One of the most primordial things humans do — and love to do — is tell stories and listen to them. Campfires, bedtimes, pajama parties, long hikes, weddings: none of them would be the same without someone verbally engaging our minds with a story to elicit an emotional response, whether fear, love or humor.
All of us have had our books published by VLP, a publisher that fosters a great sense of community among its authors. In this case, when I mentioned the idea of a reading, the four other authors listed in the flier above piped up immediately and threw themselves into taking care of the details necessary to make this night a wonderful evening of storytelling for listeners.
Our publisher, Jessica Bell, has not only been fully supportive, but has also arranged the giveaway: a 4-book bundle of the above books along with two beautiful notebooks (of the winner’s choice) and a 40% discount on 10 or more VLP books. That last is a great offer, considering the breadth of the VLP offerings: memoir, poetry, writing resources, short story collections and novels of all kinds; literary, young adult, science fiction.
Our group recently had a practice in which we read excerpts of our work. Just listening to the other authors’ stories worked on my brain like chocolate. I was immediately pulled in by the descriptions, predicament of the characters and places and times where I’ve never been.
Come let us be chocolate for your brains! And please, please, please reblog or share this post or pass on the URL (https://wp.me/p5pzxL-6a) so we can make the most of joining together for a night of storytelling!
I had the most pleasant surprise this morning when I opened my email to find a copy of my upcoming novel’s book cover by Jessica Bell, publisher of Vine Leaves Press and a top-notch book designer, as well as author and singer/song-writer.
Now I have the task of building a Book Launch Team. If you’re interested, email me at email@example.com.
Though I’ve had two previous books published, I’ve never done this particular task.
Free Book + Review = Happy Reader and Writer
A Book Launch Team consists of people who volunteer to read a free copy of your book ahead of the book’s publication and then help generate excitement by posting reviews and otherwise promoting the book on social media.
Send out the word via all of your social media avenues and your newsletter subscribers that you’re looking for people interested in reading a free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC).
If you’re self-publishing, wait until you have the copyedited and formatted digital version. If you’re with a traditional publisher, talk to the staff about when the ARC will be created and disseminated.
Once you have the contact information for your volunteers, be sure to send them directions. Specifically:
Let them know the approximate date they’ll receive the ARC: Suggestions of when to distribute the copies range from from 2 – 6 weeks ahead of publication. I’ll send out copies as soon as the publisher makes them available, which will be at least 6 weeks in advance. That will give readers time to read the book and post a review on GoodReads, which can be done in advance of the pub date as soon as the cover and book information are loaded by the publisher.
When the correct ordering links are in place, ask your team members to pre-order the book, which stimulates future sales and a higher Amazon ranking. Since ARC readers are already getting a free copy, they may not feel incentivized to purchase the book. Consider suggesting they buy the book as a gift for a friend. Or let them know the Amazon Kindle prices are often so inexpensive as to be very inviting. I’ve purchased my fellow authors’ books for $2.99!
Suggest the review be 1 – 3 paragraphs: longer than a sentence and less than a treatise.
Provide a short, clear and detailed list of places to post the reviews (more on that below).
Give a few clear deadlines for placing the reviews.
Send them a personal thank you, and maybe a simple gift, in appreciation for their support. A truly personal touch would be to host a short Zoom meeting to thank everyone, or offer to talk with their book clubs if/when they read the book.
Some team members will request a print copy, at which point you’ll have to decide if you can accommodate them.
Where to Place Reviews
Be precise in telling your team members where you’d like them to post and the details, such as website URLs and instructions, about how to do so.
Make sure to put the most important venues at the top of the list. For example, I’m going to ask my team members to post on GoodReads, because that reaches a huge number of readers and the site allows people to post reviews well in advance of publication, typically as soon as the book cover and publishing information are uploaded (1-2 months before publication). Such an early review will encourage readers to click the to-read option that places the book on their “shelf” to buy and read once the story is published.
Be sure to tell your team members they need to have a GoodReads account. The process is simple, but be ready to help your team with the process.
The next place to post will be Amazon:
People can’t post unless they have an Amazon account AND they’ve spent at least $25 on Amazon in the last year. Sorry, but that’s the state of things! If people don’t want to open an account, provide them with other review options.
Let your member know they can’t post until the day of publication. The week before, send them a reminder of the pub date and ask them to have the review ready. Send another reminder on the pub date, because people are busy and will be likely to forget.
Warn your readers that when they post, the review won’t show up until 24-48 hours later. So don’t panic if you don’t see any reviews on the first day.
Once those main venues are covered, you can suggest a variety of other places team members can post if they have a little extra time. For example:
They can post a review on their blog.
They can send a simple message of “I loved this book!” on whatever social media platforms they use.
They can show a photo of themselves reading on their tablet.
They can suggest the book to their book clubs or others they know of.
At every step, make people feel they’re truly part of your team by reiterating their importance and your thanks. If you don’t know some of the readers, take the time to find out where they live and why they love to read. If they’re fellow writers, be willing to return the favor when their books are publications. We humans work together so much better when we feel connected!
