While it’s not easy to launch a book without any kind of online presence, many first-time authors are in exactly that position. Unfortunately, it’s an exercise in frustration to launch one’s online presence—and get up to speed on social media—in conjunction with a book release. It’s like trying to drive a car at the same time you’re building it. At some point, you’ll end up on the side of the road.
I recommend authors who are starting from “online zero” to look at their strengths and opportunities that exist outside of their own newly started (or nonexistent) website, blog, or social media. If done well, the book launch will help draw people to you online because they’ve read your book and enjoyed it, not because you’ve tweeted at them to buy it. When your book achieves a reasonable foundation of readership or success, so too will your online presence; the two go hand in hand. (Note: Prior to the book launch, I do recommend you establish sites or accounts you plan to be active on for the long term—just be aware they’ll be most useful, marketing-wise, for your next launch, whenever it is.)
Here’s a high-level view of the plan, which works for both traditionally published and self-published authors.
- Market and promote to the people who know you (existing readers or fans, even if there are only a couple).
- Encourage existing readers and fans to share your book with their network.
- Get influencers to help spread the word.
- Market to strangers or readers who don’t know you yet—but have demonstrated interest in work similar to yours.
Before you begin
- Consider creating a page at your author website or a media kit stored at Google Drive (or somewhere in the cloud) that has all the needed publicity information about the book and you. Then you’ll have a link you can share via email or elsewhere whenever people want to know more, have info requests, etc. Here’s an example of a basic kit.
- You may want to sign up for a service like BookFunnel to help securely share advance digital reading copies of your book. This is useful when approaching anyone to blurb, review, or otherwise offer coverage of you or your work; send print copies only when necessary.
1. First, reach out to the people who know you
“People who know you” are the people who would happily answer your phone calls, texts, or emails. Once your book is on sale, use your personal email address to let people know, one by one. This is critical. If you send a mass email, recipients will feel free to ignore it. You want to send a personal email, or at least one that looks personal.
If you’re lucky enough to have an email newsletter through a service like MailChimp, then consider the following beginner strategy:
- About one month before the book is available for sale (or while it’s on pre-order), send an email announcing you’ve got a new book out. Include a link to Amazon at minimum, and/or your preferred bookstore.
- On the day the book goes on sale, send out another message, including any positive reviews, blurbs, good news, etc.
- About one to two months after the book has been on sale, send another follow-up, including any new or positive developments, and ask people to review it.
- To the extent you’re active on social media, you can make similar posts there, focusing on news surrounding the release and sharing happy developments, reviews, and so on.
2. Encourage existing readers to share your book with their network
Think through the “assets” that each of your good contacts have (those people who answer your calls, emails, etc). Do they have an active blog? Do they have an email newsletter they send out? Are they active on Twitter? Etc. If you can pinpoint a single action they could take to spread the word about your book, and you’re fairly confident they’d be happy to do so, then write a brief email with a specific request, asking if they would do X. Generally this should happen after the book is on sale, but if what you’re asking would take time to plan, then ask earlier, to time the publicity as close to your book’s release date as possible.
Some of the people you know may be “influencers” (see below) and they should also be part of your outreach. Consider how/when/where they influence or reach people, and match your ask as best you can to their typical pattern of behavior. E.g., if they typically talk about books and authors or colleagues on Goodreads, your ask would be along those lines.
3. Get influential people or publications to spread the word
This is where things become difficult because you’re reaching out to people/publications who are likely inundated with requests and may not know you well or at all. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try; just expect a success rate that’s not as good as #2.
As with all marketing, the key to getting through is matching your request to the typical behaviors, abilities and interests of the influencer, and you may need to do some legwork to identify who these influencers are in the first place. You ideally want to target publications, bloggers, reviewers, journalists, podcasts, critics, newsletters, etc., who are highly affiliated and interested in your genre, or in the ideas, themes, and topics in your book. Ideally, you’d create separate, targeted lists based on interest area. For example, for a noir set in New Jersey, you might have an “noir” influencers list and a “New Jersey arts and culture” influencer list.
Hiring an assistant could prove very helpful here, to comb through and identify opportunities and people/publications to approach. I encourage a mix of traditional and online media, but you may want to focus on the more specialized or niche outlets who are most likely to respond rather than, say, the New York Times. (Traditionally published authors: Be sure you know who your publisher is targeting and have a divide-and-conquer plan when it comes to approaching and pitching media, bloggers, podcasts, and so on. Don’t duplicate efforts!)
Timing: This is the area where it’s typically important to reach out early, prior to book publication, since you may have to do a lot of follow up—and it can take a long time to identify influencers and write up specific requests to each of them. This is also where book publicists can be invaluable, assuming they have the right connections (and you have the money to invest).
4. Market to strangers or readers who don’t know you yet but have interest in work similar to yours
Efforts here would include paid advertising (online and offline) as well as any kind of giveaways or price promotions through online services like BookBub, InstaFreebie, etc. Usually giveaways and price promotions don’t happen until the book has been out for a while.
Before you consider advertising or paid promotions that would send people to purchase, usually on Amazon, first you want to make sure that your Amazon book page is as optimized as possible, so that when potential readers get there, they actually buy. To optimize:
- Include a sales-driven “headline” in bold at the top of the book description.
- Readers tend to skim book descriptions, if they get read at all, so for each new paragraph in the book description, use ALL CAPS, bold, or a catchy lead-in. Write your best sales lines in the first sentence of each paragraph.
- You should claim your Amazon Author Page (at Amazon Author Central), and fill that out completely. It will then show up on your book description page at Amazon automatically.
- Choose the most accurate and best possible Amazon categories and keywords for your book.
To know whom you should target (or advertise to), it helps to come up with a list of comparable authors or titles, then analyze the activity, reviews, and readers around those titles at Goodreads and Amazon. How do people talk about these books? What keywords or keyword phrases consistently come up? And where do the readers of these books tend to find out about new books? This kind of information often surfaces when you start looking closely at who is actively reading/reviewing books like your own, and provides additional leads as to what sites, blogs, communities, social media sites, etc., would be a good target for any kind of paid promotion—or to approach for editorial coverage.
Big warning: Most paid advertising does not work out well unless you have deep knowledge of the publication’s audience (you know for sure they will be interested in your book), or you have experience and insight into digital advertising strategies on sites like Facebook, Amazon, etc.—and are willing to experiment over a period of weeks and months. It’s very easy to blow a lot of money on online advertising without any results, and too many authors are running ads that are amateurish, with poor imagery, poor marketing copy, and poor design.
For more help on book launches
- Go Local: Marketing Books to Targeted Communities
- How to Find and Work With a Book Publicist—Successfully
Your turn: If you launched a book without an online presence, what worked for you? Share in the comments.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.