What Really Happens When You Launch Your Book?
By Katrin Schumann
How many writers love the sales process? Raise your hands!
We all know that the process of writing a book is complex and full of surprises and leads to uncertain outcomes. But when our books come out, few of us know what to do. We don’t know what to expect or what’s expected of us, and we don’t know how to affect sales.
Many of us dread the moment after the launch party (because let’s be honest, we all dream of that launch party—not realizing that WE are the ones who’ll foot the bill). Once the champagne bottles have been put into recycling, that's the moment when we're supposed to magically morph into marketing experts.
When my first book came out, I strolled along a beach with my husband while on vacation, trying to figure out how much money I might make for my years of work. I cringe to think of it now. When we were estimating how many copies I’d sell, we guessed around 100,000.
Ouch. Reality is usually, well... a bit different.
I was lucky that my co-author used to work in marketing. She created huge spreadsheets that noted who we were targeting, when, how, and all their responses. She aimed high: Oprah, TODAY, Op-eds in the New York Times, TV talk shows. She gave us deadlines to aim for.
To her, “no” simply meant “try again.” (Fourteen months after our book launched, we were on the TODAY show.)
The experience of marketing that book taught me so much. A few years later, when my next book came out, I had a far better sense of what to do and how to do it. My expectations were aligned with reality, and my sales approach was in tune with my personality. I stepped out of my comfort zone again and again, but at least I didn’t feel like a total idiot or fraud.
My first day teaching Launch Lab with Lynne Griffin, I stood in that room looking out over the 16 assembled writers—whose books would all be published within a year—and acutely felt their pain. They looked at me with a mixture of fear, resentment, bravado and hope. They had nurtured their books for years and years, and now they had to set them free into the big bad world.
Over five years of teaching Launch Lab, I learned that writers are a generous and imaginative bunch, and if you set them on the right track anything is possible. I learned that a little encouragement combined with a dose of reality makes hurdles seem more manageable, and that people are always surprising themselves by what they are capable of doing. They may be afraid or embarrassed, but they are also ballsy and determined.
Over the years, I recalled again and again the day I was interviewed on camera and my heart was pounding so violently that I thought I might choke, and I assured the assembled writers that if I could do it, they could do it, too. I told them about the time when the first question lobbed at me on live radio was a question to which I didn’t know that answer. I survived, and they would, too.
If you have a book coming out, arm yourself with some good information and a great support network. Make sure you are very clear about your goals, your finances, and your availability. Understand what your publisher expects of you, and don't be afraid to ask questions and advocate for yourself. If you're self publishing, set aside enough time and money so that you can do your book justice.
Ask yourself: Why is my book relevant, and then figure out ways to tell people why. Don't ever assume that your friends and family will do you favors, ask them to. (People mean well, but they don't understand anything about publishing!) Develop your interpersonal skills so that you can be comfortable talking with people about your book in a way that makes them want to buy it. Don't be shy about asking for reviews.
Now's not the time to hope for good outcomes, it's the time to work toward making them happen.
Be realistic, yet dream big. Work smarter, not harder. Take responsibility but also but cut yourself some slack. Push yourself out of your comfort zone because you never know, you might actually like it.
Are you a debut author preparing to launch your book? Launch Lab has been redesigned to reach more writers and give them greater flexibility and choice. Click here for more info.
Katrin Schumann is the author of The Forgotten Hours (Lake Union, 2019), a Washington Post bestseller; This Terrible Beauty, a novel about the collision of love, art and politics in 1950s East Germany (March, 2020); and numerous nonfiction titles. She is the program coordinator of the Key West Literary Seminar. For the past ten years she has been teaching writing, most recently at GrubStreet and in the MA prison system, through PEN New England. Before going freelance, she worked at NPR, where she won the Kogan Media Award. Katrin has been granted multiple fiction residencies. Her work has been featured on TODAY, Talk of the Nation, and in The London Times, as well as other national and international media outlets, and she has a regular column on GrubWrites. Katrin can also be found at katrinschumann.com, and on Twitter and Instagram: @katrinschumann.See other articles by Katrin Schumann