What to do a year before book launch

In the past couple weeks in this newsletter, I have explored defining your creative voice and creating a sharing system. Today I want to focus on how to prepare for launching your work a year (or more) ahead of time.

A year? Yep.

This is the work that too few authors consider. Instead, they wait until they feel their book is about to launch before they take action. The problem with that? They launch unprepared. They haven’t laid the groundwork they need, they don’t have a plan, and they are stuck doing what they didn’t want: shouting on social media that their book is launching. The result is that their entire book launch feels more like a crap shoot, and they throw their hands up and say, “Well, whatever happens happens. What else can I do about it?”

While luck plays a factor in success, preparation does as well. I want to frame this within three scenarios:

  • Scenario #1: You are and writer who feels you have no established platform. Maybe you have a website you haven’t updated in years, maybe you kinda share on social media, but it’s haphazard and unfocused.
  • Scenario #2: You are a writer who feels you have a platform, but it isn’t working. Here you feel you have some accomplishments you can be proud of, maybe it’s a consistent blog, or you have some followers on social media, but you feel it isn’t aligned to how you want to be known, and worry it won’t convert to book sales.
  • Scenario #3: You are a writer who feels you have a decent platform, but worry it is not at all focused on your next book. You look at your website, social media profiles, newsletter, and other efforts, and worry if they need to be overhauled. Equally, you are concerned about focusing them on the next book too soon. So you are stuck in limbo of being overwhelmed by what you feel needs to be done, and hesitant to mess it up by doing the work too soon.

Below is my advice for each scenario. And if you feel you don’t fit into any of these, I think all of this still applies to how you can best prepare for launching your book a year or more from now. Let’s dig in…

Scenario #1: “Ack! I don’t have a platform!”

Okay, breathe. Most people don’t have any kind of “platform” they hope for. So, you aren’t alone. And I’ve found that many people who you may think have this amazing platform, stay up at night worried that they don’t. Likely, you have more of a platform than you think.

So your book is launching in a year or two, and you don’t have a platform, and you don’t know what to do? Cool. Here are a few things I think you should consider. Is this list comprehensive? Nope. For that, I tend to work directly with people for months at a time, personalizing a comprehensive plan. (Learn more about that collaboration here.) But there is so much you can do right now to shift your mindset and take clear and reasonable actions. If you feel you don’t have a platform at all, this is what I would recommend:

  • Consider what people will find if they Google your name. If you are brave, you can go ahead and actually Google your name to see what comes up. If possible, use an incognito browser window so that you are less likely to see Google results that are tailored to your past behavior. Why do this? Well consider how word-of-mouth marketing works. A friend tells their sister about you and your writing. They write down your name, and then, a few days later, Google you. What do they find? Do you have a website? Do you have a LinkedIn profile last updated 8 years ago? Are you on social media? Use this exercise to consider what the most basic elements of your platform should be: where you show up online and what you say about what you create and why. Then, step by step, craft each element.
  • Consider where your ideal readers are. And what they like to talk about. If you are like many writers, this question will terrify you because you aren’t sure where to look. So to make this easier, look for landmarks. What other books are they reading? What podcasts do they listen to? What content would they see on Instagram that would get them to stop scrolling? What do they look up on YouTube. Consider them as real people. Don’t worry about pitching them. Just consider a situation where one person turns to another and says, “I have to tell you about this book I read.” Imagine that is your book. Who are these people? Do you have to make a lot of assumptions in this process? Sure. But that is just a starting point. Become obsessed with understanding who your ideal reader may be. Then show up where they are. Be pleasant. And listen. Focus first on being curious about readers, not pitching them.
  • Quick: tell me about what you write and why. Feel pressured? Not sure where to begin? Yep, it’s a difficult question to be confronted with, and often it happens when you least expect it. We like to imagine that it happens when we are fully prepared, with someone who we feel will really “get” the impetus behind why you write. But instead it happens at odd times. Maybe you are at work and you are leaving a meeting and you are thinking, “Hmmm, I wonder if that cheese danish is still in the kitchen,” (this is me in the scenario, by the way, I love cheese danish), and then suddenly a colleague says really loudly, “So Dan… how’s that book coming along?” You look up and suddenly 8 eyeballs are on you. “Ummmm…. book… Oh yea… um….” This is why I encourage to to know how to talk about what you create and why. Not just an elevator pitch, but a conversation. Consider not how you describe a thing, but how you craft a conversation around the themes and ideas you love to write about.

