In the fall of 2018, I received the final version of my novel To Squeeze a Prairie Dog from my proofreader. The novel had gone through countless revisions, then spent long stints with two editors, so receiving the final version was very gratifying. After a few weeks of creating various eBook files, the paperback PDF, and the hardcover PDF, I was ready to release my lovingly crafted novel to the world. But wait, excited indie writer! I said to myself. You need to launch this new novel correctly. I saw my reflection in the computer monitor and remembered all the mistakes I made when launching my previous two books. It was a painful memory filled with regrets and poor decisions. I wanted to give this new novel — one that I had painstakingly written, revised, edited, proofed, and created — the proper send off. I wanted to release this book the way the big publishers release theirs.
How do you do that? you may be asking. That’s easy, my indie writer friend: careful planning.
In an effort to share what I have learned about properly launching an indie book with my fellow indie writers, here are all the things I did to properly launch my new novel. This is a long, comprehensive guide. It’s not for the cavalier writers, the ones who are too impatient to even read this guide in its entirety. Prepping a proper book launch is in many ways more difficult than actually writing the book you will be launching. But I promise you, there is some excellent information here. When possible, I will link to or at least refer to the sources of this information. I didn’t learn these things in a vacuum; I used Google, of course, to find this information. Each of these sections of information are out there on the internet for you to find, but I will collate the information in a concise, chronological guide the best I can.
Warning: some of this advice involves spending your own money and just like starting a small business, you will need to wisely dip into your bank account. This guide is not a pie-in-the-sky fantasy for a delusional writer who believes they can simply publish their book then land on a bestseller list; it’s a practical guide. I had to spend some money to launch my new book, but I tried to be smart and frugal about which services to pay for (then I eventually did land on a bestseller list). I will try to explain when and where it was worth spending money for me.
One more thing: I mostly write and publish humorous, literary fiction. You may publish romance or thrillers. There may be some promotional avenues I didn’t pursue because of the type of books I publish. I will acknowledge and elaborate on this when possible.
Ready? Let’s do this.
Professional Book Reviews
This is by far the most important step to start with. Everything afterwards stems from receiving great professional book reviews. If for some reason your book receives poor reviews, then at least you could put the brakes on this book launch and regroup. Great book reviews help with everything and you cannot launch your book successfully without them. Professional book reviews provide an unbiased assessment from a third-party about the quality of your book. So, where do you get professional book reviews?
For indie writers, this is a herculean task that involves a lot of letter-writing, emailing, website form submissions, and shipping. For some outlets, you will need paperback ARCs (advance reader copies). For others, they will accept PDF files or eBooks like Epub (Google Play Books, Apple iBooks, Kobo) or mobi (Amazon Kindle) files. But for all of these, you will need to submit for book reviews as soon as possible because they require a lot of lead time — some as short as six weeks and some as long as five months. Also, carefully read their submission requirements and follow them to the letter. You don’t want your book rejected simply because you didn’t follow their instructions. Here are three sources for professional book reviews: literary journals, traditional media, and paid review services.
Literary journals are a great source for professional book reviews. There are dozens upon dozens to submit to, many of which are published by universities or non-profits. Most have a small staff and therefore limited resources, requiring them to be very discerning to which books they accept for review. But if they do accept your book, then expect a well-written book review from a well-regarded source. Most of the literary journals I submitted my book to did not charge a fee, although some did offer an expedited review for a small fee. Here are a few literary journals I submitted my book to: Midwest Book Review, Los Angeles Review, Washington Independent Review of Books, and Boston Review.
Traditional media are outlets like your city newspaper, radio, and television stations, but also includes national outlets as well. Think of USA Today and the like. As an indie writer, the likelihood of a nationally known outlet reviewing your book is almost zilch, but your local outlets may be willing to review it. Write a letter to your city daily or weekly alternative newspaper explaining why they should review your book and include a paperback ARC. They may jump at the chance to review a book from a soon-to-be local phenom. I wrote letters to the book editors of the Austin-American Statesman and the Austin Chronicle, as well as to Texas Monthly, Alcalde Magazine, and all the daily and weekly newspapers in the major cities in Texas i.e. Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, etc. Traditional media reviews are hard to get so focus your efforts on the outlets in your state and your hometown.
