but as I got up to have my moment, which I felt ambivalent about actually, because in those days I didn't love speaking and didn't like all those eyes upon me and I was really feeling that feeling of exposure that you feel, that some of us feel, when you, particularly your first book, out there.
But anyway, as I began to launch into my reading, all the lights went out and the whole store had to be evacuated, and that was the end of my launch. And I often think that was the lights going out on my trade publishing career, but it was quite a night. So, from that to my first launch as an indie, which was an absolute, slide it out there and hope nobody will notice, because I was completely ambivalent about self-publishing when I started, and I just did a tiny launch of a tiny chapbook, just 10 poems, and put it out there assuming nobody would read it, really, just to test the production process and see, could I manage the tech and how did the whole thing feel? And I had the opposite experience that most people have with the launch, because that was my intention. Then I was completely overwhelmed and surprised when people were actually buying it and very quickly followed in then by getting my rights back and putting them out, and when I re-published my fiction with the titles I had planned for them, the kind of cover I had planned for them, it was just the most amazing feeling.
But again, I didn't do a lot. I did a BookBub deal. I was lucky enough to get one of those in the days where it really made a difference, and it was just off to an instant brilliant start and it made my start in self-publishing. It was much easier then, very positive. So, three very different kinds of launches.
Sacha Black: You asked whether or not a launch is necessary, and I think this is the thing that many people underestimate is that you can put a book out there and you can put lots of effort in, and it still might not really earn an awful lot in that first month. I have no problems telling people, my first book in its first month made £89. That was it, £89, and the thing is, since then it's made thousands of pounds. And this is, I think, the thing that a lot of people underestimate about a book, everybody puts so much pressure on a launch and it's really not about the launch, I don't think, especially for indie authors, because we are in a long-term game, we are in a business where, once we have put that thing out, really a launch only needs to be the mechanism of hitting publish, and then you can advertise and promote that book forever and still every single day I'm selling copies of that book, new people are finding it. And so to them, it's still a launch. Every day the new person finds it is a launch to them. So, for anybody who's maybe had a launch and it hasn't done amazingly, don't worry because, Hey, my first book made £90 in its first month and you do, you just keep going and the launches mushroom.
Orna Ross: I think it's really important to say that it's changed, and a lot of our views about book launches, come from the traditional launch, which is about getting up there, having your friends and family around you, the press are there, everybody thinks you're wonderful, people are interviewing you. This is not really how it happens for most people and it doesn't need to, but again, like everything in self-publishing, and in life, indeed, it really depends on what your goal is and what sort of outcome you want from the launch.
So there are emotional needs, I think, around the first launch that are very important, and celebrating the fact that you have been through this marathon and pulling people into a physical launch, if you want to, so long as you realize that, that physical launch will probably just about pay for itself.
It will get your book into the hands of people; it is a tried and tested way. I mean, we can't do physical launches at the moment, we're talking here in the middle of lockdown in most parts of the world still but that too will pass. And just talking about the principle, a physical book launch is a lot of work and a lot of trouble, and it doesn't translate into a lot of money, for sure, because print books are not as lucrative as eBooks or audiobooks that are digitally published, and an online launch is definitely a more lucrative proposition, but it's not always about the money. Sometimes the launch is about something completely different. So, I would say the very first thing for you to think about is, what do you want from this launch?
We have a commenter there who's just saying that she or he is launching in three weeks. No clue is the comment. And in that case, when you work out your goal, and you might find that you would delay the launch in order to meet the goal, because some of the things that you might want for your launch can be done at short notice, but lots of things that indie authors want from launches need time to just get through the system, get everybody knowing about it. So, one of those things would be reviews. It's a good idea to have some reviews in the can before you launch and to get some editorial reviews, or maybe do a blog tour or something like that, before you actually have your official launch so you have some reviews in place, that would be an example.
Sacha Black: I completely agree. There's one other thing for me that is now key, and that is a reader magnet. I will not launch a book now without a reader magnet. Now for non-fiction specifically, each book has a different reader magnet, which is quite a lot of work, but also, if you've created a non-fiction book, then actually it's quite easy to take some of the content and iterate it and just change it and create a cheat sheet or whatever it is that you're going to do. Slightly harder to do that with fiction for each individual book, but, as long as you've got something for the start of your series, you can then launch that series.
But yeah, for me, I would say that's my other non-negotiable for a launch now, is that you are just wasting opportunities to capture potential readers who would be interested in later launches if you don't have something to entice them onto your mailing list at the end of your book.
