For the next couple of weeks we’re going to be posting The Indie Writer Book Launch Guide, kindly pulled together, written and sent to us by author Scott Semegran.
The first part covers the wild and wonderful world of Book Reviews–from Pro Reviews in lit journals and via paid services to those written by book bloggers and posted on social media. The second part (which will post on Tuesday, 4/16) will cover ARC Readers, Indie Bookstore Appearances, Advertising and Book Trailers, New Release Promotions and Book Blog Tours. The third part (which will post a week from today), will wrap up with Updating Your Website, Updating the Backmatter of Your Other Books, Author Social Media Outreach, and a nifty Post Publication Date To-do List.
We hope it proves useful!
In the fall of 2018, I received the final version of my novel To Squeeze a Prairie Dog from my proofreader. The novel had gone through countless revisions, then spent long stints with two editors, so receiving the final version was very gratifying. After a few weeks of creating various eBook files, the paperback PDF, and the hardcover PDF, I was ready to release my lovingly crafted novel to the world. But wait, excited indie writer! I said to myself. You need to launch this new novel correctly. I saw my reflection in the computer monitor and remembered all the mistakes I made when launching my previous two books. It was a painful memory filled with regrets and poor decisions. I wanted to give this new novel–one that I had painstakingly written, revised, edited, proofed, and created–the proper send off. I wanted to release this book the way the big publishers release theirs.
How do you do that? you may be asking. That’s easy, my indie writer friend: careful planning.
In an effort to share what I have learned about properly launching an indie book with my fellow indie writers, here are all the things I did to properly launch my new novel. This is a long, comprehensive guide. It’s not for the cavalier writers, the ones who are too impatient to even read this guide in its entirety. Prepping a proper book launch is in many ways more difficult than actually writing the book you will be launching. But I promise you, there is some excellent information here. When possible, I will link to or at least refer to the sources of this information. I didn’t learn these things in a vacuum; I used Google, of course, to find this information. Each of these sections of information are out there on the internet for you to find, but I will collate the information in a concise, chronological guide the best I can.
Warning: some of this advice involves spending your own money and just like starting a small business, you will need to wisely dip into your bank account. This guide is not a pie-in-the-sky fantasy for a delusional writer who believes they can simply publish their book then land on a bestseller list; it’s a practical guide. I had to spend some money to launch my new book, but I tried to be smart and frugal about which services to pay for (then I eventually did land on a bestseller list). I will try to explain when and where it was worth spending money for me.
One more thing: I mostly write and publish humorous, literary fiction. You may publish romance or thrillers. There may be some promotional avenues I didn’t pursue because of the type of books I publish. I will acknowledge and elaborate on this when possible.
Ready? Let’s do this.
Professional Book Reviews
This is by far the most important step to start with. Everything afterwards stems from receiving great professional book reviews. If for some reason your book receives poor reviews, then at least you could put the brakes on this book launch and regroup. Great book reviews help with everything and you cannot launch your book successfully without them. Professional book reviews provide an unbiased assessment from a third-party about the quality of your book. So, where do you get professional book reviews?
For indie writers, this is a herculean task that involves a lot of letter-writing, emailing, website form submissions, and shipping. For some outlets, you will need paperback ARCs (advance reader copies). For others, they will accept PDF files or eBooks like Epub (Google Play Books, Apple iBooks, Kobo) or mobi (Amazon Kindle) files. But for all of these, you will need to submit for book reviews as soon as possible because they require a lot of lead time–some as short as six weeks and some as long as five months. Also, carefully read their submission requirements and follow them to the letter. You don’t want your book rejected simply because you didn’t follow their instructions. Here are three sources for professional book reviews: literary journals, traditional media, and paid review services.
Literary journals are a great source for professional book reviews. There are dozens upon dozens to submit to, many of which are published by universities or non-profits. Most have a small staff and therefore limited resources, requiring them to be very discerning to which books they accept for review. But if they do accept your book, then expect a well-written book review from a well-regarded source. Most of the literary journals I submitted my book to did not charge a fee, although some did offer an expedited review for a small fee. Here are a few literary journals I submitted my book to: Midwest Book Review, Los Angeles Review, Washington Independent Review of Books, and Boston Review.
Traditional media are outlets like your city newspaper, radio, and television stations, but also includes national outlets as well. Think of USA Today and the like. As an indie writer, the likelihood of a nationally known outlet reviewing your book is almost zilch, but your local outlets may be willing to review it. Write a letter to your city daily or weekly alternative newspaper explaining why they should review your book and include a paperback ARC. They may jump at the chance to review a book from a soon-to-be local phenom. I wrote letters to the book editors of the Austin-American Statesman and the Austin Chronicle, as well as to Texas Monthly, Alcalde Magazine, and all the daily and weekly newspapers in the major cities in Texas i.e. Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, etc. Traditional media reviews are hard to get so focus your efforts on the outlets in your state and your hometown.
