Launching Your Book Online

May is How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated. Last week I poured a bucket of ice-cold water over your dreams in Read This First (which, thanks to Freshly Pressed, is the most popular post ever on this blog), and then explained why I think you should go guns blazing for the launch of each book instead of waiting until you’ve a few to sell in One at a Time. This week I’m presenting my Not So Scientific Theory of How Self-Publishers Can Use Social Media to Get Amazon to Sell Their Books, which is based on how I think I’ve managed to sell my own books over the last couple of years. You can catch up here

So in Step 1 you assembled your online infrastructure—blog, Twitter, Facebook fan page—and in Step 2, hopefully found a little corner of the internet that likes you and wants to hear more of what you’ve got to say. You have built an online platform. Hooray!

Now we’re going to share news of our upcoming book with the people who visit that online platform, but we’re going to very careful to (i) not piss anyone off, (ii) not to come across like a shameless self-promoter and (iii) keep up our end of the bargain at all times, regardless of what happens with our book. It’s time to launch our book online.


What’s Our Aim Here?

Yesterday we talked about starting a blog, Twitter page, etc. under the heading “Find Your First Readers.” The idea is this: to assemble a group of supporters who, when our book comes out, will be among the first to buy it. Hopefully this group will then spread the word by reviewing our book online, telling their friends, etc. They’re going to help us give our book a good start in printed (or coded) life.

We’re not talking about hundreds or thousands of people. (Although that would be nice—chance would be a fine thing.) We merely want to ensure that when we release our book, people we are not related to and have never met in real life will be waiting to buy it, and buy it because they like our writing and/or are interested in the book’s subject matter—and like our writing and/or are interested in the subject matter because we got them liking our writing (through posts, tweets, etc.) and gave them reasons to be interested (through book-related content, which we’ll get to in a sec)

For example when I first released Mousetrapped, I sold about 100 paperback copies in the first month. (My focus wasn’t yet on e-books.) At my real-life book launch which was not attended by a single person I wasn’t related to or friends with, I sold 38 copies of my book. So who bought the other 62?

  • People who’d been reading my blog for the past few months and liked my writing style
  • People who’d been reading my blog for the past few months and thought Mousetrapped sounded interesting
  • People who’d been reading my blog for the past few months and wanted to see how my book had turned out, perhaps because they were considering self-publishing too and wanted to gauge the quality of the finished product
  • As above, but with Twitter
  • As above, but with Facebook
  • Followers of blogs whose owners had been kind enough to host me for a guest post or giveaway
  • Followers of book blogs whose owners had been kind enough to review my book.

Now let’s address three very important points before we go any further. The first one is that you have to give your blog value. A blog that exists just to advertise books is an empty shell, and not a blog at all but a mere advertisement masquerading as something else, like those stupid “advertorials” you see in magazines these days. (Do they really think we’re that stupid? Please.) It won’t succeed in either being a blog or selling books, because it doesn’t have any value of its own. So give your blog value. As I’ve said already, only do this if you want to do this, and I don’t mean self-publishing, marketing and promoting your own books. I mean the individual things, i.e. being a blogger, being a tweeter, etc. Again, create the blog you want to read. Do you want to read a blog that merely says “buy a book” over and over again with just a slight variation each time?

The next point is that you must always keep up your end of the bargain. I would estimate that something like 80-90% of people who read this blog have never and will never buy a book of mine—and that’s okay. It’s okay because I don’t just blog to sell books. I blog because I enjoy it, and I want self-publishers to have the information I wish I’d had when I first self-published. So whenever I’m using this blog to spread the word about one of my books, especially in the lead up to its release, I always ask myself, Is there enough here for the people who aren’t interested? Have I delivered the kind of posts that my loyal blog readers are expecting? Or have I turned this blog into nothing more than an annoying advertisement this month? 

In the Terminator movies, the problems start when a computer program called Skynet becomes self-aware and decides to terminate humanity. In one version of the story’s timeline, Skynet “wakes up” and starts its killing spree on April 21, 2011. Last April 21, some clever clogs started a Twitter account for Skynet, its first tweet being something like “Hello world.” It was a brilliant idea, and the tweets were pretty funny. But on April 22—and after collecting thousands of followers—instead of shutting down the account or keeping it going (perhaps as the apocalypse got into full swing…), the person behind it started advertising his friend’s album. Cue 140-character outrage—and it was justified, in my opinion. Because the tweeter hadn’t kept up his end of the deal. We’d signed up for Skynet, not the hard sell.

