Part 11: The Ultimate Guide to Launching

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Welcome back for Part 11 of the Ultimate Guide to Book Marketing! In this section, we’ll be assembling everything we’ve learned into a flexible launch framework. New releases are the lifeblood of your author career; without them, your earnings will dwindle and die.

Too many authors try to rely on their backlist, or skate by without releasing for too long. That doesn’t fly in 2019; if you’re not releasing 3 – 4 books a year, you’re going to have a really hard time. The reason? Amazon is set up to churn. They know that their customers like new content, and that new books convert better than old books. This is because we, as human beings, are wired to like newness, even if – even if, with something like a hundred million books written over the centuries, we technically don’t need any more.

None of that matters. We like new stuff. Amazon’s data no doubt backs this up, which is why they’ve fine-tuned their recommendation systems to offer a plethora of visibility advantages to just-released titles.

And naturally, we want to leverage this visibility for our own benefit.

Which is where this guide comes in.

However, there are so many ways to approach a launch that any blanket recommendations would be nigh useless or, worse, detrimental to your overall success (due to fitting square pegs into proverbial round holes). Instead of ready-made templates, then, you need the tools to customize a launch strategy for yourself. That way, you can calibrate the variables based on the situation at hand.

Crafting a launch strategy requires answers to the following questions:

  • GOAL: Profit or rank? If rank, what are you aiming for?
  • BUDGET: Budget for actual launch window? Budget for first 30 days?
  • PLATFORM: Your existing platform (mailing list subs, followers etc.)
  • RELEASE SCHEDULE: When is the next book coming out?
  • EXCLUSIVITY: Launch in KU or going wide?
  • PRICING: $0.99 or $2.99+
  • PREORDERS: Preorders or no preorder?
  • TIMEFRAME: 5 – 14 days? (launch window)
  • STRATEGY: rapid release? Multiple simultaneous releases? discount prior books via KCD? Free run for a prior book? Rank push the new book to Top 250/100? Box set at $0.99 pushing toward Top 100 for page reads?

At first, you’ll want to answer these on a sheet of paper. Eventually, you’ll just automatically cycle through each point mentally as you craft an upcoming launch.

Before we jump into each of these items, however, let’s talk about why you should launch at all.

If you’re just stopping by and want to start from the beginning of the Ultimate Guide to Book Marketing, you can find the complete series here. Each part stands alone, though, so if you’re just interested in a particular topic, feel free to jump in wherever you see fit.

Why Launch?

Some suggest that the launch doesn’t matter in the world of indie publishing.

I strongly disagree.

While Amazon’s algorithms can (and do) change without warning, they currently provide substantial visibility boosts for titles released in the past 90 days. In practice, this means each advertising dollar is worth anywhere from 1.5x to 3x normal during the launch period. This is just a rule of thumb based on anecdotal observation, not based on data analysis. But the core takeaway is thus: since you’re essentially playing with house money, there’s no reason not to use the launch window (the first 30 days of your book’s life) to your fullest advantage. Marketing aggressively during these initial 30 days is often more beneficial than spending a similar amount six months later.

Visibility doesn’t completely fade after these first 30 days; you actually get 90 days of new release visibility from Amazon. However, this visibility starts to decay at Day 30, when books are no longer eligible for the Hot New Release chart. Another drop-off follows at 60 days, before new release visibility finally vanishes at the 90 day mark. At that point, your title is “backlist” on Amazon, and receives no special visibility benefits. In the indie community, these are colloquially referred to as the 30/60/90 day cliffs. The cliffs have become more pronounced in recent years, particularly the 30 day cliff; in hyper-competitive genres, you might lose effectively all of your new release juice after Day 30.

However long that extra visibility lasts, you want to use it to sell more books. In fact, launching a book is so powerful that you could theoretically ignore many of the marketing tenets in this guide and simply release a book a month in a hot genre. While you by no means have to release anywhere close to a book a month to succeed (recall the Ultimate Book Marketing Formula), this speaks to the power of a new release. Launches are one of the best opportunities you have as an author not just to make money, but also to build your platform (e.g. newsletter and fanbase). Remember that no promo or marketing campaign is a one-off effort; approaching them as isolated events is a major mistake. Instead, each marketing piece is a brick in your publishing career.

