Everything you’ve done up to this point has been preparation for this singular moment: the launch of your book.
An incredible amount of time, energy, money, and attention has been invested by many different people. The foundation has been laid for sales of your book to reach thousands, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or maybe even millions of copies.
You will have 6-12 months from the time you submit your final manuscript to seeing it appear on store (and digital) shelves. That gives you plenty of time to work on the items below. And you’ll need that much time!
The launch meeting
Once the book is ready to be released, it’s time for the launch meeting. This is a grand gathering of everyone involved in the publication and promotion of your book, including:
- Your publisher
- Your editor
- Your publicist
- The head of publicity
- The head of marketing
- A representative from online marketing
- The head of sales (along with divisional heads for certain markets)
- A representative from special sales
- Sub-rights representatives for first serial and foreign sales (if relevant)
The only person related to the book who won’t be there is you. This is why it’s so important to make a favorable impression on all these people beforehand. Their level of excitement and enthusiasm for your work directly impacts its success.
Marketing vs. publicity vs. sales
The difference between these departments can be blurry, but here is a rule of thumb: Publicity is what you get for free, and marketing is what you have to pay for.
An article in The New York Times is publicity, while an ad on their website is marketing. Being on Good Morning America is publicity, while sending pamphlets to their staff is marketing. Having your book on the nightstand in a primetime TV show is publicity, while paying for it to be there is product placement, or marketing.
You’ll generally have much more contact with the publicity department than with marketing. In fact, you’ll probably have your very own publicist. This is because publicity depends on you as a speaker or interviewee, whereas marketing is in charge of ads, postcards, and search engine optimization across many authors.
Large publishing houses have their own internal sales departments that sell to independent bookstores, large chains like Barnes & Noble, online merchants such as Amazon, mass merchandisers, and more. Another department for “special sales” is in charge of making deals with corporations and other non-bookselling retailers. Regional sales reps cover sales to specific regions. The sub rights department focuses on excerpts in magazines and newspapers. And the person who handles foreign rights will reach out to subagents with contacts at foreign publishers.
Your publicity and marketing budget
The size of your budget for marketing and publicity largely depends on how the launch meeting goes. This is why you want to have prepped your editor and other publisher contacts with as much supporting information as possible.
Here are some things you can do to maximize your publisher’s ability to promote you and your work:
- Get blurbs: Especially from well-known people, blurbs (or endorsements) have a remarkable impact on people’s willingness to look at your book more closely, from salespeople all the way to buyers. If you know someone influential, try to get an early blurb and include it with the proposal.
- Make a Top 10 list of desired endorsers: In case anyone in the room knows anyone on the list or knows someone who knows one of them.
- Share ideas for reading/speaking/events: Book tours are quickly becoming a thing of the past, but if you have ideas or opportunities for in-person events, share these with your editor to open up the possibility of getting a budget for those engagements (especially if you have ways of getting lots of people to show up).
- Present creative marketing techniques: Make a case for the marketing efforts you believe will be most effective based on your audience, experience, and network. Frame these efforts in terms of return-on-investment.
- Give your editor a list of book chapters you think could be excerpted and publications and websites most likely to excerpt you: This will show you’ve done your homework and make the people handling first serial rights very happy.
- Identify specific countries that might be fertile markets: If your book has a connection to a certain country or region, let the sales reps know.
- Tell your editor about communities or groups you’re a part of: If you are part of a professional networking group, a club or membership organization, a linguistic or cultural group, or something else, this will give the publisher’s staff favorable channels to go after.
- Provide positioning: One of the best tools you can provide to the sales force is proper positioning. By laying out the bestselling lineage of your book, along with successful but not directly competitive titles, you help them connect your book to existing audiences.
- Summaries: Salespeople don’t have time to read every book they represent, which means anything you can do to help them understand it saves them time and increases your chances for exposure. This could include slides, digests, cheat sheets, bullet points with the main takeaways, or a short trailer video.
- Provide a list of places or companies where your book stands a good chance of selling: This could include places mentioned in the book, companies who are favorable to its message, or groups that are likely to be interested in the topic.
The publisher’s catalog
A book’s catalog entry is basically its coming-out party. Great catalog copy can be the difference between minimal and huge orders. Libraries, independent bookstores, gift stores, and universities all look at catalogs as they make their purchasing decisions.
Generally, the entry contains just eight or nine nuggets of information, including publication date, price, cover image, and author photo. Be sure to include a clause in your contract that gives you consultation rights on the catalog copy.
Think about the best time of year for the book to come out, ideally to tie in with holidays and seasons. Fall is the most difficult season, because that is when publishers release their big, blockbuster new titles. Off-peak periods such as late August or February can actually be good for new releases, since there is so little competition.
