Launching a book is an exciting moment in an indie author's life–but there's so much to do. What order should you do it in and how much time do you need in advance of your launch to complete it? Today's post is the Alliance of Independent Authors' Ultimate Guide to Launching a Book (including timeline).
A few caveats before we begin this post.
No two indie authors launch books in the same way. The below is not a strict “this must be done here” guide but a suggestion of how you can time the activities for your launch. Of course, not everyone will have a long lead time either and not every author does every single item listed.
What is a Book Launch?
When we use the term “book launch” here we’re referring to all the planned marketing activities surrounding your new book, in its first weeks or months.
The most well-known and popular ways of drawing attention to a new book are:
- Media coverage and PR
- Social media campaigns leading up to, and during, the launch
- Email marketing
- Hosting a launch party
- Book signing(s) either stand alone or as part of a book tour
Often indie authors think that a book launch is one of the most important, if not the most important, part of their marketing campaign. It’s the most public and well-known part of the marketing process. Whether you’re a writer or not, everyone is aware of book launches. Maybe they’ve attended a launch party or book signing themselves (perhaps the book launch of a friend, relative or author that they admire) or perhaps they’ve seen them taking place in their local bookstore, or on TV or in the movies, depicted as glamorous affairs during which members of the literati gather and toast the author who’s too busy signing hardbacks and taking photos with a long line of adoring fans queuing up.
The truth is that a launch is just one element of the overall marketing strategy in a book’s long life and a launch party is just one element of a book launch–and actually optional.
Book launches are more crucial for trade published authors aiming to sell in physical bookstores than an indie author who will sell most books online–because that book is only going to be on the shelves for a finite amount of time. The launch can be make or break, so concentrating sales into that book launch period is the established metric for success as a trade author. It's also what drives bestseller lists.
For indie authors, the combination of ACCESS marketing, influencer marketing and algorithm marketing will yield far more success over time than any book launch can.
So while book launches can be a brilliant marketing tool, as indie authors we can afford to de-emphasise them a little bit and keep a sense of proportion when it comes to our creative time and energies. We’ll be marketing our books before and after the launch period.
Why Have a Book Launch?
So now you might be asking why have a book launch at all? The truth is while they’re not the-be-all-and-end-all they’re lots of good reasons to plan a book launch:
- It has the potential to garner a lot of exposure for your book
- It gives your book the best possible start with early sales
- It can get your book into bestseller lists (?)
- As a celebration of your achievement of birthing a book into the world!
Book Launches: Where to Begin
Take some time to really think through how you’d like to run your book launch and what you’d like it to comprise of. Allow yourself to dream big, what would the perfect book launch look like to you? (We’ll get to reality and achievability in a minute!) Maybe you’re drawn to the idea of a big book signing or perhaps a viral campaign. Whatever it might be, take a few moments to write down your thoughts.
Got some ideas? Great! But before launching into your launch, to get some inspiration have a look around and see what others have done and look out for clues about how they might have achieved it. You could even reach out to them and ask for advice.
Many authors’ expectations for their launch are sky-high but the reality is we don’t all have the budgets for round the world tours or advertisements on buses. And moreover, a huge amount can be done online which has a wider reach and is also more cost-effective. So once you’ve got an idea of the elements you’d like to include make sure you figure out exactly how much it’s going to cost and how that fits into your overall business model. As mentioned earlier, as creative self-publishers we want to place the emphasis on continuous long term promotion so don’t blow your budget for the whole year on one book launch!
Use this post and timeline as a guide to create and shape your perfect launch–but bring your own creativity and your own sense of what's optimal for you, right now, given your current writing demands and creative conditions.
Different Types of Book Launches
Like everything in life, launching a book falls on a continuum. At one end you have the BIG launch: big events, long lead-in times, giveaways, pre-order incentives, livestreams, podcast roadshows, big ad spend. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the quieter soft launch: just notify your email list, some easy promo and perhaps some ads. If you're a multi-book author, you'll find yourself varying your approach. Not every launch will warrant the big treatment. Authors who are using rapid release (not suitable for every genre) and have already built a strong following for a series will find their best marketing, mid-series, is getting the next book out– so they will choose low-level launch activities.