Finally, I submitted my book to paid review services to guarantee that I would have some book reviews to use for the next steps in the book launch. Knowing that literary journals and traditional media book reviews are not guaranteed to indie writers, I selected a few paid review services to guarantee I would have some reviews to use. If you research paid review services, you will find some dissension about them, mainly because they can be expensive and some people feel you shouldn’t have to pay for book reviews. But in my experience, I have found their reviews to be valuable assets for my books. Also, these services are excellent promotional partners. If your book is well-received by the likes of Kirkus Reviews, BlueInk Review, IndieReader [EDITOR’S NOTE: While IR uses many of the same reviewers as the other mentioned services, they charge almost 1/2 the price], Foreword Reviews Clarion Reviews, or Readers’ Favorite, then they will tirelessly promote your book to their audience. In addition, Kirkus Reviews has their own high-quality, print magazine. BlueInk Review has a section in Booklist Magazine where they tout their favorite starred-review books, one of which was To Squeeze a Prairie Dog: An American Novel. IndieReader has an array of outlets they use to promote their favorite IR-approved books. Readers’ Favorite gave my book a glowing 5-star review. These book review services loved my last three books and did an excellent job promoting them.
All of these choices are great sources for book reviews and you will need them later in your book launch effort to acquire promos. For my new book, I was able to procure book reviews from all three review sources. My book was reviewed in Midwest Book Review, Alcalde Magazine, Kirkus Reviews, IndieReader, Readers’ Favorite, and BlueInk Review (a starred-review, I might add). Then my book reviews appeared in print in Kirkus Reviews Magazine, Alcalde Magazine, and Booklist Magazine around my book’s publication date of February 1, 2019 because I spent the time well in advance setting this all up.
Book Blogger Reviews
The next source for book reviews to explore are from book bloggers. There are far more book bloggers willing to review indie books than professional book review services, although the quality of book reviews and the size of their audience can vary drastically. One thing going for most book bloggers is their enthusiasm for the books they love, so having that on your book’s side can be addictive and endearing. In my experience over the past ten years, my dealings with book bloggers has been mostly very positive, and excellent reviews from book bloggers can bolster excellent reviews from professional review services. The only downside to receiving reviews from book bloggers is that many of the reviewers around today can instantly vanish tomorrow for a variety of reasons, making them an unreliable review source for your next book. So, where do you go about finding book bloggers?
If you do not follow book bloggers, then use a reviewer directory to find a book blogger that reviews your genre of book. Here are a couple of excellent directories:
If possible, sort the lists by the genre of you book, then contact the book bloggers after reading their submission requirements on their websites. Some may be very busy, being that they are inundated with review requests. Some may even have submission windows; others are closed for submissions altogether. When contacting book bloggers, I have found that being courteous when requesting book reviews is always the best policy. Remember, you are requesting that they invest a lot of time reading then reviewing your new book. Respect their time.
Social Book Reviews
With the proliferation of social media, we have also seen these type of websites that cater to a subset of interests, books being one of them. Places like Goodreads, LibraryThing, and Riffle are just a few sources for what I would like to call social book reviews. Now, some of the users on these sites may also be book bloggers but I have found that many of them are active exclusively on these websites. Goodreads is a wildly popular community and is now, not coincidentally, owned by Amazon. If you are a Kindle user, then you can link your own reading activity to your Goodreads account. The Goodreads website has a very nifty feature that ranks their users that review books [EDITOR’S NOTE: IndieReader also has a Reader Review service, which guarantees verified reviews, which are posted on author’s Amazon and Goodreads book pages].
Here is the of the top 100 reviewers in the last 12 months in the United States:
You can change the country code to GB for Great Britain and get their top 100 reviewers:
For me, I focused on the US and Canada (country = CA). I perused the top 100 for both countries, looked at their reading lists, and contacted the ones that I felt may enjoy reading and reviewing my new novel. Any reviewers on these lists who noted that they didn’t want to be contacted, I did not contact. I was contacted in return by a dozen or so who were very interested in reading my new book. Each had different reading preferences. Some requested I mail them paperbacks while other were happy receiving a PDF file or MOBI file (for Kindles). But a very interesting thing happened once these reviewers added my new book to their to-read list: many of their thousands of followers soon added my book to their to-read lists. Amazing! I saw a strong surge of activity for my new book from the Goodreads community. And eventually, book reviews and ratings started coming in for my book around its publication date.
In our next post, I will discuss the following important steps for your indie book launch: ARC Readers, Indie Bookstore Appearance, Advertising and Book Trailers, New Release Promotions and Book Blog Tours.
Scott Semegran lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, four kids, two cats, and a dog. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English. He is an award-winning writer. He can also bend metal with his mind and run really fast, if chased by a pack of wolves.