The Author Toolbox: Planning a Successful Book Launch (Part 1)

A successful book launch is a crash course in marketing so it sometimes helps to read a few blogs, a book, or catch a few podcasts about marketing in general and apply the principles to your specific product—a book. Audience avatars, felt needs, testimonials, buzz, brand familiarity, and that ideal word-of-mouth are all factors to consider when developing a plan.

Speaking of a plan, that’s the essential piece of a book launch. Sometimes marketing can feel like throwing spaghetti at a wall while hoping something sticks, and often there is a lot of trial and error to discover what makes your specific audience respond. However, there should still be an element of strategy behind the spaghetti-throwing. That’s why this section will start with organizational methods and specific promotion tools before ending with a sample timeline for implementing all of the moving pieces.

Tool #1: Create a central place to collect and organize all of the assorted marketing pieces for a specific book. For the launch of my debut novel, I kept a series of handwritten lists. One for endorsers. Another for reviewers. More lists of blog tour stops, potential prizes, and party plans. All those lists were hole-punched and put in a binder so that all of my planning brainstorms and important contact information were located in one place. In working with the marketing representative from my publisher, I also created a chart of what I would do each week leading up to launch and in the two months following. After sharing that with my publisher, I added it to my notebook. I also found and printed blank calendar pages for the months leading up to and right after my launch as a central place to track anything with a date including my self-imposed due dates and reminders to follow-up on something.

However, while preparing guest posts and interviews for a debut blog tour, I found myself needing access to my bio and the book blurb over and over…and having to search for the right file on my computer to copy and paste from. That’s when I created a single Word document with the back cover copy, my bio statement, links to all of my social media, and especially the ordering links for both ebook and print copies. As endorsements came in, I pasted them in along with quotable snippets from the first reviews. Even now, when I need to create a new promotional piece for that book, I still refer back to that document because everything I need is in one place…and I can copy and paste exactly what I need without having to re-type it or worry about misspellings.

When I began to plan the launch of my second novel, I transitioned away from my paper lists to an Excel workbook containing multiple spreadsheets or tabs. One sheet contained a list of short quotes from the book (and later from endorsers or reviewers) that were ideal size for Twitter and memes. On the page listing my reviewers and their email addresses, I was able to create a column identifying where I’d recruited them from, their preference in format, mark when I sent the review copy, when I saw the review online, and even paste in the link if they reviewed the book on their blog. I did the same thing for my official blog tour in order by date with contact information, type of post, if I had received their interview questions, when I had sent the post, if I was offering a prize, when I sent that prize, and later a link to the blog so I could easily promote it later or add a permanent link from my website. As needed, I also created sheets for my launch team, party plans, prizes, and budget. Since I’m such a visual person, I created a calendar-ish looking table where I could see each week at a glance and know where I had gaps to fill. (You can download a FREE Book Launch Planning Spreadsheet here.)

The beauty of an electronic format is how easy it is to copy and paste the information I need. Plus, when it comes time to email someone on my list, a simple click on the hyperlink opens up a new message. However, like all things electronic, it’s critical to make sure to have a back-up plan in case your computer decides to go on strike or die right when you need that information the most.

In addition to my personal comprehensive spreadsheet and marketing tidbit Word document, I also make sure that my launch team has access to everything they need to help promote my latest book. Like I mentioned in the section about launch teams, I have a dedicated website page with embedded posts, tweets, memes, and even a checklist of things I’d like my team to do. You can see an example here but the same types of information can be placed in a file inside your private Facebook group.

Tool #2: Set up a blog tour of guest posts, online reviews, or author interviews. Once you’re somewhat organized—and assuming you’ve already started building your launch team and collecting reviewers—the next time-sensitive piece is to line up guest blog appearances since those will need to be scheduled ahead and you’ll need time to create the content. In general, a blog tour is a chance to get your book promoted to a wider audience that you can personally reach while giving potential readers a glimpse into your personality and intriguing them with the content of your specific book.

There are companies that will set up a blog tour for you and some of them are quite expensive based on the promotion package you select. If you’d like to investigate this option, check out Celebrate Lit or Lit Fuse for starters or stalk other published authors in your writing circles to see who they use. In general, these publicity companies have access to a group of book bloggers who have agreed to post a book spotlight, standard interview, or section of the content. You are generally required to write one or two guest posts and a general Q & A interview in addition to providing back cover copy and a sample section of the writing. Then, each individual host can pick and choose what type of information to share depending on their own style and audience. Speaking of audience, it’s critical to make sure that the blog hosts are speaking to your audience because not just any blog will do when it comes to publicity. A romance blog may not be a good fit to promote your YA fantasy novel or your non-fiction self-help book and even within the romance genre, there is a wide range of “heat” from clean to erotica so make sure your tour brings your book to the perfect audience.