Authors who publish less often have more time between launches and will want to make more of a splash with each new book.
The genre you publish in can also influence the type of launch readers expect. For example, in the Young Adult genre, a longer launch lead in with more outreach, events and giveaways is expected. Romance authors often have active street team and social media activity. Urban fantasy is an example of a gener where a lot of successful authors are in Kindle Unlimited and thus lean towards the rapid release model. Literary authors and poets generally need to do more influencer marketing.
Your job is to create a repeatable launch model that serves you well, taking into consideration the amount of time you have, your budget, your existing audience, methods that had worked previously for you, and most importantly, your goals–which may evolve as you develop as a publisher.
Launching A Book: Pre-Launch Essentials
Every day self-publishing authors “publish” a book without the basics in place. Don't be one of them.
- Website. Get an author website as soon as possible, even before you finish your book. Make it a transactional website from the start.
- Email service provider. Mailchimp, ConvertKit, or some similar company, who will collect your email addresses in an organized way, automate some correspondence, send emails and newsletters to your followers, and much else.
- Reader magnet. A free offer to attract an email address or other contact details. That list will become your most important asset over time.
- Communications. 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.
- Manuscript finished to the very best of your ability and self-edited twice. Firstly, to clarify and improve things you can see need improving. Secondly, in response to beta reader feedback. See the seven stages of the writing process for more.
- Professional Developmental edit. Authors working with a good trade publisher always get two rounds of editing. Everyone from Stephen King to Margaret Atwood goes through this process and successful publishers don't do this for fun but because they know it's a necessary part of the process. It's even more necessary for inexperienced writers.
- Copy editing / proofreading. Same thing here. Unless you want to put out a book strewn with errors, pay for a professional proofread.
- A quality and on brand, on genre book cover. Again, don’t skimp. Get this right. The first cover you ever commission will be the most expensive, time and money wise. You'll get wiser as you go along.
- Book description. Get this right. Research the bestselling authors in your genre and mimic their word use and approach.
- 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 early chapters of your e-book help that conversion process. Be arresting!
- End matter. One of the most important bricks in building your author platform, where you guide your readers to your website, newsletter, Patreon page, wherever you want them to go. Offer a nice freebie and solicit reviews. For best results, give links to where you want them to go. In your print edition, make the links easily readable.
If you need more help with any of this, the Alliance of Independent authors can help, with free guides, a super-helpful member forum, discounts and deals on services, and much more. You can become a member here.
Launching A Book: Pre-Launch Nice-to-Haves
Most experienced self-publishers tick most of these boxes too but all of these take time to learn. If it's your first book, choose just one.
- Blog. The most important element of your website is your sales page. The second most important is your email collection system. A blog comes in as third… and not essential. It may even be a time waster, and best done without. However, many authors use their blogs strategically, to garner interest in their books, to help them get some writing done, to get sign-ups to their list, to create some content that they'll repurpose in their newsletter, to make announcements, and in many other ways. There are lots of options but the rule is that your blog topic must be very narrowly focused on your ideal reader. You want 100 true followers more than 1000 followers who are there for freebies, or cute pictures of your puppy.
- Facebook author page. Make your page 100% consistent with your website, blog, and any other social media. You need to add content at least weekly that again, is posted only with your right readers in mind. Here too the non-engaged ruin your metrics insights and blur your sense of your audience. If it's small, it's small. Then you take action to grow it properly.
- Amazon Author Central page. Repeat the information on your website. Think about the average reader browsing on Amazon. Make sure the page tells them what to expect and whether your book is for them… up front.
- Instagram Account: Many authors are most successful on the social platform that is most visual. Go figure. Owned by Facebook, Instagram has an incredible reach and can sell books when done well. You need a clear strategy.
- Twitter. Again, you need a clear strategy around how you are using Twitter to sell your books. It is probably the most resistant audience to hard sell.
- Goodreads profile
- Printing flyers / postcards
- Press releases
- Book trailer. Not much point here, unless you have a significant YouTube audience, or similar.
- Giveaways, unless these are very carefully targeted.
OK. But what, I hear you ask, about the launch party?