The third point is that this is NOT to be confused with scamming people into buying your book. As in, collecting as many pliable disciplines as possible, chaining them to a newsletter and then instructing them all to buy your book at exactly 10:01 on Monday morning in a concerted effort to—artificially—push your book into the bestseller lists. That’s called Being a Moron.

Not this.

Stranger, Meet My (Not Yet Released) Book

I think your aims when you’re preparing to release a book should be:

  • To inform the world at large that it exists
  • To get the people who know about it interested in it (i.e. find potential readers)
  • To get potential readers caring enough to say, “I’m looking forward to reading that”
  • and to do all this BEFORE the book comes out.

Let’s work backwards. Why should you do this before the book comes out? Because if you don’t, you’ve wasted so many opportunities. Someone once told me that on average, a person has to hear about something three times before they buy it. I don’t know about that, but I do know that the amount of times I’ve said to myself I must buy that book greatly outnumbers the amount of books I’ve bought. That’s partly because I can’t afford it (I actually daydream about no-budget shopping sprees in Waterstones…) and partly because I forget. I need reminding a few times before it snags.

Time and time again I’ve seen Twitter friends release books and tell me about it for the first time on the day of its release. There’s only so many times you can do the “my book is out now!” tweet before you get embarrassed and we get annoyed, so let’s say you tell me twice about your book being for sale. But what if, instead, you’d been slipping me delicious details about your book for the past eight weeks? What if you’d blogged about why you’d decided to self-publish it? (That would’ve been one time.) What if you’d put two potential covers up and asked me and your other Facebook fans which did I prefer? (That would’ve been two.) What if you’d make a fun little book trailer and shared it on YouTube? (That would’ve been three.) What if you’d had a Twitter competition that tied in with the book? (That would’ve been four, at least.) What if you’d got a book blogger to review it, and then tweeted a link to the review? (Now we’re up to five.) And then you’d told me that your book was out now, twice. Now I’d have heard about your book seven times, and I’d either be buying it for sure or blocking you. If you’re a blogger or tweeter I like—and presumably you are, because I’m following you—it’s definitely going to be the first one.

As for getting people interested and caring about your book, you do that through the content you chose to publish, post or tweet about it. Here’s some of the things I did to give some you ideas (hopefully!):

  • Shared my personal story of why I decided to self-publish it
  • Blogged about all aspects of self-publishing, including my mistakes
  • Shared things like the cover design (the stages of it), synopsis, photos of proof copies, etc.
  • Made two book trailers (you can see them here)
  • Posting pictures from my time in Florida on my Facebook page
  • Had a PDF preview that readers could download for free
  • Tagged my “shameless self-promotion” tweets on Twitter with #mousetrappedmonday and confined them to 3-5 tweets of a Monday afternoon
  • Wrote guest posts on other blogs
  • Gave copies to book bloggers and other review sites and then linked to the reviews.

Doing this online—and hopefully getting retweeted, recommended, followed, etc.—will cover the “exists” bit.

Tip: I find it really helpful to think back to the last book I heard about and then went out and bought, and examine why I did that. 

Go For Launch

Another mistake I frequently see self-publishers making is failing to have a release date. You should have one. I know that as self-publishers it’s hard to judge exactly when your book will be available and it’s even harder to get your Kindle edition to coincide with your paperback and your Barnes and Noble listing to match them both, but don’t worry about all that. We don’t have to pick a day and then, come hell or high water, ensure that all our listings go live on that exact date. For self-publishers, your release date can be any day when (i) you decide that you’re ready to launch and (ii) at least your Kindle and paperback, if you’re doing one, are available to buy.

Then turn your online spaces into party central for the week around it. Have a virtual launch party. Go on a blog tour. Give away some books. Have a contest or competition for a juicy prize. Perhaps even give your book away for free for a couple of days, or 24 hours, just to get things going. But for the love of fudge, do something. Don’t invite me to the saddest book launch in the history of the world, i.e. a single post or tweet that gives me a quick run-through every rejection you’ve ever suffered, and then says, “So I self-published it. It’s on Amazon now. $2.99. Here’s a link. Excuse me while I log off, have a nap and expect there to have been hundred of sales by the time I wake up later.” If you wrote the thing and you’re not excited about it, why the hell should I be?