Scenario #2: “Well Dan, my platform exists, but it’s pathetic.”

Okay, so you have some elements of a platform, but you feel it isn’t really working. Maybe you blogged for a year, send out a monthly-ish newsletter, or you’ve Tweeted a lot in the past few years… but you feel that like 10% of it was about your writing, and even that felt difficult. If you feel you have something of a platform, but it isn’t really working for your writing aspirations, this is what I would recommend:

  • Have clearer goals. Consider the actions you would love people to take. Is it to buy your book? Pre-order it? Tell a friend? Subscribe to your newsletter? Talk about a certain topic? Get clear about the ideal actions you would like people to take, and then reframe your platform around those. Not in a promotional way, but by crafting experiences that lead to these things. Let’s take a simple example. Maybe you want people to talk about your book on Instagram when it is released. Well, then why not develop an audience of people who love hearing about books and talking about them. Maybe a year ahead of book launch you start a new feature on your Instagram where you engage readers with simple questions around book recommendations. You slowly develop this around your platform, and learn how to get people chatting about books. A year from now when it’s your book, you will be an expert in what gets conversation going. Clear goals leads to a clear actions.
  • Share more frequently. So many people barely show up in the lives of their ideal audience, so they aren’t able to build a sense of communication about what they create and why. No, I don’t want you stuck on a hamster wheel of “content creation,” but in working with writers, I nearly always find that sharing more leads to more connections with readers. The first step here is to analyze what may be holding you back from sharing besides a lack of time. Do you have any internal narratives about not having permission to share? What are those? How do others navigate these challenges? Then find 5 people who you love to follow online. You feel they are authentic and helpful and just awesome. Use their behavior as a guide to sharing more often in whatever channels make the most sense for you. It’s difficult to share when you don’t give yourself permission to do so.
  • Have colleagues. The surest way for your book to be released to crickets is if you are in total isolation. Publishing a book is a professional action, even if you consider it a hobby. You should have colleagues. Other people who create who have some kind of professional connection with. Not trading favors, but an actual colleague who you can email, text, or call to chat about the journey of being an author. I always remembered a story Miranda Beverly-Whittemore shared when she was in a poetry class. They would regularly have well-known writers as guest speakers. But the instructor encouraged the class to not worry as much about networking with the guest speakers, and instead to look around themselves at the other students, encouraging them to build connections and stay connected. That in 10 years, these connections will feel meaningful, and perhaps even helpful in their careers. So if you feel you don’t have colleagues, don’t do a calculus in your head of trying to find an “influencer” to befriend. Writers are everywhere. Just talk to them.

Scenario #3: “My platform is great, but a bit dated.”

You worked hard to create a platform, but when you look at it, you worry it that it is not in line with your next book. You want to be strategic and move into “pre-launch” mode, but you also don’t want to mess up what is already working, or start promoting the next book way too soon. So you feel stuck between knowing there is a lot to do, but not sure when to do it. This is what I recommend if you need to re-align your platform for a launch:

  • Prepare to pivot. Reassess all of your messaging and all of the channels you are present on. Then, make simple changes one by one. Don’t worry about doing a complete website overhaul. Instead, make one thing on the homepage better. Then next week, make one more thing better. Slowly just simplify your platform and make sure it is aligned to your next book.
  • Make every action a social action. For anything you share, consider how others can engage with it. Even consider if you can involve people in how your content is created. Also, don’t just focus on content, focus on connection. Sometimes it is way more valuable not to post something online, but instead to send out emails to reconnect with people, or establish a new connection.
  • Test your big launch ideas way before you think you need them. Meaning, if you have thought up a specific way you will promote your book around launch, don’t wait to execute it. Do a test first. So if you are going to pitch podcasts, then do a test a year ahead of time by pitching 10 smaller podcasts. If you are going to do an interview series on Instagram, test it by doing a micro-version of it months and months before launch.

Is there more you can do? Yep. This is the work I do day in and day out with writers. But all of my advice above is meant to be a starting point.