The launches are your biggest bricks of all. And when properly used, they rapidly accelerate how fast your publishing career progresses.

General Approach

A launch is all about hitting critical mass. The more firepower you stack up, generally speaking, the better. There are limits to the scope of this firepower, of course, as you can incinerate skyscraper-high stacks of cash with incredible ease during a poorly optimized launch. But if you don’t move the sales needle high enough, then you’re not going to get any help from Amazon’s algorithms.

To that end, the three traffic sources concept often flies out the window during an aggressive launch. This is because of synergy: when your book is everywhere – promo sites, Facebook, your newsletter, other authors’ newsletters, FB Ads, BookBub Ads, Amazon Ads, and so forth – it gives readers the impression that it’s important. That it’s big. It also reminds people constantly that it’s available. They turn around and boom, there’s your book again. If they don’t buy the first time, it doesn’t matter; you’re hitting them from three other angles later in the week. Eventually, after seeing your book five, six, ten or even twenty times – over multiple venues – a reader’s brain goes I have to check this out.

This type of synergy is, of course, only plausible with higher budgets. With more modest spends, you’ll want to focus on your core three traffic sources. Spreading yourself too thin will limit the critical mass you can achieve; you only want to go far and wide should your budget risk exhausting your core three options.

Now that we’ve talked about the principles underpinning the launch, let’s get into that list of questions we started with at the beginning. First on the agenda? Setting a launch goal.

Goal

This boils down to a simple question: are you gunning for profit or rank?

While these are not mutually exclusive goals – indeed, one only aims for high ranks in the hope that this visibility transforms into profit somewhere down the line – they easily can be. That is because, absent a large platform, you will need to spend a substantial amount of money to push your book high in the Amazon ranks. This will usually demand that you lower your price to $0.99; at this price point, you earn only $0.35 a sale in royalties. Thus, if you don’t get your book very high – say, the top 250 or Top 100 – and then hold it there for a few days (recall that Amazon’s algorithms prefer sustained sales rather than transient one day spikes), this ephemeral visibility can wear off very quickly indeed.

Gunning for rank is a Kindle Unlimited only strategy. Chasing rank is pointless when you’re wide, since there is no Kindle Unlimited pot of page read gold to chase. A wide book, since its rank is not propped up by borrows (which count the same for ranking purposes as a sale), will have trouble making a push toward the Top 500 on the strength of advertising and a modest platform.

A Top 100 run for a Kindle Unlimited book costs anywhere from $500 – $3k, depending on the genre. This is assuming the book in question is $0.99; at $2.99, it becomes much pricier (and harder). You’re banking on this massive visibility turning into page reads some 4 – 14 days after the end of the launch window. If you can get the book high enough, and sustain that rank for long enough, these page read rewards can be massive.

But if Amazon doesn’t push your book, or you fail to hit lofty ranking heights?

You’ll be left with a heap of $0.99 sales, a massive advertising bill, and little tail to show for it.

Thus, instead of playing rank roulette, I’d recommend aiming for profit in 99% of cases. The absolute ceiling is going to be lower, but it’s a more reliable way to build a career.

Budget

More modest budgets will have more modest rewards. This much is fairly obvious. It is, however, worth mentioning that the days of spending a few hundred dollars, organizing some newsletter swaps, alerting your platform, and potentially riding the Amazon algorithmic lightning are all but gone. These cases were always isolated, but they’ve become even more rare. As Amazon pushes their own advertising platform (Amazon Ads) store-wide, this will only become more true. After all, why give away visibility that authors are happy to pay for?

This doesn’t mean organic visibility has dried up, only that it requires more of an advertising push than it used to.

I don’t have specific suggestions for budget. Instead, bear in mind that no launch is a career making silver bullet. If you need any book or series to be the one that saves you, you’re in a poor position. Never bet the house on a single release. Glitches, mistakes, and flops abound, even for savvy marketers.

