In 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:
- Define my reader for the novel.
- Shift from writer to marketer.
- Make good decisions with an eye to the long view.
- Be unique in my launch offer.
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