- Launch party. Fun, celebrate and can shift a few books on the day but you need to have another strategy in place to follow quickly in behind.
While launches are great fun on the day, they will only sell a small amount of books. You need a strategy in place to ensure long term sales success. With one book, it's very hard to get a return on your investment, so your priority should always be writing a second book. But in the mean time, you can use your reader magnet to attract new mailing list subscribers either by advertising it directly yourself, using content marketing or mailing list subscriber services such as book sweeps and story origin.
Timeline Template for a Book Launch
Here’s a time-based checklist, organised in rough order of priority.
Pre-Launch Six Months to Go
Finish Key Publishing Tasks
Some authors do this much closer to their launch date. But you'll need to have finished drafting and editing your book before you launch. You'll also need to have formatted it and ordered proof copies to check everything is just right.
You'll also want to assign an ISBN or two depending on how many formats your publishing, learn more about ISBNs here.
Then you'll want to create your book blurb, choose your keywords and categories for your metadata.
Last, it's time to get your cover designed. Lots of authors have the ebook cover designed and a paperback template designed in advance. This gets finalized once you have the completed, proofed and formatted manuscript. You then generate your cover template through Amazon or Ingram Spark and send this to the designer who will send you the final design.
Create Your Reader Magnet
Regardless of whether you write fiction, nonfiction or poetry, it's a good idea to have something you've created that you can give away to encourage reader sign ups. For example, perhaps it's a collection of poems not included in the published book, maybe a prequel or exclusive epilogue, or perhaps it's a cheatsheet. You'll need a mechanism for delivering this reader magnet, many indie authors use services like Bookfunnel to do that.
Reach Out and Influencer Connections
This is the time to start thinking about reaching out to influencers. Often these guys are busy and have long lead in times should you want a testimonial or for them to schedule promotion. We have an excellent post all about how to nail influencer marketing here. Influencers include names in your industry, bloggers, websites, podcasters and more. All of them will require time, so this should be one of the earlier things you consider in your launch plan.
At around 3 months out, it's a good idea to pitch podcasts, bloggers and social media influencers so you have enough time to ship books or arrange a mutually convenient time to interview.
Create Pillar Posts and Article Content
If you've secured guest post slots, you're pitching mainstream media or you're wanting to write content for your own site, this can be written as soon as you like. It's often a good idea to do these in advance if possible as it's one less pressure close to your launch date.
Create Testimonial Graphics and Social Posts
If you've managed to secure testimonials, blurbs or reviews early on, then don't forget to actually do something with them. Some authors put them on covers, or in additional front matter pages, other authors like to create social media posts with them. These can all be prepped in advance of your launch if you have a long enough lead time.
Before every launch, it's a good idea to try and boost your mailing list, audience and social media growth to ensure you have as large an audience to launch to as possible. Another area to focus on if this isn't your first book launch is to try and garner more reviews on your already published books.
Create a Street Team and Review Team
As a newer author, creating a street team is one of the ways you can increase the audience you're launching to. A street team is a collection of people who all pitch in and help you launch your book by doing some or all of the following tasks: leaving reviews on launch day, telling their friends, posting on social media, sharing your cover, launch details and other information. If you're creating a review team, then it's best practice to give your readers around a month to read the book and you'll want to alert them to the month you'll be giving them the book in advance as reviewers often get very full plates.
Organize, Print and Order Merchandise
Not everyone creates merchandise, but many authors will order bookmarks or bookplates that can be signed and stuck inside books so they can sell signed copies. It's often a good idea to order these in advance so it's one less job closer to launch and so that you're not at risk of printing delays.
Pre-Launch One to Four Weeks to Go
Tweak Front and Back Matter
If you've already got a book out and you're running a preorder, then it's time to tweak the front and back matter in your already published book. Be sure to include a link to your upcoming book and re-upload your books to the distribution stores. If you're not running a pre-order then be sure to do this once your new book is live.
There's much debate over cover reveals and whether or not they're worth it. Some authors find the response lacking, other authors find it's a huge encourager for preorders. It's most likely genre dependent and therefore a good one to experiment with. There are also some fantastic “unboxing” videos authors are recording that show their reaction when they first see a copy of their book. Bookbub has a great article with 14 different unboxing videos here.