Whatever budget you choose, make sure you can live to play another hand. If that means spending very little, or saving your powder for next time at the expense of the current launch, then that’s fine. There’s always a next time; your job is to make sure, financially, that there is a next time. Without being so conservative that you never give yourself the opportunity to succeed in a competitive industry at all.

Platform

It’s easy to focus on paid advertising options like promo sites or pay-per-click ads. While these are important, the foundation of your launch will be your existing platform. A large existing fanbase can carry the brunt of the marketing load, allowing you to save time and money on the paid options. Or, if you prefer, you can leverage this fanbase and combine it with paid advertising to launch your book into the stratosphere.

The core of your platform is your newsletter, social media (if you’re active), and relationships you have with other authors. The first two have been covered in other parts of this guide, so I won’t rehash them here. The last is fairly simple, but worth a little expanding: if you cultivate quality relationships with other authors in your sub-genre, this can be a tremendous asset come launch-time. This not only helps you hit critical mass (by tapping into their fanbase), but it also teach Amazon’s algorithms by funneling the exact type of reader you’re looking for. If a popular author in your sub-genre recommends your book, it will become tied to their catalog in the also boughts, and Amazon will recommend it to the same general audience.

This is powerful.

It’s also a part where many authors go wrong. Cultivating genuine relationships is hard. It is fairly easy to set up some newsletter swaps with other authors; these can help, but they’re quickly becoming oversaturated. Readers are wise to newsletters filled with “recommendations” that the author hasn’t even purchased, let alone read. As such, genuine refers to not just your relationship with other authors, but with your readers, as well. Sharing books from other authors that you enjoy is much more valuable than a hundred random titles to fulfill your swapping obligations.

Thus, I’d recommend, should you seek outside help with your launch, to do so carefully and methodically. That will serve you better long-term than blasting authors (and readers) with requests that put them in an awkward position.

Release Schedule

It was said but 1,000 words ago, but it bears repeating: launching a book is so powerful that you could theoretically ignore many of the marketing tenets in this guide and simply release a book a month in a hot genre.

Most authors can’t release a book a month (I certainly don’t). This doesn’t leave you DOA. But whatever your release pace is, you want to have an idea of what books are coming down the pike – and when. This will dictate all your decisions for your current launch, from the budget to the pricing.

For example, if you release a book a month, you don’t have to go as heavy on the advertising. Since one of your titles will always be on the Hot New Release chart (provided you get it visible enough), you can simply ride this from month-to-month, reigniting the momentum with each subsequent release. If you release twice a year, on the other hand, you’ll probably want to go as big as possible, because that book needs to carry more of the load.

As a rule of thumb, the quicker you get books out (particularly if they’re in a trendy Kindle Unlimited genre), the less time and money you have to spend on each launch. That being said, this is optional: even if you release fast, the more high quality marketing firepower you can put behind each release, the better things will generally turn out.

Exclusivity

Choosing whether to launch your book in Kindle Unlimited or wide is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make, and heavily dictates what launch strategies are available to you. Kindle Unlimited has much higher upside, since each borrow counts the same as a sale in Amazon’s ranking algorithm, thus allowing you to get significantly more visibility on your books. Tools like KDP Free Runs and Kindle Countdown Deals make generating visibility easier for exclusive books as well.

When you’re wide, you need to bring the visibility. If you’re just starting out, your skills and also your platform are unlikely to be up to the task. Even when you’re experienced, if you don’t have a solid platform to launch from, pushing a new release wide can be a sobering endeavor.

I recommend launching every new book into Kindle Unlimited for at least one 90 day cycle. If it doesn’t perform well, then you can always move it wide later. This gives you two bites at the apple, granting you exposure to the upside of KU while also keeping the flexibility of wide in your back pocket for later. Note: If you’re a wide-only author, then you would simply launch wide from the get-go.