Orna Ross: Yes. So, just for those who may not know what a reader magnet is, that's exactly what it is. You put an offer in the front and the back of your book, and on your website, and anywhere else that you wish to put it, whereby you offer something related, very related, to the book in question that entices people to sign up for your mailing list.
Sacha Black: Should I give some examples? So for the end of a book I wrote about villains, there is a cheat sheet to help you create a better villain. At the end of a fiction series it could be a bonus epilogue or a short story that happens between books one and books two, or it could be a character interview, a set of maps, it could be a side character and a story all about that side character.
Orna Ross: Yes, and they're all things that you're going to have to create yourself because, as a first book author, you don't have other books. Later on, when you have lots of books, then you can actually offer a free book as your reader magnet or even a few free books as your magnet.
The other thing you can do, and not a lot of authors do this, and it isn't quite as connected to your book, maybe, as giving something that you've written and created yourself, but you can actually offer something else as a magnet. So, it could be an books by other authors in your genre that are very like your books. If you're offering something that isn't created by you, you need to make sure that it isn't something that's just going to attract people who are interested in the freebie, but they're not going to be interested in the book.
So, it has to be very connected and, definitely, making something yourself is the way to go.
What are the two ways to launch a self-published book?
Sacha Black: So, what are the two types of launch? There are two very different types of launch, I mean, I'm sure there are many types, but the two main types?
Orna Ross: So, we talk quite a bit about this in the post today, I think it's worth thinking to yourself, asking yourself the question, do I want to have that simple little slide-it-through kind of launch where you do just the basics and the things that are easy for you to do and quick for you to do, because really you want to get back to writing so that you can get book two out.
So you figure that writing and producing book two is actually going to earn you more readers, and you'll do better from that in the long run than by putting a huge amount of effort into your launch. Or there is the bells and whistles, full razzmatazz, everything you can throw at this book to try and get it out to as many people as possible. And devoting some months really, certainly some weeks, to exclusively publishing and launching, sorry, I should say launching that book and really driving as much energy behind it as you can. And they are the two kinds of extremes. So, do you want to talk a little bit about how those two different things shape up?
Sacha Black: Yeah. So, I tend to do the more bells and whistles. Although, yeah, no, I can't lie.
Orna Ross: She's a bells and whistles kind of gal. She does bells and whistles for breakfast.
Sacha Black: I literally do, it's ridiculous, no wonder I'm tired. Okay, so bells and whistles, I would say for at least three months before the launch, I will be working on marketing.
So, I might be trying to get on different podcasts, I might be trying to write guests posts, I might be trying to get interviewed or do collaborations, be they on YouTube channels or Facebook groups, whatever. What else do I do? I will be prepping marketing materials, so social media graphics, I will be doing countdowns, running giveaways. I will also be recruiting a street team, and I have a two-tier street team. So, I have editorial street team and then I have review street team. So, if there are influencers, for example, who may maybe willing to read and give me a quote or testimonial, whatever, review quote, then those things will go on the back of my books. They will go on social media, tweets and images, and all of that good stuff. And then I'll have a street team will get a copy of the book in order to leave an honest review on launch day on various different platforms. What else will I be doing? I'll be promoting the reader magnet. I will be writing emails for my mailing list. So, I never launch directly to my mailing list on launch day, I will ramp up. So, in your mailing list, your subscribers are rated from poor, because they don't open very often, to five-star because they open all the time, and I always email poor to fantastic subscribers, because you're more likely to increase your sales and Amazon likes that. So, that's the order in which I do that. I'm trying to think what else I do. Yeah, just be present. So, I try to do lives of myself. I'm live on Instagram, I'm live in my Facebook group. I try to get my face, voice, book, anything possible I can out there as much as humanly possible. So, I suppose that's a very whistle stopper of a bells and whistles.
Orna Ross: Well, I think it's a very good overview of the digital promotion that an author can do. And I think it's important to say that, for your first book, all of these things are harder. So, it's harder when you're an unknown with a debut to get on to good podcasts in your niche.
It's harder to do most things, you know, to your street teams, which are the people who have signed up and said that they will promote your work on your behalf, are going to be smaller at this point in your business than they'll ever be again. So, to also not overload your launch, no matter how much work you do on it, because all of that adds up to lots and lots of hours, and lots and lots of effort, and lots and lots of communications, you know, not to overload your expectations, nonetheless.
