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.

Yes, This Will Be Expensive

January 5, 2021 § 21 Comments

By Judith Gelt

Mine was a clever ad. The local Jewish paper has around 16,000 weekly subscribers from Denver and the surrounding area, and my story is about growing up in Denver within a Jewish family with mental illness, and how I made my way out, found my way back, and came to understand and forgive (even myself).

With Hanukkah beginning in two days, my part-time-publicist brain planned a 3 x 4 in. color ad for $900.00:

Who Needs Hanukkah Gelt?

How about Judith Sara Gelt’s

It would run on the first day of the eight-day holiday. The woman selling ads for the paper had been as excited as I was.

Ad Person—Mazel Tov on the book! This is great news and I think the readers would love to have the opportunity to purchase it.

Me—I sent over a copy last year hoping the paper would review it but never heard back.

Ad Person—Oh, let me mention that! Maybe a review can run now!

Her rejection email arrived the next day.

Dear Judith,

Thank you for your interest…

Sexually explicit and not appropriate flashed neon.

I thought, The paper is sacrificing my $900?

(FYI, there is explicit, not offensive or gratuitous, sex. It hadn’t bothered my previous reviewers.)

Then I realized I had entirely missed the mark. Sending this ad to a paper with an “explicit-sex” taboo (most likely set by the paper’s Orthodox owners), cost me time and trouble. Plus, my family had known these owners through decades. My brother still does. This cut deep into my confidence. The back of my hand still stings.

Besides, Ad Person certainly wouldn’t read it now. I actually lost one reader.

***

When my book was released in 2019, the truth—authors must be willing to promote their own books—worked under my skin, and my hackles rose. Hadn’t I already done enough?

Before publication, every protracted, onerous undertaking toward publication felt doable, even energizing. I had closed out a middle-school teaching career and was fifty-three when I began. It took fifteen years to produce the final manuscript. Writer’s block? No idea what that felt like! Paragraphs took shape eight to ten hours a day. Editing and critique? Loved it. I took a class to refine my work at the sentence level and spent the following year revising the 300-page manuscript page by page. Not hard work—hard fun.

Then I waded through warnings (Your odds of being published are 1 to 2%) and ferried myself around the country to conferences where I could meet agents. I submitted queries. Submitted. And submitted. And submitted. I waited. And waited. And waited for decisions. But excitement whirled in the possibility of a happy outcome. And there was one!

My university press did its job publicizing my book within their resources. I wasn’t completely self-marketing hostile. Here’s where I stand, well, wobble—my webpage is fairly professional. I have an Author Facebook Page. I’m on Twitter (I no longer post there) and Instagram (I’ve never posted there). I’m on LinkedIn and Goodreads. I have an Amazon Author Page. I belong to four Facebook writers groups I don’t actually follow. I began a mailing list and sent three (or four?) MailChimp newsletters. I paid for a Kirkus Review (thank god it was good), and purchased ads in Kirkus publications.

I’m still a failure as an ad agent.

There are zero indicators my book is selling or that many readers have seen its pages. I’m not unaware of where to look for help. I’m overwhelmed by the help out there. I’ve seen a bajillion notions for how to market books successfully.

Brevity’s blog and sources like it offer manageable, contained lists of steps from successful authors. In a Writers’ Bridge video chat, I heard realistic social-networking approaches broken down masterfully. (Still, my visit ended early. The pace of brilliant ideas flying by overwhelmed me.)

So, my stomach will not settle. My chest is tight as I write this, forgodssake.

If I’m ever to get my book into readers’ hands, I must accept my publicity and promotional responsibilities and either:

Hire a genius, million-dollar publicist.

Or

Hire a topnotch, million-dollar therapist.

My genius publicist, who is very expensive because they are a genius, will know what kind and where, and how often to place ads, and will arrange events and have conversations with important, connected people, and send mailings and do whatever else there is to do… Then, because they are the genius, I will do whatever they ask.

My topnotch therapist, who is very expensive because they are topnotch, will unravel underlying issues mentioned in my memoir like depression (mine), and although I’m medicated, thoughts of advertising can nudge me, TV remote in hand, downhill and onto my sofa.

Their combined top-notch know-how will eliminate my emotional weaknesses preventing me from marketing my book.

(My stomach is relaxing!)

Do you know a genius publicist? A topnotch therapist? I’m willing to pay.

Have them get in touch at judithsaragelt.com. (I may need both.)

___________________________

Judith Sara Gelt is the author of Reckless Steps Toward Sanity—A Memoir, winner of The High Plains Book Award, Debut Book. Her work has been in Nashville Review, Superstition Review, and River Teeth, among others. She lives in Denver. Find her at her webpage and on Facebook. Other social media destinations are…under construction.

Creative Marketing with Book Blurbs

July 11, 2019 § 5 Comments

By Stephanie Weaver

You might have heard writers say, “Blurbs don’t sell books unless they come from big-name authors.”

