Secrets of 3 successful book launches: connecting ideas and people

I’ve been studying successful book launches. The key is a self-reinforcing surge built on ideas and people, together.

Let’s start with preliminary results from my author survey. Among 172 published nonfiction authors, the most successful book promotion tactics were the following (in this order):

  • Public speaking engagements.
  • Solicit back-cover blurbs.
  • Encourage people to post Amazon reviews.
  • Promote on your blog.
  • Promote on Facebook.
  • Post articles on LinkedIn.
  • Distribute advance reader copies.
  • Contribute articles to media.
  • Outreach to podcasters.
  • Outreach to press.
  • Produce and share video.
  • Promote on Twitter.

(By the way, the least successful tactic, with only 11% saying it was successful, was “Work with publisher’s publicity team.” Interpret that as you will.)

What’s notable here is that many of these tactics are focused on energizing a base of enthusiastic fans. And I’m not talking about a passing connection with thousands of fans. I’m talking about a more personal connection with dozens or a few hundred. Blurbs, Amazon reviews, and advanced reader copies fall into this category. While blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, and podcasts reach large audiences, the interactions they generate are often one-on-one. There are even elements of this in the pursuit of public speeches — the speech reaches hundreds at once, but the value often comes from the people who connect with you afterwards.

The key is that all that fan activity can create an impression that the book is a big thing already and everyone is talking about it. That makes people buy it, which makes it into a big thing.

Let’s look at three quick case studies. What you’ll see in each of these case studies is an intimate connection between ideas and people. Great ideas get people excited. Excited people post and promote (with a little encouragement). But you need the ideas to give them something to talk about.

Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin make Talk Triggers into a shelfie sensation

Jay Baer has unfair advantages. He gives dozens of public speeches a year — he’s everywhere. And he owns a powerful set of channels — a popular blog, a big email list, a set of podcasts, and over 250,00 Twitter followers.

But I found it notable that in promoting Talk Triggers, he and his coauthor Daniel Lemin didn’t just sit on their haunches and broadcast. (Given that Talk Triggers is about spreading word of mouth, that would have been hypocritical.)

Talk Triggers is based on a very clear and powerful set of ideas on how to get people talking. The book is filled with stories and diagrams about how to do it. Among the case studies are stories about how DoubleTree’s cookies, distributed at checkin, create word of mouth. And the alpacas on the book cover are a visual icon for talk that spreads a marketing idea.

Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin recruited lots of smart and talented folks (including me) into an influencer program. We received a package that included the book, the delicious DoubleTree cookies, and a very cute stuffed alpaca. Jay told me the total investment was about $7,000.

The result was over 400 #TalkTriggers posts on Instagram and whole host of smart people with lots of followers posting “shelfies” and other other alpaca-related photos on every social media platform.

Talk Triggers “shelfies”

For a time in October during the launch, you could not go anywhere on social media without seeing a Talk Triggers shelfie. It was everywhere. the idea was out there and influential people were selling it.

Speaking fees for the authors following from that launch topped $1.2 million. So I guess it was worth it.

Rohit Bhargava leverages a Facebook group for Non Obvious Megatrends

When Rohit Bhargava launched the tenth book in his Non Obvious series, Non Obvious Megatrends, it was his intention to create a capstone on the series and use it to launch a platform consisting of elements like blog posts and podcasts. So it was crucial to him that the launch established the brand.

Non Obvious Megatrends, like Talk Triggers, was very idea focused. It describes a set of trends that Rohit has curated — exactly the trends that strategists and marketers must pay attention to as they plan their business activities.

While Rohit had a mailing list of 15,000 from previous book launches, he recognized that simply promoting the book to his own list would be insufficient. So he used that list to recruit a focused launched team into a 400-member private Facebook group.

He then shared all sorts of insider information with the group, including a speeded-up video of how he curates the trends and behind-the-scenes outtakes from an interview he did with Microsoft.

Rohit Bhargava trend curation

He also leveraged his connections with bookstores, connections he had because his book was published by of his own hybrid publishing company, IdeaPress. He did a scavenger hunt based on a single copy of the book preordered under a name only the Facebook team knew — they could retrieve it from their local bookstore and take and post a photo. (This makes everybody happy — the bookstore, the author, and the fan who took the picture.)

