Lorraine Devon Wilke- Author
There are lots of rules in the writing game. LOTS.
Ask anyone in the biz for advice, do a little research on norms and protocols, get active in social media groups on the topic, and you’ll be bombarded with generalized and specific do’s and don’ts, articles with titles like, “the 10 most important rules of writing,” debates around, “are you an author or a writer?”, and certainly lists of what to avoid, what to absolutely avoid, and how to “do things right.” In the swirling eddy of contradictions and occasional hits of inspiration you will likely get… exhausted.
But take a deep breath and know that, in the midst of all that information, you can glean enough good advice and worthwhile input to create your own set of protocols and preferences to fit your style, while still getting the job done. Here’s the trick: You have to be selective. You have to curate that advice. You have to experiment on your own to discover what you agree with, what you don’t.
Let’s take the “book launch.” Now, there’s a topic that inspires prodigious amounts of opinion. Just this week I read a lengthy blog filled with advice compiled from a slew of successful authors and, once again (particularly after reading one author’s claim that “book launch parties are expensive and a waste of time,” and “there’s no real benefit to bookstore events”), I found my head shaking in rebellion.
Having launched three different novels, most recently in April of this year (The Alchemy of Noise, published April 9th), I have experimented and riffed like a jazz pianist to sort out how best to get things done for me, and, at the invitation of Brag Medallions’ vaunted President, Geri Clouston, thought I’d share some of my ideas on the topic. Hopefully they’ll inspire some of your own.
As a self-published author, even if you hire a publicist (which is always wise), it will ultimately be up to you how your new book is introduced to the world. I self-pubbed my first two books, and while my third was published by a small press (She Writes Press), my basic protocol remained the same. Beyond the steps taken by the publicist I worked with, which involved a lot of pre- & post-publication set-up toward garnering reviews, press, and media opportunities, my schedule of activities included most of the ten items listed below…for my self-published book, all ten were implemented.
Note: many of these can and should be started while you’re fine-tuning your manuscript, getting it professionally edited, copy-edited, and formatted, and working with an artist to create your top-shelf book cover, things every author must do. These steps are not in any particular order; I consider them all essential, you can decide which are for you and when to implement them for your own campaign.
- If you want your self-published book in bookstores and libraries, you must also publish it at IngramSpark: Odds are good, as a self-publisher, you’re already completely savvy about Amazon and other bookselling sites, but if you’re not as aware of the value of being on IngramSpark, let me explain. Solid research and repeated experience taught me that most bookstores, even those who define themselves as “indie bookstores supporting indie authors,” HATE Amazon and will not stock your book or invite you to do events for that book if it’s published by Amazon. We could talk forever about why that is and debate the pros and cons, but suffice it to say: it’s to your benefit to have your print book additionally published by IngramSpark.
Bookstores can order your book directly through them, and will have no back-off in doing so, particularly if you set your book up with standard features like “returnable” and “standard discount” (you’ll see those options when you set up your IngramSpark page). Then, when you walk into a bookstore with a couple of IngramSpark print copies of your book (and they look and feel as nice as Amazon-created books), you won’t even have to mention Amazon—which I’d recommend, as it often triggers teeth-gnashing from bookstore owners! It also positions you as a pro author who understands the marketplace and how things are done. You promote the Amazon page to readers and media, but have a link to your IngramSpark page for bookstores and libraries.
- Create a smart, contemporary website, either focused on you as an artist or for your specific book. I chose the former, used WordPress (which is free unless you access upgraded options), and found it very simple to use. Make sure your site is visually aesthetic, easy to navigate, and something you can update yourself, as you’ll need to keep it fresh and current as your book’s (and your) journey evolves. If you’d like to access mine to see how I put it together (I chose an unusual but clever theme, I think!), feel free to stop by: lorrainedevonwilke.com.
- Reach out for endorsement blurbs for your book cover & website: This is a very daunting task for some writers. Asking other authors, big and small, famous or not famous, to take the time to read your book and write a short but, hopefully, enticing blurb is a big ask, no question about it. But you may be surprised by how willing people are to do it, especially if you offer to return the favor when they need it next. I discovered that higher profile authors generally won’t have the time, though many will be very kind about it (see When the Awful, Artful Task of Book Blurbs Comes To Blessings), and even authors with lower profiles may not be interested unless they know you personally. But offer to send just a few chapters, offer to give them some verbiage that might help them fashion a blurb; offer to clean their house. OK, maybe not that, but if you start early enough in your process, you should be able to get at least three blurbs you can put on your back cover before the launch date. Then be sure to post those on your website’s “media” page, too.
