How to Launch a Book: What I wish I knew before I published Social Startup Success

It’s officially been five months since the launch of my first book, Social Startup Success. The last several months have been a whirlwind. I’ve given nearly 50 speeches in 16 cities, recorded over 30 podcasts and written 25 long-form articles, not to mention hosting countless launch parties, Facebook lives and webinars, all while trying to somehow spend time with my unconditionally supportive husband and three very patient young children in between. It’s been both exhilarating and exhausting to say the least!

When I first started this book project I thought the writing part would be the hardest. Don’t get me wrong, the writing was hard. But for me the real challenge came in trying to figure out the best way to spread the word about the book, so that I could get all of my amazing best practices research into the hands of the nonprofit organizations that desperately needed it.

Like any researcher, when it came time to launch the book, I asked all of the smartest authors I knew about their experiences with book marketing. I quickly learned that there is no single answer to every author’s biggest question: “What sells a book?” This is partly because media and marketing are changing at such a fast pace, and also because every book’s target audience is slightly different and will resonate with a different approach. Each author needs to figure out what outreach strategies will maximize their particular message so that they can reach as many people as possible.

In the spirit of sharing the wealth of knowledge that I’ve learned over the past year about what has been successful in spreading the word about my book, I wanted to share what I wish I had known in the six months leading up to my book launch. The following is a list of the various strategies that I used to market Social Startup Success, in no particular order:

Podcasts: One of the most important strategies I used to spread the word about Social Startup Success was to get on as many podcasts as possible. I hired one of my student researchers to reach out to and book as many podcasts as she could for me in the fall leading up to the book launch. She did online research and made a list of about 100 podcasts. She reached out to all of them and booked about 30, which felt like an amazing yield. I recorded between 3–5 podcasts a week during the four months leading up to the book launch, and asked the podcasters to wait to air them until launch week. By the time the launch came, Social Startup Success was in all of the relevant podcast feeds in those crucial first few days. A happy by-product of recording all of those podcasts in advance was that I could test out my messages and my stories in advance, so that I was ready for radio, tv and speeches on day one of the book tour. You can find my full list of podcasts here.

Influencer Outreach: Another important strategy I leveraged was to reach out to influencers in advance of the book launch to make sure that those individuals were ready to spread the word about the book on launch day. I made a list of everyone I knew who had high Twitter followings, all of the organizations featured in the book, all of the people who had provided blurbs in support of the book, and really everyone I know. I put together a partner packet of sample posts and tweets that people could easily copy and paste the week of the launch, and sent it to them one week before the launch so that they were armed and ready to go. For the top influencers, I spent an entire weekend writing personal emails to each of them, which helped increase my response yield. For the rest of my contacts, I used the “mail merge” feature on gmail, which at least allowed me to address each of the emails by first name. I also loved the “canned response” feature on gmail, which was a game changer so I didn’t have to write the same email over and over again.

Pre-Order Bonus: In the 6-weeks before the book launched, I worked hard to drive pre-order sales by developing a series of free resources, which I packaged as a “pre-order bonus” that anyone who pre-ordered the book could download by simply entering their email address on my website. Some of the tools in my pre-order bonus package included a book club discussion guide, an evaluation toolkit for nonprofits, a free fundraising e-Course made up of 3 ten-minute film segments and a workbook, and an Educator’s Hub where I posted the syllabus for my Stanford class along with my favorite exercises.

Pre-Order Campaign: Another strategy I used to drive pre-order sales was to develop packages for those who purchased a “buds pack” (buy one book for you and one for a friend), a “changemaker pack” (buy books for five of your favorite changemakers) and a “team pack” (buy twenty books for your staff or colleagues). I then worked with 800CEORead to develop a landing page with catchy offerings for each of these packs and made specific asks to everyone I knew depending on what ask was appropriate. 800CEORead was amazing at fulfilling all of the orders, facilitating shipping, and even gave a great discount on the books.

Media Outreach: I found that the majority of the press opportunities I received were as a result of my own personal outreach. I made a list of all of the people I knew who worked for or had connections with people who worked for news major publications or media outlets. My publisher then sent them early copies of the book and in the weeks that followed I followed up with each of them personally to see if they would be interested in doing a story on me or on the book. I found that it’s really hard to get people’s attention as journalists receive countless requests every day, so my advice is to be persistent (without being annoying) and don’t feel bad if you get no for an answer. You can find a full list of my book press here.

