Writers in the Storm

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August 23, 2017

Launching Your Book: How My First Novel Experience Can Help You

James Preston

“It’s all personal.”

      — Michael Corleone, The Godfather


We’ve all grown up with the image — finger over the button, second hand ticking down as a tense voice says — “3, 2, 1, 0. Blastoff!”

It's such an iconic image.

I wanted to write about the launch process, because it’s interesting and because I am in the early stages of one. (And the thought uppermost in my mind is “I should have started earlier.” Learn from my mistakes.)

When I wrote a rough draft of this essay, I decided to do a quick Google search on “'book launch,” which produced 9.7 million results in less than a second. Yikes! What can I say that’s new?

I can tell you how I learned about book launches, and why I learned about them. Before I tell the story, fair warning. In the Introduction to Bazaar of Bad Dreams Stephen King warns that some of the stories — the best of them — have teeth. Mine does.

Many years ago I was writing a novel called Leave A Good-Looking Corpse. I attended a writers’ convention in San Diego where I found an announcement for a novel-writing contest, sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference. I’d never heard of the conference and I’d never entered a writing contest and the novel wasn’t exactly done, but the conference was in Seattle and my dad lived there; if I attended I could visit, so I sent off the requisite three chapters plus outline and went back to my day job. Along the way I got an agent. I didn't think about the contest until a letter arrived and I’m a finalist! Flurry of reservations and I’m there. I took second and they gave me money, a nice chunk, and I got a meeting with an editor who said, “I know about this book, tell me about the next one.” She wants the book.

I finish it, dedicate it to my father, my agent sends it off and I’m deep into the sequel, when all at once I realize that months have gone by and we haven’t heard from the editor. Turns out she left the company. My book is now an orphan, which is kind of like being Oliver Twist’s underprivileged kid brother. It languishes for a while, then dies. Agent to writer: “Don’t worry. A good friend of mine is an editor at an even better publisher and she is interested.”

Insert several months.

Editor Number 2 leaves the company.

Agent to writer: “Let’s think about leading with Book 2.”

I go up to Washington to visit my folks and my stepmother says, “Ralph, you have to tell him.”

He’d been diagnosed with bone cancer. 

I warned you this story had teeth. 

I took a look at the timelines I was up against. In traditional publishing from sale to publication is about a year and my novel hadn’t sold yet. It doesn't work if my dad’s going to see the finished product. And I wanted, no, needed, my dad to see the published book.

I said, “Screw it,” found a reputable provider and did it myself and that’s how I learned about book launches and promotion. I did it backwards — wrote the book and then figured out how to promote it. Not recommended!

The right way to promote your book, almost regardless of who publishes it, is to start early. Like, now. In fact, stop reading for a moment and think of the name of somebody you want to tell about the book. Got one? Good. The song in your head right now should be “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” because you need more. A lot more.

Remember that Google search? Well, there are things you need to do before you start going through those 9.7 million hits.

Take notes:

First — Think. Most important: think about why you like your book and why you want others to read it. Develop and polish your elevator pitch. (More later on the elevator pitch.)

Second -- Ask yourself serious questions. Where are you in the countdown? Is the book done, cover designed, publisher/self-publishing decisions made? Are you finished editing? These answers will drive other decisions. Remind yourself why you love the book.

Third — Budget time. Time for the launch, and time to plan the launch. The questions you answered in Step 1 will help. How soon do you need to be ready? Stay motivated! See the last sentence of Step Two.

Fourth — Make a list. Make several lists. List people, list tools like Mailchimp, list organizations like local libraries and book clubs. While you are doing this, remember why you love your book.

Fifth -- Plan a party. Restaurant, bookstore, library meeting room, back yard, take your pick. C’mon, you’ve earned it.

Now do your homework. The problem is not finding online resources; it’s picking ones that works for you. Remember: 9.7 million hits. Much as I love you guys, I didn’t look at all 9.7 million. You don’t have to either, but looking at some will save you time.

Now, go back and look at your notes.

  1. My story is worth several hours of some total stranger’s time because:
  2. My story is <insert elevator pitch>.
  3. I am _______ close to launch.
  4. The following people, blogs, organizations need to be notified.
  5. I can invest the following time and money in the launch.

And the most important thing you can do to sell the book is not only believe in the story, but distill and articulate that belief. The most boiled-down way of expressing your belief is the elevator pitch. Here’s mine for the first Surf City Mystery — “Leave a Good-Looking Corpse is about an attempt to sink a supertanker full of boiling hot liquid sulfur off the coast of Orange County, California.”