- Build an email list and create a newsletter. I started this task many months before my last book’s publication date using MailChimp (which is free up to 2000 subscribers, and, again, easy to use). Long before the book launched, I used my newsletter (and blog) to include subscribers in the various steps along the way: the book cover reveal, early reviews, and other developmental aspects. Making them a part of the process can go a long way toward building a “virtual team” who will be excited to participate in the rollout of your book when it finally pubs. It can also help build general interest and goodwill, particularly if you occasionally feature posts about other artists, or answer questions asked by readers. Just be sure to mix it up: you don’t want to oversaturate subscribers with “all book, all the time,” so be sure to include other interesting information related to your life and work, all of which contributes to your growing readership.
- Social Media: You’d think at this point EVERYONE would know the inescapable value of actively and consistently using social media to promote a book launch (and beyond), but it’s surprising how many writers either haven’t educated themselves to the medium, claim to have little time to use it, or simply don’t understand how to make it effective. I tried desperately to get a group of writers to do a reciprocal link-up with my Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and BookBub pages with the idea of sharing their work as they’d shared mine, but unbelievably, I think only one took me up on it. That’s a sad waste of free publicity!
So…based on experience and conversations with those in the know, be sure to have spiffy, well-constructed pages on at least Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and BookBub. If there are others you like, go for it, but be sure to use them. I promise you, going to a social media page where the last post was from 2018 does not inspire interaction! As for using them: Be smart. Again, mix it up. There used to be an “80/20 rule” on social media—post 80% interesting, educational, entertaining info about other people and things, and 20% about yourself or your own project—but that seems to have relaxed a bit over the years. What is still true is that you gain followers by being interested in other people: share and comment on their posts, pass along interesting projects, shine light on other writers and artists you like. Don’t be afraid to share opinions, even get political from time to time if you’re so moved (I’ve got a whole article on that!); mostly, be engaged and engaging, so that when you do post about your book—the launch, the reviews, the events—people will already be interested in you.
- Bookstore Events/Readings: This is one of the categories that some “successful authors” suggested was a waste of time and money. I disagree. In fact, the launch party for my new book was at a bookstore. But here’s the rub: as a self-published author, you may find it’s not always easy getting into bookstores, either on their shelves or with an event. With my self-pubbed books, I often had to pay consignment fees to do either, which can get expensive if you want to reach out to several stores. So be selective; research which stores might be most advantageous to your book, to you, and start there. If you’re with IngramSpark, it’s much easier, but stores still may make you pay a fee, and offer your books only on consignment. Is it worth the investment?I think so. The stores I chose were top-line bookstores and my events did result in the sales of lots of books. Though, given the fees I paid, the giveaways (bookmarks, book cookies, some light refreshments), did it pan out, moneywise? Probably a wash. BUT, I had excellent news to promote on my site, on social media, and in my newsletter. That’s gold. Each event gave me something new to promote; I had photos of my book on shelves, photos of a packed house at events at prestigious bookstores, and being able to share those visuals and talk about being at those stores raised my profile, gave my book added credibility; I even had an agent purchase my book at one of those stores and contact me about film rights. If you’re out there, anything can happen, so be wise, be selective, but take the chance.