Teasers and Giveaways
Whether you have a mailing list or a social media presence, you can always share teasers with your audience, it could be quotes from your stories, tips from your nonfiction or early poem shares. Be sure to spread out your teasers and always link to where readers can preorder or buy your book. If you have some copies you can giveaway this is a great time to launch giveaways. It will generate hype around your book and you'll have the opportunity to talk about your book again while promoting the giveaway and when announcing winners in launch week.
Book Newsletter Promos
If you're launching a second or subsequent book or you're launching your first book at a discounted rate, then you might consider booking a promotion in a newsletter like Bookbub or Written Word Media. David Gaughran has a great list of reliable newsletters here. The reason you need to take this action at least 4 weeks out is that many of the newsletter companies are full anywhere from 4-12 weeks ahead.
If you've not already, now is the time to send out advanced review copies. Most readers will require at least a month's notice to get through your book.
It's Publishing Time
If you haven't already, then it's time to load up your book to your chosen distributor sites i.e., Kobo, Apple, Amazon etc.
Check, Check and Check Again
It's always worth doing one more final proof of both the paperback and the ebook before you hit publish. You'll also want to check your blurb and sales pages to make sure all the formatting and structure looks correct as well as categories and key words in your book meta data. If you have editorial reviews, it's time to make sure they're included on the sales page.
If you're intending to run newsletter announcements, now is the time to write and schedule those emails. Just because it's launch day, doesn't mean you have to do all the work on the actual day. Most software now will allow you to schedule things in advance, email marketing systems are no different. You'll also want to schedule up announcements, posts, memes, teasers and countdowns on your social media platforms so you're not having to remember to do it daily.
Shareables are images with your book, quotes, reviews or information about your book on that you can share to social media. Each social media platform has different size requirements, so this is a bit of a pain, but you can use Canva which is a free piece of software and it has all the preformatted sizes you need.
Street Team Organization
It's time to send out your final emails to any reviewers or street teams members. It's a good idea to make it as easy as possible for your team. Create images for them to share with snappy quotes or reviews and images of your books, give them book information like the blurb, title, series title and links to all places, not just Amazon. If possible store all this information in somewhere easily accessible like a google drive where they can access at their own leisure. This also means you won't have to repeatedly send out the same information. Don't forget to include author information about yourself too like your links, bio and headshot.
Update your Website and Autoresponders
Once your book is live and you either have a preorder page or you have a sales page live, make sure to update your website, in your book listings pages, in your store if you have one, if it's mentioned in your bio and any other pages where you mention your books. If you have a mailing list (and you really should) then it's time to check your autoresponders, make sure they're updated with all of your books, perhaps add a new email in your sequence or add new links to ensure new readers know about your newest book.
Claim Your Book
Depending on whether or not you had a preorder, you may have already done some of all of these actions, but on many of the core sites, you need to claim your book so that you're the associated author with the sales page. Make sure to check that you:
- Claim your book on Goodreads
- Claim your book on Bookbub
- Claim your book through Amazon Author Central
Announce Your Launch
However you've decided to announce the launch, now is the time. Post on your socials, email your newsletter, set adverts running. It's time to shout from the rooftops
If you've gathered a review team, it's time task them to leave a review on your sales pages. Dave Chesson has an easy link to the Amazon review location specifically, but don't forget if you're a wide author to ask them to leave reviews on as many stores as possible.
Post launch, it's time to give yourself a pat on the back. Many of us forget to celebrate and dive straight into the next book or the next project. Take a moment to savor the launch and the fact you completed your goal. Then, while it's a cliché, it's also true, it's time to write more books,
Continue advertising your reader magnet, while it's hard to get a return on your investment when you only have one book out, you can still use your reader magnet to generate newsletter sign ups, meaning you'll have a bigger audience to launch to when you publish your second book.
ALLi Member Experiences of Book Launching
When Angela and Becca launched their first book, The Emotion Thesaurus, they wanted to do something for their launch that actually evoked emotion. This is what they said on their blog:
“We made it work by targeting a specific emotion that would appeal to all writers, no matter what genre: GRATITUDE.
