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A Book Launch is an Investment in a Long-Term Career

Cynthia MorrisIn this guest post, Writer’s coach and author Cynthia Morris shares what she learned from launching her self-published novel. Disclosure: Cynthia was a client of mine, and I helped her strategize her launch process. Also: she’s pretty awesome.

by Cynthia Morris

When I made the decision to self-publish my novel Chasing Sylvia Beach, the possibilities excited me. I knew that creating and launching a novel takes an enormous amount of work. But I also knew that if I found the right perspective, the work wouldn’t seem so daunting.

I chose to lean in to my experience as a businesswoman. After all, I’ve been writing and launching products since 2000. Launching a novel couldn’t be much different, could it?

A month post-launch, I can report that it’s not much different than the other e-books, courses and retreats I’ve launched through my business. But what was different about the novel was the depth of personal connection I have with the book.

Deep in the process of writing seventeen drafts, I had to pop my head up to see the bigger picture. I needed outside, expert perspectives to help me see what I couldn’t and to help me plan the project’s entry into the world.

The process of launching taught me a lot. I now know that the same principles that apply to my business also apply to a novel launch. I worked with Dan Blank to help clarify my vision and develop strategies and tactics to achieve that vision.

Four challenges defined my strategizing, which I began in earnest a year before launch. I needed to:

  1. Define my reader for the novel.
  2. Shift from writer to marketer.
  3. Make good decisions with an eye to the long view.
  4. Be unique in my launch offer.

Investing time
Investing time in the thinking and strategizing process is something many people don’t consider until the eve of the launch. I started a year before launch to plan my content strategy, design my novel’s web site, plan the launch while continuing to build my audience.

The time I invested beforehand helped me feel both empowered and strategic with my launch. Here’s how I responded to the challenges mentioned above.

Defining my readers
In business, the first question to ask is: “Who is my audience? Who would be interested enough in this book to buy it and tell others about it?”

This is a step that many creative people miss. We get so caught up in our ideas, we forget that in order to sell something, it has to appeal to a buyer. A specific kind of buyer.

I know my audience for my business, Original Impulse, where I coach writers through their own creative blocks. I knew I had a lot of reader loyalty but would they want to buy and read my novel?

My initial mistake was to assume that all people in my network would be interested in my book. But I realized that just because they follow me to learn to write more and be more creatively expressed, doesn’t mean they want to read my novel. With Dan’s help, I refined my definition of my reader to help target my marketing efforts.

Shifting from creator to marketer
One of the biggest challenges writers face is not being able to separate themselves from the writing to have the objectivity required to do the marketing.

I wrote Chasing Sylvia Beach because I wanted more people to know about this American expat and her inspiring life as a bookseller in Paris. When I thought about the content I wanted to produce, it was natural that I would tell stories about Sylvia. But it took a bit longer to realize that sharing the themes in my book through stories about my character might also be interesting to readers.

Looking at my themes reminded me that what we value most dearly is what we put into our art. This makes talking about the book less an act of marketing and more an act of sharing what I care about. Writing and speaking about the novel and my process of writing it is a reflection of everything that’s at the core of my life and work.

Making good decisions, and lots of them
Keep trying for traditional publishing or self-publish? Who to hire to design the cover? How to print and distribute? These are the kinds of questions that keep indie authors up through the night.

Inherent in any project lies a million little – and big – decisions. Decision-making is another of the big challenges creatives face: we don’t like choosing. When we choose, we lose possibility, and possibility is the darling of the creative.

We also get hung up on making the right, best decision at every turn. Many of us experience ‘analysis paralysis’. The inability to drive decision after decision is what lies behind millions of abandoned projects.

I wasn’t immune to the daunting responsibility of having to decide about the cover, the author photo, the printing, the launch party. I maintained my momentum by getting professional help from Dan, my mastermind partner Alyson Stanfield and friends.

While I had the ultimate say on everything – one of the best reasons to self-publish – I had a lot of targeted input on my decisions. My influencers helped to drive my decisions to be smarter and more strategic.