Finally, I submitted my book to paid review services to guarantee that I would have some book reviews to use for the next steps in the book launch. Knowing that literary journals and traditional media book reviews are not guaranteed to indie writers, I selected a few paid review services to guarantee I would have some reviews to use. If you research paid review services, you will find some dissension about them, mainly because they can be expensive and some people feel you shouldn’t have to pay for book reviews. But in my experience, I have found their reviews to be valuable assets for my books. Also, these services are excellent promotional partners. If your book is well-received by the likes of Kirkus Reviews, BlueInk Review, IndieReader, Foreword Reviews Clarion Reviews, or Readers’ Favorite, then they will tirelessly promote your book to their audience. In addition, Kirkus Reviews has their own high-quality, print magazine. BlueInk Review has a section in Booklist Magazine where they tout their favorite starred-review books, one of which was To Squeeze a Prairie Dog: An American Novel. IndieReader has an array of outlets they use to promote their favorite IR-approved books. Readers’ Favorite gave my book a glowing 5-star review. These book review services loved my last three books and did an excellent job promoting them.
All of these choices are great sources for book reviews and you will need them later in your book launch effort to acquire promos. For my new book, I was able to procure book reviews from all three review sources. My book was reviewed in Midwest Book Review, Alcalde Magazine, Kirkus Reviews, IndieReader, Readers’ Favorite, and BlueInk Review (a starred-review, I might add). Then my book reviews appeared in print in Kirkus Reviews Magazine, Alcalde Magazine, and Booklist Magazine around my book’s publication date of February 1, 2019 because I spent the time well in advance setting this all up.
Book Blogger Reviews
The next source for book reviews to explore are from book bloggers. There are far more book bloggers willing to review indie books than professional book review services, although the quality of book reviews and the size of their audience can vary drastically. One thing going for most book bloggers is their enthusiasm for the books they love, so having that on your book’s side can be addictive and endearing. In my experience over the past ten years, my dealings with book bloggers has been mostly very positive, and excellent reviews from book bloggers can bolster excellent reviews from professional review services. The only downside to receiving reviews from book bloggers is that many of the reviewers around today can instantly vanish tomorrow for a variety of reasons, making them an unreliable review source for your next book. So, where do you go about finding book bloggers?
If you do not follow book bloggers, then use a reviewer directory to find a book blogger that reviews your genre of book. Here are a couple of excellent directories:
If possible, sort the lists by the genre of you book, then contact the book bloggers after reading their submission requirements on their websites. Some may be very busy, being that they are inundated with review requests. Some may even have submission windows; others are closed for submissions altogether. When contacting book bloggers, I have found that being courteous when requesting book reviews is always the best policy. Remember, you are requesting that they invest a lot of time reading then reviewing your new book. Respect their time.
Social Book Reviews
With the proliferation of social media, we have also seen these type of websites that cater to a subset of interests, books being one of them. Places like Goodreads, LibraryThing, and Riffle are just a few sources for what I would like to call social book reviews. Now, some of the users on these sites may also be book bloggers but I have found that many of them are active exclusively on these websites. Goodreads is a wildly popular community and is now, not coincidentally, owned by Amazon. If you are a Kindle user, then you can link your own reading activity to your Goodreads account. The Goodreads website has a very nifty feature that ranks their users that review books. Here is the of the top 100 reviewers in the last 12 months in the United States:
You can change the country code to GB for Great Britain and get their top 100 reviewers:
For me, I focused on the US and Canada (country = CA). I perused the top 100 for both countries, looked at their reading lists, and contacted the ones that I felt may enjoy reading and reviewing my new novel. Any reviewers on these lists who noted that they didn’t want to be contacted, I did not contact. I was contacted in return by a dozen or so who were very interested in reading my new book. Each had different reading preferences. Some requested I mail them paperbacks while other were happy receiving a PDF file or MOBI file (for Kindles). But a very interesting thing happened once these reviewers added my new book to their to-read list: many of their thousands of followers soon added my book to their to-read lists. Amazing! I saw a strong surge of activity for my new book from the Goodreads community. And eventually, book reviews and ratings started coming in for my book around its publication date.
ARC is an acronym for advance reader copy. It is defined as “a free copy of a new book given by a publisher to booksellers, librarians, journalists, celebrities, or [reviewers], or as a contest or school prize, before the book is printed for mass distribution.” ARCs are distributed up to six months before a book’s release and usually have incomplete covers. Nowadays, most ARCs are in electronic format such as PDF and distributed through websites such as NetGalley. I mention ARCs here because as an indie writer, ARCs can be distributed as a means to get advance notice for your new book and a way to get reader reviews as soon as possible on Amazon or other book retailers. Also, versions of your book that you have submitted for review to professional review services and book bloggers can be considered ARCs because without review blurbs inside your book or on the cover, they are in essence incomplete.
