Guest post by Anika Denise
Launching a new book into the world is worthy of a grand celebration. Whether it's your first book or your fiftieth — it's important to mark the occasion with fanfare. Throw a bash! Invite your friends! Revel in the moment! You earned it.
But successfully launching a book involves more than just party planning. The work of finding and connecting with readers who will be motivated and excited to buy YOUR book ideally begins months and months before publication. From building your website, to networking with educators, to creating extension activities, to printing swag, to blogging, to tweeting, to baking cupcakes and ordering balloons — managing the myriad tasks associated with book launches can be overwhelming, especially for debut authors.
After my first two books entered the world without much fanfare or support, it hit me that I had a marketing degree and experience in promotion. So, um…why wasn’t I putting those skills to work launching my books?
When my picture book Monster Trucks was acquired, I made a point to keep track of all my promotional tasks and when I’d completed them; as well as what worked, what didn’t, and what I’d learned from the process. My documented “from-book-deal-to-publication” experiment eventually became the basis for a marketing workshop: BEYOND THE BOOK LAUNCH PARTY, to help authors create and execute their own book launch strategies.
The response I hear most frequently from workshop attendees is: OH-MY-GOSH-I-SO-NEEDED-THIS! And I tell them: so did I. To stay organized (and sane), l needed a promotional checklist I could follow for each new book. And hopefully, in being more methodical and digging deeper into my book’s unique content, I’d engage more readers, generate greater awareness of my “brand” as an author, and boost book sales.
So… did it work?
YES! While there are many variables that affect how a book sells, and I don’t have scientific data tracking back each promotional activity’s effectiveness, I do have my royalty statements. And the titles I’ve launched with coordinated marketing attention have done better. Significantly. With all the hurdles to surmount on the path to publication, a published book is like a tiny miracle. That’s why I try to do my small part in giving my books their best chance at success. And why I’m happy to share what I’ve learned.
Here’s the plan I follow. It includes advice on how to reach readers and considerations to explore when allocating your precious promotional budget. Use it. Share it. And feel free to reach out with questions or suggestions.
ANIKA’S BOOK LAUNCH TIPS & TASKS TIMELINE
Before the book deal...
* Create an author website (include an e-mailing list sign up)
* Network with the children’s book community – in person and online
* Be active on social media, but give thought to AUDIENCE when choosing how and where to spend your time. Are you targeting parents? Librarians? Teens? Where does your audience spend the most time?
* Don’t just talk about YOU; use your channels to AMPLIFY OTHERS
Pro-tip: Focus this time on establishing a professional author presence and getting to know your tribe. Attend conferences. Introduce yourself to local librarians. Be visible and make friends. And YES, include a mailing list sign-up on your site, even if your book isn’t out yet. Your e-mail list will be the foundation upon which you build a direct relationship to readers who opted-in to learn more about YOU and your books!
Just after you've signed the contract...
* Make a list of 8-1o topics and/or themes that are in your book
* Research and identify blogs, websites, and organizations that ALSO care about the topics you listed
* Are there opportunities to get involved? Guest post? Volunteer?
* Take this time to introduce yourself and build relationships
* Always begin with what you can do for them – not what they can do for you
Pro-tip: Meaningful connections grow out of equitable partnerships. Begin any pitch with what you can bring to the table, rather than simply asking them to promote your book. Here's the list I made for Starring Carmen!
The goal of this exercise is to find readers based on commonality and shared interests. One great example of this for me, was Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands, in South Carolina. The tagline for their after-school performing arts program is: Be inspired! Be talented! Be creative! This could easily be the tagline for Starring Carmen!. By offering to do presentations at their locations, I connected with both the gatekeepers (arts educators at BGC) and young readers — who, because of our common interests and values, are likely to be interested in reading the book.
12 months prior to publication...
* Set your promotional budget
* Identify book festivals and speaking opportunities that line up with your pub date; make note of deadlines for applications
* Consider partnering on promotion with other authors who have books in your genre or release year like the Electric Eighteens
* Look for HIVE MARKETING opportunities and book discovery platforms, such as Curious City's Bunk Reads & Trick or Reaters
Pro-tip: You can find yourself down a rabbit hole, spending large sums of money on book promotion. Deciding how much you are willing to spend and prioritizing which strategies are most worthwhile for your book is important. Ask yourself, am I going to enjoy doing this? And is this likely to move the needle on books sales?