Sacha Black: No, and so one other thing that I will add with this is that I am not doing all of these activities in a one-week launch period. So, I am spreading out all of the activities over months of time. So, I will really ramp up the visibility about a month out from launch if I am doing a pre-order, and if I'm not then I start launch week. And then all of those activities go on, and on. For three to six months I'm still trying to promote the same book after a launch to try and keep those sales ticking over until they can get sticky in Amazon.
Although it sounds like an awful lot of stuff, you can spread it all out, it doesn't have to all be on launch day. I don't think there's enough hours in the day for all of that stuff on one day. But definitely try and eek it out, because you will keep visibility on it over time.
Orna Ross: Particularly if Amazon is part of your strategy, and for a huge number of authors, especially first-time authors, Amazon is very central because Amazon actually doesn't love big spikes, it much prefers a more sustained as sort-of sales phase. So say you know in your mailing list, you've got, let's say, 200 people who are likely to buy, you're better off to have 20 people across 10 days than 200 people in one day. You just get a better return from the algorithms for that.
What are the pros and cons of pre-orders for indie authors?
So, Gwen has two really good questions that we had planned to talk about, but let's take them as questions from her, and you mentioned one of them there a moment ago, which is pre-orders, so the pluses and minuses of pre-orders, which is a great question.
Sacha Black: Okay. So, it really depends on whether you're exclusive to Amazon or wide. So, for pre-orders you get more benefit from a pre-order if you are a wide author, the reason for this is that you get a point, I don't know how they're rating the system, but you get a bonus for getting that pre-order on whatever day you get that pre-order. Then on launch day, you get, let's say you've gotten a hundred pre-orders, those hundred all count again on launch day. Now, you only get paid once but the count, or the marker, in their systems counts that pre-order twice. That is not the case on Amazon, whatever day you get that pre-order is the day the sale counts. And so, the downside of pre-orders is, if you have a very long pre-order period, it's much, much harder to rank, so to speak, to get an orange bestseller tag in whatever category you're in.
So, with most pre-orders, people tend to find that you will get a very large spike of pre-orders as soon as you announce, and then you'll get virtually nothing, just a trickle of pre-orders until a day or two before launch date and then you'll get another spike of pre-orders.
If however, you are wanting to know roughly what you're going to earn from your launch day, then pre-orders are more beneficial because you will be able to see in your dashboards how many pre-orders are there.
Another downside to pre-orders is that doing paperback pre-orders is a lot harder than doing eBook pre-orders. So, you cannot do a pre-order paperback on Amazon. You can do it through IngramSpark, however you cannot see your pre-orders until after launch. So, you will never know how many paperback pre-orders you will get.
So, there are benefits, because obviously you can see how well you're doing, but again, like I did pre-order for The Anatomy of Prose, and I 5X'd, I think, the pre-orders on day one. So, some people will not buy, they will not pre-order, they will just wait until it goes live.
I don't know if, I can't answer this question that's just come in about pre-orders for hardcovers.
Orna Ross: I think so, I am almost certain. Yes, I mean, it's not something that we've asked specifically, but a preorder is a pre-order is a pre-order, I don't see why they would eliminate one format.
Sacha Black: Yeah. I'm almost certain that it will go live as well. It shows up on Amazon in the same way that paperback shows up, so it takes a few days. IngramSpark, once you hit distribute, it will send the information to Amazon. What usually happens is that the sales page goes live and then the information that populates that sales page comes in over a few days, the cover is always the last thing to appear. But yes, eventually, after a few days it tends to populate.
The other tricky thing with paperback pre-orders specifically is that Amazon won't always acknowledge that it can sell pre-orders of paperback. So, sometimes it will say that it's out of stock when it's not really out of stock and there's nothing really anybody can do about that, it's just the systems not really talking or communicating with each other. That doesn't always happen, but it's just something to be aware of. It can happen.
Orna Ross: It's a little imperfect. So, in short, there are pluses and minuses, and again, you need to consider what your overall goal is. I will say that pre-orders are a good strategy when used well, if you know the outcome that you're seeking, and for a long time, we didn't have the ability to do pre-orders as indies, and when we were allowed everybody was very excited to have that available. Rather perversely then, lots of people who were very excited about it actually said, you know what? This isn't a big deal, and it doesn't actually fit my ultimate goals. So, always, and I know I over-labor this point, but I can't stress it enough, there's no such thing as, is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? It really very much depends on what you're trying to achieve.
Is rapid release a good strategy for selling more books?
