If you’re a first time author with a traditional nonfiction book deal, and you’re ambitious for your book to sell, you need to know what goes into a book launch plan. Building up to that special precious day: publication date! Is so exciting, but if your book is coming out in the next six to eighteen months, your book launch plan needs this crucial piece because it can really impact your book’s long-term sales and success.
Getting ready for your book launch
After my first book was published, I realised (in hindsight, isn’t that an annoying teacher) what I should have done in this precious pre-launch phase, but by then it was too late! Thankfully, I published a second book so I got the chance to use what I learnt about this really important piece for my book launch plan for A Letter From Paris.
It’s really important because if you don’t understand this key piece, you will waste this pre launch phase. What I did before my first book launch was to pick out my dress and write my speech for launch night, book the locale for the book launch itself and that was it. That was the entirety of my book launch plan! Most first-time authors do what I did – we think everything is about the launch event itself.
The problem is, if you only do that your book won’t sell as well as it could. Being strategic with your book launch plan can REALLY affect your long-term sales.
I remember being desperately disappointed when I went to bookshops three months after my publication date, and my book was nowhere to be found. Sadly, this is really common with first-time authors because of the whole way the publishing model is structured – you get a very narrow window of opportunity to publicise your book. But what’s not really taught to authors-to-be is how precious this pre-launch phase is for your marketing.
A common misconception around book launches
Most first-time authors think that book launches are actually one date. But the book launch plan must start in the 6-12 months prior to publication. Marketing is all about reaching as many people as possible, and if you only start talking about your book (in a certain way) the day it’s released, you miss a lot of opportunities to build excitement and interest.
What to expect from your Publisher around your book launch plan
If you want your book to sell well, you need to be very strategic with your marketing in the 6-12 months prior to publication. You cannot rely on your publisher to do this. The reason why is because EVEN if you’ve got a big advance (Publishers usually do more marketing of a title they’ve paid a lot of money for), EVEN if you are with a Top 5 publisher, you ONLY Get a certain amount of time dedicated to you and your book.
So, let’s say you’re going to be one of your publisher’s feature titles, the month that your book is coming out, they still will only dedicate a very key window to giving you marketing and publicity support. There’s a few meetings before-hand but you will only be featured in advertising and media starting on publication day.
And it usually lasts about a month, if you’re really big author might last for two months. But after that you’re on your own.
The problem HERE is that what you do in the six months before the book comes out actually matters a lot more than the marketing and promotion that you do AFTER the book comes out! For example, I know an author who has secured TED talks but her book was published a few years ago, so it’s not really making much of a difference to sales.
Securing a TED talk would have been a lot more effective if it had been a part of her book launch plan (but again, it needs to be strategically-timed, not too close, not too far from publication date).
Book sales and book launches
If you want to sell more than 250 copies of your book (the average lifetime sales for a first-time traditionally published author, yikes), then you need to take advantage of this pre-launch phase and be very strategic with your author marketing. Marketing and messaging needs to be a very key piece of your book launch plan.
Becoming a bestselling author is not some fluke, it is not some kind of miracle, it’s not based on luck. It’s based on strategy – and waiting for publication date without taking action (or taking the wrong action!) is not a strategy. The thing I learnt is that if you haven’t BEEN published before, you don’t have the data to plan a book launch strategically.
My second book launch plan – what I did differently
Eight years after my first book came out, I published my second memoir, A Letter From Paris. Because I’d learned the hard way that I couldn’t just do nothing in the pre launch phase, I got very, very strategic with my book launch plan.
It was very exciting as well, I have to say it’s very, very fun planning for a book launch, when you know what to plan for and what to include. Unlike my first book, I knew exactly what I should be doing! And I’d worked in marketing and media for really well-known individuals so i knew exactly what I’d have told THEM if they were about to launch a nonfiction.
So I created a digital strategy, and this encompassed website, SEO, social media, book publicity, what was happening in the market at the time – comparative titles, publishing trends, it all came into it. And it was a very diverse strategy and it worked with my own personality (an introvert but with a lot of motivation to have my book selling! Remember that I’d learned the hard way how quickly your book disappears – regardless of how excited your publisher might be or how much media attention you get the first week or month of publication).
And if you’d been following me in 2017 or 2018 before A Letter From Paris was published, you wouldn’t have noticed a huge amount except that I was getting visible in very diverse ways. Again – strategically tailored to my own book and my own personality.
Publication date – a bestseller!
During publication month, we sold more copies than Love & Other U-Turns had sold in its entire lifetime, which by then was eight years. And A Letter From Paris went on to sell into different markets in different formats, and made the Indigo Canada bestseller list in 2020. I’m not famous and it’s not the best book that’s ever been published, but I did follow a strategy before A Letter From Paris came out – because i knew exactly what I’d missed with my first book launch. Like I say – you can’t create a sales strategy if you don’t have the background information on how the market and the specific industry works.
A real bestseller (for more than a day!)
Even though the first week’s sales were great, what actually makes a book a bestseller is when it continues to sell in the months and years post-publication. You could make a top bestseller list in your first week from pre-sales, but then there might be a huge drop straight afterwards and sales don’t continue for more than a week or so.
Many authors – like me – don’t hit bestseller lists until a year or two post-publication!
This is because awareness of the book has gathered steam, the marketing has led to word-of-mouth and more marketing and more amplification by the publisher and it’s an exciting win-win loop!
In contrast to this, Love & Other U-Turns had had a big spike that first month of publication (which is common if you get some good media) but once the bookshops don’t have it on their new release table any more and I wasn’t getting any media attention, sales completely slowed to a drip because I hadn’t known to create very strategic ‘pre-launch assets’ prior to that book’s publication.
Now if you’ve written a memoir, as both my books were, or even if it’s a nonfiction about something that’s dear to you, you want your book to last a bit longer in the market than three months!
What to include in your book launch plan for success
What I did differently with A Letter from Paris, was that I worked very strategically on building certain digital ‘assets’ prior to publication in the 6-12 months before publication date.
Now, first time authors don’t know this, like me with my first book, I waited until publication day to do any kind of promotion or publicity or marketing. And this was a mistake, because I missed out on so many opportunities to build excitement, to build awareness to, to find new audience, you know, to find your captive audience and connect with them so that they’re excited for book and can’t wait to read it! So that they turn up to events so that they’re sharing your book, and your ideas and your message with their their friends and their family. Because this sells books more than a review in the New York Times. Did you know that? Reviews don’t sell books. Statistically, people telling other people about books, sells books. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd gathered steam when women told other women about it and shared it in private book clubs. Women told other women they loved that book. It’s now sold more than six million copies and has been published in 35 countries.
Messaging and Marketing in the Pre-Launch Phase
Your pre-launch strategy will really centre on messaging and marketing. Your book launch plan needs to be tailored to you and your unique book and exactly what is happening in the (rapidly evolving) digital world AND the traditional publishing marketplace. For example, you may need to tweak your messaging if a similar book is coming out at the same time as yours. Or, you may need to focus on a strategy with your email list if you have a niche topic and that’s where your biggest audience is, or perhaps you will partner with other authors or experts in your field. It needs to be completely custom-fit to you, your book and your niche!
With the right strategy, you can build hype, excitement, pre-sales and attention so that you sell more books on launch week – and far beyond!
It’s time to get set for success on launch day – and beyond!
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