You’ve done the hard part: Writing a book.
But the work isn’t over yet. Whether you’re self-publishing, working with an indie publisher, or have a major house behind you, traditional book launches involve lots of in-person events, like bookstore tours, conferences, and throwing a big party (or two or three).
Yes, even after all of those rounds of editing, agonizing over beta reader feedback, worrying over “killing your darlings,” and late nights cobbling together the final manuscript, there’s still plenty of work to do to successfully launch your book into the world.
For fiction authors Liz Lawson and Natasha Oliver, the hardest part of writing their first novels wasn’t the writing. It was the marketing. Both published their first books in 2020, right as the pandemic hit—so they needed to get creative.
Liz Lawson published her debut YA novel, THE LUCKY ONES, with Penguin Random House in 2020, with two more books forthcoming. “I am pretty self-motivated. I'm not going to wait around for somebody else to do it for me,” she says. “[When the pandemic hit], I said, ‘Okay, I need to do this.’”
Natasha Oliver felt the same way about her urban fantasy trilogy THE EVOLVED ONES. Her first of the three books, published by Marshall Cavendish International, debuted in April 2020. “My publisher doesn’t do any marketing for me, so I had to figure it out on my own,” she says. “Marketing is a discipline in its own right. It’s its own skillset. I’ve had to learn quite a lot about marketing on my own.”
Both Lawson and Oliver understand how quickly authors can get caught up in all of the advice out there for authors. Build an author platform! Get a Twitter! Get a skyliner to plaster your book title above Manhattan! Hand out free keychains and t-shirts! Rent an RV and go to every single indie bookstore in America!
Those are all great ideas—and we’ll talk about a few of them here. But trying to do everything only distracts you from the most important element of your book launch: your book.
Don’t worry about all of the shiny things, or even doing all of these things. If you want to launch your book successfully, here are five ways to do it.
#1: Start with who you want to be
A successful book launch starts with you and your work. In marketing terms, this means building your author platform—your brand around who you are and what you write about.
Oliver balked at the suggestion to build a brand when she first heard it. “I sat down with an author friend of mine who asked, ‘What's your brand?’ I said, ‘What are you talking about? I write books.’ And she laughed. That was when I realized, ‘Okay, so it's time for you to build a brand,’” she says.
This doesn’t need to be complicated. Your personal brand is just a polished version of who you are and the work you do. Brand creation is about distilling who you are and what message you’re trying to send.
For Oliver, the process was just as creative as writing her manuscript. “I wrote down a few different ideas and taglines to get started,” she says. “What is this book? Forget about the plot, the characters, everything. What is the essence you’re trying to get across? I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old and every story has the same theme, which is about inspiring the hero within. That’s my brand.”
Strip your book down to its core: what is it really about? That’s the foundation for your brand. Use that as the place to start when picking the details, like colors and fonts.
Forget about the plot, the characters, everything. What is the essence you’re trying to get across?
— Natasha Oliver
The most important thing about building your brand is that you’re not going to be everything for everyone. Some readers won’t like your book—and that’s OK! It’s not for them.
“My debut is a very sad, serious book about the aftermath of a school shooting,” says Lawson. “I struggled a bit with figuring out how to message it to people, because serious topics can turn people off. But I just let it out there and had the book speak for itself.”
“My brand is all about inspiring the hero within,” says Oliver. “I make sure that whether I post on Instagram or on my blog or write copy for my website that the messaging is the same, and it all ties back to that brand.”
Readers want an authentic way to connect with you, so be yourself and let your books lead the way.
#2: Focus on building community first
Once you have an idea of your brand, focus on building a community of readers before jumping straight to selling your book. These are the ones who care about what you have to say and want to hear more from you.
Your community is where you get to embody your brand. It’s up to you to find it.
Community isn’t a get-rich-quick marketing tactic. It takes time and patience to attract an audience and build your community—so even if you’re still writing your book, start thinking about it now. Leading with community makes it easier to identify which channels speak to you as a writer and as a person, rather than trying to be everywhere at once.
“I needed to build a community first, and then find which platform worked best for me,” says Oliver. “What platforms may work best for me as an individual may not be the right platforms for my book.”
Your audience will tell you which channels to choose, whether that’s online or in-person. You may find your people on BookTok like Lawson (see #4) or do it yourself with an email list like Oliver (see #5). It’s all about building an audience from the ground-up, says Oliver. “Go to where your readers are, know your market and go there. Because you really do need an audience first.”
It doesn’t matter how good the book is. If you don’t have an audience, it just stays a good book.
#3: Create your own events
Once you know who you are and where your audience is, you can choose the right channel. In-person and online events are popular for a reason—they’re a fun, authentic way to connect with readers and other authors alike. But you don’t have to wait around for your publisher to host an event for you, or for a bookstore to invite you. Host your own!
