Preparing for Your Next Book Launch

Past and Future

Whether you are about to launch your second book or your twelfth book, you have a valuable opportunity to learn from your past publishing experience and prepare for future success. Some aspects of your previous book launch may be worth repeating, while others may need enhanced and upgraded. Consider the following ways to learn from the past and prepare for the future in the publishing world:

  1. Your book launch team: Ultimately, your overall book sales will be as good as the people you recruit to your book launch team. Are they passionate about your topic, committed to spreading enthusiasm about your new book, and connected to other potential readers? Send early copies of your book to those who will take the time to read it and write a thoughtful review. To differentiate between those who will politely accept a book but are unlikely to follow through on writing a review or spreading enthusiasm about your book within their circle of influence and those who will help your book succeed, ask yourself if this person has ever reviewed or promoted anyone else’s book before. The people who have an established track record of reading, reviewing, and promoting books will be most likely to do the same for you and your book. Help the marketing director for your book locate thriving publications in which to place ads for your book. These publications should connect with readers interested in your topic and have wide circulation. Try to time the ads to coincide with any articles you are publishing in a given magazine.
  2. Your publicity team: People need to know that your book exists before they can read it, enjoy it, and benefit from it. The people who serve on your publicity team help people learn about your book. Think of your publicity team as comprised of both formal and informal members. Formal members include the group of publicists at your publishing house. They will set up radio interviews, create press releases, and coordinate dissemination of books to potential reviewers. Work closely with these publicists to make sure the opportunities they send your way are a good fit for your overall goals as a writer. Informal members of your publicity team include anyone who can coordinate speaking engagements in the six months leading up to your book release and in the first year following your book release. They also include anyone who helps you design a newsletter or other promotional materials suitable for emailing or for distribution at conferences or bookstore events. As the author, you will need to coordinate the efforts of both formal and informal publicists for maximum impact on book sales. Give everyone enough advanced notice before a speaking engagement or promotional event so that they can do quality work. Your publicists want to help your book get in the hands of readers, but you are the one responsible for increasing your own book sales.

What have you learned from publishing your previous book that can help your new book succeed?

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Making Connections as a Writer

Business People Meeting Corporate Digital Device Connection Concept

In my previous post, Connecting with People at Conventions, I discussed how writers can connect with people at various convention events such as exhibit hall displays, main sessions, workshops, luncheons, and receptions. While meeting people in person provides great opportunities for a writer to reconnect with key individuals as well as make new friends, most of the time writers need to communicate with people at a distance. Here are some ideas for connecting with people through technology.

  1. Magazine and Journal Editors – Even after you have written a book, keep writing articles for magazines and journals. You will find that writing these shorter pieces helps you pursue fresh ideas as a writer and keeps your name in front of readers. If you have met editors at writer’s events or conventions, send them an email to follow up on potential writing opportunities. If you discussed potential topics with an editor in person, send a query for an article that fits the publication’s current needs. If you have not already done so, connect with the publication through social media, liking the page on Facebook or following the account on Instagram, Twitter, or other social media sites. These social media connections will assist you in determining what articles are most suited to the publication and how a finished article will appear online.
  2. Agents and Publishing House Editors – If you are seeking to publish your first book through a traditional publisher, you most likely will need to communicate with a publishing house through a literary agent. During the publication process, your literary agent will give you suggestions as you hone your book proposal (nonfiction) or manuscript (fiction), so you want to find an agent who understands and enjoys books in your genre. If you have met a potential agent in person, follow up with a letter sent through email introducing your background (education, professional interests, previous writing experience) and a one-paragraph description of your potential book. If the agent is interested, the next step will be a scheduled telephone conversation to verify that the agent’s interests align with yours. After you sign a contract with your literary agent, he or she will communicate with publishing house editors until you sign a publishing house contract.
  3. Bloggers and Readers – If you have connected with bloggers and readers at conventions or speaking engagements, use social media to maintain the connection. Comment on blogs, guest post, and interact with readers through your social media accounts. Make sure you end each presentation at a workshop or speaking engagement with a slide providing your social media contact information. Focus on maintaining the social media connections with individuals and organizations whose values and focus match your readers. However, welcome connections that expand your reader base. Be aware that articles on the Internet can be taken out of context, especially with the passage of time, so use caution when deciding whether or not to write a guest post for a particular blog or agree to an interview.

How do you use technology to connect with people as a writer?