I don’t agree and here’s why: getting creative with how you use blurbs from lesser-known authors might indeed help sell your book.

When my book The Migraine Relief Plan came out in 2017, I knew I was going to work hard to market it. I asked doctors who believed in nutrition, authors of similar health books, and cookbook authors I knew to write blurbs, including several people with more than 50,000 followers on social media. Sixteen people delivered blurbs on time, which was fantastic. Receiving their approving words was validating, but I knew that if we only included them on or inside the cover, their recommendations would only reach people who picked up and paged through the physical book. I wanted to reach the blurbers’ followers too, not just people who might look at the book in a shop.

The publisher decided to place the blurb from Dr. Mark Hyman on the front cover because he’s nationally known, with multiple New York Times best-sellers. Instead of the traditional two paragraphs of description on the back cover, they used seven more blurbs. The publisher’s marketing team also used many of those same blurbs for the Amazon description.

When I was researching how other authors marketed similar books, I had noticed that Dr. Hyman had good engagement using square images on social media. For his previous book launch, his social media team had pulled quotes from his book and added them to a beautiful background.

I asked my publisher’s designer Morgan Krehbiel to create a template. She used the book’s background image of weathered white boards and added a colored bar and the 3-D book cover to the bottom. She created one for each blurb we got, whether or not they’d been used in the final cover design.

I sent the pre-order quote cards to each person who blurbed by book, asking them to share the graphic on social media with the pre-order link during our four-month pre-order push. Then I created an “On Sale Now” version they could share on publication day. About half of those I contacted shared the cards at least once, or shared my version when I tagged them. This way both their audiences and mine saw the images—and sharing their own words with their audience felt more organic than simply posting an ad for my book. Making it easy for people to share meant that more people did so.

Over the month following the Migraine Relief Plan launch, I shared one quote card every few days on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, thanking and tagging the blurber if they were on that platform. Any blurbs that came in after the deadline also became quote cards and were shared with a thank-you.

After the book came out, I started getting wonderful messages from readers telling me how the book had impacted them. With their permission, I created more quote cards with their words in the same template.

What I like about sharing these social-media-ready graphics is that it doesn’t feel like me “selling” the book; instead I’m sharing someone’s wonderful response. And often that response will reach a new person who tells me, “I didn’t even know you’d written a migraine book!”

Since these images are evergreen, I can re-share them as seems relevant—often in response to items in the news that relate to migraines. I have a Google News Alert set for the word “migraine,” and get an email digest once a day. If I see that a star athlete is out with a migraine, I tweet a quote card to them and their official team account. They may never buy my book—but some of their fans will find out about it.

Any time I get a great review on Amazon or a comment in my Facebook group, I ask permission and create a new quote card to share on social media to spread the love.

These “quote cards” can be created easily using Canva.com or another photo editing program, and you can use blurbs, reviews, and enthusiastic comments in creative ways, whether or not they’re from someone famous. Even non-famous-person blurbs sell books—when we use them wisely.

_____________________________________

Stephanie Weaver is a writer, wellness coach, and speaking coach based in San Diego. Her third book is The Migraine Relief Plan: An 8-Week Transition to Better Eating, Fewer Headaches, and Optimal Health (Surrey Books, 2017). She’s currently at work on a memoir inspired by her mother’s recipe box.

The Madness of Book Marketing

September 26, 2018 § 10 Comments

Sarah_Fawn_Montgomery_QUITE_MAD_author_photoBy Sarah Fawn Montgomery

Writers have peculiar behaviors, one of which is sitting alone day after day, month after month laboring over a notebook or keyboard, hoping that what we create in private will ultimately be enjoyed in public. We embrace the contradiction that writing is an act of solitude, but also a social one.

But this contradiction is not without it challenges, as evidenced by how often jarring it is to pull ourselves from the world we make on the page (even if it is nonfiction) to go about the reality of our day. More so, by how anxiety-producing it can be for the writer to move from the private act of writing to the performance of publication. Real time living hardly affords the control or revision of writing, and many writers agree that the months leading up to publication can be nerve-racking.

As someone for whom anxiety is a natural state—I was diagnosed with severe anxiety, OCD, and PTSD more than a decade ago—the marketing process for my book Quite Mad: An American Pharma Memoir proved more difficult than the writing process. I’d assumed that reliving my experiences with mental illness in order to write the book would be taxing, but the thought of marketing made me experience panic attacks and the general feeling that I was being crushed under the weight of my fragile writer ego.

I don’t exaggerate! I saw things, heard things. I counted, doublechecked, twitched. Felt organs sputter inside. In sleep, I ground holes in the mouthguard designed to prevent such grinding. Being “forthcoming” was not exciting. It was miserable. Marketing proved maddening, for as a human I prefer to go unnoticed, a quiet observer made fierce by the solitude of the page, but as writers, we want to be seen.

