Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

How To Launch A Book - For New Authors or New Series

This post is for indie fiction authors... if you have a publisher, many of these things (pricing, review copies, etc) will not be under your control.

CAVEATS: there are lots of ways to launch a book, and you are welcome to try any that you like (yay Indie Freedom!). This is a method designed to use Amazon's algorithm system to maximum advantage for sales of the first and follow-on novels. If your book is non-fiction, if you have a substantial following already or are publishing the second in a series, or if you're basically doing anything besides trying to launch a new author penname or a brand-new series... other methods made be preferable. Or maybe your life isn't conducive to a Hard Launch (which is what I call this). Please... carry on with how you want to launch. But this post is based on the cumulative experience of an indie author (me) who has successfully launched (in 2015) a new SF series as well as a new romance series (under a penname)... and who has been making a living with her books (a separate living for each penname) since 2011. That's all I've got for street cred... if that works for you, read on!



Decide what kind of book you want to write -  For Love or For Money.  If you want to write a book that targets the market, do your research before you write (learn how in my book For Love or Money). If you've already written your book, you may think you're targeting a particular market, but most likely you are not. Best case is that you've written something that intersects in some way with the market. You can still do research after the book is written to see how closely that book actually hits something people are already reading... and to decide what category you want to target, how fast people in that category generally release, and how they price their books.

STEP 1: Send out ARCs (advanced review copies) to as many people as possible about 4-6 weeks before launch. A hundred is good. Two hundred is better. Your target: you want at least ten reviews on Amazon on launch day (you'll see why in STEP 3). Set up a print version of your book well ahead of launch, so those reviewers have a live link on Amazon where they can review prior to launch of the ebook. A week before launch, remind reviewers that launch is coming and their review will really help! Also promise (like this) that you'll send them the second book in the series if they review the first (you have the second book written, right? DO THAT.) How to find reviewers? Don't bother your author friends or family... you want real readers. Blog tours, giving away free copies, asking authors (in your genre!) if they will share your ARC with their readers (or reviewer list)... all good. If your network isn't huge, ask to borrow someone else's network (or pay for it - that's what blog tours are). More: Reviews and How To Get Them.

CAUTION: If you're launching a new romance series, but you've only ever published science fiction before... 1) use a penname (Amazon likes new pennames) and 2) be careful about using your current fanbase to launch the book - your also-boughts will be filled with science fiction! Not the way to reach romance readers. If the genres are close, I would use your current fanbase for reviewers. If they aren't close, starting from scratch is probably best.

STEP 2: Enroll in Kindle Unlimited and price your book at $0.99 at launch. Your goal is to break in as a new author or with a new series, right? For that you need visibility, and KU with a low price is the way to get it. You'll garner the attention of borrowers whose clicks will boost your ranking. Look at the top indie books in your category - are they all in KU? This is likely the case, especially in SF and Romance. If you're in SF, you'll likely want to raise your price after a week or two at the introductory 99cents price. If you're in romance, you may want to keep the price low indefinitely and use it as a funnel to the rest of the series. Romance borrowers are a huge part of the market, so it's possible you may make most of your money on borrows anyway. Either way, you're starting out at 99cents because...

STEP3: Buy ads for the first week or two of launch. But, wait... how can you buy ads if you don't have reviews? That's why you get reviews early, my friend. And why you want 10 reviews on launch day. Some ads will allow you to book with less than 10 reviews, some will let you book before you have a live link, but all will want the book to be on sale. Make a budget for buying ads, line up the places you want, and start submitting as soon as you have a few reviews on the paperback, telling them you'll be launching at a discount and giving them the date range (first couple weeks) that you want to book the ad. They'll work with you. Note: seriously, do this as soon as possible (i.e. as soon as you have some reviews on the paperback). Some ads book up fast. (Note: to-date, Bookbub does not do new releases. You can ask... just expect to get turned down.) Some ads are specific to SF (hello, Book Barbarian!) and some are specific to romance (looking at you, Romance Reads), but most have categories for a wide range of genres (Bargainbooksy, ENT, Fussy Librarian, OHFB, Robin Reads, Many Books, KFBT, Discount Books Daily, Digital Book Today, Booksends, and more...)