Connecting with People at Conventions

Happy businesswoman talking to colleague at lobby in convention center

Writers connect with people all the time through the written word. However, every so often, a writer might have the opportunity to connect with large groups of colleagues and potential readers at conventions. Think of conventions in the area of interest of your book, conventions of organizations to which you belong, and conventions attended by publishers and other writers. While each convention will vary in the number of attendees, the opportunities to exhibit books and materials, and the types of workshops offered, here are some ideas about connecting with people in three areas common to most conventions:

  1. Exhibit Hall Displays: In addition to being a great way to collect pens and small marketing freebies, exhibit halls offer the opportunity to learn about products related to your work and meet people in your field. Take the time to engage in conversation with people in display booths. If possible, take advantage of the chance to display your books and materials. Few writers will find it practical to pay for a separate display booth, but many writers can take advantage of shared display spaces. If your publisher has a booth at the convention you are attending, ask if you could have a time to greet people at the booth and sign books. If you are allotted a shared display space, prepare materials in advance that meet the set specifications for the space. In addition to your books, prepare small marketing materials that people can have for free that connect them to your business. Spend time manning your display space, but also set up the space to work for you when you are attending other events at the convention.
  2. Sessions and Workshops: The key to juggling time in the exhibit halls with attendance at the sessions and workshops offered at a convention is choosing the most relevant events to attend. If the convention involves voting during the organization’s business sessions, carve out time to make your voice heard by voting on the issues important to you and casting your vote for officers of your organization. If given the opportunity to present a workshop at the convention, prepare materials for participants and provide your social media and other contact information on the last slide of your presentation.
  3. Luncheons and Receptions: Luncheons, dinners, and receptions offer a more relaxed atmosphere to engage in conversations with people. Register in advance for the events where you will find people most interested in what you have to offer and  where you can connect with people that will help you grow in your career, business, or writing expertise. Remember that actively listening to other people is the key to making new connections. Talking to people from across the country or even around the world who have flown in to the attend the convention will expand your perspective and provide insights into the needs of the people you serve. Exchange business cards so you can carry on the conversation  long after the convention has ended.

How do you connect with people at the conventions you attend?

Power in Numbers

Inumbersequalsmile‘m an odd duck.

I’m one of those writers who, while I love crafting words to make a story, also have this strange love of all things numbers.

About 90% of you just had an icky shudder run down your spine.

I was chatting on the ride home from ACFW a month ago with Carol Award winner Patrick Carr. Patrick is a fellow numbers lover, a math teacher by day and former engineer.

In our chat, I finally found someone who does the same thing I do — follow the numbers!

Granted, the numbers can royally stink. I’ve known a lot of authors who purposely do NOT look at their sales numbers or Amazon rankings because it is depressing.

I get this. Oh BELIEVE me, do I get this.

But the thing is, there can be power in numbers if you use them correctly and don’t overly obsess.

Any savvy business person knows the key numbers of his business off the top of his head. In a previous career, I was a corporate payroll manager for a billion dollar company. (Yes, I knew their annual sales numbers…). One thing our executives required was that all corporate managers know their numbers. At any time, I needed to be able to spout off total annual payroll dollars, number of employees (and by company too, as we had 16 of them…), and a host of other metrics related to my department. The point was to be an expert on your area of influence, and an expert knows their numbers.

Numbers matter. They tell us a host of facts and help us make wise, educated business decisions.

Below is a list of numbers I think would be useful and necessary to all (published) writers who are treating this whole publishing thing as a business. (Because not all of us are… and that’s okay!)

1.) Profit and Loss. Basic accounting here. Income minus expenses = profit. If that number is a negative, it’s a loss. If you’re operating at a loss, two things to do: Increase income and/or decrease expenses. I suspect many of us operate at a “loss” for the first few years. It’s our start-up cost, if you will. But keeping an eye on profit and making sure you’re not overspending is a sign of a good business-savvy writer. Don’t wait until the end of the year when you do your taxes. At least once a quarter, do the math. Make a plan for the next month. You’ll be more fiscally responsible for it.

2.) Trends. I tread lightly here. Paying TOO much attention to trends (i.e. checking our Amazon Sales ranking on a daily or *ahem* hourly basis, not that I would EVER do that…) can be counterproductive, because you waste WAY more time than it’s worth. But following trends, especially after particular marketing events you’ve done, is super useful. You can get an idea of the value of your marketing dollars, whether spending $X amount of money for an ad on that blog was worth it or not-so-much. I’ll be the first to say, I am a firm believer that marketing value is about more than the immediate hard-dollar sales impact. It’s about building your brand and getting your name out there, and a GOOD marketing campaign will have worth beyond anything you can see on immediate sales trends. BUT! If you have little or no impact on the short-term, chances are you’ll have little or no impact on the long term either. So check those numbers, know what they mean, know what your “normal” is. Then use that information when formulating your marketing plan.