Long-Form Content: I also made a list of long-form pieces that wanted to write and made a goal of writing one per week in the months leading up to the book launch, whether on a current news story, a nonprofit best practice or a key takeaway from one of my book interviews. This may sound like a lot, but learning how to write an op-ed efficiently is a muscle like anything else, and the more you do it, the more efficient it becomes. I can’t recommend the OpEd Project all-day workshop enough, which gave me the tools I needed to churn out my ideas in long-form articles quickly. By the time the launch came, I had an arsenal of long-form pieces that I was then able to post as a guest contributor on a variety publications and blogs to reach as many new audiences as I could. You can find a full list of the articles I’ve written here.

Book Tour/Speaking: I’ve booked nearly 50 speeches in 16 cities over 6 months, mostly by external outreach (though now that the word is out I’m getting more in-bound requests). Here’s the full list. Basically I made a list of all of the conferences that I wanted to be at and one by one I reached out to the organizers, set them a copy of the book and was able to get on most of their agendas. Speaking has been a really powerful way to spread the word about the book and to sell books too, so I cannot recommend highly enough to get in front of as many audiences as possible. Other than conferences, I recommend speaking at house parties (other people organize and bring guests, you just show up), universities and companies. Going into the launch, I worked with an amazing speech coach to help me develop a five-minute, fifteen-minute and thirty-minute talk that were all ready to go depending on the audience. Of course I tweak my speech for every audience depending on who is in the room, but this has helped me prepare more efficiently.

Newsletter List: A regular newsletter is a critical way to stay connected with your audience and spread the word about your book. Newsletters also have a high conversion rate to book sales. To build my list, I started by collecting as many of my own personal contacts as I could. I then I put a new contact form on my website to allow visitors to sign up. When I was on the book tour, I collected as many business cards as I could and entered them on the list. I also circulated a sign-up sheet at my speaking events to capture emails in person. Finally, about once a month, before I send out a newsletter, I review my email correspondence from the past month to find new contacts whom I think might like to hear from me. When I first started sending updates, I just did by copying the list as a “bcc” on a regular text email, but now that the list is much bigger I use Mailchimp, which allows me a lot more functionality and a much prettier work product.

Amazon Reviews: Make sure you have a bunch of people ready to go on launch day to write Amazon reviews. I asked 75 friends and colleagues to be ready to write a review and ended up with about 25 who posted that morning. Now every time someone tells me they love the book, I ask them to write a review. Apparently the reviews are important for visibility and credibility on Amazon, so it’s worth prioritizing this.

Website: The website is really key to making sure people have a place to find your book and all of your amazing content in one place. I built my own website using the Weebly platform because I wanted control over it going forward so that I could update it regularly. Any of the online web development platforms (Foursquare, Wordpress, etc.) are so intuitive and easy to use nowadays, and it’s an easy way to save money. Here’s a great article I came across recently with tips for how to create a top-notch author website.

Digital Strategy: Last but definitely not least, the main thing that I actually invested financial resources in was hiring an amazing digital marketing team, Digital Natives, to help me develop a digital strategy for the book. While anyone could certainly do this on their own, given that I was busy running all of the other initiatives above, and since there are only so many hours in the day, it was incredibly helpful to outsource the digital content to a team of experts who knew what they were doing. They took over my social media for six months and did the bulk of my daily tweets and Facebook posts, generating content like shareable videos and graphics. They also helped me design my pre-order offerings like the evaluation toolkit and my discussion guide, prepared my monthly newsletter and taught me how to generate webtraffic and susbcribers on my website. I learned SO much from Digital Natives about how to pitch the book without sounding too salesy or desperate and how to creatively use social media. I can’t recommend the Natives team highly enough!

There you have it! My most important advice is that launching a book is a marathon and not a sprint, so if you don’t have time to focus on all of these strategies, pick two or three and run with them. You can always come back to the rest later. After all, if you’ve written a great book that stands the test of time, you will have plenty of time to get it into readers’ hands.

Other resources:

· Marketing Tracker — My friend and fellow author Jenny Blake created this amazing google sheet tracker to keep herself organized. I used this template to create my own tracker, which was my best friend for the six months leading up to the launch, and which I could easily share with my publisher, agent, etc. Jenny also has a ton of other resources for authors on her website.

· Other Articles — Here are a couple of other articles I found useful about how authors have approached their own book launches from Tim Ferris and Charlie Hoehn. There are plenty more if you search around!



Senior Advisor on Social Innovation to Governor Gavin Newsom, Social Startup Success author, Stanford lecturer, Spark cofounder & mom of three. Views are mine!

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Kathleen Kelly Janus

Senior Advisor on Social Innovation to Governor Gavin Newsom, Social Startup Success author, Stanford lecturer, Spark cofounder & mom of three. Views are mine!