And, of course, as the book published, he leveraged this launch team to generate a slew of 150+ Amazon reviews.

Because he was able to channel buys for his speeches and events through local bookstores, his book ended up as a No. 1 bestseller on the Wall Street Journal list, which is a spectacular show of strength for a hybrid published book.

Melanie Deziel energizes a tight and motivated launch team for The Content Fuel Framework

Melanie Deziel just published her first book, The Content Fuel Framework. It’s a useful manual for generating unlimited content marketing ideas.

Unlike Jay and Daniel and Rohit, this was Melanie’s first book. Her social followings are decent, but lack the scale that those more experience authors had. Her book is also self-published, so she had no publisher to back her up. (She got help publishing it from Page Two Books, an excellent author services company.)

She started by asking for blurbs from friends with followings in the content marketing space, like Ann Handley, Jay Baer, and Gary Vaynerchuk. Every blurb request was carefully personalized. Out of 32 requests, 17 agreed provide blurbs.

She tapped into a smaller version of Jay’s and Rohit’s strategies. She took the ideas in the book and turned them into attractive and sharable graphics. And she recruited 35 people into a Facebook group, promising them early access to book and encouraging them to post about it around the time of the launch. I was in this group. I received not just the book, but a couple postcards with graphics illustrating the ideas from the book.

She posted the blurbs as attractive graphics on Twitter, which of course generated retweets from those blurbers to their many thousands of followers. And she encouraged everyone she’d reached out to to write Amazon reviews.

Her personal outreach also generated interviews on 21 podcasts.

As a result, on launch day, the book reached number one in big categories including creativity and communications skills and was in the top ten in web marketing and ecommerce. It accumulated 56 Amazon reviews, which is a great haul for a self-published book — especially since all of them five-star reviews!

The launch was successful; Melanie is now established as an author, and the book helps potential clients understand what she creates. The blurbs from well-known people and the flood of Amazon reviews burnish that reputation.

Melanie had a hard deadline on the delivery of this book, one that very few authors face. Just after the launch, she and her husband welcomed their first child, a daughter. I don’t recommend executing a book launch when you’re about to have a baby — but if you must, I wish you something like the success that Melanie had.

You can do this

The biggest mistake most authors make is putting all their energy into the book, and not nearly enough into in the launch. Why create a great book and then fail to promote it?

The key is ideas and people.

Make sure your ideas are tight, graphical, and easily spread. (This is good advice for any book, but it also makes promotion much easier.)

Then reach out, individually, to fans to create a fan group. Recruit people personally. Give them an inside picture of what’s going on. Give them tools and tasks for promotion, tasks that are closely tied to the ideas that energized you and them in the first place.

Synchronize your efforts around the launch. Go for sales, reviews, posts, and social sharing.

You can create the impression that the book is everywhere and everyone is talking about it. If you can do that, it becomes a self-fulfilling goal. You’ll have success with promotion that matches the passion you put into creating the content. And your book — and you — will get the attention you deserve.

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  1. Great ideas – thanks for sharing them, Josh! I love seeing that Public Speaking is on the top of the list. It wasn’t too long after I started the Innovation Women online speaker bureau that I noticed there was a strong (not unexpected) correlation between speakers and authors. We started a special program just for our author/speakers. We have an Innovation Women Amazon book store ( which is organized by the type of reader. We have grouped blog posts – i.e. Gifts For the Soon to be Graduated or Women Who Mean Business. We urge our speakers to tag their profiles with the word “Author” and we offer to promote their book launches in our newsletter and on our social media. It’s a tough market out there for authors and especially self-publishing authors.

  2. Wow, the ideas and insights in your blog posts continue to amaze me, Josh. There is so much here for me a publicist of books, mostly, to think about. Wrestle with. Much of it is not new but the way you lay these case studies out here are incredibly helpful. Thank you for helping to unstuck me a bit. I bought Melanie’s book on your recommendation a while back and will now find it. I started to read it just before quarantine times. Thank you as well for the weekly tutorials. My plan is to see you all next week.