How Book Launches Have Changed in the Digital Age

by Anne R. Allen

Most writers have been picturing it since we started scribbling ideas for our first novel. It's the light at the end of the tunnel, the goal that keeps us slogging along, the Holy Grail of our writing journey—


We've watched the scene in so many films and TV shows we know it by heart: the newly minted author is feted at a gala event at some posh restaurant or upmarket bookstore (preferably in Manhattan, of course.) Readers line up around the block to buy a signed copy of the fabulous soon-to-be-bestseller.

Rich and famous literati raise glasses of champagne in the author's honor. The author basks in all that well-earned attention. And maybe gets to gloat when the ex-spouse shows up, looking unprosperous, with the illiterate new significant other in tow.

Screenwriter David Congalton did a great send-up of this writer fantasy in his film Authors Anonymous, staging the book launch of Dennis Farina's hapless vanity-published character in the crowded hardware store where his girlfriend works (and sweetly buys up all his books when nobody shows up.)

So when your book debuts, are you going to get one of those parties? (Not the one in the hardware store—the glittery one.) Should you be planning your perfect Carrie Bradshaw or Richard Castle outfit to prepare yourself for this all-important event?

Sorry. Probably not.

Unfortunately, the era of the splashy book launch is pretty much over. Even big-name authors are lucky if they get a congratulatory phone call from their agents on launch day.

And as for successful self-publishers, the day their book goes live on Amazon, they're probably at home in their sweats, pounding out the next novel.


This is the age of infinite online shelf space: a book no longer has to be launched like a rocket that explodes in a blaze of glory and soon falls to earth.

Before the age of the ebook, launches were all-important because print books are given only a few months on valuable book store shelves before they are sent back to the publisher to be remaindered and/or pulped. All print books are in stores "on consignment" and can be returned at any time for lack of sales. So with the old print/warehouse/bookstore paradigm, you have a very small window in which to get your book noticed. (Even smaller if you're not one of the lucky few who get "co-op" space at the front of the store purchased by your publisher.)

But ebooks are forever. An ebook is just as valuable five years down the road as it is the day you launch it. Retailers don't have to return it in order to make room for new merchandise.

Most Amazon bestsellers I know launched their first ebooks quietly (what's called a "soft launch"), then waited for buzz to build. Many bestselling indies didn't sell at all for the first few months—or even years.

These days, it's very unusual for newbie authors to see real sales with their first book.  Most authors don't see money coming in until they have at least three titles for sale.

So what's the best way to launch a book in this new publishing world?

Get to work on the next one.

Becoming a successful writer these days is a slow, ongoing process that begins when you start establishing your platform—usually long before you publish—and builds with each book.

Bu-but, sez you, what about book launches online? Can't I at least have an online launch party?

Yes. You can. The institution of the splashy launch is strong enough that the industry has found ways of marking the debut of a new title with online events. Some are effective, some not so much, but they all can have a cumulative effect.

But 99% of the effort will probably have to come from you.

Big publishers may send you on a blog tour, although you shouldn't expect any major festivities unless you're a politician with a Super-PAC, a Rolling Stone, or a regular on Duck Dynasty. A long-time bestselling author I know who's recently signed with an Amazon imprint was amazed to get flowers on launch day of her new title with the Zon. She'd never got a thing when she was with the Big Five.

Small presses usually make an announcement—with maybe a sale on their website—to spark interest in a new title. But don't expect much more.

Self-publishers sometimes turn to publicists and professional social media marketers for innovative ways to launch ebooks online. Some work and some don't, but most authors find the promotions they do themselves are as effective as the ones they pay big bucks for.

There's no "wrong" way to launch a book. Almost any of these methods will be effective, at least in a small way. The point of a launch is to get your name and your book cover/title in front of as many eyeballs as you can (without annoying the heck out of people.) Your method should be based on the strengths of your own personal platform, your promotion budget, and the time you have to devote to the launch. Go where your readers are, either online or in person.

Book Launch Pages and "Parties" on Facebook

Here's a great post from author Lynne Hinkey from the blog Where Writers Win on how to host a "virtual book party" on Facebook.

You don't have to be a tech-whiz to put one on. Just go to your FB page and click "events", then "create event". You'll get a pop-up screen and you just have to fill in the blanks.

There are even services that will do these for you, but they're easy enough to do on your own.

Some authors do an individual Facebook page for every book.

But note: they also sometimes add all their "friends" and followers to the group and everybody gets daily "only 13 days till launch" messages in their notification feeds for weeks.

You don't want to do this. It will lead to mass unfriending.

Ditto sending personal messages to random "friends" who aren't likely to read your genre. (My rule is never send a DM to somebody you haven't had at least one public online conversation with, and never, ever put your promo on somebody's FB wall.)

It's probably best to do a countdown to launch from your personal Facebook page, which will get many more views than your author page, due to Facebook's newly stingy ways. Or, if you do have a good, engaged readership for your author page, this might be the time to "boost" your post with a $30 ad. (Although the general buzz is that paying for Facebook "boosts" isn't cost-effective.)

