It takes a team to launch a book
Updated: Apr 17
More people ask me about book launches than any other aspect of publishing and promoting books.
I believe the success of a book begins with building a book launch team months before the publication date.
Part of my belief comes from my first experience with a book launch team in 2012. We helped an unknown author launch his first book at the age of 88, and it achieved critical acclaim and awards in New York City from the publishing industry.
This article is longer than my usual 1,000 words because it contains a lot of insights plus links to free external resources. Starting at about the two-minute mark, I share the details and chronology and success of launching that first book by the aging author. Stay with me, because it’s a good example for emerging authors.
Since 2012, I’ve participated in a few other book launches as an editor and I’ve witnessed several others by authors I know. What I’ve learned is that the most successful book launches take time and money. The reward is worth the effort.
Many of those books became bestsellers in Amazon niche categories on the release date. Several have had strong sales for weeks or months. A few have had good online sales for years and years.
Many book marketing professionals stress the importance of spending months on marketing activities before the publication date to boost initial sales during the first week after the release date. That’s because the high sales rankings for that first week stimulate Amazon algorithms that recommend the book to readers of similar books.
Launch goals and strategies are different for every author. One aspect is common to the most successful launches I’ve seen—authors can benefit by reaching out to people with skills and experience and resources the author doesn’t have.
What skills and experience do members of your book launch team need to help you succeed? Start by identifying the tasks you need to accomplish.
A recent blog post by Brian Feinblum, a veteran New York City book publicist, contains a 32-point list of launch tasks. The checklist includes every publicity task you need to have a successful launch. You can handle some launch tasks by yourself, but not many.
A couple of years ago, I began learning specific techniques from book launch specialists with proven success. One is Tim Grahl from Tennessee who has helped authors launch titles that made the bestseller lists at The New York Times, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal.
Grahl charges clients $50,000 to personally manage book launches, but he offers free webinars frequently. And he has a great blog post that explains his Book Launch Framework.
If you can’t hire someone like Feinblum or enroll in Grahl’s comprehensive online course that costs $1,000, you should reach out to fellow authors for advice and help. And at the end of this article, I also list some free resources available online.
Every author has a comfort zone when it comes to launching books.
Not every author is trying to achieve bestseller status the first week with aggressive marketing using pre-orders. Successful “long launch” activities, as Grahl explains in his blog, work well for many authors and can sustain sales over several months or several years.
Many authors would rather write without having to hustle to market books. Some are content with publishing only a few books and don’t publish more. I understand all that. And, sometimes, publishing one great book is enough.
Personal perspectives: My first experience as a book launch team member is almost a case study of how an author with a first book can achieve publishing goals using a launch team.
Back then, I was a freelance editor based in San Diego. In December of 2011, I visited a former Maryland neighbor who had moved to Lake Chapala in Mexico. He introduced me to Roberto Moulun, a retiree who lived in the lakeside village of Ajijic and who had won some local awards for short fiction over the years.
Moulun, a native of Guatemala, wanted to publish his first book based on a novella he finished in 1993 and ten unpublished folk tales he finished in 1996. However, the document files on his ancient Macintosh were corrupted and all he had was the print manuscripts from years ago.
His eyesight was so bad he couldn’t use a computer anymore. He struggled with a wobbly walker to get to his favorite spot in the village plaza to visit with friends and have his morning coffee “corrected” with tequila. He hadn’t been to the USA in years and wasn’t interested in going again.
In short, he was unknown as an author, old and frail, and a little grumpy before his coffee.
He insisted that I take the manuscripts to read, and I showed them to a friend in San Diego who was a retired editor-in-chief at a small literary press. Both of us agreed that the literary quality of the manuscripts was excellent.
The novella set in Guatemala during the brutal civil war explored the timeless themes of war and peace, love and loss. The folk tales used magical realism akin to books by Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
If we wanted to help him find a publisher, somebody would have to create a new computer file by retyping both manuscripts. And we would have to compare the new computer file with the faded print manuscripts and confirm it with him.
He didn’t use email anymore, so communication between the USA and Mexico would be iffy. He didn’t even have a cell phone.
Even if we overcame all those obstacles, it would be very difficult to find a publisher. Personal appearances in the USA to promote the book would be impossible. He had no online presence to help market a book. No website. No newsletter. No blog. No social media accounts.
But but but… The more I re-read passages from the novella manuscript, the more I liked it.
I offered to cover publication costs if my editor friend would oversee creating the new computer file and editing and proofing and publishing. Moulun agreed to a contract with royalties for him, and we began work.
My basic plan was to concentrate on marketing print copies to thousands of USA and Canadian citizens who flock to Lake Chapala year after year during the winter months. We would also use the Amazon KDP program to publish print-on-demand paperbacks and a Kindle version for online sales in the USA.
To be successful at Lake Chapala, we would need to build a local launch team comprised of Moulun’s closest friends and a few fellow writers.
My former neighbor living in Ajijic was a retired journalist and he enlisted the editor of the monthly magazine at Lake Chapala, which is the largest circulation English language publication in Mexico. They recruited others from the lakeside community of expat writers and artists, including an artist to design the cover.
In May, I moved to Ajijic temporarily to improve communications and be part of the onsite launch team. I began telecomputing to coordinate with the editor-in-chief and manage a “soft launch” for the paperback on Amazon. And Moulun got a Mexican cell phone.
To lend credibility to the book we created a small press imprint in the USA and rented a P.O. box in Texas from a mail forwarding service as the official company address. We used that to join the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) and used the IBPA membership to buy ISBNs from Bowker at a discount.