Pricing

I’m not a fan of launching at $0.99; it brings you only $0.35 a sale, which makes profitability tricky to achieve. However, the real reason I don’t like launching at $0.99 is simple: it devalues your brand. Consumers expect new media properties, whether they’re video games or movies, to be most expensive upon release. This extends to the book market as well. Pricing at $0.99 from the get-go, then, puts you in a bargain-basement category with straight-to-video movies and other commodities. It instantly makes readers suspicious: why is this new book so cheap? Is there something wrong with it. Price is a quality signal, and this sends the wrong ones. Those people who do shop for new releases in these bins tend not to be author loyal, but price and genre loyal; they’re looking for $0.99 urban fantasy books first. The name on the cover is essentially irrelevant.

This is fine and not a judgement regarding these readers. It is merely important to understand, as a business owner, that such readers are unlikely to turn into hardcore fans in great numbers.

Remember that our overarching goal is to build our platform long-term. Readers seeking new release deals, on balance, aren’t author-loyal. If you raise prices, many of them will seek cheaper books. In short, it’s difficult to survive long-term as a commodity. Instead, I’d recommend cultivating a premium brand, where readers are buying your books specifically, rather than simply the cheapest available title in their genre of choice.

Generally, unless you’re trying to push a KU book into the Top 100 overall during the launch (see our discussion of rank v. profit above), you’re better off launching at $2.99+. You get the 70% royalty rate, but $2.99 is still enough of a discount to remain in semi-impulse buy territory. This makes getting people to pick the book up cold via Facebook or Amazon ads a realistic option (whereas pricing at $4.99 or $5.99 makes that extremely difficult). You also maintain your brand as premium and high-quality.

In certain hyper-trendy KU genres, long-term branding is less of a concern; immediate visibility is much more important. In these circumstances, the calculus shifts, and it can be better to come out pushing your new releases hard at $0.99 to wring every last bit of visibility you can while the sun is shining. You’re not playing for tomorrow; you’re playing for right now, and the couple months thereafter. While this can be a highly lucrative game to play, it requires deft navigation of current trends; stick around a chilling sub-genre too long, and you’ll find your earnings in a similar deep freeze. I believe building a brand in a well-established sub-genre is a better (and easier) long-term play, although it can demand greater patience.

I want to be very clear about one thing: I am not against discounting. In fact, discounting earlier backlist books in the same series is an effective way to use lower prices to snag new readers during a launch without devaluing your new release. This is a tried-and-true practice across many industries: older products are discounted as they get further along in their lives. Consumers expect this, and don’t see it as a negative quality signal. Instead, they take it as a positive: wow, I’m getting a good deal on a great book.

And that’s a win-win for everyone.

Preorders

If you’re wide, then do a pre-order on non-Amazon retailers. It will benefit you.

On Amazon, I generally recommend against long pre-orders. The reason is simple: pre-orders only count toward rank when they occur. Thus, a pre-order will spread these out over time. The ultimate consequence here is that you might not generate enough visibility to get Amazon recommending your book.

For example, if you expected 100 sales from your platform and spread them out over 30 days, you’d only hit a max rank of about 30 – 50k. But if you consolidated them out over a few days during launch, you’d hit the Top 3,000—which greatly increases the chances of Amazon pushing your book.

Pre-orders can be useful if you set up a pre-order for Book 2 (or a later book in the series) and you’re trying to capture that Book 2 sale right away while doing a big promo push for Book 1. But most people who like the series won’t pre-order; they’ll wait until the actual book is available. And Kindle Unlimited readers have no way of pre-ordering or preloading a title; they can only borrow it when it’s live on Amazon.

If you’re a newer author, putting Book 2 etc. up for pre-order can demonstrate to potential readers that this is a series and also that you plan to keep writing—e.g. you won’t just leave them hanging without resolving the series.

Finally, if you do a pre-order of 30 days or more, and check the Kindle Unlimited exclusivity box when you submit your pre-order, your book will be eligible for a Kindle Countdown Deal when it launches. This can be useful if you plan to launch at $0.99. Note that if you plan to run a Kindle Countdown Deal on a just-released title, you can’t actually schedule it until the book is live. Thus, the earliest you can schedule a KCD is 2 days after the actual release date; I’d give yourself 3 or 4, just to build in a buffer.