3.) Goals. In the accounting world, you have “sales budgets” but in the writing world, I call these sales goals. What numbers do I WANT to hit and NEED to hit? Personally, I usually set my goal number really high, but not so high it’s unattainable. Mostly because for ME, I like to hit goals. I don’t always do it, but if I have a good, high goal, some internal oomph in me says, “Hey, I’m lagging, I need to step it up!” Other people need smaller goals, and that’s good too. Set that goal, and when you achieve it, set a higher one. Regardless your method, set sales goals and work to achieve them.

4.) Platform numbers. At ACFW, I sat down in a pitch session with an editor from a publishing house and in our talk, we chatting about social media. I rattled off a few of my numbers…total fans on my FB page, total friends, etc. She wrote the estimates I gave her in a notebook and nodded, saying, “Good. I was just going to ask you that.” Publishers want to know your numbers too. What is your reach? Even if it isn’t as big as you like, know your numbers. Be proud of them, because you’ve worked hard on your platform building. (Then see #3 about setting goals to achieve that next level!)

5.) Your agent’s phone number. Just sayin’. It’s a nice number to have for when you get overwhelmed at the numbers and need to be talked off of the ledge! (Not that I’d ever do that to Sarah…) Oh, and your accountant’s phone number would be helpful too if you have a little tic in your neck after reading all this!

A few numbers to not worry about….

– Hourly rate. I’ve known a few people who log their writing hours and then once they are published, calculate out how much they “made” per hour on that book. My advice: Don’t do it. If your sales numbers don’t depress you, THIS number surely will! It has no intrinsic value, because it’s hypothesizing that you wouldn’t have written those same hours at a rate of zero. And let’s face it: We probably still would have.

-Nitty-gritty details. Number of blog comments per year, number of Facebook likes on comments, number of tweets, number of gross sales vs net sales (really, you only care about the net). So borrow from the Bible… Meaningless, meaningless, they are all meaningless. Only spend your time on the numbers that have value in knowing them.

Let’s chat: How you do look at your numbers? Do you study them or just leave them alone, figuring they are what they are? Any interesting ways you’ve put your numbers to work for you and used them?

Half Baked: A Publishing Recipe

Is most of your writing only half-baked? It’s easy to get distracted with all the wonderful topics to write about, and many of us have manuscripts that are still rising on shelves in the garage. That being said, it’s sometimes nice to go through the steps of what happens when a book does in fact make it all the way to publication. Here is a basic recipe detailing the steps that are required in creating a fully baked book:

For a first time author, a book usually starts with a completed, edited manuscript for fiction, or a proposal and sample content for non-fiction. Published authors can sometimes sell novels on proposal, but not usually. Best practices suggest that unpublished authors should try and find a literary agent, once their manuscript is ready for submission. Few publishers accept work directly from authors sans representation, and a good agent can greatly aid a manuscript’s success rate.

After a literary agent has taken on a manuscript, they then send it to editors at different publishing houses. The literary agent targets the submissions to the publishing houses that they feel are most appropriate for the book. The editors take a look at the project, and if it’s something they are interested in they will share it with their colleagues to determine the level of interest. If the editor receives word that they can move forward with the manuscript, they will send an offer to the literary agent.

The submission process can take anywhere from weeks to months (or even years), depending on how long it takes to find an interested editor. An offer may include advances and / or royalties. Sometimes the offer may even be a contract for several books. If more than one editor is interested, there may even be a bidding war situation to determine which publisher can create the best offer. When the terms have been agreed upon and the author accepts an offer, the publisher will send a contract to the literary agent. The literary agency may have a contracts expert review the fine print and negotiation points. Once the contract has been signed, it’s time for the author to get writing (if the book was only sold on a proposal).
Little Chefs

Once the manuscript is completed (non-fiction), or after the contract is signed (fiction), the editor will usually send a letter recommending changes to the manuscript. These changes are more or less negotiable, but authors usually follow the recommendations of editors. After all of the recommended changes have been made and the manuscript is deemed ready to go, it is copy edited. Spelling and grammatical errors are corrected. The pages are laid out to show what the book will look like. The author reviews the different versions of the completed manuscripts. The publisher works on the design of the book (including cover, trim size, font, paper type, and other details).

The editor manages the process of having marketing experts write copy for the publisher’s catalog, come up with the cover details, create buzz, and launch marketing plans. Several months before the book’s publication, sales specialists will coordinate with their bookstore partners and take book orders. This part of the process helps determine how many copies of the book will be printed. The agent might oversee this process to verify everything is on track. It usually takes a year or more for the publication process to go from finished manuscript to book for purchase. It can be fast tracked if it is an especially hot project, but the process usually requires quite a bit of lead time. When the publication date arrives, the book goes on sale. The book is now available to customers, and the customers often take it from there. Positive feedback, great reviews, and word of mouth are still some of the best forms of marketing. After that, the author is launched into instant literary stardom (or not). The author then writes a second book and the process repeats.

