Snapshots of a Book Launch: Part 2
What’s launching your book really like?
Do you take your own advice?
My first novel, The Forgotten Hours, came out almost three months ago. While I’ve published and launched nonfiction books, this was my first experience debuting a novel. Ironically, after developing and teaching the Launch Lab along with Lynne Griffin, I’d become a bit of a book marketing expert, despite being a non-business-focused creative type. Since the Launch Lab is about helping authors promote themselves and their books in an authentic, sustainable, successful, and hopefully even enjoyable way, I was all set, right?
I knew how to encourage authors to:
- develop long term outreach strategies
- be efficient on social media
- decide where to put their energy
- pitch timely stories to the media
- effectively handle interviews
- decide what they valued, and protect it.
All these considerations were on my mind as I decided how to manage my launch, but looking back now I realize that I kept my overall strategy very simple. As I wind down the most active part of my marketing push, here are the top five things I focused on that I could influence--and, to the best of my ability, I tried to ignore those things I couldn't control.
1. I COULD STATE MY PRIORITIES CLEARLY
Truth be told, marketing is not an activity I get excited about. I didn’t want my launch experience to be all about doing boring things because I felt I had to. I decided early on what my emotional priorities were and allowed those to determine the kinds of activities I sought out and agreed to.
Mostly, I wanted to connect with readers face-to-face (which means doing events that might be sparsely attended) and to have fun. I thought hard about what having fun meant to me.
Since getting national publicity for fiction is so hard, I decided not to make that a barometer of my "success," but to center my expectations around things I could control: real-life events. And yet at my biggest reading, I sold the fewest books. I don’t regret doing that because the immediate payback of being engaged with interested readers (the energy!) was enough for me. And those real-life events live on in social media, so they have a lasting impact that’s not directly related to sales.
Of course, I wanted to sell books too, but as a goal that’s not easily actionable. I decided I’d try to set myself up for success on my terms, and that worked pretty well.
2. I COULD SEEK OUT COMMUNITY
I didn’t want to feel alone in this process. Luckily, I connected with an incredible debut author Facebook group. Here are some of the benefits:
- It was okay to ask dumb questions and admit weaknesses (and we all have both)!
- Other writers are generous with advice and information that you won’t find elsewhere. AND, having the support of other writers is valuable for physical reasons too: at one reading, almost the entire turnout was from this Facebook author group.
- It feels so great to be a cheerleader for other people's books instead of just focusing on yourself (though, admittedly, this caused me significant guilt; I had a new job and was on a writing deadline so I give myself poor marks on this front. But I think it’s also important to admit when you’re stretched too thin and to try to be realistic about what you’re capable of).
- Doing events with other authors ROCKS. I did multiple readings with Susan Bernhard, author of Winter Loon, and James Charlesworth, author of The Patricide of George Benjamin Hill, and the camaraderie and sheer fun of it was wonderful.
3. I COULD CHOOSE TO FOCUS ON ACTIVITIES THAT WOULD KEEP ME WRITING
Humans have a negativity bias, which means we can hear a thousand compliments but what we'll remember--what really sticks with us and messes with our minds--is that one mean comment.
Next year I have another novel coming out, so it was important that I didn’t let myself get derailed if my book wasn’t well-received. While I couldn’t affect whether I got positive trade reviews or not, I do have some control over my online behavior (I say “some” because no one’s perfect!).
I really didn’t want to become obsessed with numbers and reviews, because I find that unproductive and often painful, and I didn’t want to spend endless hours online. So I made the decision to:
- not go on Goodreads
- not try to mess with reviews and rankings
- never read the bad reviews
- spend a bit more time on the social media activities that I like (in my case, Instagram, FB author page, newsletter).
Sure, it bothers me that my top review on Amazon has hundreds of likes and is pretty scathing. Every time I look at the damn page, there it is! So I started consciously seeking out the positive reviews—why not dwell in that positivity? There’s no critique a reader could give that I haven’t already considered myself, so, at this point, I’m not going to learn much from people who didn’t like the book.
4. I COULD MAKE CONSCIOUS DECISIONS ABOUT MY BUDGET
I didn’t know whether hiring outside PR and taking flights to far-away places would pay me back in terms of book sales. Scratch that—I knew that if I worked up a spreadsheet it wouldn’t look pretty. But I decided to use a chunk of my advance in service of spreading the word about this book. (Your publisher may roll out the red carpet for you, but that’s not typical.)
I wanted to connect with readers both online and face-to-face. The rush of talking about your own work to a room of interested readers is unparalleled. It’s challenging to give talks and what I learned about my capabilities and weaknesses was valuable to me. It was fun.
What I couldn’t control was that I’d moved away from my home community and was in a challenging new job: I had limited time and yet I had to travel to do events. It wasn’t ideal but I made it work. When thinking about the next book, I may make different budget decisions, but I wanted to give it all I had for this first experience. And boy, did I ever do that.
The critical thing here is not to bleed money; make conscious decisons. Think about how much money you have to invest in this process (if any!), and decide whether you're okay that your return-on-investment may be emotional rather than financial.
5. I COULD CONTROL MY ACTUAL LAUNCH-DAY EXPERIENCE
I’d worked on this book for a long time, and I felt enormous gratitude to my community. I decided to throw a party, though I have to admit it felt awkward to celebrate myself. It was a huge turning point in terms of my level of comfort with self-promotion, and it set me off on the right foot. While feeling bathed in everyone’s good will, I was able to get over my fears about how to talk about this rather difficult topic. My heart was bursting with appreciation. No matter what happened with the book, I will always remember the warmth I felt from my friends and colleagues that night.
Set aside time to do something special to mark your launch, whether it’s lunch with a loved one, a nice dinner, a blow-out party, or a fun book store event. Acknowledge what you have achieved!
And here I am, back in Key West. I handed in book #2. I have some more events for book #1 on the horizon, but things are quieter. I go to work, I come home and work on book #3.
I’m so happy to be moving on, back into the phase of dreaming, reading, and generating new material. Create a launch experience for yourself—as best you can—that protects your desire and your ability to keep writing. Because this is what a writer's life is all about, really: continuing to tell stories that people want to read.