STEP4: Release the book 4 days early... and tell your reviewers to go ahead and drop those reviews on that bad boy! As soon as the book is live, send the link to all the ads who have already accepted you. As soon as you hit ten reviews, contact the ads who wanted at least ten, and book as quickly as possible. With any luck, you'll have a series of ads set up for the first two weeks of your new book's release, as well as have also-boughts kick in before the official release date.

STEP5: Launch the book. Host a party, tell your friends, run a giveaway... do whatever you can to *celebrate* but also to encourage people to snap up that super-awesome new thing you just put out while it's at the intro price of 99cents! At that price, it's an impulse buy for most people.

Now let's look at what we've done... you've just launched a new book/series/author with a big splash of "social proof" via buys and reviews. The people who click through on the ads will see a book that's shiny new and climbing the charts. Those who buy will bring all their "also-boughts" to the party... i.e. you'll be attracting more and more of the "right" kind of readers, not just your friends, but people who like your genre and have bought in your genre before. Amazon's algorithms will sit up and take notice. The borrowers will find your book because it's sailing up the charts. With each bump from a new ad, the algos will notice more. If you're lucky, Amazon will start sending out emails promoting your book for you. Even if they don't, all the "background" algorithms of also-boughts and popularity lists will kick in and help sell the book for you as well. After a week or two, when the ads are done and the algo's have been pumped, you can raise the price and see how the book fares. It may continue to sell. It may not. Either way...

STEP6: Launch the second book. You are officially on your way... but don't let all the momentum fade. Get that second book out there. Your first will stay on the Hot New Releases list for 30 days... that's a good time to have the second one release. You can wait longer, but make sure you...

STEP7: Build a newsletter list. All those folks who read the first book and want MOAR? Put a link on the last page to your newsletter for them to subscribe to be notified when #2 comes out. Even better? Write a novella with insider secrets that you give away to everyone who subscribes (note: this novella could also be *for sale* - that way subscribers see they're getting something with value and your readers who don't want to subscribe can still get the material).

Rinse. Repeat.

Launch your career with at least a trilogy.

Be bold. Launch hard. Learn lessons.

Rinse. Repeat. Again.

Never Give Up! Never Give In!
I may or may not have watched this last night.

Good Luck!!

Was this blog post helpful? There's lots more detailed information in my books on indie publishing, everything from formatting to tackling your fears to how to target the market. First, hop over and check out what I've written under SKQ (you should always check out the author of "how to" articles like this to make sure they can actually sell books)... then, check out the reviews on my indie author guides to see how they've helped other authors.

Susan Kaye Quinn is a rocket scientist turned speculative fiction author who now uses her PhD to invent cool stuff in books. Her bestselling novels and short stories have been optioned for Virtual Reality, translated into German, and featured in several anthologies. Susan has been indie publishing since 2011, but she’s not an indie rockstar or a breakout success—she’s one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. Her self-publishing books are based on her personal experience in self-publishing genre fiction—she hopes they will help her writer-friends take their own leaps into the wild (and wonderful) world of indie publishing… and not only survive, but thrive.
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Indie Author Survival Guide (Crafting a Self-Publishing Career, Book 1)
For Love or Money (Crafting a Self-Publishing Career, Book 2)

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  1. I absolutely love this. Best approach I've heard of, combining the top things that work. I will definitely do this with my next series. Thanks a lot, Susan!

  2. Excellent, practical advice. I'm keeping the post's URL to send to my author friends when they ask these sorts of questions. Thanks for taking the trouble to write it so clearly and succinctly.