If you already have fans and can email them through your website, then contacting your fans and requesting advance readers is a must. But if you do not have an email list of fans yet (put this on your to-do list for later), then simply asking family and friends to be advance readers is totally acceptable. Just let them know what your expectation is. If they enjoy your book, then you would like for them to leave a review or rating on places like Amazon or Goodreads when the book is published, or sooner if possible.
Another way to acquire advance readers is through book giveaways. Offering to giveaway an ARC of your upcoming book for free is a great way to attract new readers as well as get valuable reviews on retailer and social book websites. For one, LibraryThing offers free giveaways, so I opted to use their service (Goodreads has a giveaway service but it is very expensive). I gave away 50 ARCs of my new novel and asked that they leave reviews if they enjoyed it. Second, I ran my own giveaway through my social media channels, directing interested readers to signup for my newsletter. The ones that did were emailed an ARC of my new novel in the file format of their choice. Finally, I used a service through Fiverr.com to find ARC readers. They were instructed to signup for my ARC newsletter, then I would email it to them. That service cost only $25.
Building your team of ARC readers is an important part of your book launch for acquiring book reviews and ratings as well as getting some additional feedback about your book.
Indie Bookstore Appearance
One of the parts of a book launch that I enjoy the most is scheduling an appearance at my favorite local indie bookstore. In Austin, Texas, my favorite local indie bookstore is Malvern Books and that’s where I had my book launch for my latest novel. I feel it is very important to establish a relationship with a local bookstore, not only to sell your books, but to be a part of your literary community. You will gain a relationship with a local bookseller and see what people in your community are reading. An appearance is a great way to celebrate your book launch with your family and friends. It will be your rock star moment! If you’re brave enough, then you should read a selection from your book as well. Once your appearance is done, speak to the bookseller at the store about carrying your new book on their shelves as well as any of your other books, if you have a back catalog. Finally, this is where I direct local readers that are interested in buying a paperback of my new book. The “Buy Local” movement is strong in many U.S. cities and this is an excellent way to be a part of it. Inevitably, when I talk to people in my hometown about being a writer, they always ask where they can buy my books. Of course, you could tell them to buy it online. But you could also give them the option to keep their money in the community by buying locally. Pretty cool!
If there is not an indie bookstore in your community, then there are other options. Ask your local library if you could host an event there, then donate a copy of your new book to the library. I’ve heard from other indie writers that certain chain bookstores like Half Price Books or Barnes & Noble are open to hosting local authors. A coffee shop in your area would also be an ideal location for an author event as coffee and books go hand in hand. As you can see, there are many options for hosting your book launch in your community.
Advertising and Book Trailers
Once you have completed the long, arduous task of requesting book reviews (and you’re patiently waiting for them to come back), it is time to focus on advertising your new release and the strategy you want to employ. This topic, advertising, and the next topic, new release promotion, are very similar and can run concurrently if you are savvy enough to know how to use each effectively. But in my mind, they are slightly different and, in my experience, I prefer new release promotions over advertising. I will explain that later. In the meantime, let’s talk about advertising and where I feel book trailers fits into this topic.
There are several avenues for advertising but the most popular by far are display ads on websites from the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so many more. They are usually sold as cost per click (CPC), cost per thousand (CPM), or cost per action (CPA). I’m not going to differentiate between these and their effectiveness because that would be an in-depth article in itself. Some authors love display ads, particularly authors that already have large followings. But what I have found in my experience with my particular genre of books was that my return on investment (ROI) was very low. My ads would get a ton of likes and views but almost no actual book sales. So, I would like to suggest an alternative.
Book trailers are a cost-effective way for you to create an advertisement for your new book. Similar to movie trailers, book trailers are brief videos with enticing imagery, sound, and information about your book. Create excitement by using the inciting event of your story as well as excellent book review blurbs (if some reviews for your new book have arrived in your inbox) or accolades like starred book reviews or book awards. Usually no longer than a minute and a half, a book trailer utilizes one of the most popular media elements on the internet: video. Here’s an example of one I had created for one of my books:
You may be asking, How do I create a book trailer?
You can create a book trailer yourself by using iMovie on a Mac or Wondershare Filmora on a PC. Both are very easy to learn and use. Another option would be to use a web service like Animoto that provides a ton of pre-built templates for a very low monthly subscription. If these options all seem too daunting, then you could always hire a professional. Since book trailers are short, the cost of hiring a pro should be low and the upside is that you own the book trailer when they’re done. Now here’s the best part once you have your book trailer: you can post it everywhere for FREE! Upload it to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vimeo, your Goodreads profile, your Amazon author profile, your website, and share it til your heart’s content. That is a lot of advertising value for a low price on the very same websites where you would be buying display ads.
