Free Ways to Successfully Prioritize Time and Energy During Your Book Launch

It’s expensive to launch a “successful” book, whether the investment is the publisher’s, yours, or a combination of both. And by successful, I’m not even talking about New York Times bestsellers, whose successes seem as much the result of a quantifiable financial investment as they are the result of unquantifiable variables like reader enthusiasm and sheer serendipity. By successful, I’m referring to any book that earns out its publisher’s investment and sells through its first printing. Any author who’s gotten that far should be immensely proud.

Here are some of the most critical costs I’ve seen responsible for creating a successful book:

*Print run (the number of books printed)
*Co-op (exhibition or shelf space the publisher is buying, whether at Barnes and Noble or, to offer your book exposure to browsers. Involved explanation here.)
*Marketing & publicity (ranging from advertising to a freelance publicist)
*Buying back books (for events or giveaway/review purposes)

For authors who receive an advance in the tens of thousands of dollars, a robust first print run, co-op, or hefty publicity/events support isn’t likely. And even the rare, proactive publicist who works with you at your publishing house…his/her efforts may simply not translate. If your hope is to exceed expectations and give your book a real shot on the market, you will need to find ways to supplement what’s lacking in the publisher’s investment.

Here are some ways to properly prioritize your time and energy that won’t cost you a dime, excluding gas money.

-Ask first about print run and distribution.
If your initial print run is 10,000 or less, distribution and general visibility is going to be limited at best. Understanding that obstacle, ask  your publisher through which channel they expect you to sell most books and focus your energies accordingly. Perhaps it’s Amazon, in which case having an online strategy (both theirs and yours) is important. Perhaps it’s speaking events, in which case, you might consider hiring a lecture agent or outside publicist to focus on events.

-Write prolifically, in advance, during, and after publication.
Don’t count on book reviews; you’ll want to do a lot of extra writing to promote your book and capture new readers. But not all of this time and work should be free, especially if you or your publicist is able to secure a major media channel for it. Think of creative story angles your book lends itself to, or unique experiences or perspectives you’ve gleaned from your own C.V. In the digital world, everyone’s looking for “experts,” and everyone’s an expert in something.

-If you’re not great with social media, find the people who are.
Whether you have three hundred followers on Twitter or three thousand, we can all get by with a little help from our friends! What’s essential about being plugged into social media, no matter how novice or apprehensive you feel about it personally, is that you begin to see and connect with people much “larger” or more connected than you. Those people, with their thousands and thousands of followers, can be your best allies at publication when it comes to needing big mouths to say a positive word about your book to a wide audience. If a popular author has turned you down for a blurb, your next ask could be for a tweet or an Instagram post with the book jacket.

-Do not neglect Amazon reviews.
It’s natural to obsess over what media attention your book is or is not getting. But media attention or not, however people come across your book, a page with sparse or non-dynamic reader reviews will present as less credible and enticing. Do a preliminary ask to your network for Amazon reviews at the time of the book’s publication (and know that on Goodreads, you can have friends and readers leave reviews in advance of publication. May be worth giving away ten copies to garner those early reviews from active Goodreads members or bloggers.) On business cards or postcards you create and hand out wherever you’re networking, ask explicitly for Amazon reviews explicitly.

-Check your sales numbers, not your Amazon ranking.
Amazon rankings rely on algorithms based all sorts of factors; they’re highly imperfect tools when it comes to monitoring performance. If you have an Amazon Author Central account (recommended!), you can regularly access your Bookscan numbers, even while understanding that Bookscan numbers are never entirely reflective or real-time sales. Monitor if certain publicity, social media exposure, or an event has caused an uptick during a given week. Ask your agent or publisher for regular sales reports (bi-monthly at the beginning, monthly after that) so you can get a sense of what’s working and what’s not. Why invest time and money without measuring its return?

-Cozy up with booksellers.
Take advantage of this gorgeous summer weather and take a road trip to visit independent bookstores in neighboring areas (or better, where you know your primary readers live). First make sure your book is in stock at the stores you plan to visit. Then walk in and offer to sign stock. Strike up a friendly conversation with the bookstore owner. That owner is far more likely to give you window space and recommend your book after making a face to face connecting and perhaps even reading it. If your book isn’t in stock at the bookstores you’re looking to visit, bring copies, and give the bookstore manager a signed copy. Perhaps he/she will want to make an order…

-Be vocal.
Keep a regular dialogue with your agent, editor, and publicist about what’s working, what isn’t, and what you can be doing to help. If you don’t ask questions, you won’t get answers.

p.s. Are you headed to RWA in New York this July? Or just looking for a fun party to meet agents, editors, authors, bloggers over free drinks? We’re co-hosting an event at WeWork on July 23rd with publisher Full Fathom Five Digital. You can RSVP at or here on Facebook.

Michael Shnayerson

A Publisher's Weekly Top 10 Political Book of the Season

"Cuomo, in Shnayerson’s telling, was the young campaign operative who shimmied up telephone poles in Queens in the dead of night to take down his father Mario’s opponent’s campaign posters, and would do just about anything if it meant winning." — Capitol New York