Hopefully this recipe for completing a half-baked book has been helpful – and now, I’d better get back in the kitchen.

Building the Perfect Brand

I recently attended a branding seminar for authors and wanted to share best practices with the WordServe Community. Here are 4 Sizzling Secrets to Branding You and Your Book from speaker Liz Goodgold, Branding Expert for www.RedFireBranding.com:

1. WIIFM: What’s in if for me?

Your audience wants to know what they are going to get out of buying and reading your book. Sell a benefit or a result – think in terms of a call to action. Will your reader learn a skill, come away with increased knowledge, or be entertained? Knowing your endgame is a huge part of selling the benefits and the results.

2. Consistency is Key

Brands have to be consistent. In-N-Out Burgers always taste the same, and they have since the forties. That is consistency at its finest.  Your audience is looking for that kind of consistency. Once you have established your brand it’s important to stay with it. Think in terms of household names like Chicken Soup for the Soul, or the ‘Dummies’ do-it-yourself guides or perhaps the Mars and Venus books. For writers who tackle random subjects without a real sense of continuum, Liz recommended that the books should still appear consistent with regards to style, size, type, and font. Branding by color is a popular way to go.

3. Book Title – Easy Recall

A well-branded book title is catchy and simple to recall; it also carries over easily from one book to the next. In hindsight, my book, Gumbeaux, was probably not the perfect title as it can be considered difficult to pronounce. However, I have the opportunity, based upon Liz’s learnings, to title my next book: “Rancheaux” or something with a similar suffix. The suffix could work as well for me as “itos” does for Doritos, Cheetos, Tostitos, etc.

4.You Are the Brand

You are not building a book, but an empire. Don’t create a website that is only useful to promote a single book unless you are positive you’ll never write another one. It should be fluid enough to support your blog, sales channels, books to come, a potential series, etc. Check out the websites of your favorite authors and notice how they position themselves not just as writers, but as brands. Use jargon that resonates with your writing platform. You are the brand – not your book – so think big.

How are you building your brand?

Judging a Book By Its Cover

We’ve all heard the saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but that’s not completely realistic. Buying habits have shifted heavily and more people are buying books online than ever before. The digital images we use on our book covers and websites need to be decent looking. Poor images are distracting and only serve as comedy relief for all those book snobs out there. You worked too hard on that book to just slap any old photo on the cover. No one wants to be represented by a grainy image that screams, “I don’t care enough about my work to take this part of the process seriously.”

Hesitant to use digital images you haven’t taken personally? That’s understandable. People can get in a lot of trouble for using a photo without proper permissions. Just because a photo is accessible via Google Images doesn’t mean it’s okay to upload to a website or use on a book cover. I highly recommend going to a stock photography vendor and purchasing the high-resolution digital files of your heart’s desire. Stock photos are ready-made, categorized images for promotional materials. Just like when you go to insert clip art into a Microscoft Word document, you can search for images by subject. If you want a photo of a horse, just type in the word ‘horse’ and see what comes up.

My favorite vendor for stock photography is istockphoto.com. Since 2000, they have been a trusted source for media, design elements and royalty-free stock images. Royalty-free means that you only have to pay one time to use an image or file multiple times. They also offer a legal guarantee that content used within the terms of their licensing agreements will not violate any copyright laws. There is so much stock photography out there to chose from that the possibilities are as endless as your imagination.

Need a crash course in digital imaging? A pixel or “picture element” is the smallest part of a digital image. Greater numbers of pixels in a digital image usually mean a larger image and/or greater detail within said image. A digital file‘s resolution is determined by pixels per inch (ppi). Generally speaking, higher resolutions result in greater detail. The address of a pixel corresponds to its physical coordinates. Digital images vary in file sizes, which impact the pixels per inch. For example, one photo I reviewed was a picture of London Bridge. In order to purchase this photo, there was an option of an XSmall version (347 x 346 pixels) for $8.00. The same image had scalable options ranging all the way up to XLarge (3456 x 3456 pixels) for $34.00. With so many options available, there is sure to be one for your price point.

Maybe people don’t judge a book strictly by its cover, but it is still a representation of the author. Having a quality book cover and cover image never hurts, but having a substandard one sure does. You only get once chance to make a first impression. Why not exceed the expectations of your readers right out of the gate?

What are your thoughts on book covers and digital images?