What does it take to run a successful book launch? Over the last decade, I’ve worked with hundreds of authors and launched dozens of books to the top of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other bestseller lists. Along with the launches I’ve run, I’ve studied hundreds of others.
There are two things I’ve learned along the way:
- Anyone can run a successful book launch.
- A successful book launch always starts with a good plan.
What makes a good book launch plan?
In this article, I’m going to layout the basic things every author needs to do for their launch and walk you through the exact framework I use with my clients to launch their bestselling books.
Let’s start here:
Book Launch Mindsets
There are three different mindsets that an author brings to every launch. If you start from the wrong mindset, I can give you all the tactics in the world, but they’ll fall flat.
Every author brings one of these mindsets to a book launch:
- Launch and Hope: These are the authors who believe the myth that they can’t do anything for their book. They just publish it and say “if it finds an audience, it was meant to be.” There’s very little forethought. All of their energy is spent writing and publishing the book, and they just release it and hope that it finds an audience.
- Launch and Pay: These are the authors that throw money at their book in hopes it will make a difference. They hire a big, expensive publicist. They buy a bunch of advertising. They spend a ton of money on a slick website. They may even buy copies of their own book to try to hit one of the bestseller lists. If you’ve got deep pockets and don’t feel like doing it yourself, this may work, though most of your money will be wasted.
- Launch and Know: These are the authors that approach the release of their book with a plan in place. Instead of stressing and hoping and spending, they are focused on implementing a step-by-step plan for how they are going to release their book.
My goal for you is to be in group number three.
I’ve seen self-published fiction authors with no platform, no blog, no social media presence, no email list, and no big-name-influencer friends launch their book and sell 10,000 copies in the first year.
I’ve also seen authors with established platforms, the backing of a big publisher, and a big-name publicist launch their book and struggle to sell the first few hundred copies.
If you look under the hood on these launches, you’ll see the difference between the two was the first had a plan and the second did not.
Book Launch Terms and Definitions
So often, when we talk about book marketing and book launches, we are using the same vocabulary but mean very different things.
I don’t want us to have this problem, so let’s define a few words that often get thrown around and make sure we’re on the same page.
This is a big one. People are always saying every author needs a platform. If you pitch your book to a publisher, one of their first questions is going to be “what is your platform?”
However, if you ask different people in publishing what an author platform is you’ll get different answers. Some will say “the author’s website” or “the author’s social media following” or “their 50 speaking gigs a year” or “they have a popular radio show.”
Here’s what an author platform really is…
If a publisher asks “what’s your platform?”, that’s just code for “how are you going to get people to buy your book?”
Whether you have a popular TV show or you travel to speak all year or you have a popular blog or, hell, if you have a tried-and-true way of standing in the middle of Times Square in New York City and hand-selling your book… however it is that you are planning to sell your book, that plan is your author platform.
Here’s another seemingly simple phrase that can mean lots of different things.
What is a book launch?
Is it the moment you upload your file to Amazon’s KDP, and it’s for sale?
Is it when your book is first available for pre-order?
Is it the day it’s published?
I’ve been on a team of 15 people all working to “launch” a book months before it was even available.
It’s pretty simple though…
If you upload your book to Amazon but then never tell anyone, you haven’t launched a book. However, if you start trying to get people to pre-order your book a month before it comes out, you’re running a book launch.
Whether it’s your mom or your cubicle mate or someone on your email list or someone following you on Twitter… if that person will go to a bookstore and purchase a copy of your book, they are a fan.
So many times when I say “influencer outreach,” people will say “Oh, you mean guest posting on blogs” or “asking for blurbs.” And while, yes, that’s a tactic for influencer outreach, it’s not all of it.
Whether the person runs a blog or hosts a radio show or has a huge email list or speaks around the country or hosts a book club with a hundred members… a person that influences the buying decisions of other groups of people is an influencer.
Here’s the Merriam-Webster definition: “a method for achieving an end.”
That’s pretty good, but vague.
Here’s another: “a detailed formulation of a program of action.”
That’s much closer to what I mean.
In my experience, having a good plan does two things for you:
- It explains what you need to do in a step-by-step fashion, so it reduces ambiguity and therefore stress. You always know what you need to do next.
- It informs on what tools you need to get the job done. Too many authors start by saying something like “how do I use Twitter to launch my book?” But Twitter is just a tool. You start with the plan, and the plan tells you whether you need the tool or not and if you do, how to use it.
Ok, now that we are all on the same page… let’s jump into the real reason you’re reading this article.
The Book Launch Framework
The framework I’m about to share with you is the exact process I use to launch books to the top of New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other bestseller lists.
It’s also the framework I use when launching first-time books for authors with no platform that are just trying to get their first few hundred sales.
What I’m trying to say is… the framework scales.
You can use this framework no matter what level you are at as an author.
The Book Launch Framework is made up of three parts:
- Sell to Fans
- Invite Fans to Share
- Engage Influencers
I look at each of these like math problems that need to be solved.
If you solve each of these during your launch, you will have a successful launch.
Let’s go through each of them:
1. Sell to Fans
How can you sell as many books as possible to people you are directly connected to?