Do these events boost book sales? Depends on who you ask. Some authors think they're a waste of time. Others have huge successes with Facebook parties. Especially if they're done with a group of other authors in the same genre. Generally, it seems to be Romance genres that do best with FB, but we'd love to hear from writers in other genres who have used them.

Hangouts on Google Plus

Google Plus hangouts can be more interactive than the FB pages, because they're more like a group Skype call. Some tech-savvy authors love them. Personally, I'm a cybermoron, and I have no camera on my computer (not by accident—I am not of an age where video is my friend.) So I don't do hangouts.

But don't let that stop you. Depending on your genre, these may work great for you.

For more on how to host author hangouts on Google Plus, Joel Friedlander at the Book Designer has a great step-by-step guide.

Do hangouts sell books? I haven't heard from anybody who's done it and had significant results. Any readers who have, please let us know! I know some people really love those hangouts.

Blog Tours

Blog tours used to be de rigeur a few years ago, when they were new. Some Big Five publishers provide them to launch new titles. There are also lots of independent blog tour companies out there.

A blog tour can cost from $20 to $1000, depending on the company and the number of blogs involved. Here's an excellent overview of a number of blog tour companies with info on what they charge from Greg Strandberg on Joel Friedlander's blog, and another from blogger Danielle Forrest with a handy spreadsheet.

Or if you're already in the blogosphere, you can plan your own. BookBaby offers a collection of links showing how you can set up your own book blog tour.

A blog tour involves visiting many blogs in your genre over a short time period. You provide guest posts, interviews (sometimes interviews with your lead character), plus free review and contest copies, then you visit each site to answer questions and get to know the blogger's audience.

They can be kind of exhausting, but compared to the old fashioned in-real-life book tour, they are a lazy day in the park.

On the other hand, a lot of authors have questioned how well they work, as in this piece by Lev Raphael in the HuffPo last year.

Cover Reveal Tours

Cover reveals are like a blog tour, but all you have to do when you "visit" is show a photo of your new cover. No iffy reviews, complicated contests, or cranking out 30 blogposts in two weeks.

It needs to be a brand new cover, not yet available for sale. The idea is to create buzz in anticipation of your launch.

Many review blogs will spotlight books with a cover reveal even though they're overbooked for reviews. (Most reviewers are these days. Reviewer burnout can be a big problem with the paid blog tours. The blog tour company gets paid, but the reviewer doesn't.)

Cover reveal tours seem to help create buzz. Do they lead to big sales? I'm not sure. I'd love to hear from somebody who's used them.

Give-aways and Contests on Your Own Blog

A fairly painless way to launch your new title is to announce it on your own blog. Offering free copies or a contest for free copies of the new book makes it more of an event.

The simplest way is to enter anybody who leaves a comment, assign each person a number, then go to to choose a winner or winners with their random number generator, which will also give you a time stamp to authenticate the win.

Do give-aways from your blog sell books? Not in a major way, in my experience. But they can be good for building your mailing list.

Amazon Freebies and Countdown Deals

You can choose to launch your book in KDP Select, which gives Amazon exclusive rights to sell your book for a period of 90 days.

If you do that, you can start with a "soft launch" and work on getting reviews. Then after a month or so, stage your big launch and make the book free or very cheap with Amazon's special countdown deals.

With a countdown, you can sell the book for as little as 99c, but still get a 70% royalty, instead of the 35% royalty you get if you normally price below $2.99 on the Zon. Countdowns are only available in the US and the UK, which is annoying for those of us with a lot of Canadian and Aussie readers, but it's still a great way to give your book a jumpstart.

And note: A $2.99 book (£1.43 GBP) is eligible for a countdown in the US, but it must be priced at £1.93 GBP to be eligible for a UK countdown, so my Lady of the Lakewood Diner countdown this week is only going to be available in the US, which is dumb. Sorry everybody.

If you have got enough reviews to qualify, then advertise your freebie or countdown in one of the book bargain newsletters.

With the big newsletters, you can often hit the jackpot. I know authors who have run a countdown and advertised on Bookbub and got into the top 100 on Amazon.

Those ads, especially on Bookbub, are pricey. But if you compare them to the price of a launch party with rental of the facility and a wine bill, you might look at them in a different light.

For more on the ebook newsletters—probably the most reliable way to make your book visible—here's Ruth Harris's post on the book bargain newsletters.

Multi-Author Online Events 

Sales and promotions done jointly with other authors can give your book a nice push out into the marketplace. These have the advantage of putting your book in front of the fans of all the participating authors. 

 These can be done with a temporary landing page that features a book from each of the members (you'll need a tech-savvy member to build it for you.) Or they can be done with a blog hop—every author visits each other's blogs—or with Facebook or Google Plus.

These can be very effective if the person in charge is good at organizing and has great tech skills.

But What if you Really, Really Want that IRL Book Party? 

You even have the outfit. You've been looking forward to it for decades. I can hear the whimpers out there:

"I want a book party in real life. With cake!"

Then give yourself one!