My preference on Amazon is to do a short pre-order (5 – 6 days). This minimizes rank impact (don’t announce the pre-order to your list or social media) but allows you take care of important administrative items prior to the actual launch. Those include:

  1. Getting the also-boughts to populate. If you do have an existing fan base, a few people will pre-order the book, thus getting the ball moving on the also boughts. Anyone who has had the also boughts delayed for a new release knows how that can ruin a launch; this largely prevents that from happening.
  2. Requesting for the new book to be added to the series page. This is especially vital when using Kindle Countdown Deals on earlier books—Amazon gives the series page a new URL every time a book is added, so you need to make sure this link is correct in any ads you’re directing to the series page.
  3. Linking paperback and audio editions to the eBook. If you have any ARC reviews that people left on the paperback, those will appear on the eBook version.
  4. Setting up ads, social media posts, and your newsletter in advance. Since you’ll have the Amazon link to your new book, you’ll be able to schedule all of these items for launch day.

Launch Window Timeframe

An all-out marketing blitz can only be sustained for so long – 3 to 14 days, maximum. I prefer 5 – 7 days for three reasons:

  1. This gives you ample time to activate the Amazon algorithms, while being short enough to realistically sustain visibility (and your full attention) for the duration of the launch. Unless your budget is massive, it’s difficult to maintain an upward sales trend for the duration of the launch period and end with a bang.
  2. It matches the max length of a KDP Free Run (5 days) or Kindle Countdown Deal (7 days).
  3. At 10+ days, things generally become far too expensive and stressful to manage from an administrative perspective. A launch is a lot of hands-on effort, and every minute you spend making ads and managing spreadsheets is one that you can’t spend writing.

Strategies

The Ultimate Guide to Promo Strategies covers approaches that you can adapt to launches. There are, of course, a nearly infinite number of ways to structure your launch. Such is the beauty of marketing: as you learn more, and your skills develop, you unlock a creative canvas that surpasses even writing the books themselves. If you’re skeptical of this statement, I’ll gently posit (as an author and a marketer) that you probably haven’t done enough marketing to explore its full creative potential.

With that being said, let’s cover one launch strategy not covered in the guide above: rapid releasing. This comes in multiple flavors, the two most popular being one book a month and multiple simultaneous releases. The basic reason in favor of the rapid release approach is simple: Amazon’s algorithms like new releases. If you go longer than a month between them, your visibility fades from its peak. Thus, if you release a book, say, every two months, or three, part of that launch’s job is to recover visibility ground that you’ve ceded since the previous book came out.

Rapid releasing solves that problem, in that you’re never losing ground. You daisychain the releases together, building on that momentum from month-to-month. Multiple simultaneous releases ups the ante further, dropping two or more titles on a single day, then usually following that up with another book 30 days later.

It’s probably self-evident why such approaches are hyper-powerful. They feed Amazon’s algos exactly what they like: more books. And readers dig the fast releases too, since it allows them to consume the story at a rapid pace, a la Netflix binges.

What’s less obvious at first glance are the downsides. There are only two, but they’re substantial:

  1. Capital. If you’re releasing multiple books in rapid succession, this often requires a block of cash upfront to secure editing, covers, and other services related to production. You don’t want your cover designer to be all booked up in the month before Book 2’s release, which means shelling out months in advance. This can be difficult if funds are tight.
  2. Time and patience. It’s hard to carve out the hours necessary to write a book a month, or have the patience to stockpile multiple books. Note that some authors who can’t write a book a month choose to stockpile releases, then push them out 30 days apart. After they’ve emptied their book bank, there’s a few months until the next rapid release.

Number one is surmountable with some basic financial planning. Managing your psychology, and accurately assessing your productive output is another matter entirely. While rapid releasing is simple on paper, it is extremely difficult in reality. Most authors are not capable of writing a book a month or withholding releases until they’re ready.

These are not problems.