9 months prior to publication...
* Outline your reading guide or activity kit
* Plan and draft blog posts related to the themes in your book (Check out Sarah Albee's and Betsy Devany's blog for examples of fun, engaging content-related blogging.)
* Check in with the in-house publicist to review the marketing plan for your book
Pro-tip: Publicists are BUSY. Each new season brings a fresh crop of books to promote, and the window for promoting an individual title can be limited. What you can expect varies from house to house, and book to book. So it's important to ask (kindly) what they have planned, in order to determine what you'll need to do yourself. In my experience, the more willingness I show to roll up my sleeves on publicity, the more support and attention they will jump in and give.
6 months prior to publication...
* Design and print book swag (if the cover is final)
* Schedule a cover reveal
* Reach out to bloggers to arrange a blog tour
* Contact stores to schedule signings
* Connect with schools and offer presentations
* If you are considering a book trailer, make notes on a treatment and hire your vendors
Pro-tip: Creating a high quality book trailer can easily blow your promotion budget, and won't (necessarily) sell more books. My strategy has been to find creative ways to produce them, at low cost. For Baking Day at Grandma's, we kept costs down by working partially in barter, and shooting it all in one day. For Monster Trucks, my local school librarian asked one of her students to create the book trailer as a part of a school library project. Consider getting local schools involved and/ or hosting a reader-produced trailer contest. Author (and book promotion wizard) Josh Funk creates his own book trailers. I love Josh’s trailers because they showcase his humor and brand personality, and really make you want to run out and read the book. If you have mad iMovie skills (or know someone who does) try putting together a trailer yourself.
3-4 months prior to publication...
* Send Advance Release Copies (ARCS) to colleagues, friends, and family, and ask them to consider reviewing and sharing your book online
* Create a “press kit” section on your website with your blurb bio, high-res book cover, author photo, and event poster template
* Send a draft of your reading guide/ activity kit to your publisher for review and approval
Pro-tip: As with trailers, a great deal goes into drafting and designing a quality classroom guide. Your publisher may create one for you, but if not, you can outsource to an expert. Not sure where to begin or what a discussion guide looks like? Scholastic.com has guides readily available for download. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the format.
1 month prior to publication...
* Finalize contests and giveaways (Goodreads requires 7 days in advance)
* Design a graphic for both your blog tour and store appearances, with dates and locations
* Share positive reviews on social media and add them to your website
* Finalize details and send reminders about your LAUNCH PARTY!
* Pop the Champagne (or sparkling cider) and enjoy!
Pro-tip: Consider going LIVE on Facebook during a portion of your book talk or reading, to amplify your launch party's reach.
And my final pro-tip? Don't get so caught up in promotional tasks that it keeps you from doing your first job, which is to write amazing books. Strike a balance. Set a few hours aside each week for book launch planning. Use this timeline as a guide, but do what works best for you.
Curious City facilitates children's literature discovery by creating marketing tools that engage readers with story. They create activity kits, write and produce book trailers, host book discovery platforms — they've even planned tours for fictional bands! — all for the noble purpose of helping kids and books "meet." Find out more at http://www.curiouscity.net and this post which includes a link to Curious City's "Creating Discovery" worksheet, which I highly recommend downloading and completing.
Author Gaia Cornwall also designs and creates super-cute (affordable!) author swag and book trailers.
Check out Marcie Colleen's awesome Teacher’s Guides.
And finally, here's a list of upcoming book festivals from Book Reporter.
Anika Denise a former marketing and public relations executive. She’s also the celebrated author of many books for young readers including Lights, Camera Carmen!, Starring Carmen!, Monster Trucks, Baking Day at Grandma’s, Bella and Stella Come Home, and Pigs Love Potatoes. In 2019, to coincide with Women’s History Month, HarperCollins will publish her forthcoming picture book, Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, illustrated by Paola Escobar. Other titles coming in 2019 include The Best Part of Middle, illustrated by Christopher Denise, and The Love Letter, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins. To learn more about Anika’s books and workshops, visit her website at anikadenise.com.
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