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March 2015

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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

The Hard Launch—What I Learned from The Dragon

(This article is inspired by a blog post by Joel Friedlander, a book designer and independent publisher in Marin Co. CA. You can read his post at Your Book Launch: Soft or Hard? I’ll be referring to Joel’s post often in the next few posts.)

I discovered a lot about book launches when I released Steven George & The Dragon on March 26. Part of what I discovered was how exhausting and in many ways stressful launching an independently published book can be. Some of the lessons I learned are worth passing on. When compared with the comments Joel makes about the differences in soft and hard launches, these thoughts might help others to get it right. For the sake of our reference, I’ll define hard launch as any book release that is tied to a specific date and appearance of the author with a book-signing and sales all targeted to that rocket the numbers of books sold on that one day.

Lesson 1: It all starts way ahead of the book. If you are doing a hard launch, one of the things you have to do is get you list of potential buyers put together. Potential buyers are: a) People in your target reading market, b) People who buy books for your target reading market, c) People who review books for your target reading market, and d) Everyone else that you know or have met or can figure out a way to get an email address for. The key element here is that you need to build a list of people you can invite to your launch and encourage to buy your book. Don’t underestimate the power of selling to friends and relatives. They all want to see you succeed. And, you’ve been attending writers’ conferences, workshops, readings, book clubs, job socials, and completely unrelated events for business or pleasure. If a person has given you a business card, they are on your list. Goal: No less than 500 names and email addresses, at least half of which must be local and in reach of your launch event. Success: I sent only 430 invitations to my launch party for Steven George & The Dragon. Nearly 70 people showed up for the launch.

Lesson 2: Inspire people to buy the book before it is released. This is really tough. Why would anyone come to your website and buy a book that isn’t released yet? Find a cause that you can couple with that will drive sales of your book. Contribute the initial sales or the a percentage of it to a favorite charity, release the book at a church or charitable event that benefits from the release, offer a pre-release discounted book price, or whatever you can do to encourage people to buy that book before it is released. This is almost impossible to do if Amazon is fulfilling your orders, but if you are handling sales from your own website, you can offer any incentive you want. Goal: 100 sales confirmed and paid before you launch. Success: In spite of offering to split the gross profits from advance sales of Steven George & The Dragon with Room to Read, an organization I have supported for many years, I sold only three copies through the website in advance. Many people told me they were waiting to buy the book at the release party. I extended the donation offer through the release party and was able to donate over $200 to Room to Read.

Lesson 3: Have a back-up marketing plan in place. What happens after the launch? I had great sales at my launch party, including many people who bought Steven George & The Dragon, For Blood or Money, and even my charity cookbook Feeding the Board! Over 70 sales that night. It was a great launch. But Amazon shows no sales since that date on any of the books in any of their versions. I’ve sold a modest number of books at a couple of other events at which I spoke, but was so focused on my one big night that now I’m scrambling to create momentum again and find myself weeks (maybe months) behind the curve.

These three lessons are heavily influencing the plans for my next launch in July. I’ll be exploring the lessons learned and the plans for the next launch over the next few posts. In the meantime, help with the title and cover of my next book by taking the 90-second survey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/HK2D2NP. The responses I’ve received so far are already influencing my decisions on how to launch the new book. Join in and enter to win a pre-release copy of the book now!

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