*

Hallucinations aside, I am not alone: many writers have reflected on the difficulties of marketing, the challenges that come from asking for attention in a world saturated with selfies and side hustles, the guilt we feel over demanding individual praise when the world seems to be collectively falling apart. I’ve witnessed writers judge others for posting too frequently about themselves, asking them to purchase a book, or simply sharing good news. “Shameless self-promotion” begins most social media posts as a result, an apology that sets the tone for how readers engage with the content. We require, it seems, both humility and humiliation of writers if we are to reward them with a ‘like’ much less the purchase of their latest project.

Once, I was hosting a dinner party for a dozen writers when news broke that a lovely absent friend had secured a two-book deal. Within moments the atmosphere changed from one of merlot’d merriment to acrimony, and most of the table never forgave the writer for their success. It is no wonder writers pause before sharing reviews or media mentions, feel such self-doubt and shame for hoping others will celebrate their accomplishments.

At this same dinner, however, my cat spied a toy mouse on the floor, meandered over and began yowling victory as though a brutal battle had ensued, a bold albeit lazy performance that prompted delight from guests. Years later, I still wonder why our friend’s literary accomplishments seemed suspect while a housecat’s guttural gloating was cause for applause.

*

There is much practical advice about marketing—don’t dwell on reviews if you are lucky enough to receive them, try to work on new writing but don’t be disappointed when this is difficult or impossible, remember that “book tour” is code for awkward writers, small crowds, and strange questions that aren’t really questions. For me, however, the best strategy leading up to publication was not marketing myself, but supporting other writers, many whom were also in a forthcoming frenzy. This allowed me to engage with the literary community in ways that were sustaining rather than suspicious, and to foster connections with people who love words rather than wondering why family members I’ve never witnessed reading weren’t eager to talk about my writing. Most important, championing good work helped me remember why I love writing and writers in the first place.

I am a patient, enthusiast, forgiving reader. (I may be a better reader than person.) When I find a piece I love, I read it again and again until the muscles in my face have memorized the movement. I read it aloud, often with waving hands, to anyone who will listen. I geek out, students held hostage by my syllabus, or my partner, who cooks dinner while I pace the kitchen ranting about the best metaphor ever before finding another best

I fall hard for writers, reading everything they’ve written, swooning over their language, acquiring extra copies to fling at others like it’s December and I’m hosting my own Favorite Things episode. And yes, like anyone in love, I send mushy messages to writers I admire, though I try to keep the XOs to myself. When I encourage students to contact writers they love, they return to class shocked, whispering, “They actually wrote back.”

*

quitmad

The first email I received from a reader about Quite Mad made me catch my breath. I was in the midst of months of mental illness setbacks, uncertain when or if they would end, gasping and heaving, existing beyond going to work and returning home seemingly impossible. I was seeing and hearing things, experiencing panic attacks for several hours each day, convinced a piece of ice was a shard of glass that had slit me belly to bowel on the way down, or that I’d drunk bleach, or that a vein was about to burst. I could not bear to exist in the cage of my body let alone think about marketing my broken self to others. Who would want to read a story about a skittish, frightened brain, a woman so afraid she could not look in the mirror without panicking?

The reader was writing, she explained, because she felt the same, because my book about panic and compulsion and trauma made her feel normal for once and less alone. And suddenly so did I—the private had become public and I had not died or caught fire or shriveled like a tuber into the earth or all the other terrible things anxiety convinces us will happen if we prove fallible.

My mental illness did not disappear with this small praise, just as the release of my book has not quelled it, but this kindness reminded me of the importance of small literary acts—an email to a writer, sharing a beautiful line with others, buying books, gifting books, teaching books.

The way I see it, we have two choices: We can ruin the dinner party by dismissing well-deserved accomplishments (either those of others, but more often than not, our own), or we can yowl. Writing an essay or poem or story, or hell, a whole book, is much more demanding than rolling over and spotting a faux mouse, yet we hesitate to celebrate.

If you are still too shy to yowl for yourself, yowl for others, and know that lovers of words will be happy to yowl for yours.
__

Sarah Fawn Montgomery is the author of Quite Mad: An American Pharma Memoir and the poetry chapbooks Regenerate: Poems from Mad Women (Dancing Girl Press), Leaving Tracks: A Prairie Guide, and The Astronaut Checks His Watch (both Finishing Line Press). Her work has been listed as notable several times in Best American Essays, and her poetry and prose have appeared in various magazines including Crab Orchard ReviewDIAGRAM, Electric Literature, LitHub, The Normal School, Passages North, The Rumpus, Southeast Review, Terrain, and others. She has worked as Prairie Schooner’s Nonfiction Assistant Editor since 2011 and is an Assistant Professor at Bridgewater State University. You can follow her on Twitter at @SF_Montgomery

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