In the past year, I have worked with author Mary Carroll Moore to help her release two novels within six months of each other. There is so much to learn from this experience, I wanted to share it in a mega case study today.
Mary and I worked together twice in the past year (with a small break in-between):
- First, for the launch of her novel A Woman’s Guide to Search & Rescue, in October 2023. We also did planning for the period between the two novels.
- Then we worked on the strategy for the launch of her next novel, Last Bets, which will be released this coming April.
Throughout this experience, there have been many highlights for her, including:
- Overwhelmingly positive trade reviews.
- Becoming an Amazon bestseller and landing in their Hot New Release category.
- Recruiting a launch team that truly loves her writing and supports her books.
- Appearing on many podcasts feeling 100% prepared and truly enjoying it.
- A huge turnout for her in-person book launch party, as well as her virtual gatherings with readers.
- Great reviews from readers on Amazon, social media, and elsewhere.
In the Acknowledgements of Last Bets, Mary generously wrote: “Thanks to Dan Blank for more than I can say; ground-level inspiration as well as much-needed education about effectively sharing my story with readers today. Working with you was one of my best decisions ever.”
I was shaken when I read that. Mary has been a successful writer for a long time, and one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met. And what she had been planning for 2023 and 2024 was huge. She framed it this way:
“I’m going to be 70 in April, when Last Bets is published. It will be my 15th published book. For most of my writing career, I let my publishers handle all the publicity and promotion. Sometimes it worked well, sometimes it was very half-hearted. The books usually sold well anyway, but I always wondered if there was more that could be done, even when I worked with in-house publicists or did a book tour. I mostly wanted to reach readers in a more intimate way for these two novels, which I have worked on a long time and love very much.”
“So I decided I’d give these two books my all—to do everything I wish the publishers had done for my books in the past, and more. I wanted to learn as much as I could while I could still do it. I had saved the money from my years of teaching and coaching writers. I also made a wish list last April of what I would most want to experience through this process. Every single thing on that list came true.”
“I mostly wanted people/readers to be very affected by the stories, very involved with the characters, and let me know this in their feedback and reviews. To love the books as much as I do. That also happened.”
Isn’t that every author’s dream?
While Mary has a rich history with publishing books (she started in the late 1980s), A Woman’s Guide to Search & Rescue was her first book in over a decade, and her first novel since 2009. What that means is that this was her first time publishing into today’s marketplace, which is quite different from how books were marketed years ago.
Reminder! My next workshop is next Friday: Build a Better Book Launch: Essential Steps to Take Way Before Publication Day. It’s packed with huge mindset shifts, specific strategies, and real-world examples. Everything I share will be helpful even if your next book launch is years away. Join me for the live event on Friday, February 16, 2024, at 12:30pm ET. All who register will receive a recording, so if you can’t make it live, pease consider registering anyway. There will of course be a full Q&A where I answer your questions. All this for $49. More info and registration can be found here.
Everything with Mary’s books is happening because of her intentions and hard work. For planning the launch of A Woman’s Guide to Search & Rescue, we used my system as the foundation. When I work with a writer on a book launch, I have a 25-tab spreadsheet that we use to map out a clear plan, and to track progress as we take action. This includes:
- Messaging to talk about the book
- A detailed launch timeline
- Specific marketing tasks
- An outreach plan
- Marketplace research
- Audience identification
- And so much else!
Mary and I identified the strategies that felt right for her book, and what we planned was developed months in advance. You don’t have to do it this way, but one thing I think we were optimizing for was balancing mental health with book promotion. Launching a book can be a very emotional endeavor. Things you are certain will work won’t, and surprise opportunities will pop up when you least expect it. Being prepared and leaving some margin allows you to navigate it smoothly.
Working with Mary on A Woman’s Guide to Search & Rescue, our process culminated in one of the oddest ideas I’ve ever encouraged a writer to do for the sake of book marketing. That book features women pilots, and Mary’s mother was a pilot, so I suggested: “You should take flying lessons, then use experience, photos, and videos from that to promote the book.”
