Launching a new book into the world is worthy of a grand celebration. Whether it’s your first book or your fiftieth — it’s important to mark the occasion with fanfare. Throw a bash! Invite your friends! Revel in the moment! You earned it.
But successfully launching a book involves more than just party planning. The work of finding and connecting with readers who will be motivated and excited to buy YOUR book ideally begins months and months before publication. From building your website, to networking with educators, to creating extension activities, to printing swag, to blogging, to tweeting, to baking cupcakes and ordering balloons — managing the myriad tasks associated with book launches can be overwhelming, especially for debut authors.
At New England SCBWI’s spring conference recently, I presented an hour-long marketing workshop on book launches. We covered a TON of info in a short time. On more than one occasion during my talk, the group was abuzz sharing experiences and trading tips of their own. Honestly, it could have easily been a three-hour seminar.
To that end, one of the tools I provided attendees was a timeline for what to do, when. Many have reached out since and asked if I’d share the info on my blog. So here it is. I hope you find it useful, and please pass it on!
Before the book deal…
* Create an author website (include a mailing list sign up)
* Network with the children’s book community – in person and online
* Be active on social media, but give thought to AUDIENCE when choosing how and where to spend your time
* Don’t just talk about YOU; use your channels to AMPLIFY OTHERS
Focus this time on establishing a professional author presence, and getting to know your tribe. Attend conferences. Introduce yourself to local librarians. Be visible and make friends!
Just after you’ve signed the contract…
* Make a list of 8-1o topics and/or themes that are in your book
* Research and identify blogs, websites, and organizations that ALSO care about the topics you listed
* Are there opportunities to get involved? Guest post? Volunteer?
* Take this time to introduce yourself and build relationships
* Always begin with what you can do for them – not what they can do for you
Meaningful connections grow out of equitable partnerships. Begin any pitch with what you can bring to the table, rather than simply asking them to promote your book.
Here’s the list I made for my forthcoming book, Starring Carmen!
The goal of this exercise is to find readers based on commonality and shared interests. In my talk at NESCBWI, I used the example of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands, in South Carolina. The tagline for their after-school performing arts program is: Be inspired! Be talented! Be Creative! This could easily be the tagline for Starring Carmen!. By offering to do presentations at their locations, I connected with both the gatekeepers (arts educators at BGC) and young readers — who, because of our common interests and values, are likely to be interested in reading my book.
12 months prior to publication…
* Set your promotional budget
* Identify book festivals and speaking opportunities that line up with your pub date; make note of deadlines for applications
* Consider partnering on promotion with other authors who have books in your genre or release year
* Look for HIVE MARKETING opportunities and book discovery platforms, such as Curious City’s Bunk Reads & Trick or Reaters
You can find yourself down a rabbit hole, spending large sums of money on book promotion. Deciding how much you are willing to spend, and prioritizing which strategies are most worthwhile for your book, is important. Ask yourself, am I going to enjoy doing this? And is this likely to move the needle on books sales?
9 months prior to publication…
* Outline your reading guide or activity kit
* Plan and draft blog posts related to the themes in your book (Check out Sarah Albee’s and Betsy Devany’s blog for examples of fun, engaging content-related blogging.)
* Check in with the in-house publicist to review the marketing plan for your book
Publicists are BUSY. Each new season brings a fresh crop of books to promote, and the window for promoting an individual title can be limited. What you can expect varies from house to house, and book to book. So it’s important to ask (kindly) what they have planned, in order to determine what you’ll need to do yourself. In my experience, the more willingness I show to roll up my sleeves on publicity, the more support and attention they will jump in and give.
6 months prior to publication…
* Design and print book swag (if the cover is final)
* Schedule a cover reveal
* Reach out to bloggers to arrange a blog tour
*Contact stores to schedule signings
* Connect with schools and offer presentations
*If you are considering a book trailer, make notes on a treatment and hire your vendors
Creating a high quality book trailer can easily blow your promotion budget, and won’t (necessarily) sell more books. My strategy has been to find creative ways to produce them, at low cost. For Baking Day at Grandma’s, we kept costs down by working partially in barter, and shooting it all in one day. For Monster Trucks, my local school librarian asked one of her students to create the book trailer as a part of a school library project. Consider getting local schools involved and/ or hosting a reader-produced trailer contest.
3-4 months prior to publication…
* Send Advance Release Copies (ARCS) to colleagues, friends, and family, and ask them to consider reviewing and sharing your book online
* Create a “press kit” section on your website with your blurb bio, high res book cover, author photo, and event poster template
* Send a draft of your reading guide/ activity kit to your publisher for review and approval
As with trailers, a great deal goes into drafting and designing a quality classroom guide. Your publisher may create one for you, but if not, you can outsource to an expert. Not sure where to begin or what a discussion guide looks like? Scholastic.com has guides readily available for download. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the format.
1 month prior to publication…
* Finalize contests and giveaways (Goodreads requires 7 days in advance)
* Design a graphic for both your blog tour and store appearances, with dates and locations
* Share positive reviews on social media and add them to your website
* Finalize details and send reminders about your LAUNCH PARTY!
* Pop the Champagne (or sparkling cider) and enjoy!
Consider going LIVE on Facebook during a portion of your book talk or reading, to amplify your launch party’s reach.
And my final piece of advice? Don’t get so caught up in promotional tasks that it keeps you from doing your first job, which is to write amazing books. Strike a balance. Set a few hours aside each week for book launch planning. Use this timeline as a guide, but do what works best for you.
I MUST give a HUGE shout out and a great deal of credit to the amazing Kirsten Cappy, owner of Curious City, who has been my friend, partner, and mentor in learning to plan successful book launches. Curious City facilitates children’s literature discovery by creating marketing tools that engage readers with story. They create activity kits, write and produce book trailers, host book discovery platforms — they’ve even planned tours for fictional bands! — all for the noble purpose of helping kids and books “meet.” Find out more at http://www.curiouscity.net
Read Kirsten’s recent follow-up post on a presentation she gave at SCBWI Michigan, which is PACKED with helpful info, and includes a link to Curious City’s “Creating Discovery” worksheet.
Also, check out Marcie Colleen’s awesome Teacher’s Guides.
And finally, here’s a list of upcoming book festivals from Book Reporter. If anyone knows of a comprehensive list of all children’s book festivals in one handy place, please let me know in the comments below!
Anika Denise is a picture book author, a mother of three, and a former marketing and public relations executive.