The problem, then, is when you convince yourself that you are a faster or more patient author than you currently are. To be clear, you can build these skills, but that takes time. If you are writing 2 books a year, you do not suddenly write 12 because you “want it really bad” or decide to do so. You must build up that capacity. This can take years. In the meantime, however, forcing yourself to write much faster than you’re capable results in two things: missed deadlines and burnout.

Thus, trying to rapid-release, while the most effective launch strategy in the business, usually ends up hurting most writers. People set unrealistic goals for themselves, inevitably miss their deadlines, then end up writing less than they would have. This is how a four book a year writer becomes a two book one.

Meet yourself where you are and build your skills from there. If you want to rapid release, that’s fine; just know that getting to that point is a process. For some, it takes months; for others, it never becomes possible. Ultimately, most authors are better served simply releasing books at their own pace (while trying to improve their writing speed gradually) instead of chasing the rapid release fool’s gold.

Putting it All Together

How you design your launch depends on the decisions you make regarding the factors above, naturally. These are but two sample templates that you can build from, or simply use as examples of how to apply the previously discussed concepts.

Since launching a completely new book differs vastly from launching a book in an existing series, we’ll cover those separately.

FOR A NEW BOOK 1/SERIES

Iif you have a new Book 1 fresh off the presses and ready for publication, you do want to support it with a launch. There is no reason to squander new release visibility. You do want to get the word out and see how readers respond. After all, you never know: Book 1 might be a smash hit out of the gate. You wouldn’t want to cut things off at the knees by not giving it a shot. But you don’t necessarily want to come out guns blazing, either. Reason being, even if Book 1 is highly successful, readers have nothing else to buy until Book 2 arrives.

As an example, if a book is ranked #1,000 in the store, it’s generating approximately 100 – 125 sales + borrows a day. Let’s say for the sake of argument that this is split 50-50. Here’s how the data breaks out (KENP is the official term for Kindle Unlimited pages):

$155/day is really good money; that comes to $4,500 a month and $56,000+ a year.

However, there are three caveats: one, you can’t sustain a book in the Top 1,000 forever. After 30 days, that high-flyer will begin an inevitable rankings trek down. Two, propelling a book into the Top 1,000, unless you write in a super-trendy genre, is an expensive endeavor. It’s likely you’re spending close to $155 a day (if not more) just to maintain this sort of visibility on a $2.99 release. And three, it’s really hard to get a book into the Top 1,000 and keep it there even for 30 days.

There are seven million books and counting on the Kindle Store.

The Top 1,000 is rarefied air. Achievable, yes. But when you take those three caveats under advisement, holy shit, I’m making $155 a day becomes, holy shit, I’m doing something this hard and only making $155 a day?

Thus, you typically want to be a bit more conservative with the first book—if it’s responding really well in the first few days of launch, you can push harder with your advertising efforts. If it’s not, lay off the gas a bit and focus on writing the next book. Then, you can put the resources you saved toward the next launch. Because if you can get Book 1 to #5,000 (which requires a far less herculean effort) with, say, six more books in the series, that’s where the real money is:

Now, at first glance you may say, wait, I’m only making $65 more after writing 6 more books? Perhaps. But remember that our first example was an absolute best case scenario. It is far more realistic to get a quality Book 1 to the 5,000 mark and have it hang around there for a few weeks, than it is to stick it in the Top 1,000.

It also costs far less. Once you get your ads dialed in, it’s possible to keep Book 1 “pinned” in the top 5,000 – 10,000 following a launch for as little as $50 – $75. So our take home profit here is $150+, whereas on our single title, we might be spending every shred of profit (and then some) to merely keep the book visible.

And one final note: this is but one series. Let’s say we have 21 books – three seven book series. Perhaps they’re not all as illustrious as our example above; maybe the others only achieve half those heights following a launch. That is still $440+ in revenue and about $300 in profit.

Which would put us right around the six-figure mark.

See what I mean about building things brick-by-brick?

With that in mind, then, let’s talk about releasing a new book in an already established series.