Another tip: look at that list of aims again. Now think of a tweet that says “My book is out now! Just $2.99 on Amazon! Buy it! Please RT please RT please RT” and ask yourself how does that get people interested?

So you’ve written your book, decided to self-publish it, self-published it, built an online platform and got people you’re not related to excited about your book to the point when they’ve exchanged their hard earned cash for a copy of it. The hard part is over. Tomorrow: what to do next to try and keep your book from disappearing into the Most Books Abyss…

Oh, sorry—I meant the easy part is over. Oops.

While we’re on the subject…

I feel like my regular blog readers know me really well, and always know where I’m coming from. But this blog has been getting a lot of attention from new sources in the last couple of weeks, and so a lot of people are stopping by here for the first time. Some, it seems, are getting the impression that I’m only interested in making money, and that I couldn’t care less about writing as a craft or an endeavor all of its own. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m different to a lot of self-publishers (and self-published bloggers) in that I’m still pursuing traditional publication. If a publisher approached me tomorrow and offered me a €5,000 advance, I’d take it, even though I could make four times that releasing the same book myself, because getting published is my dream, and I’d love the opportunity to see how the experts do all this. But this is “How To Sell Self-Published Books Month”, so the focus is on selling. And I need to make money from self-publishing because I do it full-time, and the income it generates allows me to not have a day job but instead devote myself fully to writing the book that I hope will, one day, help me achieve my dream of traditional publication. If you don’t want to make money from writing, I can only assume you don’t love doing it as much as I do, because making money from it is the only way that you can do it all the time, unless you win the lottery. And even if you are published by someone else, you still don’t get to “just write” all the time. You have to participate in the promotion, and so you should. It’s your book, after all. Helping the people who invested in it get their investment back is the very least you could do. When you self-publish, you’ve made the investment, and so you need to get out there and sell your book for the same reason.

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23 thoughts on “Launching Your Book Online

  1. Lauren Clark (@LaurenClark_Bks) says:

    Catherine – Couldn’t agree more with setting up and participating *actively* in a blog tour.

    For “Stay Tuned,” I hired a publicist to organize a tour. Unfortunately, the blog tour didn’t target many of the readers that I wanted to connect with. (Big lesson learned!!!!!)

    For “Dancing Naked in Dixie” (release date: May 21st), I set up the blog tours myself (a combination of (1) contacting individual bloggers who I enjoy following, (2) contacting the bloggers who did a great job reviewing/critiquing ‘Stay Tuned,’ (3) contacting readers on GoodReads who might like “Dixie” AND (4) working with blog “tour” companies, including Chick Lit Plus, Goddess Fish, Bewitching Book Tours, and Chick Lit is the New Black).

    Before setting up a tour, I do think that it’s crucial to spend some time on each of your favorite blog sites, reading the posts, and commenting. You’ll know within a short period of time whether that blog is a good fit for your book!

    Three last thoughts … Be genuine. Make a meaningful connection (Do you have something in common? Chick Lit, Yoga, Biking, Southern food??). And say ‘Thank You.’

    xx, Lauren

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Great info there, Lauren. Thanks for sharing it. And I see Stay Tuned everywhere so it can’t have been all that bad! ;-D

      I do firmly believe that authors themselves have to do the social media bits. It’s no good hiring a publicist, I’m afraid. Not when the whole point of social media is to make a personal connection. It’s like hiring someone else to give your friend a hug.

      • Lauren Clark (@LaurenClark_Bks) says:

        Ah, yes … (thinks for a moment, takes sip of coffee) unless I hire George Clooney or Brad Pitt to do the hugging. LOL

        And right, it was not all bad for Stay Tuned … just a learning experience and $$ that could have been used elsewhere!!