Another thing about bookstore events: I wrote a piece last year called, Book Readings: Don’t Just Read, Make Them An Event, and while it reiterates much of what I’ve covered in this article, it also includes this point: when you do get an event, make it an event. Promote the living daylights out of it, liaise with the bookstore contact to make sure your event is on their calendar and in their newsletter with all the correct information (don’t presume…I’ve had to correct a few things along the way!), and really make a party of it. I’ve been to readings where the author simply sat at a card table, with no particular design or aesthetic to the set-up, bad lighting, no poster, and, given the unpredictability of people’s attendance, a very small crowd. It was painful. On the other hand, I’ve been to events where the author not only had a full-sized retractable poster of her book (I have one too, worth the investment!), but a PowerPoint presentation, bookmarks, and a raffle. Truly an EVENT. Be like her. Well, maybe not the PowerPoint. J
- Launch giveaways: On that same topic, I’ve seen authors spend a fortune on “party favors” for their bookstore events and this is where less is all that’s necessary. Save your money. I’ve found VistaPrint to make excellent cards, bookmarks, etc., at a good price (they also made my banner), and I’m sure there are other great places as well. I stick to bookmarks and “book cookies”… because they’ve become a conversation point and I’ve simply decided they’re worth the expense (they’re SO good!). I order them from Lawrence Deans Bake Shop, a bakery near Chicago that ships (and the owner is my cousin!), but again, save where you can, spend where you are so compelled, and make it fun. It doesn’t take much to do that… how expensive are balloons? J
- Let people know how they can help with your launch. I was very blatant about this; the week before my launch, I sent out a newsletter with the title: The Book Launch: What To Give the Author Who Has Everything. You should be able to access this link even if you’re not on my subscribers’ list (and feel free to subscribe should you like to!); it offered a very explicit request list of how those who support my efforts could help. Feel free to duplicate any item to convey to your own crowd. People appreciate knowing exactly what do to and where to go to do it…like a bridal registry!
Oh, and on that topic: you likely had early readers—beta readers (if you use them), those who helped edit your book, give you notes, consult; friends, knowledgeable family, blurb writers, etc.—so be sure to contact them about a week before you launch, and ask them to go to your Amazon page the minute the book pubs to input a review. Amazon now takes their sweet time posting reviews, but if your early readers submit on Day One, by Day Two it should be up. Very helpful at the beginning of a launch.
- The Launch Party: As the title says: it’s your book launch, party if you want to! There are those, curmudgeons all, who’ll tell you it’s a waste of money. Bah humbug… I say party like it’s 1999! That doesn’t mean you blow your entire promotional budget on a splashy soiree, it doesn’t even mean you have a soiree, but this is a BIG DEAL, a big moment, and you get to celebrate however you see fit. As mentioned earlier, I chose to do my launch at a bookstore, which maximized its purpose, but still… it was a party! Get creative: maybe get a local library involved; see if your best friend will host a launch party at their place (like a Tupperware party!), help you sell a few books at the same time. Check with the local bookstore. Or just gather people at your home to honor the event. Have books on hand, don’t be afraid to give some away to family and friends to help facilitate good word of mouth, and, again, let them know how they can best help you along the way. Once the launch is over, you’ll need to be creative about keeping momentum going, and that’s where the “team” you gather will be very handy.
- Lastly… REVIEWS: You’re gonna get them, good and less good. You’d like some right as you launch; you’ll need more as the rollout continues, and hopefully you’ll get plenty from bloggers, literary sites, trade sites like Kirkus and Foreword (which you pay handsomely for, but these two are worth the investment, particularly Foreword, which tends to provide better written reviews). Hopefully you’re up at BookLife and that will potentially get you noticed by Publishers Weekly. The point is, reviews will come in, and though you want and need them, don’t be distracted and disheartened if they’re less than stellar. I shared some thoughts on this specific topic in Our Love/Hate Relationship With Reviews, but the takeaway will always be this: reviews are one person’s opinion. Enjoy them when they’re good, take the hits when they’re not, recover as quickly as possible, and carry on… you’ve got a book to marshal into the world!
And that’s about it, the Ten Big Steps. I’m sure there are others and likely arguments and add-ons for each, but this list has been a productive paradigm for me, and will, hopefully, be for you as well. I wish you all good things with your launch, and the very best of luck with your book. It really is quite something to celebrate!
Thank you to author Lorraine Devon Wilke – a two time B.R.A.G.Medallion Honoree author!
Lorraine Devon Wilke
Lorraine Devon Wilke’s writing resume includes years as a screenwriter, and over a decade as a political/cultural contributor to HuffPost and other popular media/news sites. Her work has been globally disseminated, reprinted in books, articles, and academic tomes, and she continues to write cultural essays and commentary at her blog, www.rockpapermusic.com and select media sites. Her two previous novels, After the Sucker Punch and Hysterical Love, are both Brag Medallion winners, and available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and select bookstores. Her highly anticipated third novel, The Alchemy of Noise, was published in April 2019 by She Writes Press. Links to all her work, social media, writing awards, and other details of her creative background can be found at www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.
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