A few weeks later, Mary was in a plane taking flying lessons! Here she is in her first lesson inside of a Cessna airplane:
When working with a writer, making plans isn’t enough. We focus on taking action early and often, because building a sense of momentum is critical.
After the launch of that book, Mary and I met to discuss if she should delay the launch of her next book. Without question, releasing two books within six months of each other is a lot. We went through a list of pros and cons, and in the end decided that leveraging the momentum she created was important, so she was going to release it as planned in early 2024.
So much of this experience is not about doing work out of obligation. Instead, it is about choosing the experiences that matter to you. For her, now is the right time to share these books with readers.
An important aspect of this intense duo of book launches is Mary taking time for herself. Before the release of her next book, she is traveling across the country in her camper, and will be spending weeks painting!
For the release of Last Bets, we focused on doing less, but what really mattered most to Mary. Of course, we had the experience of launching A Woman’s Guide to Search & Rescue to pull from. Recently, I wrote about the importance of setting limits, and that is exactly what we have done here.
For Last Bets, Mary was able to recruit a new launch team and be clear about which efforts she wanted to replicate, and which she was letting go.
I asked Mary about the most useful processes she established. She said:
“Learning how to talk about my books from the perspective of meaning in my own life. This is what resonated most with readers and interviewers.”
This one is huge, and I think many writers overlook this. They come up with catchphrases to describe their book too quickly, and land on vague-sounding descriptions of the themes in their stories. Mary and I dove deep here, and consistently came back to this again and again. To hear an author talk effortlessly about their books in nuanced ways that really resonates with readers — it is such a beautiful thing to witness!
Another that Mary described was to do heavy-duty podcast preparation. This included tech, her “set,” and of course being prepared with answers: “Getting the right equipment and a good background setup for podcasts, as well as having sample questions and scripted answers to let me practice ahead of time. I didn’t have to re-invent this for each interview, since most of the interviews were very similar in their questions and approach.”
As with many authors I work with now, we focused quite a bit on her Substack newsletter. This is what she said of the experience: “Getting set up on Substack changed my entire experience with writing my weekly newsletter. I’d been doing it since 2008 and it felt somewhat stale to me. The Substack community changed that. All the new subscribers!”
Writers ask me all the time about how early they should start promoting their book, and the value of pre-orders. This is what Mary found: “Pre-orders turned out to be very successful for me, in terms of getting higher ranking on the online bookseller sites. It takes being very organized to do this, but it was a success I repeated for the second book.”
I often talk about the value of infusing how you share about your writing with people, and human-centered connections. Mary found that recruiting a launch team made a big shift in the success of her book launches, saying: “Having a launch team of volunteers who received the ebook about two months before pre-orders began and posted reviews on Goodreads and BookBub, then later on Amazon.”
It isn’t easy to launch a book, and as I mentioned, it can be a very emotional process. Don’t just focus on the logical plans around the tactics, but prepare to go deep. Invariably, sharing what we create can touch upon deeper fears we have of being seen, of showing up, of connecting with others, being rejected, or even fear of success.
I do this work because I feel it is meaningful to create and share stories, connect with readers, and grow as individuals in the process.
As I write this, Mary is in the moment in-between. — close enough to her book launch where she has done a ton of work, but far enough away that she has no idea how it will be received, and what surprises are in store.
This is why I wanted to write about this now, because I think as writers, we always feel in-between. It is that moment of anticipation where your greatest hopes and fears all seem equally likely to happen. And that is when we do the work to share what matters to us, and connect what we create with others in a way that feels meaningful to you — and to them.
Please join me for my workshop on Friday, February 16th at 12:30pm ET: Build a Better Book Launch: Essential Steps to Take Way Before Publication Day. I will help you understand the nuances of how to be public as an author, develop your platform, and prepare for your book launch, even if that is far in the future. Find more information and registration here.