  2. Cristian Mihai says:

    I actually laughed out loud at that part with “So I self-published it. Here’s the link.” Great post, as always. I have one question though. Did you ever send ARCs to review blogs? If yes, how long before your books was out? I’m trying to see if that’s a good idea or not, if it’s counterproductive to have your book reviewed before people can actually buy it or not.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I offer the reviewers a choice of e-book or ARC (I prefer to receive ARCs myself) and most of them take the e-book. If it’s an e-book, I think a month before publication is okay. If it’s a paperback, I’d send them out a bit earlier, just to allow for delivery, etc. When you’re sending them out, always include an info sheet that clearly states when the book will be released. Don’t worry about reviews coming sooner; this actually helps you, because it builds anticipation about the book and then you can use quotes and snippets from the reviews on your website, etc. to help promote the book on release. It’s far better to release a book that’s already received good reviews than one that has none at all.

  3. Nicky Wells says:

    Fantastic post! As you said, it contains everything I wished I’d known when I first self published. Read this and weep: I had no blog. I wasn’t on Facebook. I wasn’t even on Twitter. I didn’t have a clue, and I did it all backwards. Still, I got around to building a platform and I’m still building it; every day, I learn a little more about opportunities and the dos/don’t dos of promoting books, my blog, myself. It’s amazing posts like these that keep me on my toes: Thank you. FABULOUS post, must read for every apsiring author!! X

  4. aehuppert says:

    Catherine, thank you for confirming my intuition 🙂 I’m a new follower and today’s post helped me breathe a sigh of relief! I’m currently hurtling down a train track on my way home from speaking at an annual conference where I shared a concept from my not-yet-published self help book on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

    At first, after I accepted the speaking opportunity, I felt like a fraud selling something that doesn’t exist….yet. *think swampland in Florida* In reality, these people heard about my blog content, had been following me for a while (in secret), and were delighted when I told them of my plans to publish….soonish.

    Yes, I could have kicked myself when the traveling bookseller at the conference emailed me to find out my publisher, so he could sell the book to the more than 350 attendees, but I got his business card and promised (must follow through) to resource him as soon as it was in print, so he could offer it to other “like” conferences, and he agreed. I guess he travels all over the U.S. selling books at conferences where my reader peeps can be found! I just snagged one, cheap, target-audience-focused book distributor….yay! for me.

    Thanks again, and keep the newbie advice a com in’!

  5. cherylmahoney says:

    “If you don’t want to make money from writing, I can only assume you don’t love doing it as much as I do, because making money from it is the only way that you can do it all the time, unless you win the lottery.”

    YES. You just captured my feelings exactly. That quote’s like a bonus, at the end of a very helpful post. Thanks!

  6. Jennifer Mosher says:

    Thank you, Catherine – this is a really well written post with great advice for all writers, particularly the ones trying to establish their audience.

    As a boutique (read: small and still emerging!) publisher, one of the struggles we have with our (mostly brand new) writers is getting the point across that developing a well written book is only one part of the process and it doesn’t matter what the publisher does, if the author doesn’t shout it from the rooftops, then only a miracle will help it sell. So thank you so much for reinforcing that point!

    But also as a publisher, I’m fascinated that you would still be happy to be published ‘traditionally’, because from where I sit, you’re doing great as you are. You’re laying a solid groundwork for a long career, you’re developing your audience, you’ve already got four books out, in e-versions and in print (so you understand the mechanics required to produce a book ready for sale), you’ve got an authentic and original ‘voice’, you understand about the marketing aspects, and as long as you’re publishing electronically and not pulling those books off the virtual shelves, they will always have the chance to sell, which can’t be said for print versions. In my view, you’re a ‘traditional’ publisher’s dream: you’ve done all the hard work, and I just need to move in now and cash in on that … 🙂

    I shouldn’t be so rude to ‘traditional’ publishers, because for many, many people they perform a great service. But for someone like yourself who is across it all, I would merely recommend that you consider eventually employing an admin assistant, to look after the little tasks that you don’t want or need to be doing any more … and to count the pennies that will, inevitably, begin to roll in …

    Congratulations on a great resource (this blog), on having the intelligence and courage to just get out there and get on with it (your writing), and for being generous enough to share your learnings with the rest of the world – you’re an inspiration!

