How to Launch a Book (When You Have a Small Platform)

In August of 2019 I published my first book, called Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness, with a small, but professional publisher. They were able to get my book in a few magazine ads and sent it in to be reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly and some other well-known publications, which was a huge help. But other than that, I’ve had to do much of the marketing on my own.

I have a tiny platform, but I’ve been able to sell books despite not having a ton of followers. I’ve participated in over a dozen launch teams myself, read books, and binge-listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts relating to book marketing. To save you some time, here is what I’ve learned about launching a book into the world:

Pre-Launch Ideas

RECRUIT A LAUNCH TEAM: Check out this separate post about leading a launch team.

PUBLISH ARTICLES: Pre-write articles and submit to online publications or arrange to guest post on friends’ blogs. Time them so they will be published around the time of your book launch. I was able to use some parts of my book that I cut out during revisions. Sometimes it helps to offer a copy of your book as a giveaway.

SET UP SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS: Because I still have little kids at home, I can’t travel too far from home (not to mention the financial implications of doing that). Because of this, I contacted all the MOPS groups in my area since I could put my kids in childcare for free, get paid (in some cases), share my message, and sell my book afterward. I ordered a free Square so I could take credit cards. Even though they charge 2.7%, it’s worked really well so far! Venmo is also a good option because they don’t charge a fee for using it. I also bought these clipboards to pass around with email sign-ups and these book stands to display my book when I sell it after events.

Think about places your readers hang out–do you need to speak at churches, conferences, retreats, or community venues? Be creative and make a list of all the places you could speak. I also plan to set up a few speaking engagements at our public library. To prepare to speak, I read the book Resonate and Talk Like TED as a crash course.

And for negotiating speaker fees, check out this post by my friend Bronwyn.

BUILD YOUR EMAIL LIST: If there’s anything I’ve heard repeatedly over the last few years of learning about marketing, it’s this: “Build your email list first and focus less on all your other social media.” You can’t control the algorithms of Facebook or Instagram, but if you have an email list, it’s all in your control (now controlling whether your emails actually get opened or not is another story…).

There are many ways to do this, but a few are:

1. Have a lead magnet (on my site, I now offer chapter one of my book, but before I came out with a book I offered a list of hospitality resources).

2. Have people enter giveaways on other social media by signing up for your newsletter. (Also, give away something people actually WANT.)

3. Have a squeeze page on your site (a page where they have to enter their email to continue on your site–I don’t have this yet.)

4. When you speak places, always pass around a sign up sheet (don’t just put it up front–pass it around on a clipboard).

BE A GUEST ON PODCASTS: Try to get on as many podcasts as possible. This is free publicity without leaving your home. Most podcasters are working from inside their closets, so all you need is a computer and some headphones.

Setting up different podcasts has been challenging, but over a year ago, I started following many podcasts on Instagram. If an author with a book similar to mine was on a podcast, I started following that podcast. Now, when the podcast pops up in my feed, I hit the message button on Instagram and ask them if they’d like to have me as a guest on their show. I kind of hate doing this, but the worst that can happen is that they say no. In some cases, they’ve said no, but they’re willing to do a giveaway of my book. This article was helpful as I prepared for interviews: How to Give a Great Radio [or Podcast] Interview by Amy Boucher Pye.

USE YOUR ARCS WISELY: Find out how many advance reader copies (ARCS) your publisher is willing to give you–then ask for more. I mailed ARCS to writer friends, other influencers, or podcasts who wanted to have me as a guest.

I was with a small publisher, so I ended up buying my ARCS for $4.50 each (plus shipping). For this reason, my six-year-old started walking around saying “You have spend money to make money.” When you become an author, you become a small business owner with a product to sell. Often we have to invest before we see any profit.

ORDER ENVELOPES: Buy these envelopes so you’re ready to mail out ARCS and final copies. I probably gave away two hundred hard copies of my book for free. Don’t forget to use media mail! For me, each mailing coast $2.75 per book. Also grab a pack of thank you notes!

LOOK FOR PARTNERSHIPS: Partner with other authors or bloggers and offer them your book as a giveaway on their sites or newsletters. You could also partner with small businesses that might have an interest in your book and be willing to donate items to your followers. Give away other books or products on your blog or social media and ask them to sign up for your newsletter to enter the contest (you’ll continue mentioning your book to your newsletter list …).

