How to launch a book
If you want a great book launch, your focus after completing the manuscript should be on promotion and relationships. Great books sell, but they don’t sell themselves.
The traditional publishing process has three stages. In the first stage, you create a proposal and pitch the book to publishers. In the second stage, you complete your research and turn in the manuscript. Then you wait six to 12 months and the book publishes. What you do in that waiting period determines how strong your launch is, which in turn will determine what trajectory your book follows.
While it’s tempting to relax after birthing a manuscript, it’s a big mistake. It’s also a big mistake to assume your publisher is responsible for accuracy and promotion, because that’s your job. Assistants and PR people can help here, but many of these tasks require your personal attention. Here are a few suggestions on what to do next (and what not to do):
- Complete your fact-checks and references. The manuscript is not typically “done” when you hand in the draft. You’ll go through a review or two with your publisher, who will give you feedback on content first, and will later complete a copyedit. While you’re waiting for those, verify every fact and footnote your sources.
- Nail down the cover. Work with your publisher on this. It’s best if you share emotional qualities (“accessible,” “shocking,” “erudite”), not design suggestions (“Red cover with sans serif type”). Designers design — you approve or tweak. The cover will become like your logo, so you ought to feel great about it.
- Create a list of people to thank with a book. You’ll want to send a signed book to everyone you interviewed — it’s just good manners. Contact them all and get their addresses. When they receive the book they’ll feel good about you (and some will share it with colleagues or promote it, which is a nice benefit.)
- Line up blurbs. You’ll want blurbs from people who fit one of two categories: prominent people who are inclined to like your content, and people who know you and have a recognizable title. For example, the former category might include an author of a similar book, while the latter might be the CMO of a large company whom you previously worked with. Create a spreadsheet to track these, reach out to them with individual notes, flatter them, and ask them for a blurb. Remind them that blurbs should be no more than two or three sentences, and should mention the book. Send out a lot of these, because only about 20% will provide useful responses. If a blurb comes back and it’s not quite usable, you can make a suggestion to improve it, but be delicate in your edits. Pay close attention to your publisher’s cover deadline and don’t give up before the deadline. (We got Clayton Christensen to blurb Digital Disruption on the very last day.)
- Build a posse of followers who will review or promote you. Since you’ve read Chris Syme’s book, you’ve already built up a social media following who will take note of your upcoming tweets, Facebook posts, and blog entries about the book. I’m talking about something different. Reach out to between 20 and 50 people who know and like you (and yes, this list can include people in the blurb list and the thank-you list). Send them an individual email, reference your relationship, and ask for a specific kind of help (such as posting on their Facebook or Twitter, writing a review on Amazon, or buying copies for their department). Send these people author copies yourself, don’t fulfill with Amazon; Amazon takes note of who you send copies to and will reject their reviews.
- Prepare sharable content. Get the content ready well ahead of the launch; you’ll be far too busy to create it then. Shareable content includes blog posts, infographics, video, podcasts, presentations for SlideShare, and meme graphics. Concentrate on bite-sized content that’s fun, useful, or both. Develop a rollout schedule for the launch and then, when the time comes, get the stuff out there on your social channels. Don’t forget to put the name of the book in the content (d’oh!).
- Solicit media. Your publisher can help here, but you’ll do better if you have your own publicist or publicity staff. Reach out to reporters and media reviewers. Don’t just tell them that you have a book — they get hundreds of pitches like that and ignore most of them. Tell them what you’ve learned that will be helpful for their readers now. It’s a lot easier to generate an article about your ideas than an article about your book.
- Contribute content. Sites like Forbes and Huffington Post publish interesting content, as do most trade magazines. Line these contributions up ahead of time. Contribute a few posts, not just one.
- Invite bloggers to interview you. Reach out to bloggers who share an audience with you. Don’t ask them to review the book — they don’t have time for that. Propose an email interview with you. They send you a list of questions, you respond with answers, and they’ve got an easy blog post that helps promote the book.
- Line up speeches. Everybody knows this is worth doing, but be aware that many of the places you’d like to speak have a 9- to 12-month lead time. Identify events, especially those where you’ve got a relationship with the presenters. Have a speech abstract and short bio ready to go. Avoid exclusives and, where possible, seek keynotes and solo speeches over track sessions and panels. (Moderating panels is a great way to give back to the community, but does nothing for book promotion.) While many events won’t pay for promotional speeches, some pay travel and hotel of you ask. Remember, while talking about yourself and your book is boring and offensive, talking about your fascinating content is far more effective and allows you to get a simple mention of the book. If the event will pay to distribute copies of the book or make it available for sale with a book signing, that’s great — your speech will drive the content into the audience’s brains and make them advocates for you.
- Don’t buy your way onto the bestseller list. Some book promotion companies say they can get you onto the bestseller list. They take your money and then buy copies, in some cases for events, in a way that fools the bestseller lists into seeing a surge of copies. This is expensive and doesn’t always work, because the people who make the bestseller lists are always changing their criteria to try to catch list-manipulators. Appearing on the list once, for a week, isn’t worth the hassle. Better to get onto the list with effective promotion and a really popular book.
What does success here look like? It’s the self-fulfilling perception that your book is what everyone is talking about right now. The media, speeches, Amazon reviews, blurbs, and socially shared content, taken together, create that impression. Timing is crucial — all this effort must build to a crescendo in the two or three months just before and after your publication date. A great, useful book makes this a lot easier, but your chances of success go way up if you’ve spent the six months before the launch preparing carefully to promote.
Great list, but even accomplishing all of them guarantees nothing. They merely increase the odds of success. Many people are understandably upset when they do all of these things and find success wanting.