The Madness Behind Launching An Indie Book
Let me start this post with a disclaimer. I'm not about to give away trade secrets or write a blueprint for someone to publish their own book exactly the way I do it. I don't want to mislead anyone into thinking that's what this post is. It's more about being a peek behind the scenes for readers or even aspiring writers to get an idea of what goes into launching a book - because I guarantee there is way more going on under the hood than you'd ever guess!
Part 1 - Sniffing Out the Market
This is a surprisingly controversial topic among authors. There are two fundamental camps of belief when it comes to writing to the tastes of the market. One camp considers it almost like a sell-out to change their book in any way to satisfy the tastes of the market. The other camp believes you should be doing your best to write a book that readers want to read right now, and writing it in a way they want you to write it. Most people fall somewhere between these two camps, but if you're like me, and very much want to write a book that people want to read, the first step in launching a book is deciding what the market is hungry for.
To call this part an inexact science wouldn't even do it justice. It usually feels more like spinning the wheel of fortune. At the end of the day, I'm usually just relying on my instincts to tell me that readers want to read a secret baby book versus a single dad book, for example.
I think for most writers, the holy grail is to reach the point where we don't have to be at the mercy of the trends anymore. All the big name indie authors who launch straight into the top 20 with every release tend to have this kind of freedom. They have enough name and brand recognition that they can slap a generic title on their book and know readers will trust their reputation. Interestingly, when these big name authors *do* write to trend, whether by mistake or on purpose (I don't know which), their books do even better. Go figure? 2) Booking Promotions
Booking promotions is essentially one head of the multi-headed beast that is marketing. Promotions come in a lot of flavors, but when I'm setting everything up, it helps me to group promo into four categories (in order of most influential to least influential for my books): Paid daily advertising, Paid newsletters, newsletter swaps, social media promotion.
Go figure, the paid advertising works the best!
Step one is usually to start reaching out to authors I know and respect the work of for swaps. I've become increasingly picky lately with this part, because A) I don't feel as dependent on newsletter swaps for success and B) I want my own newsletter to be something my readers can trust. I wrote a post about my philosophy on newsletters in general last week if you're interested in diving deeper into the topic. Once I've set up swaps, I will usually book the paid newsletters I prefer. There are probably hundreds of paid newsletters available for all genres of books, but I honestly don't go too crazy with because each promo site has length forms to fill out, booked up schedules, and different methods of paying. Trying to schedule more than a handful of these can eat up an entire day, and I've done it before when I was feeling particularly desperate to give a book the best shot I could. Personally though, I haven't seen the extra effort be worth it, so I just stick to the main newsletters. I'm not going to get into the daily paid ads or social media promotion yet, because in my launch process, I don't even mess with that at this stage of the game.
3) Finishing the Book
This one is so obvious I almost decided not to include it in the list, but I think it's worth pointing out that everything in this post is a running priority list that has to be managed while trying to write about 10-14 pages a day of my book (if I want to release once a month). So my usual workday involves writing in little 500 word bursts while jumping around between fifty different things when I'm taking my mental breathers between writing sessions. I also might as well add that part of the launch process is to coordinate and schedule edits with my editor and make sure I have enough time to go back through the edits. After that, I need to run the book through an ebook formatter and go through to make sure it all looks good and lines up right.
4) Sending to my ARC Team
This step is pretty critical. The concept of an advanced review team is controversial. Many people view it as a fake review scheme. While this certainly can be true in some cases, I know it's not exactly what some people think. Basically, an ARC team is a group of readers who agree to read your book ahead of time (they get a free copy) and in exchange, they are supposed to leave a review within a set time period after the book goes live. I'm probably too lenient with my group because I usually just say something like, "A week would be great, but do your best and that's fine!" Either way, I believe my ARC reviews usually account for as much as 70% or more of my reviews. If you feel really strongly against ARC reviews, I think the best thing you could do as a reader is to start reviewing books you finish. Just for a sense of how few readers actually leave reviews outside the ARC team, I'll use my bestselling book of all time for an example. Knocked Up by the Dom has 323 reviews at the time of this article. I recall about 150 of those came within the first few days of release, meaning I can assume about 173 of the reviews were from people who read the book and elected to review on their own. Currently, Knocked Up by the Dom has sold 28,000 copies and has been borrowed approximately 40,000 times through Kindle Unlimited with 21,415,000 pages read.
