Fundamentals of nonfiction book promotion: using PQRST to plan a book launch

The most common mistake authors make is to fail to promote their books. No, people will not discover your book just because it is great. And no, your publisher will not do all the work and tell you what to do. You have to do it yourself.

This is hard for authors because the work of creation is so different from the work of promotion. Creation is about discovery and creativity, while promotion is about marketing and repetition of themes from what you already did. It feels self-serving, although it isn’t.

There is typically a gap of two to six months between when you turn in the manuscript to the copy editor and when the book is published. Unfortunately, many authors take this period to recover from the book creation and resume other activities they’ve put aside to finish the book. This gap is the perfect time to plan your book promotion. Don’t waste it.

Every promotion plan is different

There are a number of worthy programs for book promotion, notably the ones from Tim Grahl and Bookfunnel. And there are any number of publicists or marketing services you can hire, including Cave-Henricks, Smith Publicity, Fortier, Jane Wesman, and Carlton PR. But be wary of anyone who tells you there is a singular formula for success in book promotion, because successful authors take many different promotional paths.

Your strategy begins with assessing two things:

  1. What makes your book unique and how can you talk about that?
  2. What promotional assets can you assemble?

Your assets include resources you already have or control (blogs, podcasts, video channels, columns, speaking opportunities); resources you can tap into (people with social media followings or their own channels, publicity resources at your job, sales teams, marketing teams, contributed articles in media sites); and resources you can buy (publicity and PR firms, advertising).

Using PQRST to plan your book launch

As I describe in detail in my book Build a Better Business Book, you can get started on your book launch plan by reviewing five elements that are easy to remember by the initialism PQRST. Here’s what the letters stand for.


Start by identifying your book’s positioning. What kind of book is it, and who is the audience? For example, my book Writing Without Bullshit was a book of advice for writers in corporate environments. Blitzscaling is a strategy book for entrepreneurs. For your own book, fill in the blanks in the statement: “My book is a xxxx book for yyyy.”


Now identify what question your book answers for the audience. For example, Atomic Habits answers the question “How can I change my habits to be more productive and happier?” Fotini Iconomopoulos’ book Say Less, Get More answers the question “How can improve my success when negotiating?” While your book promotion will rest on a variety of tactics, they all come back to a short statement of how you help people solve a problem.


Next, it’s time to assemble your list of tactics to get as many people as possible in your target market to hear about the book. This might include outreach to podcasters, bloggers, reporters, and book reviewers; making people aware through your own social media channels; buying advertising; and lining up speeches. This process can be time-consuming and challenging. It’s often useful at to get help from PR firms with experience in who to contact and staff who can conduct that outreach. Remember, getting featured on a channel that’s targeted at your audience is often more effective than a mention in a channel that, while large, is directed at a general, undifferentiated audience.

From my author survey, here’s a list of tactics that people used and how effective they found them:


Word of mouth is essential to a successful book launch. Each reader has the potential to generate awareness among all of their friends. So part of your launch is to think about what you can supply that people will share and spread. This might include infographics, videos, audio snippets, blog posts, and statistics. (Here’s a writeup of three authors who were very successful at spreading their messages.)

Here’s how the authors in my survey rated the effectiveness of their social media tactics:


The final consideration in a book launch is timing. The objective is to get people in your target market to hear about the book several times from several sources, since that’s often what it takes to tip someone over from “Hmm, interesting” to “Okay, time to buy a copy.” You should focus your promotional efforts from about a month before the publication date to two months afterwards. Promotion can continue for many months after that, but it’s most effective when concentrated around the book launch.

What will it cost?

You can do a lot of this promotion on your own, if you have time to spend. And if your company has PR resources, definitely find out if you can benefit from them. But if you’re hiring outside publicity help, that’s going to cost thousands of dollars.

Here’s a summary of what the published authors in my survey spend on book promotion. The median spending for both traditionally and hybrid published authors was $10,000.

Plan it now

A book launched without a promotion plan is unlikely to make an impact. And even if you hear about another author’s “killer tactic,” what worked for them probably won’t work for you. Assemble your plan based on your book’s unique qualities and the resources you have, and try as many different tactics as you can: you never know what will work.

Good luck. A great book will always catch on . . . provided you spend the effort to promote it properly.

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One Comment

  1. It’s not the money spent to promote – it’s the rate of return and the scalability of the promotion.

    I’m not averse to spending money – I AM averse to throwing it down deep pits that never throw anything back, not even sound.