Ship rocket launch

Why Wide Authors Need A Custom Launch Plan

Laurel Decher

Book launch plans are all over the internet, including the twelve in my “Read Later” folder. They are fun to look at but can be dangerous for your author business.

You want your book to blast off into a fuel-efficient orbit and find more readers with every circuit. Why shouldn’t you use a shiny launch plan?

“[O]ne of our tips is to think long-term and never to be obsessed, actually, about the launch. The launch is a very traditional publishing thing, when the books go into a physical bookstore and then they leave again.”—Joanna Penn, Creative Penn podcast, Episode #575 (Sept 27, 2021) 

“Don’t get too tied into the launch.”—Joe Solari, 20Books Vegas 2021 Day 3 “The Myths of Money” 36:36 

“Are these things essential to the success of the business?”—Quinn Ward 20Books Vegas 2021 Day 3 “The Myths of Money” 45:49 

How can you boost your new release without burning up all your resources? Build a control panel with these basic instruments to guide your mission through takeoff to orbit.

1. Inventory—Assess Your Situation

Use your creativity to come up with all the exciting ideas. If this isn’t your first book, look back at your notes from earlier promotions and launches. Write about what you want this time and why. Here are some questions to start you off:

    ▪    What’s your specific goal for this launch? Rank? Sales? Reviews? Subscribers?

    ▪    What have you already created that you could use?

    ▪    What worked last time?

    ▪    What do you want to test? What opportunities are you eyeing?

    ▪    What time and energy do you want to spend on launch activities?

    ▪    How can you connect this launch to previous and later releases?

Browse published launch plans for ideas, but sketch out your dream launch in all its messy glory.

2. Ingredients—Make a One-Sheet

Uploading your book to wide retailers means repetitive detail work. Create a one-sheet with everything you need in one unformatted text file. From here, you can paste into many websites so that you don’t have to deal with any bizarre formatting errors. After you’re finished uploading, use the collected information to create a new page on your website and a downloadable one-sheet about your book. Include the following:

    •    Title, series name, and number

    •    Publication date

    •    ISBNs /ASINs for each format, LCCN if applicable

    •    One-sentence tagline

    •    Short description

    •    Trim size, shipping weight, permalink to book page on your website

    •    Categories, BISAC codes, Thema subjects, keywords, reading levels, age groups

    •    Reviews

    •    Prices

3. Decisions—Set Your Book Up for Success

Having one place to record your decisions can save you time, pain, and money. Make it quick and easy to access because you will refer to it again and again. The more decisions you make and the earlier you make them, the easier it is for other people to help you.

    •    ISBN and formats: Decide—before you click submit—whether you will use your own consistent ISBNs for all your books or live with an awkward mishmash of free ISBNs from distributors. Once a book is on preorder, you can’t change the ISBN or the title.

    •    Price: Retail prices in all currencies take time and will require research. Many countries have laws requiring your books to be the same price across retailers. Retailers also require consistent pricing. Make your life easier with a table of prices by country: Retail, 40 percent off, and 99 cents. For example:

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 Will you release at full-price? Will you discount for one weekend for your newsletter subscribers? Will the new release be full price, and will the first in series be free or discounted?

Protip: Schedule discounts after you’ve picked out your retailer promotions. Kobo’s scheduling tool won’t let you apply for a promotion if your book is already discounted. Apply first, then schedule discounts around that to match the rest of your plan.

Protip: Leave time for price-matching if you plan to offer a wide book free on Amazon.

    •    Publication date: The sooner you commit to a date, the sooner you can take advantage of opportunities. Your book may have a natural publication date because of a connection to a holiday or historical event or time of year. If not, choose one as soon as your book is past the last sticking point in the production process. I choose mine when the manuscript comes back from the developmental editor.

    •    Preorder: Decide if you want to set up a preorder and when it will begin. Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, GooglePlay, and Kobo allow (and reward) preorders up to a year before the publication date. You’ll need the title, ISBN, the actual or a placeholder cover, a brief description of the book, and categories. You can add and improve as publication approaches, but do yourself a favor and keep a consistent copy of the updated details in your one-sheet. You can customize these for each retailer. But don’t make mistakes. Add your final upload deadline to your launch calendar.