A book launch will never be cost-effective in terms of immediate book sales, but it's a great excuse for a party. If you've been holed up in your writing cave for a year, and you finally have that beautiful book in your hot little hands and you want to celebrate, DO IT!!

Some bookstores are equipped to host writer events and may even have a coordinator to assist you in setting things up.

These people are treasures, so be sure to show lots of gratitude and treat them like gold.

But some bookstores don't have the room or staff to put on book events. If they don't respond positively to your request, don't push them. I've worked in a lot of bookstores, so trust me on this. A signing in a small store can block the aisles and drive away regular customers and lose a lot of sales.

But you can also have the party at the local library or rent a public room at a restaurant or other banquet facility. You can even have it at your own home or get a friend with an entertainment-friendly house to host it for you.

The biggest sales benefit of an "In Real Life" launch is generating publicity, so be sure to send press releases to all the local papers and radio stations and publicize the event like mad. Even if not a lot of people come, they will have seen your name in the paper and heard it on the radio.

In my experience, a reading (especially with multiple readers) is a bigger draw than a simple signing.

Good food, coffee & tea and maybe some wine are a big plus, too. (One of our local bookstore owners makes some of the most decadent chocolate cookies you've ever tasted.)

Put out lots of advance publicity and round up all your friends by sending personal invitations. Here's more on how to put on a book event from small press editor Lynn Price. And here are some great tips on how to stage a successful reading from Judy Croome at Joel Friedlander's blog this week.

The most important part of a book launch party, no matter how you stage it, is to have fun. It's a way of marking a milestone for you and letting all your friends and fans know you've achieved your goal.

Then go write that next book.

What about you, Scriveners? Have you been planning your book launch party since forever? Have you had a book debut celebration, either virtual or In Real Life? Did you feel it was a success? Which events worked best for you? Do you have any tips for new authors planning a launch party? 


Amazon Countdown Deal

Today, June 1st, my new comedy The Lady of the Lakewood Diner is only 99c on Amazon! It will slowly go back up over the course of the week and on Saturday June 7th it will be back at its regular price. So grab it while it's cheap for your summer beach reading. Unfortunately, Amazon only lets us make this deal is available at Amazon US.  (International deals and epub files will come soon.)

 Who shot rock diva Morgan Le Fay? Only her childhood friend Dodie, owner of a seedy small-town diner, can find the culprit before the would-be assassin comes back to finish the job.

Boomers, this one's for you. And for younger people if you want to know what your parents and grandparents were really up to in the days of Woodstock and that old fashioned rock and roll. Plus there's a little Grail mythology for the literary fiction fans.

"A page turning, easily readable, arrestingly honest novel which will keep you laughing at yourself."...Kathleen Keena

"I borrowed this book free with my Amazon Prime membership, but I enjoyed it so much that I don't want to give it up. I'm buying a copy to keep."...Linda A. Lange

"In The Lady of the Lakewood Diner, nothing is sacred, nothing is profane. And yet, in the end, love does conquer all. If you're of an age to remember Woodstock and the Moonwalk, don't miss it. If you're not, well, you won't find a better introduction." ...Deborah Eve of the Later Bloomer

Coming up on the blog

June 8th: Nina Badzin: social media expert and freelance writer: regular contributor to Brain, ChildKveller, and the HuffPo. Nina will talk about what to do if you realize you like blogging more than working on your novel.

June 22: Nathan Bransford: Yes. That Nathan Bransford (squee!) Blog god, former Curtis Brown agent, children's author, and author of How to Write a Novel.

July 20th: Janice Hardy: host of Fiction University and bestselling YA author. Repped by uber-agent Kristen Nelson.

August 10th Jami Gold: editor, writing teacher, award-winning paranormal romance author, and awesome blogger.

September 14th Barbara Silkstone: bestselling indie author and owner of the Second Act Cafe.


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BLUE EARTH REVIEW FLASH FICTION CONTEST  $2 ENTRY FEE. 750 words or less. Limit two stories per entry. First place $500. Second place $250. Third place $100. Winners will be published in the Blue Earth Review, the literary magazine of Minnesota State University. Deadline August 1.

The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America" Short fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.

The Golden Quill Awards: Entry fee $15. Two categories: Short fiction/memoir (1000 words) and Poetry (40 lines max) $750 1st prize, $400 2nd prize in each category. Sponsored by the SLO Nightwriters and the Central Coast Writers Conference. Deadline June 30th.

Drue Heinz Literature Prize for a collection of short fiction and/or novellas. Prize of $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Author must have been previously published in print journals. Deadline June 30.

WRITERS VILLAGE SUMMER SHORT FICTION CONTEST $24 ENTRY FEE. $4,800 First prize. Second prize $800, third prize $400 and 15 runner up prizes of $80. The top 50 contestants also get a free critique of their stories. Judges include Lawrence Block, a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, and Jill Dawson, Orange and Whitbread-shortlisted author of eight novels. Winning stories showcased online. Any genre of fiction may be submitted up to 3,000 words, except playscripts and poetry. Entries are welcomed world-wide. Deadline June 30.

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