FOR A NEW BOOK IN AN EXISTING SERIES

Since your launch approach will differ slightly depending on whether you’re releasing Book 2 or 20, here are three basic ideas:

  1. For Book 2’s launch, consider offering the first for $0.99.
  2. For Book 3’s launch, consider making Book 1 free or $0.99 and Book 2 $0.99.
  3. If this is the fourth book or later, you can consider discounting all the previous titles, or just the first three (free/$0.99/$0.99 or $0.99/$0.99/$0.99).

Note that you don’t have to discount earlier books. But I like doing so because it lifts the series from both ends: you get people into the backlist titles (and boost their visibility) while also pushing the latest release. This is especially effective when you have books that don’t have to be read in order (e.g. mysteries/thrillers a la Reacher, or romances in the same world that star different couples). Naturally, it can still be used to great effect with series that must be read from the beginning.

When discounting, I like using Kindle Countdown Deals. If you haven’t read about those, I encourage you to check out The Ultimate Guide to Promo Strategies, which covers a strategy you can use for both regular promotion and launching. While you can simply discount the books manually, doing so via KCD in particular produces better results for two reasons:

  1. You get 70% royalties (instead of the normal 35%) on those $0.99 sales, which makes an enormous difference in your earnings. It’s not uncommon for promo sites and PPC ads to be profitable or breakeven solely from the sales of the discounted volumes alone (not counting other non-discounted later books in the series, the newly launched book, or page reads).
  2. The ticking clock that readers see when they hit the page increases the number of sales produced by your advertising. This timer isn’t present during a non-KCD discounted $0.99 promo.

A lot of people sleep on Kindle Countdown Deals. Don’t; they’re a super-effective way to jumpstart a series and massively boost your launch (hat tip goes out to David Gaughran, who I first learned about them from). I won’t review the whole strategy here; go read that section for information on how to execute it. The same framework applies regardless of whether it’s for a standard promo or a launch.

As a final note, I would only do really aggressive series discounting (e.g. all books at once) if you’re exclusive to Amazon and using Kindle Countdown Deals (even then, discounting everything often doesn’t make sense). Keep the discounts to Books 1/2/3 if you’re wide. Getting $0.35 in royalties for each book on your entire series kills profitability.

LAUNCH SCHEDULE

Again, this is just a framework you can (and should!) adopt for your own purposes.