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I think I’m a traditional publisher’s dream too—but they don’t seem to realize it! ;-D

      My dream to is—and has always been—to get published. It’s nothing hiring an assistant could satisfy, I’m afraid. The reality is that although e-books are growing, something like 80% of books are still bought in physical editions from brick and mortar stores, and getting published is the only way to ensure that my book would ever be on a significant number of shelves. Then there’s the percentage of the reading population who won’t read self-published books as a rule; I’d like to get through to them too. But at the end of the day, it comes down to the fact that I didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a published writer who was gazing adoringly at her book on a Kindle screen.

      I have friends who have been published, and I’ve seen firsthand the highs and lows of the experience. I want to experience it all for myself.

      Having said that, I’m talking about a major publisher. If a small press showed up with an advance (which would be far less than €5k anyway), I’d decline, because chances are they wouldn’t have any widespread paperback distribution and I wouldn’t relinquish my e-book rights for that.

      • Jennifer Mosher says:

        I see your point about being traditionally published now – it makes sense when you explain it like that.

        So in that case, hang in there – I’m sure the right firm will come along with the right offer when the time is right and yes, hang onto those ebook rights until you’re sure about signing them over!

        Thanks again for your candor and willingness to share 🙂

  7. tomdharris says:

    Hi Catherine, I’ve popped by now and again to this blog and wanted to say thanks for sharing your knowledge on the reality of self-publishing and selling, which is not something a lot of writers want to face up to – I’ve been there, head in sand until recently myself. It isn’t easy to sell Indie books and there is such a fine line on social networks from being entertaining and informative to annoying and opinionated. What your blog always tells me is to be yourself – which is cool, because I’m the most qualified person in the world to be me. I work hard and write lots and I love every minute of the craft and the process. I love your honesty about pursuing traditional publishing routes as I’m exactly the same; purely because I love writing and want to wake up and write every day of my life. To do that I need cash! I know there are people out there who feel really strongly about being Indie writers and I really respect that – it takes a lot to stick to your guns on that area, but I self published because I wanted to get my stories out there and see if there was a chance that I could write for a living! It’s of course early days byt I’m pleased that so many people think that I can and want me to continue – this feedback is like fuel for a writer and if I hadn’t self published I would not be as determined and encouraged as I am now. Thanks for giving it to us straight, Catherine it’s much appreciated, so here’s to you. Cheers – 🙂 I’m not drinking yet by the way, but I’m edging my seat towards the lovely, dusty wine rack!

  8. F. Kenneth Taylor says:


    Even though I’m a little ‘behind-the-ball’, because I self-published my first 2 books in Jan & Mar. of this year, your posts has been very helpful & motivating. I used to think the hardest part of writing was getting published, but now that I’ve accomplished that, I see that the truly hard part is promoting & advertising–Its worse than pulling teeth!

    I admit, until I came across your blog & posts, I was starting to feel somewhat discouraged, because I truly love writing with a passion, and I know for a fact that its what I want to do as a living, the lack of support that I had received, or should I say…hadn’t received (especially from friends & family that encouraged me to get published) just devastated me, quite frankly, I expected more from them. From that moment on, I knew it was going to be an uphill battle to see any kind of real profit from my work.

    I didn’t know to advertise long before my books were released, and wish I had, but that’s ok, I got more on the way, but I knew the best way for me to reach a large volume of possible buyers, readers, fans, etc… was online. But all I knew was to join as many social media sites as possible & start telling & asking people to buy my books, but again, it wasn’t until I came across your posts that I realized I had the right idea, I was just going about it the wrong way. Well, now that you’ve educated me on some major dos & don’ts I working hard to put them into practice, so keep the posts coming! You’re doing an excellent job, and I thank you so very much!

    — F. Kenneth Taylor

  9. Paula Casill says:

    Hi Catherine,
    I just wanted to take a second to say hi. I just found your blog yesterday and I absolutely love it! As a fellow coffee addict, I ended up staying up waaay too late last night reading through your archives. And and someone who is considering jumping into the self-publishing pool, I can’t thank you enough for sharing so much of your experience and practical advice =)
    ~ Paula

  10. Celeste Auge says:

    Great blog, Catherine, and this post has a lot going on. I’m publishing with a small publisher, which means the promotion end of things really comes down to me. And your site has loads of ideas and necessary truths (I love the social media/cocktail party analogy for online etiquette), should be a big help. Thanks!

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