How is that important to launching your book? It’s important because you can use it everywhere. You can add it to the signature line of your emails, you can say it when anybody asks about the new book, you can use it in posts, you get the idea. But here’s the other, equally important benefit: developing this pitch forces you to think about your story, and why you like it. When you sell a book you are asking someone to invest several hours of their time reading it. Why should they? (Perhaps you sense a theme here. It’s this: believe in your work.)

Okay, here’s the end of my story. I finished the sequel, Read ‘Em And Weep and it, too, went on be an award-winner and garner me a check. I found a publisher; then an e-publisher found me and asked me to write novellas that I will be launching later this year. There are five novels in the Surf City Mysteries and number six is in the works.

And as for Leave A Good-Looking Corpse, self-publishing worked. My dad got to hold one of the first copies and read the following dedication:

Ralph Preston

Stand-up guy


My finest teacher

Thanks, Dad, this one’s for you.

Now it’s your turn. I’d like to hear your launch stories, and I’d especially like to hear your elevator pitches. Don’t have one? Now’s the time! You’ll never have a better audience.

*     *     *     *    *

James R. Preston is the author of the Surf City Mysteries. In October he is launching Crashpad and Buzzkill, two novellas set on a college campus in the 1960's.



54 comments on “Launching Your Book: How My First Novel Experience Can Help You”

  1. This is a great post, and pinpoints the most important aspect of promoting your book: your love for your story. If you love it, believe in it, with enthusiasm, that energy will help the launch. Oh, and elevator pitches? I'm terrible at them! But the one I came up with for my latest release is:

    An addiction counselor and a security guard struggle to free a little girl and her father, two lost spirits trapped inside an abandoned mental asylum.

    Not sure how well it grabs the reader, the book has only been out a few months. But you can find it here: http://amzn.to/2w2XezT

    Thanks for an inspiring post!

    1. Claire, thank you! You're right -- the author's belief is essential for a successful launch. Your elevator pitch is great! I'd check it out on Amazon, but that will have to wait until I get through more comments. I think when you say you're terrible at elevator pitches, you mean that they don't come easily, because yours is a good one.

      1. Gini, thanks!. Yes, Claire's got a good one. I guess that shows that no matter how much work it takes, a good elevator pitch is worth the effort.

  2. Funny you should post this, James. I was just chatting with Fae the other day, and we put together a schedule for when she wanted to launch her debut. Then we backed into all the timing.

    She discovered she's a month behind - already!

    Take whatever time you think it's going to take, and double it. What's the worst that can happen? You're done early?

    Oh, the horror!

      1. Be calm, Fae, be calm. Always remember -- if this was easy everybody would do it. On second thought, never mind. Go ahead and freak out.

    1. Only double the time? You are more organized than I am. Done early? Laura, I know you are speaking English, but the words do not convey meaning. All kidding aside, thanks for the comment, and for holding Fae to the calendar. Those of us who have followed the adventures of this book can't wait to see it. I assume you have a cool WIP?

    1. Hey, monster, thanks for the kind words. Glad you stopped by. Got an elevator pitch you'd like to try out on a good audience?

          1. I probably should have mentioned this was for a blog and not a book. Sorry. I just got excited about the chance to practice my elevator pitch. Thank you!

  3. James, I'm soooo glad your dad got to see the finished book and read the dedication. He must have been so proud of you. One of my regrets is that my mother will not be here to see my published book. She read the last draft but died two years ago of ovarian cancer before it was completed. I told her I would dedicate it to her and she seemed shocked and asked "Why?" I said, "Because you always believed." And she nodded her head.

    1. Oh, Lorraine, thank you for sharing that. I guess you & I are some of the few who know what it's like. Your mother got to read the book; and that's good. She knew, knows. Thanks.

  4. James, your dedication and the story about your dad made me cry, even though I already knew it.

    Fifteen months ago when I decided to self-pub, I thought the first book would be ready before Thanksgiving—last year. After all, it was finished, had been critted and revised innumerable times. It's coming out eleven months later than I thought it would, and I've been pushing hard for more than a year. Yes, Laura finally got me to sit down with a calendar to pick a launch date then back-date what had to happen when. Thank goodness I've already gotten my cover done (by someone else). I gave the book to the copy editor last night. I think this is really going to happen.

