When to prepare for your book launch

It’s common for me to encourage a writer to begin working on their book launch a year or more ahead of time. Today I want to talk about why that is, and ways you can prepare now. Let’s dig in…

Have a Plan

Don’t wait for others to magically create a plan for you. I’ve heard many writers very logically assume that they should wait, saying “Oh, I’m sure my publisher will have a plan.” Or “I have a good friend who self-published before, and did really well. She’s going to meet with me sometime next year to tell me what to do.” But waiting can put a writer in the position of finding out — too late — that these collaborators may provide some resources, but not a comprehensive plan. Then, the author is forced to improvise at the last minute.

Other writers may avoid creating a book launch strategy because they are only focused on what “doesn’t work.” See my post from last week on this topic: Are newsletters, podcasts, and social media too crowded? They conclude that email, social media, podcasts, events, ads (and more!) are so crowded, that none of them will work to connect with readers. So they throw their hands up in frustration that it’s silly to even try.

Instead, I want to encourage you to create a plan. What might that look like? It could include:

  1. A document that acts as a centerpiece to give your book launch clarity and organization. This is not a crowded notebook, or endless notes in a Word document. When I work with writers, I use a spreadsheet for this purpose, with each tab of it focused on a specific tactic or strategy. It isn’t just filled with ideas, it is a system for how to work.
  2. Identify different categories of tasks you will focus on. At the start, you may feel overwhelmed, but the plan is meant to give you clarity on when you will you announce things, what channels will you use, what your existing network look like, who will you reach out to, how will you market the book, etc.
  3. Double down on specific ideas that you will focus on. Then, ignore everything else. I find many truly great marketing ideas start very simply, and then you have to work through various permutations to figure out how to make them even more powerful. For instance, if I’m working with an author on a giveaway, we will consider how to make it bigger, make it feel authentic, how to involve others, how to ensure it may be shared, and of course, how it will spreads the word about their book. See a 2014 case study on this here.
  4. Craft a progression of actions, so that you know what to do when. This removes the paralysis of feeling that you have to do EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW, or that you are stuck waiting and can’t take any action.
  5. Establish a system to do any repeated actions, so that they take less mental energy and time each week. For instance: a system for how to update social media, send out a newsletter, pitch podcasts, etc.

I was chatting with one author I’m working with on her book launch, and she commented on the strategy document and process we have prepared and said: “This spreadsheet is my lifeline now.” Why? Because it doesn’t just capture all of the ideas for launch and research, but it puts it together within a clear plan. That’s different than having endless pages of notes, or a to-do list that feels overwhelming. A plan is meant for you to pop into, get clarity, know the next action to take, then leave so you can go do it.

Test Your Plan

Back in 2011 I wrote a post outlining how author Eric Ries spent an entire year planning for his book launch. At the time, he was a consultant, and he purposefully took no new paid clients that year in order to put his entire focus on the book launch. Eric would come up with an idea for what he thought would encourage pre-orders, run a test, and often found out that it didn’t do as well as he hoped. This allowed him to identify what did and didn’t work through experiments and real-world experience.

When you take the time to run a test, you challenge your assumptions. Too often we cling to narratives that “feel right.” Like, “Oh, my network of friends will come to support me when my book comes out, they have my back.” Now, I hope that is true. And that feels right. But I have spoken with countless authors who were in utter shock at how they were certain that specific people would support their book, but then didn’t.

It’s one thing to create a book launch plan that looks impressive, or feels reasonable. But until we test the ideas, we are just relying on assumptions. I would encourage you to find small ways to conduct tests. It is common for me to work with writers on mini-marketing campaigns way before launch. Or to begin taking out ads early as a test. Or pitch some podcasts way before you need to, in order to understand the process ahead of time. Or to conduct outreach to people influential to your readers, before you have a book to show them.

Let me give you a non-book launch example of testing. So, a week ago, my website went down after it was infected with malware. This happened earlier in the year as well, and in both cases I was able to get it back up very quickly. This time around I wasn’t panicked because I knew I had backups.

But I thought of something this week: “Have I tested these backups? What if my website goes down, and I go to upload the backup, and it doesn’t work. What will I do then?” Or “What if the backups don’t work the way I expect, and it takes 7 days for me to get them to work? What would the cost be to my business if writers who want to work with me can’t find my website?”

So I tested it. I went to a different web host and purchased a redundant web hosting plan. I uploaded the backup there and see if it worked, and if anything didn’t, then I would consider how I would fix it. In the end, I spent an entire day navigating technical issues and spending $100 to test this. But now I know that the backups work, and I have a fully redundant backup website ready to go if I need it. This also allowed me to navigate frustrating technical questions when I wasn’t in a panic that my website was down. I could take my time and do it knowing everything was okay.

Years ago when my work computer crashed, I did the same thing. I had a backup plan in place, but I never tested it. The plan at the time was “If my computer crashes, I have this backup file over here. I’ll just load it into the computer” But I didn’t factor in the fact that I may need to buy a new computer and wait for that backup to load, and that could take a day or two (or even longer.) How much work time would I lose?

So instead of just having a backup file, I now have a redundant backup computer. If my main computer goes down, I simply grab the backup computer and keep working. All of my files, emails, and programs are there ready to go at a moment’s notice.

If your book launch matters to you, then I would encourage you to have a plan and test that plan ahead of time.

Give Yourself the Gift of Time

Why not give yourself the gift of time in preparing for your book launch? To put a plan in place before you need it. To test it and make it better when you aren’t right up against the launch date. Giving yourself time allows you to hone and optimize your ideas. And when you test them, it allows you to get comfortable with the specific strategies and tactics you will employ. That is a skill and craft in and of itself. That time allows you to do these tasks frequently, and this encourages something we can all use more of in our book launch: luck.

This also gives you time to build a network of like-minded colleagues and supporters based on trust, rather than only reaching out to others just before your book is published, and every communication has the tone of: “I HAVE A BOOK TO PROMOTE RIGHT NOW, WILL YOU BE MY FRIEND?”

Giving yourself time also helps address the mental health aspects of what it means to share work in a manner that feels authentic and fulfilling. I want you to feel that you have given your book the best chance it has to reaching your ideal readers. (And if you want a partner in this process, you can learn more about working with me here.)

Thank you.