Differentiating my book in a crowded market
I knew I didn’t have the pull to drive a mega launch. I wouldn’t hit the New York Times bestseller list and I wouldn’t dominate my category in Amazon. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t create something remarkable and memorable.

Before brainstorming possibilities, I had to identify my motivation for making something special. I wanted to do a limited edition for my readers. I enjoy the direct connection I have with people who buy my e-books and take my classes. It seemed odd to miss out on that with the novel.

Dan encouraged me to bring in my love for illustration and paper products. Part of the reason I wrote a historical novel is my nostalgia for the analog era where paper, pens, books and ink ruled. I wanted to make something that both physically and thematically illustrated the novel.

My original impulse was this: to have a library card pocket in the back of the book with an insert of some kind. I envisioned a folded piece like my beloved Moleskine accordion notebook.

Still, while the form was clear to me, the content wasn’t. It took a long time to gestate, but when the idea crystallized, I did all the art in one marathon rainy day in Denver. I pulled together the stamps, cards, library pockets and then signed and numbered the art included in the limited edition.

In it for the long haul
The sale of this edition went great. The launch party was sweet and satisfying. I’m still assessing the efficacy of my efforts and I’m still taking daily steps to promote my novel.

I’ve been a writer for enough years to know that this career is a long game. We need to find satisfaction from the small victories along the way to our bigger vision. Defining my own success rather than relying on conventional metrics like bestseller or Amazon rankings allows me to continue to own the process.

Sure, I still care about sales and want readers to love the book. But I also know that every investment in this book is an investment in my career as a writer and artist. And those are investments I am willing, and luckily able, to make.

To read more about Cynthia’s book launch process, check out this post: Craft And Connection Takes Time

  • Janet Oakley

    Hardest thing is to go from writer to marketeer. I self-published a historical novel too and have been at it for over a year. Understanding my audience and getting the word out brought challenges, but it also has been a lot of fun. There is nothing more satisfying than getting picked up by book clubs and public libraries. I am in for the long haul and I also appreciate the posts of Copyblogger and Dan Blank to get me going. Good luck with Chasing Sylvia Beach.

    • Janet – thanks so much. What is so nice about that work is that it benefits every book you write down the road. You can never know enough about your audience!

    • Cynthia Morris

      We’re in this together, Janet! Once I made the leap from me and my book to the readers’ side of the equation, the book became interesting to me in new ways. New perspectives and ways to talk about the book revitalize the themes for me. 

      Your comment gives me something to look forward to – my book in libraries! Thanks for commenting!

  • Wonderful description of your journey. Really relate to ‘analysis paralysis.’ I suspect I have countered this state of overlead with something akin to  ‘rapture of the random,’ – a sort of synchronisity gone berserk. Occasionally, I do not take enough time to explore possibilities, as I am instantly grateful to finally have someting to fill in a blank. Very happy there are so many great sites, (like this one) for information that helps to define the self-publishing journey for those new to this world. Truly appreciate your candour and the very best of luck to your future success.

    • Thanks Meredith!

    • Cynthia Morris

      Thanks, Meredith! I’m glad my experience is useful to you. I, too, am grateful for resources like Dan offers for us to make our projects the best they can be in the world. 

  • Barbara

    I could see much of what I thought was you, Cynthia, in the character, Lily… especially towards the end and Lily’s challenge in thinking about a “small”life (hope I’m not giving too much away here).  But at any rate, I really connected with that and it was such a nice surprise to read that in the story.  I could clearly see some wonderful themes you presented and that is what I really enjoyed about the book.

    I’m so glad you decided to SP. I remember reading so many of your posts or your newsletter as you contemplated this, and your struggle with the traditional route.  You are an amazing person and business woman and I KNEW you could do this… and I knew you would do it with grace, authenticity and impact… you did that, and more.  It is why I greatly admire you.

