“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.)
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 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.
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.
- My story is worth several hours of some total stranger’s time because:
- My story is <insert elevator pitch>.
- I am _______ close to launch.
- The following people, blogs, organizations need to be notified.
- 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:
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.