When you're self-publishing a book, you have ultimate control over your publishing decisions. You have control over the editorial, creative, and marketing process; you also have control over your book promotion schedule. So, when do you start promoting your book? How can you start planning now for a successful book launch? We have answers to these questions and more in today's post.
To understand the ideal promotion timeline for your book, we first have to step back and distinguish the difference between long-term and short-term marketing. The long term focuses on building your author platform, while the short term hones in on the actual promotion of the book.
Long-Term Book Marketing
Long-term book marketing is centered around building your author platform. Ideally, this process will begin 18 months to two years before you publish a book. If you haven't got that much time, that's okay! Your book has a long life-span, but you want to be building momentum towards one specific day: your book's publication date.
Building your author platform can be broken down into two sections: design and engagement.
Step One: Design
What do you look like online? When someone searches for you, what will they find? In the first phase of your long-term book marketing, it's time to start designing your online presence.
- Author Website: Your author website is your home base. This is the only area online where you have full control over your content. You aren't restricted by the pre-determined data feed that's sent to an online retailer, or the posting format on Facebook and Instagram. Allow yourself to think outside the box and make your website interesting, engaging, and fun!
Mailing List: It's important that you begin collecting emails through your website to communicate with your fans. There are a variety of free options to get you started (MailChimp, Mailerlite, and more). Email marketing is special in that this is the one place where people have given you permission to market to them. This channel will contain your most engaged fans when it's time to announce that your book has officially released!
- Social Media: If you aren't already using social media, this is the time to decide what social media platforms you want to be active on. It's important to consider where your audience spends their time, as well as where YOU enjoy sharing content. Social media is a place for you to develop your author brand and establish yourself as an expert. It's also the place to engage with your readers and really let your personality shine through.
- Goodreads: Not all of your readers will be on Goodreads, but this is a very robust online reading community, and one to pay attention to! There are opportunities to do author Q&A's, giveaways, and more. Begin building your presence here so that before your book releases, you can strategize about how to get it on reader's "Want to Read" shelves.
Step Two: Build Engagement
In the second phase of your long-term marketing, it's time to start engaging with your followers and building your online reader community.
- Blogging: Your author website provides an avenue for you to begin blogging. Your blog is unique to your writing style, genre, and author goals. Think about your target audience, the ideal readers for your book. What are they interested in? What do they want to know more about? Do some research on competitive blog posts on the topics that you're writing about. For example, if you write about cooking in the south, search "southern recipes" and see what shows up in Google results. If you're writing a book about time management, search "time management for working moms" and other related topics. Analyze which blog posts come up first in Google, and take note for what you can write about to compete with them.
- Social Media: This is the best place to go and engage with your entire reading community. You can share blog posts, articles, and polls, and engage in the organic conversation that's happening on a daily basis. What hashtags could you use that generate more impressions? Use a variety of popular hashtags such as #amwriting, #writingcommunity, #bookstagram, #shelfie, etc. but also be aware of popular hashtags within your genre like #instapoet, and trending hashtags for things like book clubs or movies related to your subject. Start this research early and begin building your online community for your book release!
- Newsletters: This is where you have the opportunity to market directly to your biggest fans. It's important that you offer them something in your newsletter that's helpful to their lives. We all know the feeling of waking up to a mountain of emails; if you're one of the trusted emails that someone has signed up to receive, you have a wonderful opportunity and a great responsibility. You can feature blog posts, offer incentives, share sneak peaks, give away free content, and more in your newsletter.
A tip for those of you who are wondering how in the world you're supposed to do all of this and write a book: choose things that help you build your platform that also help you write your book. For example, if you're researching a historical event for your book that takes place in New York City, keep an eye out for relevant organizations in that area that may be worth marketing to later. If you realize something about the writing process that you didn't know before, share that in a blog post. There are so many opportunities to blend your writing into your marketing if you simply step back and allow yourself to get creative.
Short-Term Book Marketing
Now let's get to the fun part—the part where you get to tell people about your book! We suggest a publication date that's at least six months out to allow yourself time to begin building momentum, and book the marketing and publicity opportunities we'll discuss below.
- Reviews: It's good to have a strategy to gain reader reviews, but before your book launches, you also want to consider professional reviews. A professional review shows readers that your book has been vetted by professional institutions, and it's often seen as more trustworthy than a reader review (plus if you only receive a few reader reviews, people may suspect it's your friends and family leaving those). These professional reviews also make a great addition on your book's cover, lending immediate credibility to the book. Make sure you do your research ahead of time, because many professional review services require the book months in advance of your publication date (or charge a larger fee for a shorter lead time).
- Publicity: You want to give your book the best chance at being picked up by the media, and similar to professional reviews, this process often begins months in advance of your pub date. You may choose to solicit opportunities yourself in television, radio, newspapers, or even magazines; you may choose to hire a publicity firm to help. Oftentimes, a publicist will begin pitching books to the media four months in advance, so if you're hoping to work with a publicity firm, try to get a jump start to give them enough time to pitch your book to the best of their ability.
- Bookstore Events: Author events provide a great opportunity to put yourself in front of local reading communities and engage with readers face-to-face. If one of your marketing goals is to hold author events, keep in mind that these are often booked months in advance as well. Whether you're reaching out to your local Barnes & Noble or independent bookstore, you should keep in mind that if your book launches next month, they've probably already gotten their events lined up. Evaluate this opportunity early, and be mindful of the event managers' timelines!
What's the Best Month to Self-Publish a Book?
The biggest months for traditional book publishing are typically in the spring and the fall. If you choose to self-publish a book in these seasons, you're likely competing with the biggest books of the year. Michelle Obama's Becoming was published in November 2018; I'm sure a lot of traditionally published authors were not happy to be competing with that!
One strategy for self-published authors is to publish in the "off-months," the summer or winter. That's not to say that you won't still be competing with other books (with the number of books published each year, we can guarantee that you will be), but you might miss out on competing directly against some of the biggest books of the year.
It's also good to keep in mind the subject matter of your book, and any corresponding holiday that might be relevant. For authors publishing self-help books, cookbooks, devotionals, etc., these are typically published in the "New Year, New You" timeframe in January. Why? Because this is when people are full of ideas and goals for the new year, and most likely to buy a book to help them change. For a book targeted towards moms, consider publishing around Mother's Day. Get creative and consider if there's an angle you could use to promote your book for an upcoming holiday.
By strategically planning out your publication date, you give yourself the best chance at launch day success. We encourage you to think about the publishing timeline that gives you the best chance to promote and market your book!