New Release Promotions and Book Blog Tours
By this point, book reviews from paid review services and book bloggers should be trickling in (if traditional media or literary journals will be reviewing your new book, then they won’t be published until around your publication date). And hopefully, your book reviews are excellent. When reaching out to blog tour hosts and applying for new release promotions, having excellent reviews for your new book will be crucial. Otherwise, your book is an unknown commodity. Having excellent book reviews will go a long way in helping validate the quality of your new book.
Book blog tours are a simple way to give your book exposure through a variety of book blogs to their excited readers and book enthusiasts. There are literally thousands of blogs dedicated to books. So, the easiest way to schedule book blog tours is through a host who can contact the book bloggers they feel best suit your genre of book. Xpresso Book Tours is an excellent and comprehensive service. Unfortunately for me, I discovered after contacting quite a few book blog hosts that the genre of my book (humorous literary fiction) wasn’t suited for book blog tours. They seemed to prefer popular genres like romance, thrillers, and paranormal books over literary fiction, although they said they’d still take on my book, if I insisted. Rather than be disappointed in a low turnout when my book wasn’t the appropriate genre, I opted to apply for new release promotions instead.
A new release promotion is through a book promotion service like BookBub or Written Word Media (parent company of BargainBooksy). These websites along with Early Bird Books, BookSends, My Book Cave, and the like, specialize in promoting book deals and are very popular with book lovers looking for low prices on bestsellers and quality books. BookBub and Written Word Media’s foray into new release promotion is a relatively new but exciting addition to their services because they have huge email lists in the hundreds of thousands and, in BookBub’s case, millions. So, with excellent book reviews under your belt for your new book, I suggest applying for a new release promotion. It will be the most cost-effective way to get your book in front of a ton of people who actually buy books — unlike display ads which have a broader audience, but only a fraction of them will be book lovers. In addition to emailing their audience, they will post a page about your book and some of these services post an author interview and other tailored features like social media posts. But without excellent book reviews, the likelihood of these selective services to help promote your book will be very low. BookBub is notoriously fickle and very selective of the books they promote. So, make sure to keep those excellent book reviews coming in.
Update Your Website
One of the things that you have a lot of control over is your own website, which I am certain you have put a lot of effort and care into maintaining (and if you haven’t then red alert signals should be going off right now). Now is the time to ensure that your website has a dedicated page for your new book with all the pertinent information like your book description, a place for book reviews, blurbs from other authors (if you requested those but not necessary), all the retailers that will be carrying your book and links as they become available, ISBN numbers for the various formats i.e. paperbacks, eBooks, hardcovers, and audiobooks, and any other important information. Posting images of the front cover as well as the full cover are required. If you can get quality photos of the interior or spine of your book, then that would be a great addition.
Prepare news release articles for your website to post a couple of weeks prior to your book’s publication date. PDF or Word versions of these news release articles can be emailed to reporters of the newspapers in your area. Keep your website up-to-date with information about your new book as new articles, events, and reviews come out. Your website is the one place you have complete autonomy to say what you’d like about the book, and present yourself as a professional, so use your powers here wisely.
If you have gotten this far without having created a mind-blowing website about you and your book(s), then like I said, red alerts should be sounding off right now. Even if website development is not in your wheelhouse, then you can at least create an eye-catching website using services like Wix or Squarespace. Don’t overlook this. Your author website is a valuable asset for promoting your new book.
Update the Backmatter of Your Other Books
If you have other books in your back catalog, then this is also the time to update the backmatter with information about your new book. The backmatter is the part of your book where elements like the About the Author section, contributor list, a glossary, and endnotes reside. Specifically, if you have other books, then those books’ backmatter should be updated to include your new book. That way, when readers are done reading those books, then they will be notified that there is a brand new, exciting book by you available for them to purchase. Provide links in your eBooks to your new book. Provide retailer names in paperbacks and hardcovers where they can buy your new book. This is free advertising for your new book and contributes to the long tail of your catalog of books as a whole and building your readership. All of your books should be helping each other with promotion and marketing, particularly your latest book.