Either in place of or in addition to a formal blog tour, it’s fairly easy to schedule your own tour. Start with the members of your launch team because many of them may have blogs and would be happy to host you. Expand that circle to other writers in your local writers group or larger organization. Many writers tend to blog about books and are often looking for new books to promote in order to fill spots on their calendars. I am a member of a large national writer’s organization with an email loop where others often advertise that they have openings on their blog so you don’t have to feel awkward approaching them. If there are book bloggers that you read regularly or other sites where your book might be a good marketing fit, don’t be afraid to contact the owner of the site to see if they are open to hosting you. Start early to reserve dates in your launch window and then add their names and contact information to your list of blog tour stops.

As you schedule stops, the individual hosts or tour hosting company will provide you with their guidelines. Some ask for an original blog post of a certain length or about a certain topic. Others provide a list of specific questions to answer while others offer a longer list and ask that you pick a certain number to answer. Make a note of what each blogger wants and then start working ahead to send your content, cover image, headshot, and other graphics weeks in advance. They might not require the information until a week before the post goes live, but you’re going to be very busy with book-launch chaos so for sanity’s sake, don’t procrastinate.

Tool #3: To create some extra launch window buzz, plan a party to celebrate. Some authors book a venue and go all out while others host an open house. A friend who writes Edwardian era historical romance had a tea party complete with big fancy hats, fine china, and tiny finger sandwiches. Be creative when it comes to a theme in order to create excitement about your book. Like any party, the invitations, food, and decorations will be part of the planning process along with a few games or activities to get people talking. Door prizes are another good idea as well as something for guests to take away to remind them to tell a friend about your book.

In today’s social media saturated world, many authors (or groups of authors in the same genre or publishing house) are turning to an online party format where people around the world can participate. Like a physical party, a party on Facebook requires a venue. I’ve seen some done within a group, some using the “event” feature, and even some simply hosted on an author’s page. If you choose to create an Event for your party, it’s easy for you and others to invite participants without that slimy I-just-got-added-to-a-group feeling plus invitees automatically get reminders as well as notifications about Event posts. Some parties are only scheduled for a few hours while others are stretched over an entire day (or a few) so that more people can participate.

Like a physical party, it’s important to develop a theme for your online party and create ways for attendees to participate in the virtual fun. One friend’s book set in Los Angeles had a fashionista heroine, so she hosted a Hollywood-themed party where she pseudo-announced each character as they strolled down the red carpet complete with a picture of each in glamorous attire. Party guests were invited to post a picture of their own gowns or suits. Every fifteen minutes or so there was a new activity including a book trivia contest, a puzzle, a quiz to see which character you were most like, a video book trailer, and more serious discussion questions about the book’s theme. All those who commented were entered into drawings for signed books and other prizes.

My debut novel was set against the backdrop of a college football team so I had a virtual tailgate party where we shared pictures of our favorite foods, discussed our favorite (or oddest) mascots, debated on the best and worst of uniforms, at halftime watched videos of amazing marching band formations, and tested our football knowledge in addition to more serious questions about stereotypes, student athletes, second chances, and forgiveness.
Another novel was set in a dinner theater where it made sense to promote “Opening Day” and ask people to reserve their front row seat (i.e. order the book). During the party, the main character gave guests a backstage tour to introduce the other characters complete with a taste of the diva drama before giving guests a taste of the onstage music and dancing through video. A curtain call was given to announce the prize winners.

Whatever you decide, it’s extremely helpful to plan out a script in advance. Since many of the party posts should have a picture or graphic of some sort to go with them, those will also need to be created ahead of time. Depending on the hosting format you chose, you might be able to actually schedule the individual posts in advance. If not, create a detailed document the includes the exact text to copy and paste into Facebook along with the file name of the graphic to use. This will save you time and sanity later, or you could even have a friend do the actual posting of the questions so that you are free to “mingle” among the various comments.

With a physical party, you need to budget for food, decorations, and door prizes. With an online party, your budget may include a few Facebook ads or post boosts to generate more interest, but most of your expense will be in selecting the right prizes. Signed books are an obvious choice but ebooks are another good option. Keep in mind that you want people to buy your book, so limit the number of freebies and balance it out with book-themed items or gift cards.

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