  3. Thanks for a fantastic article! With the Indie market flooded with a gazillion new romance authors each month, can a brand new author still make it in the Indie world? I'm so worried about putting my everything into it, and then no one finding it.

    1. Can you fail? Absolutely. Of course, there are many ways to fail, including not trying. :)

      Everyone is concerned with the "flood" of new writers... what you should be concerned with is competing with the best of them, not the hordes. The hordes will quickly fade from sight if they are not giving readers what they want. However, if you give readers something they enjoy, they will reward you will sales. It's really as simple as that.

      And every year that I've been indie publishing, people have been convinced that a "new" author couldn't make it today. It wasn't true then, and it's not true now.

      p.s. my penname was a "brand new author" in 2014 and was/is successful. I see new authors enter the field all the time and become successful.

    2. Thank you much for your reply. I've just now found you. and am looking at all of your blog posts. You've set it out there in a roadmap that I've been looking for. I so appreciate you. :)

  4. Susan, when launching a third book in a series would you (temporarily) price that one at $.99 as well? I'm dropping the first two to $.99 for the launch, but was going to launch book three at it's full $3.99 price.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I'm not generally a fan of launching 2nd, 3rd, 4th books at a discount (the exception to this is romance, where low pricing for the length of a series may be your strategy, then raise the price on backlist). Most people don't jump in the middle of the series, so I generally think of the first book as the discountable one... so I'll run a discount on Bk1 when Bk2 runs at full price and buy ads for Bk1. An occasional discount on other books in the series is fine (especially when trying to snag a bookbub ad), or possibly boxing 3 books of 5 book series and running a sale on that, but habitually running sales on all your books just trains people to wait for the sale. Ideally, you want people who read the first book (for 99cents or free or whatever) to be willing to pay full price for the second (and further in the series). If not, then the spotlight should be turned on how to increase your read-through - what you can do in that first book to make readers dying to get their hands on the second.

    3. I should add that some people *do* adopt a strategy of 99cent launches for a few days for every book - basically giving their core fans the discount price and hoping that will boost the book enough to grab the notice of others at full price. This is a legit strategy if you want to use it, but I would make sure to keep the intro price very short (a few days), to induce people to act fast (and subscribe to your newsletter to be in the know).

  5. You're so smart. I love you! :D <3

  6. Susan,
    A belated thank you for an awesome overview of the "hard launch" method you cover in Indie author's survival guide (which is fast becoming my self-publishing go-to-book, along with For Love or Money). I really like the steps here.

    My publishing plan for next year is to release three novels in a new urban fantasy series, followed by three more in 2017, two trilogies that together tell an overall story. My plan is to publish each novel in the first trilogy at three month intervals, and then in 2017, do the same with the second trilogy. However, another approach some use is to "bank" the first book, and publish it a month or two before the second. Any thoughts on that approach?

    Thanks again!

    1. I'm not sure what you mean by "banking" the first book, but having the books release more quickly is certainly an option (assuming you have them available). Honestly, if I had both those trilogies already written? I would consider rapid-releasing the first trilogy, one per month, then spacing the others out three months apiece.

  7. Susan,
    By banking I meant not publishing the first novel until the second was ready to be published. As it stands, i do not have the first three written yet :-)

    I hate to wait until all three are written but I could ;-)

    1. Aye, that's the rub. :) Waiting is always hard. I think there's wisdom in getting a running start, but eventually you're only going to be able to publish as fast as you can write anyway. Maybe your speed will go up over time, but in the end, that will always be your limiting factor. The "running start" part can help get you launched in a positive way, though. So, for example, wait until you have the first two written, publish them a month apart while you write the third, then publish at whatever rate you can write after that. That way you give readers a good taste of what you can do (bk1 and bk2) and if they like that, they'll be willing to wait for bk3 (as well as the second trilogy).

    2. I would also look at urban fantasy and see what the norm is for release rates. This can vary a lot by genre.


Erudite comments from thoughtful readers