GET ON THE PHONE: I know, I hate doing this , too. But it was actually more encouraging than I expected. Ask local bookstores and churches with bookstores in your state to order your book. Many bookstores like promoting local authors. Be sure to stop by and say hi when you’re in their neighborhood. When you call, just say, “Hey! I’m a local author. I wondered if you’d be able to order my book for your store.” They’ll usually connect you with the right person and most will ask you some questions about your book, so be ready with your elevator pitch.

CONSIDER HIRING A PUBLICIST: I did hire a publicist to do a modified campaign for me and we did a mailing to about fifty of her contacts who were mainly in radio. I paid one-fourth of what she usually charges for a full campaign, but she was able to book me a few very high-profile radio shows that were broadcast all over the nation. I put the publicist I hired in touch with my publicist at my publisher so they weren’t contacting the same people. (I was nervous about this, but my publisher didn’t seem to have a problem with me hiring extra help.)

Launch Ideas (Week Of Release)

HOST A LAUNCH PARTY: I did this locally and invited everyone I know. I hired a friend to play his cello, recruited friends to pass out tickets for door prizes, help me sell books, keep an eye on the food table, and make sure the kid area wasn’t in shambles. We had about 60 people and it was a blast. This post by Emily P. Freeman was helpful as I thought through what kind of party I wanted to have (though mine was very different from hers): I Finally Figured Out How to Have a Book Launch Party.

This is the week for your launch team to shine, so most of my launch week ideas are in that post on how to run a launch team.

Post-Launch

BOOK SIGNINGS: I called or emailed to set up three book signings at local independent bookstores which ranged from hugely successful to utter failure. Check out some great resources about doing signings here: Book Signing Tips for Authors.

One bookstore ordered the book ahead of time and I sold exactly ZERO books. With the other two, we negotiated and they paid me after the books were sold (at one, I got 60 percent of the book–so about $10.00 after paying my publisher $8.50 for it–$1.50 per book. I sold three books. At the other, we split the profit 50/50, so I got to take home $4.00 per book and I sold twenty-two books. Read my post about doing book signings … we don’t do book signings for the money!)

HOST GIVEAWAYS: Give away your book, but also other books or items to your followers. Be helpful to other writers who are also trying to spread the word about their work (maybe try some cross-promotion via social media or newsletter lists.)

STAY VISIBLE: I think it was Emily Freeman who said she likes to keep her book in the top nine images in her Instagram feed. Don’t stop mentioning your book, but don’t mention it all the time, either. Send monthly newsletters with helpful ideas and info for your readers.

KEEP SPEAKING, PITCHING, WRITING: I’m only two months out and I’m already tired. But I’m told the hustle must continue for many more months. (The good news is that my publisher said to keep doing what I’m doing, because it’s working! They sold through most of the first-year projections for my book in the first month.)

I think of this entire process as scattering seeds. Some books will languish on shelves, some will take root, and others will multiply. My job is to send more books out into the world, let them do as they will, and allow the wind of the Spirit take care of the rest.

Other Helpful Resources:

Book Launch Show by Tim Grahl and the Novel Marketing Podcast with Thomas Umstattd Jr. and James L. Rubart are podcasts that elaborate on all of the ideas I mentioned above. I binge-listened in the months before my book released.

Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl is a very helpful book that helps frame your book launch as a long-term endeavor.

Remember that if you’re not excited about your book, why should anyone else be? Your book is not YOU, it’s your gift to the world, so it’s worth spreading the word about it!

Have you launched a book? What worked for you?

How to Launch a Book (When You Have a Small Platform). I have a tiny platform, but I've been able to sell books despite not having a ton of followers. I've participated in over a dozen launch teams myself, read books, and binge-listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts relating to book marketing. To save you some time, here is what I've learned about launching a book into the world.

5 Replies to “How to Launch a Book (When You Have a Small Platform)”

  1. Really helpful – thanks! My book came out in October, also with a small publisher, so I’ve also done many of the things you’ve mentioned to try and get the word out! (And I also have young kids to work into the equation, like you!)

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