The other half of Gwen's question, also good, was, what about rapid release as a strategy? So, that's not exactly about launches, but it does touch in, because people who do rapid release don't tend to think or talk so much about launching. Any thoughts on rapid release, Sacha?
Sacha Black: I think it's very genre dependent. Rapid release is generally, and I always say generally, because there are always exceptions to the rules, generally it goes hand-in-hand with being exclusive to Amazon. And the reason for that is there are certain genres that benefit from very voracious readers, like romance or urban fantasy, and a whole bunch of others. Now, in that kind of a launch, typically there's less fanfare and more throwing money at advertising, or I say throw, very tactically advertising, you know, people are good at advertising when you rapid release.
One thing that I would say that trips people up is that they might stockpile books. So, if you've got a new author, they'll stockpile, say, three books, they're working on their fourth one. So they rapid release one, two and three whilst the fourth one is on pre-order. Once that fourth one gets done, all of a sudden, because actually to get those first three or four done has taken them five years, they're not able to keep up the pace with publishing rapidly. So, I would say that, before you decide to do that, make sure that rapid release is something that you can continue to do, not just do for a one-off, because it's quite hard to get off that rapid release train once you're on it. And also, if you get on it and you don't then have something to back it up, you automatically frustrate your readers because they have whipped through your books and there's nothing left for them to go to.
The three steps of planning to launch a self-published book
Orna Ross: Great. So, in terms of planning your launch, I think it's worth saying just how to approach it. If you have given launching no thought whatsoever, there are three steps to think about. First of all, do a brainstorm, a brain dump about everything you think about launches and dream about what you would imagine your perfect launch to be.
Then actually do some research, look at other authors in your genre, you will already be following people who are in your niche and micro niche, look at how they manage their launches, look at how other people have done things, the kind of things that you like and the kind of things that just don't appeal to you. So, get an idea of what it is you're trying to achieve with this launch, because sometimes we just do things because we think we're supposed to do them, and you don't have to, and you shouldn't until you have certain things in place and you're very clear about the outcome that you want.
And then I think the one that helps you to make up your mind about all of that is budget. Always, money is a great clarifier. Just thinking about how much are you going to spend on this launch? And when I'm talking about budget, think time and think money.
Sacha Black: Definitely time.
Orna Ross: Yes, absolutely, and remember that you don't have to do this. You can parse all these tasks out over a long period and just let your books come out. As long as you keep putting some marketing effort behind your books, I always say indie authors are like Bob Dylan, we're on the never-ending tour and we should be. The thing not to do is to not launch, not put any marketing effort behind it at all, and then just move on to the second book and ignore the fact that you've put the first book out. So, you definitely need to think about getting marketing strategies, promotional strategies, I should say, in behind that book.
And the other point to make is that all your marketing work, the fundamentals that you need to be in place, should be done before you do any sort of promotional launch activity. So, as well as the reader magnet that we mentioned earlier and the mailing list in place, you want to also have your website looking good and giving a very clear picture of your promise to the reader and what it is, and ideally a transactional function, whereby they can buy the book on your website if they want to.
You need to have your manuscript of finished to the very best of your ability. It needs to be edited and it needs to have a good cover. These are not negotiables. These are things that have to be done. There is a saying that the best marketing is editing, and I think it's true.
So, just make sure that everything from your book description to the cover, to the categories and keywords that you've chosen on the retail platforms, and everything that is on your website, and the front matter and the end matter of your book. All of this works in tandem, so that when you do go out there with this effort, the promotional effort that you put behind the book, that you have the system in place that can actually avail of all of that work, that it isn't just going behind that one single book sale and then nothing, that you're actually building business for the long-term so that some of the readers who come on board in your promotional drive will actually stay and still be with you years later, maybe become part of your street team.
Any more points, Sacha before we wrap up?
Sacha Black: No. I don't think so.
Orna Ross: Okay. So yeah, we're all out of time. Hopefully that gave you some pointers towards having a good book launch.
As we said, a lot of these topics that we've discussed now are gone into in more detail, in the post on the blog today. So, that's selfpublishingadvice.org/launch if you're looking at a later date, or you will find it today if you hop on over there now.
There is also a timeline, with six months to go, four months to go, counts you down all the way to the actual launch. Just talking about what's best to do when, which I think is one of the things that really does make you feel overwhelmed. If you're not sure what to do when, you can end up doing nothing at all. So, hopefully you'll find that useful. We'd love to hear about your launches, and we'd love your feedback on the post or on anything else.
Until next time, happy writing and publishing.