That means about one in every 489 readers decided to leave a review. That also means when you see books launching with 400-500 reviews in the first week, those are almost guaranteed to be ARC or paid reviews, because at the rate of reviews I saw on KUBTD, a book would need to sell about 244,500 copies in a week to get that many reviews. And if a book did that... it'd be rank 1 overall in the store within minutes!
Okay, I got side-tracked there, but I thought it was an interesting diversion anyway, haha. 5) Final Steps
Mostly everything in the process until now has been about getting the book ready for launch. Some of the other things I've done to this point that didn't quite deserve their own section were making a cover, doing cover reveals on social media, making teasers, writing the blurb, and pre-promoting it to my newsletter.
Once all that is done, I can finally go into the Amazon KDP dashboard and upload the manuscript. This is where I plug in keywords to help people find the book and decide what categories my book will end up in. I set the pricing, enter the blurb, upload the cover, enroll the book in Kindle Unlimited, and hit publish. Once I've done that, the real frenzied period begins.
6) Setting up Ads
Once the "publish" button is pressed, it can take anywhere from two hours to two days for your book to go live. I've thankfully only had one experience where a book took more than 24 hours, but I've heard horror stories from other authors. My one bad experience also came after the copyright debacle with Knocked Up by the Dom (read about that here), so they held me up in review until I could prove I owned all the necessary copyrights to my book.
I usually go in and get my Facebook ads set up at this point. Facebook needs a link to your book, but you can set up the ads without the link and add it in later once the book goes live. Setting up the ads for Facebook is probably my least favorite part of the process. You need to write ad copy to try to make people want to click your ads, which is time consuming because you're working with so few words that each one needs to be chosen really carefully. Each ad also needs an image, which is time consuming as well.
Some of the other daily ads I use won't even let you get started until the book is live, so I usually just set up Facebook ahead of time and then spend all day refreshing my KDP account to see if the book has gone live yet.
7) The Frenzy
Once the book goes live, there are a million things that need done all at the same time. My first priority is usually finalizing the Facebook ads. I plug the link in to my book and get them all running. After that, I tend to run around like a chicken with my head cut off as I chip away at the number of things that need done in a random order.
I set up any more daily paid ads that I plan to run for the book and submit them for approval (some, like Amazon AMS ads can take up to two days to get approved and start running).
I send the link for my book to everyone who I've set up a NL swap with or a paid newsletter with.
I put a note in my author bio that my new book is live just to help drive any potential eyes from my back catalog to my new book (which is very very hard to find until it has been selling for a few days, so almost all traffic brought to it has to be driven by dollars or word of mouth).
I update the backmatter of most of my existing books to include a link to my new book and I'll put a sneak peak of it in any books I think are a similar vibe.
I add the book manually to my author profile because Amazon doesn't do it automatically (for some reason).
I create a Facebook giveaway image and come up with some fun giveaway ideas to promote my book on social media, because readers unfortunately don't interact with any of my social media posts unless I promise them a prize (AHEM... what's up with that, people!?)
I schedule a newsletter to go out to my mailing list and to my ARC team (reminding them to leave a review now because the book is live).
And then I inevitably remember things I've forgotten to do over the course of the next two days while I'm at the grocery store or out with my family and scramble home to get them done as soon as possible.
8) Check the book's rank and sales
This part consumes me for about three days after launch. I've found that I can get a pretty good sense of whether my book is going to make it into the top 100 (sort of the default goal for my books).
Sales on the day of launch are typically pretty depressing. At this point in the book's life, sales are essentially just a number that gives me an idea of how the rank should react. If the sales are coming quickly, the rank should be moving up. If sales slow down, the rank is likely to slip or stay where it is. The sales themselves don't amount to a whole lot when I'm selling a book for $0.99, because I only get $0.33 per sale, but the whole point of pricing the book cheap is to hopefully get the rank high, which gives it visibility and brings in borrows through Kindle Unlimited, which pay me more like $1 or $2 every time someone reads through the whole book.
So basically I obsess over watching the speed of the sales and then bracing myself for the next rank update. If the book is a success, this is a really fun (but still stressful) three days. I'm usually babying my ads at this point too, because they are super complicated and have to be checked/altered/turned off/tweaked multiple times a day, especially at first.
My obsession lasts in full force for a few days until I finally realize I need to get my butt in gear and start writing the next book, and the whole process starts over. Month... after month.... after month... after--
Ahem! I love my job! Seriously, though. As much as there are parts of the process I tend to dread, I love what I do.
I hope that was interesting. Like I said, it wasn't exactly a blueprint for *how* to do what I'm doing, but I did think it would be neat to just get a look inside the world of an indie author.