Author Social Media Outreach
In addition to your own website, you should prep imagery and posts (including your exciting new book trailer video) for your social media accounts. Social media outreach is an important marketing tool for authors. It is another form of free advertising for you and your new book. Examples of social media accounts are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, Riffle, and more. You should be preparing the following types of posts:
- Announcement of your new book’s publication date
- Front cover reveal
- Book review blurbs from paid review services, traditional media, and book bloggers
- Photos of paperback and hardcovers as you receive them
- Dates, times, and locations of in-store author appearances
- Photos of your book on the shelf of your local indie bookstore
Here’s an example of a post I created for Instagram:
Use applications or websites like DLVR.IT to schedule posts if you are feeling overwhelmed. Scheduling posts is an excellent way to spread the word to your social media accounts without having to actually be on social media every day. DLVR.IT is free for posting to two social media accounts up to three times a day, which is a lot in my opinion. I prefer to post about new books up to three times per week instead. Scheduling helped me do just that, and I was able to add other off-topic posts whenever I felt inspired.
Post Publication Date To-do List
Once your publication date arrives, there are still plenty of things to do for your book launch. The first thing to do is to remind ARC readers that it is time to post their book reviews, if they haven’t done so already. Some retailer websites like Amazon will not allow for book reviews to be posted before the publication date, so that is why it is important to remind your ARC readers to post there. Supply the following blurb for your ARC readers to append to the end of their book review:
- ARC provided by author for review
This lets readers as well as Amazon know that you provided an ARC for the reviewer to get an early look of your book. In addition to Amazon, have ARC readers post reviews on Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Google Play Books, as well as social media book sites like Goodreads, Riffle, LibraryThing, and anywhere else they may post about books they love.
The second thing I like to do is schedule book deal promos to start about four to six weeks after your publication date with sites like BookBub, Riffle, and BargainBooksy. This way, you can drop the price of your book from retail price to a deal price and kickstart additional retail activity. For instance, I applied to BookBub for a book deal price of 99 cents, down from the retail price of $3.99 for the eBook. I was accepted for the BookBub Deal promo and scheduled it for a little over four weeks after my new book came out. I had a goal of hitting a bestseller list and a book deal is an excellent way of doing that, if you haven’t hit a bestseller list already. The BookBub deal helped my new book hit #1 in Satire on Amazon for a week where it was also on the Hot New Release list for a month! An excellent list of book deal promo sites is kept up-to-date on Reedsy.com:
You can sort this list by tiers — Tier I are the services with the best value for your promotion dollars. I have this curated list bookmarked and refer to it often.
Another aspect of your book launch you do not want to leave out is book awards. Book awards are another way to receive notoriety for your book as well as respected accolades and, in some cases, monetary prizes. It may seem counterintuitive to apply for awards as soon as your book comes out, but in reality, book awards take a long time materialize. Making this a part of your book launch effort will help ensure that your book receives the accolades it deserves, even if it’s a year later. And there are dozens of book awards that indie writers can submit their book to, including:
- IBPA Benjamin Franklin Book Awards
- Eric Hoffer Book Award
- IndieReader Discovery Awards
- The Next Generation Indie Book Awards
- North Street Book Prize for Self-Published Books
- The Pulitzer Prize
That’s right, even The Pulitzer Prize accepts indie and self-published books. Make submitting your new book to book awards a part of your book launch. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, if you win a prize or award.
Whoa! That’s a lot of information, but I hope you find it as valuable as I did for my recent book launch. With careful planning and patience, you too can successfully launch your new indie book. Remember, start five or six months before your publication date and begin with requesting book reviews — the most important element from which the rest of this guide stems. Believe me, to do all of what I have laid out here, you will need the entire five to six months. So, here’s everything in review:
- Request professional book reviews as well as book blogger reviews and social book reviews, beginning five or six months before your book’s publication date.
- Build your crew of ARC readers by at least asking friends and family. Use book giveaways if needed to acquire more ARC readers.
- Schedule a bookstore appearance at your local indie bookstore. If one isn’t available in your area, then ask your local library or other local businesses.
- Schedule display advertising or create a book trailer to post everywhere before and after your publication date.
- Schedule book blog tours or request new release promotions once you have excellent book reviews coming in.
- Update your website with information about your new book.
- Update the backmatter of all your books with information about your new book.
- Prepare then schedule posts for your social media outreach.
- Follow through with the post publication date to-do list. For instance, remind your ARC readers to post the book reviews they promised to write if they enjoyed your book. Don’t forget book deal promos to kickstart additional sales and submit to book awards.
- (Hopefully) Revel in the success and attention that your new book receives!
Good luck with your next book launch!