To meet the potential demand during the snowbird season, the team hired a short-run printer in Guadalajara to produce paperback copies as needed with a three-day delivery time.
Back then, I didn’t know any book marketing professionals who might help. So we focused on a few basic actions to give the book credibility for a successful launch:
· Apply for a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN)
· Submit a digital galley proof to NetGalley for its national network of reviewers.
· Purchase a pre-publication review from Kirkus Reviews.
· Distribute Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) to obtain blurbs by influencers including other authors.
· Distribute proof copies to news media contacts for book reviews.
· Arrange a local official launch celebration followed by frequent readings by Moulun.
· Submit the published book for an award from the IBPA.
The first big break came on August 31 when Kirkus Reviews named the book one of the 25 best indie books of fiction for 2012. The launch team immediately spread that news to as many contacts as possible.
When the print copy of Kirkus Reviews arrived by mail, we celebrated with lunch at the best restaurant in Ajijic (see that photo above).
Then, the launch team scheduled the “official book launch” event, which a longtime close friend of Moulun agreed to host. It turned into a two-hour fabulous fiesta complete with Mexican musicians, complimentary food and beverages, and souvenir T-shirts for the launch team.
All 50 limited edition hardcover copies from the short-run printer in Guadalajara sold out at the event and people began buying paperbacks. Moulun personalized autographs for each book buyer and posed for pictures. He told me later that it was one of the happiest days of his life.
During a Thanksgiving visit with my sons in Maryland, I delivered the required two print copies of the published book to the U.S. Copyright Office for the Library of Congress.
Working together with the author at several lakeside readings, and one in nearby Guadalajara, the local launch team managed to sell nearly 300 total print copies in Mexico during the winter season. That may not sound like a lot of success, but many industry analysts say only a few unknown authors sell more than 300 copies of their first book during the entire first year.
The second break came in May of 2013. The IBPA honored the book at the annual awards banquet in New York City with a silver award for the best first book of fiction. My middle son living in Manhattan received the award and sent it to me.
The critical acclaim and the long launch over several months comprised a remarkable achievement for the first book by an 88-year-old retiree. Especially one living 2,600 miles away from New York City, sharing a little rental house with a Mexican family where a rooster crowed early and often in the backyard next door.
Based on the achievement, Kirkus assigned a freelancer to interview Moulun by phone and published a follow-up feature article about his background and the origins of the book. The writer even mentioned the rooster he could hear on the phone call.
After the interview, Moulun began fantasizing about a movie deal and asking friends who should play the role of La China, the principal female character in the novella.
Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer within a few days after the feature article appeared, with maybe three months to live. It became impossible to sustain the momentum without him as the center of attention. He died in September, just a year after publication.
That’s a long story but it’s all true. I’m sharing it with you because it’s an example of how an author can overcome major obstacles and achieve publishing goals with the help of a book launch team.
More than anything else, all of us on the launch team wanted to make Moulun’s writing available to an audience beyond his award-winning short fiction pieces in the monthly magazine at Lake Chapala. We achieved that goal, and more.
All cash from onsite sales went directly to Moulun. We didn’t care about the time and money we invested locally. It was truly a labor of love.
That photo of him holding the Kirkus Reviews magazine with the rave review is a reminder of the successful international book launch. It’s priceless.
Looking back at that first book launch team, I can see where we made mistakes and missed opportunities.
One mistake was paying NetGalley to distribute digital galleys for reviews. Maybe it works for books from traditional publishers but it produced only one review for Moulun’s book, and the review wasn’t positive like the review from Kirkus.
We could have tried to hire a publicist to arrange interviews with more influencers in the USA with Moulun on his new cell phone, but I didn’t know who to contact.
We could have tried to boost online sales by buying ads on Amazon and Facebook, but I didn’t have the necessary skill or experience.
We should have tried to reach more people through more readings in the huge Guadalajara metro area an hour from the lake. But we didn’t take the time to recruit more people to help.
As the executor of Moulun’s literary estate, I released a Kindle version of the paperback after his death in 2013. I followed that with a standalone 2014 Kindle version of the original novella to memorialize his success and honor his writing.
In 2015, I also released a standalone Kindle version of the ten folk tales and a Kindle chapbook containing three of his previously unpublished short stories. Both have hyperlinks in the back matter to the other versions on Amazon.
All four Kindle titles are enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited program to increase the potential number of readers. They are priced from 99 cents to $4.99, and I stagger price discounts or freebie promotions throughout the calendar year to promote them and steer people to the paperback version.
Over time, the Kindle versions combined have produced 63 percent of the online sales. And the KENP stats in my Amazon dashboard show they continue to produce substantial numbers of pages read.
Paperback copies of the 2012 book haven’t been available for sale at the lake for years, but several copies are available in the library in Ajijic.
The small press imprint that published Moulun’s book in 2012 helped other authors publish and launch six more titles with varying degrees of success. The imprint ceased operations in 2017 after the re-retirement of the editor-in-chief and after I stopped editing books.
Fortunately, print-on-demand titles published via Amazon KDP never go out of print and remain available online almost forever. You can click here to see the Amazon listing for the 2012 original print version of Moulun’s book.
Free online resources: Some service providers, such as Reedsy, offer a free generalized Book Launch Checklist focused on first-time self-published authors. Some of the content comes from a FREE Kindle book titled How to Market a Book, which is authored by Reedsy founder Ricardo Fayet from Europe.
Author Imprints, the company owned by digital publishing professional David Wogahn in the San Diego area, offers a free three-part course called the Countdown to Book Launch. It focuses on indie authors.
Professional book promoter David Gaughran from Europe offers a free course called Starting From Zero, which draws on details in his books about self-publishing.
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