Fans are people who are on your email list, read your blog, follow you on social media, etc. Maybe they’ve read one of your previous books. Maybe they’re an avid reader of your blog. No matter how they came into your platform, they are the readers with which you have a direct connection.
The first part of the framework is to come up with a plan to sell as many books as possible to your fans.
This, of course, can look lots of different ways. Here are two ideas to get you started:
Do a giveaway: If they buy your book by a certain date, can you give away something for free? Maybe it’s one of your previous books. Maybe it’s additional videos and downloads. Focus on giving away valuable content to anyone that buys the book. Here’s a page I helped set up for one of my clients.
Email campaign: Send a series of emails promoting the new book. Don’t just invite people to buy, give away new content and information in each email. Share excerpts of the book, make videos, etc. Send a lot of emails. I recommend somewhere between five to ten emails sent over a two to three week period.
The goals of the “Sell to Fans” part of the book launch framework are to a) make sure everyone knows you have a new book available and b) make it really hard for them to say “no” to buying it.
2. Invite Fans to Share
How can you make it really easy and fun for your fans to share the book?
People always share things they love, but they also don’t have a lot of time. Your goal is to make a very short, clear path for people to get involved with the book launch and share it with their network.
Remember it’s really hard to get 10,000 followers on Twitter. But it isn’t very hard to ask 10 people with 1000 followers to each share something. This is the goal of part two of the framework.
Here are some ideas:
- Create links that allow people to immediately share on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.
- Share fun and creative images based on the ideas in the book. PSAs, infographics, quotes, and cartoons are great examples.
- Start a “street team,” and invite people to be a part of promoting the book.
Provide copy with the links so people can copy and paste directly into emails and social media.
The goals of the “Invite Fans to Share” part of the framework are to a) make it really, really easy for people to share your book with their friends, family, and other connections, and b) automatically ask people to share the book.
3. Engage Influencers
How can you get influencers to help spread the word on their platforms?
If fans are people that will buy your book, influencers are people that will get other people to buy your book. This topic alone could take up a whole week’s worth of workshop training, but in general, now is the time to invite your colleagues with platforms of their own to help promote the book.
Remember the “Empathy and Assumptions” sections of chapter four in Your First 1000 Copies! Look for ways to help other people get what they need. Podcasts need interesting guests… can you be an interesting guest? Blogs need interesting content… can you provide interesting content?
If you do the work to connect with influencers, promote their work and look for ways to help them, this can be the easiest part of the campaign!
The goal of the “Engage Influencers” part of the framework is to get people that influence the buying decisions of groups of people to recommend and promote your book to their groups.
Where do I start?
So this is a tall order.
How do you know which of the pieces of the framework you can actually pull off? And what if you have nothing — no blog, no social media, no email list, no connection to influencers… no platform — what do you do then?
This is where you need to know what type of book launch you are running.
And there are four types of book launches…
The 4 Types of Book Launches
The first thing I do when I’m planning any book launch is to decide what type of book launch I should run. Every launch I run fits into one of these types.
The Bestseller Launch
This is the big one. You are ready for the pull-out-all-the-stops book launch that can sell a lot of copies as soon as it comes out.
The goal of this launch is to get your influencers to share the book with their audiences, while also getting your fans to buy the book and share it with their friends and family.
If you are connected to fans and influencers, this is the launch for you.
The Influencer Launch
This is where a lot of well-known business people or media personalities find themselves. They’ve built up a network of people who are connected to their fan base, but they have yet to directly connect with that fan base themselves.
The Influencer Launch requires a long lead time (three to six months at least) but allows you to spread your message far and wide within your network.
If you’ve built up connections with influencers, but don’t have your own connection with your fans through an email list, blog, or social media, you should run an Influencer Launch.
The List Launch
This is the launch I used for my first book Your First 1000 Copies. I had a small email list of fans I promoted my book to, and I was able to sell more than 1,000 copies of my book to that group in less than two weeks.
If you’ve already built up a direct connection with your fans through social media, a blog, or an email list, the List Launch will help you get a big jump on sales as soon as your book is released.
The Long Game Launch
Out of all four of the launches, the Long Game Launch is my favorite.
The main goal of the Long Game Launch is to build a platform that supports an entire writing career. You want to be a writer, not just someone who wrote a book once.
If you’re just getting started and you already have a book, but you don’t have a platform, then your job is to use your book to build a platform.
As I said above, I sold 1,000 books in the first two weeks after my book came out. I was excited at that early surge in sales.
But then, as happens with most books, I saw my sales start to plummet. A few months went by, and I didn’t sell another 1,000 copies.
Then I decided to change my mindset and focus on a Long Game Launch.
By the one-year anniversary of my book’s publication, I had sold 10,000 copies and built my platform to be bigger than ever.
This is because the Long Game Launch focuses on making your book successful over a longer period of time.
The publishing industry is obsessed with selling a ton of copies of your book the first week it’s out. Not because it’s good for you, but because it’s good for them.
My good friend Josh Kaufman has never hit any of the major bestseller lists for his book The Personal MBA. However, the book has sold more than 300,000 copies since it was published in 2010, and still sells thousands of copies every month.
That is the power of the Long Game Launch.
Ready to dig deeper?
This Friday I'm teaching a free webinar titled Book Launch Checklist: What To Do and When To Do It.
March 17, 2017