Finding a category
Every book has to be put into a certain category so that bookstores and libraries know where to put it. Shockingly, many books are miscategorized, leading to obscure placement far from where people look for it.
The first time you see your book’s category will probably be in the catalog. Look for it, and if it’s incorrect, tell your editor. The submission of forms by your publisher gives them a chance to sway the category it’s ultimately placed in.
Publishers have some leeway in how much they charge for the book at retail. They may increase the price to cover extra costs for illustrated books. Often, they will charge just under the average cover price, but this can be a turn-off for buyers and even cause discount chains to not order it, because they need a certain return on their investment.
The presentation of your book in the publisher’s catalog says a lot about what they think of it. If it has a two-page spread, an announced first printing of 50,000 or more, and a long list of publicity and marketing commitments, you can be sure they’re putting their full weight behind it. This in itself is also a form of publicity, and printings often end up being much smaller than originally advertised.
You will usually be required to pay for and provide a professional headshot to be included on the back flap of the book. As tempting as it is to find a friend or amateur to take a quick snapshot, don’t do it! Find a professional and invest in headshots as valuable business assets.
About six months before your publication date it is a very good idea to have an in-person meeting with the people who will be instrumental in making your book successful. By bringing together your editor, publisher, publicist, and anyone else relevant to the launch, you can get on the same page and sound out what they think will be the biggest challenges and opportunities. Don’t expect anyone else to take the initiative and make this meeting happen.
Since this might be the only meeting you have before publication, come prepared. Have your polished pitch, publicity and marketing ideas, and questions ready to go. Share any new endorsements you’ve received or been promised. Share with them what you’ve already done or accomplished: speaking engagements booked, journalists contacted, magazine pitches submitted, websites published, communities partnered with, etc. Make your team see that they are working with a seriously organized, dedicated, and passionate author who will make the most of their time and effort.
After talking about what you’ve already done, tell the team what you would like to happen. You could share a list of your “Top 10” most desired publications or endorsers. Someone in the room just might know one of them, or know how to reach them. They might also be willing to give you a budget if you have a solid rationale for why you need Amazon ads or a book tour. But also be sure to have “safeties” that are well within reach.
Most important of all is your pitch: the most succinct and powerful delivery of what your book will do for its readers. You should practice this to perfection and use it to inspire your team, who will adapt it for their own use and to inspire the sales force.
After the meeting, talk to your agent and ask them for feedback on your performance and what you can do to improve. Send thank you cards to everyone who attended. And ask your agent to send a follow-up requesting all the publisher’s promises in writing to make sure you’re both on the same page.
The sales conference
Three to six months before your book comes out, your publisher will hold a sales conference. Anyone who has anything to do with the selling, marketing, or promotion of your book should attend. The editor or publisher will pitch your book to the entire sales force in under three minutes.
This is a crucial moment: They will likely hear pitches for 600 to 800 books in this one meeting, and yours has to stand out and make an impression. Hopefully, you’ve spoon-fed your pitch to your publishing team because this is their shot to sweep everyone up in the enthusiasm of your idea.
The sales reps will leave this meeting armed with your tip sheet, which includes the basics of your book (title, subtitle, ISBN, publication date, etc.), plus all the marketing and sales information such as comparison titles, audience, and which other similar books that audience bought. Note how much of this information you’ve been tracking and developing since day one. The tip sheet is the single most important sales tool in your arsenal.
Hitting the road
As early as six months before your book is published, sales reps begin their quest to convince booksellers to order your book. Some will focus on a specific region, such as the Pacific Northwest. Others sell to national accounts, such as Barnes & Noble or Costco. But in every case, they will have no more than 30 to 60 seconds to spin their magic for you. And they can’t overhype or exaggerate their claims – at the end of the day, all they have is their reputation.
Despite the prominence of ebooks and online retailers these days, these early pitches and the book orders they produce in some ways determine how big your launch is, from the publicity and marketing budget to the size of your first print run. They are an early test of the attractiveness of your book and its pitch.
There is more than one way
This series has focused on the most traditional path to publishing a book. It should be clear that this is not an easy journey. In some ways it is more difficult than ever, with more competition on all fronts than ever before.
But the existence of alternative paths provides a beacon of hope for all aspiring writers. If you are dedicated to publishing your writing, you can rest assured that there is a pathway for you. It might not be the one you prefer, but access to the machinery of book publishing has been completely democratized by the Internet.
Instead of looking at traditional publishing as your one and only chance to “make it,” you can pursue it knowing that there is an attractive Plan B. And Plan C and Plan D.
It is no longer a question of “whether” you will get published. It is only a matter of how.
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