The 21st-Century Book Launch

April 8, 2021 § 12 Comments

Dinty W. Moore’s latest book To Hell with It Of Sin and Sex, Chicken Wings, and Dante’s Entirely Ridiculous, Needlessly Guilt-Inducing Inferno dropped early. Happy readers posted selfies with their Amazon-shipped copies before Dinty himself got a published book. Other writers report Amazon jumping the gun, too. Conversely, the wrenchingly beautiful Inside Passage has pushed back a month. My own publication date for Seven Drafts moved from May to September (sorry but thanks for sticking with me, preorders!).

It doesn’t matter.

The one-month launch is over.

A book launch was once a big, splashy thing. Champagne at a fancy restaurant, or dubious cheese cubes and box wine at a bookstore, your publicist flying in, a party. Then you’d wait eagerly for reviews, write a few supporting pieces, do some interviews, and 30 days later, you were done. Either your book had flown or it had flopped.

Now, the process of a book leaving the nest is much more drawn out. There’s the happy Facebook status when you finish the manuscript, start querying, land an agent, land a publisher, or decide to self-publish. The Goodreads cover reveal. The Instagram Reel of unboxing the first copies. Tweeting nice reviews. With social media, authors have much more control over pre- and post-launch publicity (if they want it). Now, after publication, a “book launch” lasts six months. Or a year. Or two or three years, with a revival when something newsworthy and connected to your book happens in year four.

What’s changed? The pandemic was the last straw, but the haystack had been building since the early 2000s. The sheer number of books published has vastly increased. Sure, Hemingway never tweeted. But in 1926, The Sun Also Rises joined about 23,000 new titles. In 2018, there were over a million new books in the USA alone. More books are self-published, alone or through a “hybrid” publishing services company, and their authors must self-promote or hire a publicist. And unlike a traditional publisher’s marketing department, a hired publicist doesn’t quit when the next book comes out…she keeps going as long as the checks keep rolling in.

The good news is, you don’t have to cram all that publication-related stress into the 3 months before and the 1 month after publication. The bad news is that authors end up doing a lot of the launching themselves, into a much busier, more crowded market. But authors also have more outlets—many costing only your time—to get the message out.

What does the 21st-century book launch include?

  • A mailing list. Start collecting emails now. Being invited into the inbox is the absolute best way to connect with readers (after meeting them in person, when we can again).
  • A giant spreadsheet to track launch activities. As my own primary publicist, I’m listing what I’d like to do on each platform where I’m active, and roughly when. Checking off a list is easier than guessing. (I’m making this spreadsheet available next week, btw, please do sign up for my mailing list if you want a copy!)
  • Blurbs. Lots of them. They don’t have to be famous writers—many readers don’t even know who the literati are. Learn to make a quote card and sprinkle good quotes from beta readers and reviews, as well as traditional requested blurbs, across your own social media. Those authors you hope will blurb? Start gently promoting their work through your social network months before hitting them up.
  • Long-term, low-key social media. You’re less likely to wear out your audience by posting about your book weekly for a year, in context with other news, rather than blasting ads for a month while everyone mutes you on Twitter. Post more about your topic than your book. Be a PSA instead of a commercial.
  • Literary citizenship. You’re going to want online reviews, so make sure you’ve reviewed all your friends’ books before asking them to review you back.
  • If your book launched more than a few months ago, look for something newsworthy to cue renewed sales. Write a hot essay. Get a writer friend to pitch an interview with you. Emphasize how your book intersects with a right-now topic. Supermoms. Actively processing past trauma. Female rage.

Yes, a lot of this sounds transactional. It is transactional. Human nature is transactional. We feel more drive to do favors for people who have done favors for us. Think of it as deposits into the Bank of Goodwill. You may not end up withdrawing the exact same stuff you put in, but when you contribute to a community, the members are more likely to support you, whether you supported them individually or not.

Having a book is like having a baby. Interest peaks right before the big release, but your precious little damp lump also gets 4-5 more months before your cooing starts boring the crap out of your friends. Pick the platforms you actually like—publishing essays, or writing newsletters, or public speaking, if you’re not into social media—and gently participate by supporting other authors’ creations, before, during and after launching your own bundle of literary joy.

Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. She’ll be teaching seminars in how to get an agent, joyful platform building, and intriguing first pages as part of Rebirth Your Writing: Publishing and Craft, a 5-day writing intensive May 16-20.

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§ 12 Responses to The 21st-Century Book Launch

  • A very practical and straightforward post. Thanks for helping me figure out the next year before publication. I’m off to preorder you now… 😎

  • kperrymn says:

    Wow. Thanks for this informative post.How weird to think of a book dropping before the author expects it to! Anything can happen, I guess.
    I am already registered and looking forward to the Rebirth Your Writing intensive. And now, like the writer above, I will preorder Seven Drafts as well.

  • unimke26 says:

    Wow! A very helpful write up,last year was a very difficult one but with this ideas I really figure out the rest of my year… Am matching to preorder draft…

  • juliemcgue says:

    Loved seeing all your wisdom in print. Sharing and sharing this everywhere.

  • […] Ever-reliable guidance from Allison K. Williams—this time, on “The 21st-Century Book Launch.” […]

  • I’m forwarding this to all our authors.

  • Really good post! It cheered me up. One thing I never did was get a mailing list. I use my blog, often about writing but not always) to connect with friends and readers once a week (until recently when there was a lull) and I pin my blog post onto the top of my Twitter page. I don’t know if it sells books or not but I like doing it, and that’s the key. I also sometimes slip the blog post onto my FB page. I don’t have a FB fan page anymore. It was strange and always changing. I know I’m breaking the FB rules but as they are breaking the “no monopoly” rule, we’re even.

    • geodutton says:

      I agree. Good actionable advice, though tons of work. Looking forward to receiving that spreadsheet. I’ll start pinning tweets for my latest posts at perfidy.press. I’ve already made my email blasts more informative than advertorial and have started to collect them on my blog. Don’t know why didn’t I think of doing that sooner. Thanks, Alison and Cynthia. All are welcome at perfidy.press/blog. Latest talks about Blake Bailey’s biography of Philip Roth

  • lgrizzo says:

    As always, Allison, this is great advice. I’m keeping this post for when I’m ready to launch my book.

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