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 writing tool we gave away called Emotion Amplifiers.”
“My daughter hosted my last book launch. Because we were in lockdown because of the pandemic, the launch was via a FaceBook Live event. I could not believe how successful it was. My daughter interviewed me while her husband checked the status of those who were responding. He would pipe in now and then with comments or questions that I would answer.
We had advertised a few days before for people to join us. I made a Save the Date post, and included that we would take attendance at 15 minutes into the event, and all who were present would be included in a drawing for a free book. With my son-in-law taking care of the online traffic, that was so easy to do.I’ve seen so many people during live events get so wrapped up in the comments from those watching, that they lose the audience. So, I highly recommend having someone else take care of the online traffic; let them share some posts with you when appropriate.There were friends of mine who are also authors, and they suggested others go to Amazon NOW and buy the book. They mentioned how it would help boost the book’s visibility. It worked. While on that one-hour book launch, the book hit Amazon’s #1 Best-Seller in several categories.
Although I was a little nervous about doing a live event, it worked out so well.”
“A big mistake for me was enrolling a book into KU (Kindle Unlimited) while it was up for preorder. The book gets an icon above the price saying it’ll be in KU. You can’t take it out until it goes live (even the KDP team can’t), but it's then publicized as in KU which murders your preorder figures.”
“I sent out review copies for my new book and one of my reviewers immediately posted a picture of it on social media. Make sure you tell your reviewers not to post until you are ready to launch properly.”
“Unfortunately, I can give you a launch mistake. I thought I was so organized with my online launch, and had crossed all t’s and dotted the i’s! I couldn’t understand why only my e-book was showing up on Amazon. But kept thinking throughout the day that it would appear. However, it wasn’t until the next day I realized that when I had checked the metadata for it over the weekend, I hadn’t saved and resubmitted it, and my paperback was left ‘in review’. I had quite a few people at an online event I did on Facebook in the evening saying that they were going to buy it, did sell a few e-books, but think I could’ve sold some paperbacks too. Never mind, we live and learn.”
“At the end of the day it doesn't matter what you do in the way of promotion. You can do the very best and throw everything at it BUT if the mood is not on the readers to buy, they won't buy. The worst is when you do a live launch. You advertise, offer promotions, have everything in place and then it rains/snows, or there's a football/rugby match, or a major disaster and BANG the whole of your efforts are out the window. However, when it does work that's great cause you are bowled over and run off your feet. Those are the book launches I like!”
“I have tried all sorts of tactics with launches over the years – pre-orders, advertising pushes and so on. The only thing I bother with now is to notify my mailing list and stick a post on Facebook. I am conscious that I could be accused of coming from an “It's alright for you…” position because Amazon genuinely do push your book to people who've previously bought your work. You can see the spike in sales that normally comes a couple of weeks after launch. Which only works if you have established readers, FB followers and a mailing list. What if you don't?
I'd still say that expending too much time/effort/money on a launch is *not* a good investment. I have come right back to the old adage: The best time to publish an eBook is yesterday. Let me explain.If this is your first book, you will almost certainly have a long road to travel. Yes, you need to let your social circle know it's out, and you need to pitch review requests to them. Beyond that, you will probably need to plan a strategy for garnering reviews and marketing. That is best done slowly and systematically. The more effort you put into a launch, the bigger the down is likely to be if it doesn't succeed spectacularly, because it almost certainly won't, or not in the way you hope. The marketplace around new releases is very, very crowded with sellers; buyers not so much.Take your time. Save your energy. Save your money. Get ready for the long haul.”
“A “near-miss” I had recently was to schedule the launch of the omnibus version of my epic fantasy books a week before I’m set to run a BIG promotion (all paid for months ago) on the first book of the series, with Kindle Countdown deals on the rest. I then realized that the promotion price would be almost exactly the same as the omnibus at full price. Fortunately, because I’m the publisher—another plus among many as an indie—I was able to push back the omnibus launch until next month.
The biggest lesson I've learned is to expect that there will be a few glitches, to give yourself plenty of time to get it right (even if that means pushing back from a previously determined date), to read everything you can get hold of by David Gaughran beforehand, and then to have fun on the day!”