Pro Tip: Goodreads will let you replace a placeholder book cover if it’s obviously a placeholder.

Pro Tip: Kobo displays 5 percent of the manuscript as a preview. If you upload three chapters, as they suggest, then the store shows 5 percent of that. That’s why they recommend you upload the finished file. If you use a placeholder file on any retailer, always include a note to the reader to contact you if they received the placeholder file instead of the final file by mistake.

Pro Tip: If you distribute through Draft2Digital (D2D) to Apple Books, D2D can turn off the preview setting for you. D2D recommends no placeholder files.

    •    Promotion: Keep track of promotions you have applied for; paid newsletters or ads you have booked; and all other deadlines for awards, shared author promotions, planned giveaways, interviews, or editorial reviews you’ve decided to go for. If your book is accepted into a promotion, online bookstores don’t always acknowledge it. Spread out your promotions to evaluate their effectiveness so your next launch will be even better.

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Protip: A simple grid with three columns will let you see dates, promotions as you plan them, and results. Use paper, whiteboard, Excel, or a word processor, whatever suits you. Colored pencils and stickers work well too. During a short promotion of a few days, you might plan something every day. A longer promotion can have gaps. Don’t put yourself under pointless pressure.

Pro Tip: Track results across multiple retailers. A tool like ScribeCount can keep track of many retailers, but IngramSpark sales aren’t yet included. A graph is a quick way to plot downloads and sales as the launch progresses. Create a legend for downloads and sales by retailer with colored pencils. You can conveniently mark scheduled retailer promos under the date axis. Highlight important points to include in your next launch plan.

    •    Partnerships: Consider group author promotions, newsletter swaps, email newsletter promotions, or promotions offered by organizations where you are a member or where your target audience is likely to be. Write down deadlines for sharing on your launch calendar.

4. Capture and Connect

Every time you send a new book out into the world, an engine fires in your publishing rocket. Use the momentum to strengthen the tie between your book and the reader. Here’s a launch-by-launch example of how you could get more rocket fuel for your books over time:

    •    Launch 1: A sign-up form for an email newsletter list with the link connecting the book to the newsletter in the backmatter of the book. This means you will be sending out a newsletter regularly, so you will have to think about what promise you are making to subscribers. Keep it simple.

    •    Launch 2: A reader magnet that can be a reward or an incentive for the reader to sign up for your email newsletter

    •    Launch 3: A preorder for the next book or short story in the same series or world with the link connecting your book to the book of the future.

    •    Launch 4: An automation sequence that introduces the enticing qualities of your first book to your email newsletter setup. Persuade downloaders to become readers so they will want to read the rest of your books.

    •    Launch 5: A permanently free or permanently 99 cent book can power up your publishing engines while you sleep.

Build in stages as you launch each book so that your rocket builds up enough momentum to break through the atmosphere, refuel at your international space station, and go into orbit.

5. Lessons Learned—Make/Update Your Checklist

Here’s where you try to understand what happened before the experience fades. Every launch requires a lot of effort under the pressure of time. Make this one count. Use your hard-won knowledge to refuel the rocket. Mark your calendar to check for a longer-term effect in the next weeks or months. Update your launch plan for the next book as a new release checklist.
“When you do that first launch and maybe it’s just one more person that becomes a fan . . .[the base audience is] a little bigger, and that means the next launch is going to be a little bit better.”—Joe Solari, 20Books Vegas 2021 Day 3 “The Myths of Money” 19:29.

Picture of Laurel Decher

Laurel Decher

There might be no frigate like a book, but publishing can feel like a voyage on the H.M.S. Surprise. There’s always a twist and there’s never a moment to lose. Laurel’s mission is to help you make the most of today’s opportunities. She’s a strategic problem-solver, tool collector, and co-inventor of the “you never know” theory of publishing. As an epidemiologist, she studied factors that help babies and toddlers thrive. Now she writes books for children ages nine to twelve about finding more magic in life. She’s a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), has various advanced degrees, and a tendency to smuggle vegetables into storylines.

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