  1. 1 MONTH BEFORE LAUNCH DAY: schedule promo sites on Book 1 (or Books 1, 2 & 3 box set) for free or $0.99.
  2. 1 MONTH BEFORE LAUNCH DAY: send your newsletter/social media followers an announcement that a new book is coming, along with the release date. You can reveal the blurb/cover at this point—or involve them in the process and have them vote on their favorite. Ask subscribers if they want to join your ARC team if you don’t have one already.
  3. 2 WEEKS BEFORE LAUNCH DAY: release the paperback version. Don’t announce the paperback release anywhere. Send out review copies to your ARC team. Include the link to the paperback review form so ARC members can post their review before launch day.
  4. 1 WEEK BEFORE LAUNCH DAY: set up an eBook pre-order. This allows the Amazon also-boughts to populate, lets you link the print/eBook editions on Amazon, and makes sure everything is ready to go for launch day. If the new book is part of an existing series, also email Amazon to add the new book to the series page; this usually doesn’t happen automatically, and if you’re using the Kindle Countdown Deal strategy outlined above is absolutely critical, since you’ll be directing a lot of the ads to the series page.
    • NOTE: only set up a pre-order this close to launch day if the final version of the book is done. You need to upload the final file three days before the launch date, but sometimes the pre-order process appears as “publishing” in your dashboard for a few days whenever you put through an update. You can’t edit your pre-order when it’s in this status. Thus, you don’t want to be locked out of your book with a placeholder file still uploaded.
  5. 1 WEEK BEFORE LAUNCH DAY: start testing Facebook and BookBub ads. You can direct these to the pre-order page. Note that you want to keep your budgets extremely modest at this point, because people are unlikely to pre-order from an ad. This is about nailing down your best ad creatives (the images, headlines, copy, and so forth) and audiences.
  6. 1 – 2 DAYS BEFORE LAUNCH DAY: schedule your best Facebook and BookBub ads to go live the day after launch. Launch any Amazon Ads you plan on running, since these can take a few days to warm up and start seeing significant impressions.
  7. 1 – 2 DAYS BEFORE LAUNCH DAY: schedule your newsletter to go out the day after launch.
  8. LAUNCH DAY (DAY 0): check to make sure the book’s formatting is correct (buy a copy) and that everything on Amazon is also in order. Don’t announce anything yet; this gives you a small buffer to fix anything that’s wonky.
  9. LAUNCH DAY (DAY 0): send email to ARC team reminding them to review.
  10. AD PUSH BEGINS (DAY 0 or 1 DAY AFTER LAUNCH): if everything is in order, now you send out your newsletter. Split it into multiple parts if you have more than 2,000 subscribers: e.g. half get it on Day 1, half on Day 2.
    • Use a simple subject line like “The New [Character Name] Novel is Now Available” or “[Title] is Out Now and $0.99 for a Limited Time.” These outperform clever subject lines.
  11. DAY 2 or 3: free run or Kindle Countdown Deals start if you’re discounting earlier titles.
  12. DAY 2 or 3: depending on when you sent out your newsletter, post to your social media sites. You can stagger them across multiple days—e.g. Day 2 is Twitter, Day 3 is Facebook, and Day 4 is Instagram.
  13. LAUNCH WEEK: monitor your various PPC ads (Facebook and BookBub in particular). Scale the good ones if your budget allows; scale back or kill the ones that are performing poorly. Create new ones to replace the ineffective ones.
  14. LAUNCH WEEK: if you’re typically active on social media, occasionally mention the launch and interesting things related to it.
  15. DAY 7: last chance email to newsletters saying that this is the last day to get the deals. However, you don’t want this to be a hard sell email; instead, you want to use a softer subject line like “Thanks” and then genuinely update them on the launch (readers love to hear about this) and thank them for the support. After this, you can mention and link to the deals one more time.
  16. DAY 7: last chance posts to social media.
  17. DAY 8: scale back ads, return the launched book to full price, and other books to regular prices (if not doing KCDs, which automatically readjust the price).

Whew. That’s it: by the end, you’ll probably be ready for a break from marketing. But don’t ease off the gas completely—you should still be doing some marketing stuff to keep momentum going. Keeping some money in reserve for advertising to maintain visibility when the books return to full price generally helps the tail. And, of course, you should be writing that next book!

One final note: track your sales numbers day-by-day in Excel for the first 30 days of release. You want to know how the launch went—not only so you can tweak things like your ads during launch week, but also so you have a record of what worked (and what didn’t) for your next launch.

What’s Next?

The final part of the guide shows you how I’m putting everything together for my own titles in 2019 and beyond in The Ultimate Write to Market Strategy.

Key Takeaways

  • Launching is not a paint-by-numbers exercise; you must create a custom strategy for each specific book that considers:
    • GOAL: profit is recommended over rank
    • BUDGET: the more money you can spend effectively, the greater your potential upside
    • PLATFORM: your existing platform (mailing list subs, followers etc.) increases the upside of your launch
    • RELEASE SCHEDULE: the more frequent your releases the less important/less you have to spend on any one launch to maintain momentum
    • EXCLUSIVITY: at least one 90-day cycle in KU per book is recommended unless you’re a wide-only author
    • PRICING: $2.99+ on new releases is recommended to establish a premium author brand and get 70% royalties. Can discount backlist titles.
    • PREORDERS: yes for non-Amazon retailers. On Amazon retailers, long pre-orders usually not beneficial; a 5 – 7 pre-order is extremely useful for taking care of administrative tasks like linking paperback edition, getting series page updated, scheduling ads/newsletters.
    • TIMEFRAME: 5 – 7 days, since longer requires additional time and substantially more money.
    • STRATEGY: rapid release? Multiple simultaneous releases? discount prior books via KCD? Free run for a prior book? Rank push the new book to Top 250/100? Box set at $0.99 pushing toward Top 100 for page reads?

Action Exercise

  1. Create a launch plan for your next book.