Lawson published her first novel just as everything shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “My publisher set up a launch party for me, and that was cancelled. I was supposed to be at the L.A. Times Book Festival, and that was cancelled. I was supposed to tour a couple of cities…that was cancelled too,” she says.
She was devastated. “I posted on Twitter about all of my events getting cancelled, and actually had a lovely reception,” she remembers. “I decided to set things up myself. I did an Instagram Live, had a few virtual interviews, and some online book conferences that summer.”
Word-of-mouth is still the most effective marketing channel out there. You don’t need a lavish launch party in a major city—find local indie bookstores, schools, universities, book clubs, or other groups in your community to get started.
Word-of-mouth is still the most effective marketing channel out there.
— Liz Lawson
Forge your own path with events that align with your brand. Says Lawson, “I did the Lehigh Valley book conference, which was great. Panels are a nice way to talk about your book, especially explaining what the book is about and having a real discussion instead of trying to cram it into 280 characters on Twitter.”
#4: Start conversations with your community
Events can be powerful ways to spread the word, but they’re less scalable than plugging into online word-of-mouth: Social media.
While you may use social media personally, it’s a little different when you’re trying to build an author platform and sell more books. Choose one main channel that best speaks to you—you’ll be more approachable and reachable that way, which is what social media is all about.
For Lawson, that channel was TikTok.
@lzlwsnKEEP GOING!!! Inspo @audrawrites #booktok #yabooktok #bookworm #fyp #viral♬ original sound – josh
“I’ve told all of my author friends they need to get on TikTok,” says Lawson. “TikTok has really helped my book sales in a way that other platforms haven’t. I can see when I have a TikTok that gets a lot of views that it impacts my sales. It’s a platform that allows you to connect with people in a real way.”
For Lawson, it’s letting her personality come through. “I’m not a dancer—I don’t do any of that dance stuff,” she says. “But I find it fun. I like that it’s silly and I can be myself. That’s what I enjoy.”
I’ve told all of my author friends they need to get on TikTok.
— Liz Lawson
Oliver chose Instagram for the same reason: it feels more authentic to her.
View this post on Instagram
“I settled on Instagram as my main channel because I personally enjoy it,” says Oliver. “I’m more authentic, and I can show up in a different way. I’ve seen some sales off of Instagram, but those are often from people that are a part of a larger community. I try to only post about my book once a month, so my account still feels like me. I don’t want it to be a shameless plug.”
That doesn’t mean ignoring other channels. Both Lawson and Oliver have Twitter accounts, for example, which they use to connect with other authors and commiserate about the writing process.
EXCUSE ME I WOULD LIKE TO REPORT A CRIME
WERE YOU ALL AWARE THAT EVEN IF YOU OUTLINE, YOU STILL HAVE TO WRITE AN ENTIRE BOOK!?!??!
THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE
— Liz Lawson (@LzLwsn) June 10, 2021
With social media, the most important element is to understand each channel and how your brand may be interpreted differently for that channel.
“Before you post anything, get to know the social media channel,” advises Lawson. “Look at hashtags, other authors, popular videos, and posts. There are certain differences with the algorithms you’ll need to know. For example, you can’t approach a TikTok like it’s a YouTube video. You need a hook that gets people to stop scrolling, which is totally different.”
#5: Use your superpower: Writing
You have your brand and your community. But one thing you can own? Your words.
Tie together all of your efforts with a platform you own and control.
For many authors, that’s doubling down on what they’re best at: Writing. “I’m still trying to find the platform that’s most authentic to me, if I’m being honest,” says Oliver. “But I know that my blog, that’s my core. Everything else feels like work.”
Including a blog on your website gives you an outlet to write about whatever suits you: Writing life, the process of creating your books, additional stories or information that didn’t make it into your final book, or just what’s going on with you at the moment.
It’s also where you can get creative with other marketing tactics, like video. “Once you have an audience, once you have a platform that works for you, there’s so much you can do,” says Oliver. “I invested in a 2D trailer for my books. That's a great, unique way to build to get sales out.”
“I do my newsletter quarterly, so that I’m not clogging up a person’s inbox, and no more than 300 words. It’s usually a personal update or a riff on a blog post,” says Oliver. “It's more emotionally driven. You know, people kind of get invested in that personal journey, what I’m up to, and then yes, when the book is coming out.”
You’re a writer, so write.
Talk about upcoming events, tell stories about your writing process, or tease new projects you’re working on. The inbox is a much more intimate place to connect with your readers and it’s a platform you can own from start to finish.
There isn’t one way to launch a book
Launching a book can be one of the most exciting moments as an author.
But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. There’s no “right” way to launch a book. Take these steps as ideas—and reflect on what’s the most authentic to you as a creator. As you think about building your brand and fostering a sense of community, lead with your book. The rest will follow.
Building an author platform is an essential step to launching your books to the world—and ConvertKit can help. ConvertKit’s features are designed with creators and authors in mind so you can focus on what matters: Writing.