You’ve finally finished writing your book. Now, how do you ensure it reaches its target audience? Successfully launching a book is harder than you might think. To get it right, employ these four strategies. First, create a launch list. This means identifying a group of interested readers well in advance of publication and driving them to subscribe to your email list. Second, drive early reviews on places like Amazon and GoodReads by distributing advance review copies of your book. Third, appear on podcasts to talk at length about the themes of your book to an audience of potential readers. Finally, leverage bulk sales by trading your public speaking, coaching, or consulting services for bulk purchases of your book.
Entrepreneurs have long known that writing a book is a great marketing tool for their business. And, increasingly, professionals who work inside organizations also recognize the power of publishing to advance their careers and distinguish themselves from the pack.
Of course, writing the book is only the start. The competition is vast, including not just commercially published works, but also the million-plus self-published books released each year. The essential next step is launching your book successfully, so it has a chance to be seen by your target audience.
In today’s crowded media environment, hiring a PR firm and crossing your fingers isn’t enough. Authors need to take charge of their own promotional process. As I’ve discovered in the course of launching three books over the past six years, the strategies below — all free — are the ones that truly move the needle on sales and will help you market effectively from day one.
Create a launch list. It’s much easier to sell your book to people who are already aware of it and are clamoring for your content, rather than suddenly having to promote it to “the world” on launch day. So you should identify a group of interested readers in advance. At least six to 12 months before publication, start sharing content related to the theme of your book. For instance, if you’re writing about leadership, you could start a blog or podcast series where you interview top thinkers on the subject.
Obviously you can use that asset to promote your book, but what’s even more effective is driving your audience to subscribe to your email list by offering them extra content (such as this) in exchange for signing up. (I describe detailed strategies for building your email list in this HBR article.) That way, you can communicate with them directly and regularly — including a big push during launch week — and aren’t beholden to algorithm changes in social networks that could threaten your ability to reach your audience.
Drive early reviews. Outside your inner circle, few people are willing to take a chance on an unknown book that might turn out to be awful. One of the best things you can do, then, is to encourage early reviews on sites like Amazon and GoodReads by distributing free advance review copies (ARCs) to interested colleagues. You can identify them by writing to your launch list and/or asking on social media who would like to receive an early copy in exchange for writing an honest online review. (Amazon makes it clear that they only want unbiased reviewers.)
You may be concerned that giving your book away for free will cannibalize sales. That’s partially true, but your closest supporters will want to purchase copies anyway to support you. And the value of a well-written online review is actually worth much more to you than what you’d earn from a single sale (typically $1-2 if you’re working with a commercial publisher).
With an advance copy, readers have plenty of time to consume the book, so they’re ready to post their review on launch day. I strive to get 30 reviews on Amazon within the first 48 hours of my book’s release and at least 100 in the first month. It’s important that prospective purchasers who investigate the book will immediately be greeted with a number of thoughtful, in-depth reviews. That social proof reassures buyers that the book is both high-quality and popular and makes it more likely they’ll pull the trigger and buy. Note that many people who agree to post an early review may be slack in doing so, so it’s important to follow up until they fulfill their commitment.
Appear on podcasts. Many authors dream of being invited for TV interviews — and, yet, they typically drive very few sales. That’s because your appearance will almost certainly be short, and TV viewers — who are in lean-back, relaxation mode — rarely bother to pick up another device to order the book they just heard about. (One colleague of mine who had five full minutes on a major cable channel discovered that his appearance sold a total of six books for him on Amazon that day.)
On the other hand, podcasts enable you to connect with listeners for 30-60 minutes of in-depth discussion — and there’s a great deal of overlap between someone who is motivated enough to listen to a business podcast and someone who purchases business books. The listener is far more likely to remember your name after an hour’s exposure, and they’re already listening on their phone, so can toggle over to buy your book instantly.
You can learn more about how to get booked on podcasts in this piece I wrote previously for HBR. Aim to concentrate your podcast appearances in the two weeks around your release date (the week prior to drive pre-sales, and launch week itself). Many podcasts book guests two to three months in advance, and some of the most prominent book as far as six months ahead, so it’s crucial to be organized and reach out in plenty of time. Most hosts want to be helpful, so if you request a release date around your launch, they’ll typically do their best to accommodate you.
Leverage bulk sales. The most direct way to drive book sales is to trade your speaking (or coaching or consulting services) for bulk purchases. Author Scott Stratten spurred early sales of his popular book Unmarketing by offering to speak anywhere for free, as long as they’d pay travel expenses and purchase 100 copies of his book. This strategy may be more appealing in the early stages of your brand-building process, when you’re willing to forfeit revenue in exchange for exposure and don’t otherwise have an audience that will buy hundreds or thousands of copies of your book. But, if you’re willing to make the trade, it’s win-win: the sales are definite and confirmed, and conference organizers feel they’re getting a bargain because they have a giveaway for attendees (i.e. your book) in addition to hearing your actual talk.
If you’re trying to hit the bestseller lists (which may be a debatable goal), one crucial note is that you’ll need to ensure the copies are ordered through a service (such as 800-CEO-READ) that reports to BookScan, a service that tracks book sales. Additionally, the orders can be placed in advance, but you’ll need to specify to the bookseller that the sales need to be recorded during launch week, to concentrate the impact of your momentum. Some bestseller lists deliberately don’t count bulk orders, but their methodologies are often opaque, so it may be worth a try to cluster your sales.
Launching a book is more challenging than ever in this crowded and noisy media environment. But, by following these four strategies, you’ll be far ahead of many competitors, who sit back without a clear plan and hope their book will somehow get noticed.
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