  5. Super helpful post, James! I am traditionally published by a small Indie company on the East Coast, which means I am ALMOST self-published. Translation: Marketing R Us! I probably let the publisher pull the trigger before the ducks are perfectly aligned. So I make up for it by Over-the-Top Belief in the product. Manic social media chops. And author events. The rush is a rush in itself! Hopefully others respond favorably to the energy. Taking a slower, more reasoned approach will come when the time is right.

    1. Thanks, Carole. I will "borrow" Marketing R Us and use it. There is almost no such thing as over-the-top belief in the product. That social media work is something I am still struggling with. Gotta post more! I have found that others will respond favorably to the energy; slower and more reasoned can wait. And BTW, all those duckies will never line up perfectly, so you might as well turn 'em loose. And good luck!

      1. Re: "Marketing R Us," borrow away. I'm honored! I was a Seattle Times reporter, critic and columnist for 32 years, so posting almost daily, engaging with readers, having fun with it is in my blood -- along with the ink! BTW, with Laura Drake's help I created the Facebook group READING COUNTRY partly to meet other authors and readers and partly to promote our work. Open lands, open books, open minds.

        1. My father was born in Kent, Washington. He was a huge western fan, who grew up reading them and never lost interest. I now have his books, including an extensive collection by B. M. Bowers, a prolific female author around 1915. Someday the collection will be on the market but first I have to catalog it! Thanks for sharing!

          1. James, that is so cool about our Washngtn "connection," and about your father as a Western writer and collector of Westerns. Of course I write New West mysteries "with heart." But I leaned a lit form the old and newer masters!

            1. Thanks, Carole. He did love those stories. We used to go book hunting together when I was in Washington, with him looking for westerns and me for science fiction.

                1. Couldn't agree more, Laura! Even though I am a confirmed electronic reader, I still like old books. I fear my godson's generation will not have that opportunity.

  6. Fae, congratulations! It's out of your hands now. and that's a good thing. I'm glad Laura got you in a headlock and made you pick a date. That's WAY better than the way i did it. But . . . have you developed the pitch? Thanks!

  7. Very helpful tips, James! Using them on the next novel. Meanwhile, here's the elevator pitch;
    "Saddle Tramps" is about a sassy ex-reporter who must learn who killed a valuable show horse before she is charged with the crime -- or falls victim, herself."

    1. Thanks for sharing the elevator pitch, Carole. Excellent! I like the specificity in "show horse." Makes me want to read it. Have you considered adding a few words about the setting? ". . . . reporter in Texas who must . . . ," (fill in locale). Just a thought.

      1. So how about, "Saddle Tramps" is about a sassy ex-reporter who hits the horse-show trail from Oregon to California to learn who killed a prizewinning horse before she is charged with the crime -- or falls victim, herself.

        1. Oh, yeah, very good. Now I know the setting and that it changes. BTW I checked out your web site and was impressed. Nice job!

          1. Thank you, and thank you, James! Thriller author Libby Fischer Hellmann put me onto a great designer, Sue Trowbridge (of Interbridge). Mystery Writers of America assigned Libby as my marketng mentor, when I requested one. MWA has an excellent program where you ask for a mentor for a specific need you have in your writing. You have three months to,work with that mentor. Great perk of joining MWA!

  8. Wonderful and timely article. This week I finished the final edits on my debut book, The Marine's Secret Daughter. It's called a February release but Harlequin will have the paper copy on retailer's shelves on January 16th. I guess I better get busy with my launch activities.

    Thanks for the article and the push to get ready!

  9. Carrie, congratulations! My wife Nancy has been a Harlequin reader for years. Now that that's out of the way -- yes! It's time to plan the launch. My suggestion is Google "Book launch" and scroll through the list. There are millions of sites, which says something about the challenges in inherent in the process. You do not have to reinvent the wheel, but I think you should tailor your activities to the book and the author. Shotgun -- tell everyone, or directed -- find people who read your kind of story, or a combination of the two. Good luck! PS Very good that you included the title in your comment.

  10. Clear advice and support in one post. Thanks, James.

    And because you invite the elevator pitch: Imperfect Burials is about a journalist who pursues the story of his career only to find himself a spy with no home country.

    1. Tom, what a great, great title and pitch! I'm glad you liked the essay. Part of the reason I chose this topic (thanks to the WITS folks for asking me back and letting me pick a topic) is that my last book, Sailor Home From Sea, launched and did all right, but I was on to two other projects and did not devote the time to the launch that I should have. It all worked out, but not because of me! Is Imperfect Burials launching soon? Where are you in the process?