    And I love your being in this for the long haul. So many incredible lessons in that… and ones I am experiencing myself as I transition from children’s books to my nonfiction memoir… and so excited about the possibilities.

    You and Dan are my mentors and I continue to be grateful to have found you both.  

    • Thank you so much for the kind words Barbara!

    • Cynthia Morris

      Thanks, Barb, for that great reflection back to me of my years-long haul! It’s cool to be part of someone’s work long-term, to see how we can do our own version of authentic. 

      Your comment touches me deeply and I am grateful to share this writers’ life with you! (And with Dan!)

  • Barbara

    PS:  And, oh, could I relate to the 
    ‘analysis paralysis.’ So hard not to do that, but I’m getting better.  🙂

  • Hey Cynthia, how was the response to the awesome special edition book? Really loved the premise when I heard it a month or so back.Hope people are appreciating the efforts put in

    And it’s good to see a writer start planning up to a year in advance. I’m actually going to start mine later this week (only 6 months in advance), although I’ve had most of the ideas and plans in my head for quite some time.

    Until it’s down on paper though, it doesn’t count 🙂

    Best of luck with the continued launch

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

    • Matthew: thanks for the comments, and good luck on the next 6 months!

    • Cynthia Morris

      The response has been great. People loved the high-touch, high-concept approach. Paper pleasures is relevant to the book, so that’s why I did what I did. 

      Do yourself a favor and double your estimate of how long things take. I thought I was being conservative but when you’re working with others (designers, proofreaders, printers) much is out of your hands. I got the books 2 days before launch – not how I had envisioned it. 

      Optimism doesn’t have a place when assessing time and money – it will always be more than you think. So if you can build that in, you’ll be more sane. If you want that!

      Thanks for commenting and best of luck to you, too!

      • Really happy to hear that. I’m glad people are on board

        And yes, plans should always be extended. I’ve just extended to January from November because I think the deadline would have been too tight. I’m only releasing via Ebook for this project, though, so that takes away alot of the potential issues…I hope

        There will be A LOT of things learned in the next year I’m sure

    • Shelly Immel

      Matt / Turndog Millionaire, I can vouch for the high-touch, tactile appeal of Cynthia’s limited edition. It let readers interact with the Cynthia the creator beyond the pages of a book, in an interesting, unique way – much more interesting than a typical reading or typed interview. Cynthia found something she loved to do (the handmade creative touches) that tied back to her product (instead of seeming random or forced) and invited readers who most wanted to “touch the creative”to interact in a very fun way. And since she had her social media presence in place before the launch, the uniqueness of the limited edition encouraged people to post pictures, stories, and more online, increasing the visibility tremendously. It was a standout.Cynthia, congrats on a successful launch!

      • Great to here from someone who got it first hand 🙂

        Like I say, I love the idea and personal touch. It’s soemthing I hope to replicate in the future. Not to this extent with my first offering, but hopefully in the coming years.

        Engagement these days is inspiring

      • Cynthia Morris

        Wow, Shelly, you really explained the impact of my limited edition very well! I’m so honored and pleased that it delighted you. 

        The question that kept driving me to this offer was: How can I delight my readers? 

        Then I asked, How can I delight them even more? 

        It turns out that wow-delighting them was the same as delighting me. What a sweet gift all around. It made this launch feel so much more authentic. 

        Thanks for your kind and articulate comment on my process. You’re the best!

  • Sounds like you really learned your lessons Cynthia.  I agree with your point about planing your novel in advance and I have a technique that really works if you use it at the pre writing stage.  Write an ad for the book.  The ad will never be used, but it forces you to think through who the readers will be and what they will be looking for in the book.  OK, Cynthia, thanks and good luck. Edward Smith 

    • Thanks Edward!

    • Cynthia Morris

      Thanks, Edward. I like your idea of the ad. I did a similar thing with writing the copy for the back cover.  It helps to get over into the reader/buyer’s mind. 

      Thanks for commenting and for your kind words!