      1. James, so glad you like it. It is complete, edited and cheered by Betas. Pitching agents to begin when the deadline for polishing my third book gives me enough oxygen. (That one is going into a literary contest...another venue I'm pursuing to help with launching.) As you point out in your reply, distractions to our heart's work can weaken our performance. Balancing patience and passion is like a third date with your future love.

  11. I think one of the best ways to find an agent (it's how I got mine) is at a writers' convention. DO sign up for meetings, DON'T carry a copy of the ms to foist off on them. You probably knew this already. Good luck!

  12. I'm late to the party, obviously, but wow, James. This is not only an informative post, but an inspirational one. I'm so glad your dad got to hold your book in his hands. Who cares, really, about what we do, more than our families and friends? That must have meant the world to him--and to you. Congratulations on your success! And, yes, starting early is key with any book launch.

    1. Thanks, Holly. You're not late at all -- it's not my fault these east coast people are up at 4:00 in the morning! I appreciate your comment so much. Yeah, it meant a lot to me that he got to hold the book. You're right, who cares more than families? You are also right about starting early. I think no matter when yo start, you're behind. Do you have a current WIP? Elevator pitch you'd like to tryout? The folks at WITS are a good audience.

  13. I did the first one backwards, because who knew? But it's a dream dictionary. Second one ditto but with more knowledge but it's a fantasy for the holidays, so I get to rewind every November: DRAGON SOLSTICE (pitch: How an innocent young dragon chased by an angry witch, and a knight intending murder, becomes Santa's pocket alarm.) Third (and fourth) is a verse play about Richard III, the second half split off into a stand-alone. All self-published on Amazon because I'm running out of time and that's what I can afford, both time and money. Halfway through the fifth, a YA novel, and am seriously considering running it a chapter at a time on my web side while I feverishly scribble tee shirt quotes for the new business I am hoping will begin to support me. Love the post. Thanks.

  14. Nance, wow, you are one busy lady! I am honored that you took time to respond to the blog. I really like the pitch for Dragon Solstice.As for the "verse play about Richard III" that one will take some thought. Major points for originality on both of them. Doing the YA novel a chapter at a time I think is good idea. Stephen King wrote The Green Mile that way, and the format has roots back to Dickens. Thanks!

  15. This is what I've been thinking about a lot lately. I've slowly been trying to get my name out there with my blog, so I won't be a complete no one and a blank slate when I try to edit my book. I'm getting slowly there to the last few editing stages, but I've started getting my name out there more. Even trying to get some short stories published before it's too late.

    1. That's great, Robin. Word of mouth is a great way to get started, as are book clubs. Depending on where you live, there may be writers' conventions nearby. And what you are doing right now -- participating in writing blogs -- is a really good step. Keep at it and good luck!

  16. Well it looks like I'm a little late in the process here. What a great post and very timely for where I'm at in my process to completing my first novel.
    Here's my elevator pitch;
    "The Bone Mill", is set in a small railroad town in rural Ohio, in the 1960's. After one missing child report, a closer look reveals a rising number from one county to another. Fear and paranoia sets in; is it a hobo that rides the rails, a neighbor perhaps? Or could it be "Eddy Bosse", the hulking mute that walks the railroad tracks delivering cornmeal and flour from Potter's Mill, three miles East of town just below the train trestle?

    Bill Hime

    1. Bill, glad to have you join the party! I like your elevator pitch a lot. Have you thought about ending with "walks the railroad tracks"? And thanks for the kind words about my essay. Keep your fingers crossed for me -- later this month I launch Crashpad and Buzzkill, two historical novellas set in the 1960's. And, BTW, you have a great title! Good luck with The Bone Mill.

  17. James, thank you so much! You're right, ending with "walks the railroad tracks", creates a "need to know more" situation for the reader. I'll be watching for Crashpad and Buzzkill! Thank you again for your input and I wish you the best on your novellas!

  18. Hey, Bill. How's "The Bone Mill" coming? If you go to my web page you can find an email address; let me know when it's done.
    Crashpad & Buzzkiill launched at Men of Mystery a week ago. It was an amazing event -- over 300 fans, 30+ writers. I had a good time -- hosted a table & spoke briefly -- and sold well. By now Amazon should be listing them.
    Okay, get back to work. Type faster.

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