Keep everyone updated about the next step and send friendly (non-pushy!) reminders about upcoming deadlines.
And if a member of your team doesn’t care for the book and asks to be excused from writing a review, that’s fair! If I don’t like a book, I don’t assume the book is bad, but instead that I’m not the right reader and that others may enjoy the story more. Besides, it’s better to have a team member withdraw than to have them write a bad or mediocre review.
Lastly, there will be people who, despite your best attempts, simply take the free copy without offering a review. That happens. At least more person in the world has read, and hopefully enjoyed, your story.
In terms of thanks, send one the day of publication. Afterward you can send a simple gift, such as a hand-made card, or even a gift card for coffee/tea.
Again, if you’re interested in being part of the Winter Light Book Launch Team, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you recognize the now iconic lament of Lesley Gore’s 1963 hit:
“It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to!”
Those words — and more importantly, that assertive attitude — form the basis for the motto I’m using to plan the virtual book launch for my next novel, Winter Light (Oct. 6, 2020, Vine Leaves Press):
“It’s my party and I’ll do what I want to!”
All too often it’s easy for writers to forego such a celebration, not only because we tend to be introverted, so being the focus of an online event seems both personally and technologically terrifying.
Therefore it’s necessary to remind ourselves why this party matters:
You’ve worked long and hard on your book! You deserve to celebrate along with all of the people — friends, family, fans — who’ve supported you along the way.
A virtual party that can reach friends and readers around the world is a great way to increase your initial sales, especially now that more publishers are marketing to a worldwide audience.
You can always add a physical book launch party if and when that makes sense.
Rather than pick an option based on what you feel pressured to do, ask what kind of event will suit your personality and that you’ll have fun carrying out. Nobody likes a stressed-out, no-fun party host!
Some of us authors are natural celebrities who feel comfortable in front of a camera and can address strangers as though they’re old friends. Some of us are quiet souls who’d simply like to do a reading and thank those who helped in some way toward the completion of the book.
My gig will be somewhere in between. While I have a lot of stage experience — musicals, choirs and dance recitals — I have no dreams of being a rock star and am only so technically savvy.
Pick a virtual venue where you’ll be comfortable
If the prospect of being on camera in front of people you don’t know is daunting, you can invite them to visit your Facebook author page during a certain time and date.
After typing a welcome to those who show up, you can answer questions through written dialogue. In turn, people can send you congratulations filled with emojis.
But typing exchanges takes awhile and starves your guests of what they really want, to see your happy face!
Many of these venues are free, while others may charge a monthly subscription fee. All are fairly easy to use. But a lot can go wrong if you don’t thoroughly check out the system. Specifically:
Will most of your guests have the software installed on their computers? If you send them a link to install the software, will they have the time or feel comfortable doing so?
Are you comfortable with the viewpoint? For example, on Facebook Live, you stare into the camera and see a view of yourself. Those who visit text their comments, which you read off of the screen and comment about. Do you like that setup, or would you rather be able to see and hear your guests, as you would on Zoom?
Check the audio well ahead of time. I was going to use Facebook Live, but when I used the platform for an event, the audio kept going in and out, a problem I couldn’t solve.
If you’re using a platform such as Zoom, check out all of the bells and whistles. Do you want to allow people to wait in the virtual room until you arrive? Do you want to mute your guests, or allow them to talk? What if people having trouble getting in? Do you have someone on hand to troubleshoot so you won’t be distracted?
Do you have the connectivity to support the venue? Nobody likes glitchy images!
If you want to explore other options, check out the 7 Free Living Streaming Sitesby Alexander Bychock on Restream. Keep in mind new technical options are coming online every year, so doing a search for the latest and greatest is always in order.
Party Details: When and How Long?
While words of wisdom abound on the internet regarding the perfect day, time and length for an online event, there is no such thing.
Like any celebration you host, think about what will work best for the people you most want to attend.
Day of Week
Remind yourself that this is an online event and therefore lacks the promise of physical fun tied to an in-person party. People won’t want to be on their computers on a weekend, which is typically reserved for family activities and errands. So consider choosing a weekday and preferably Tuesday through Thursday, since people tend to be overwhelmed on Mondays, and Fridays are considered part of the weekend.
Time of day
Dedicated as your followers are, they won’t be able to attend during work. So consider an evening time that spans a decent range of time zones.
I’m on the West Coast of the U.S. I want to be sure my relatives on the East Coast can come, despite the 3-hour time difference, so I’ll choose 5 p.m. my time. Friends in my area will most likely be able to get off of work a little early, or come to the event a little later, while 8 p.m. for my West Coast peeps won’t be too late.
Length of time
Make your party long enough so people can drop in when they can, but not so long you’re worried about how to fill the time. I’m aiming for an hour.
In between moments where you encourage people to purchase your book — be sure to let them know how — plan to entertain them, because what’s a party without activities? That and those actions keep you busy.
When choosing what to do, again consider what sounds fun and manageable for you and that will help you connect with readers and sell books.
When you invite people, don’t forget to tell them about what you’ve got planned.
Arrange a guaranteed fan club
You’ll of course invite those on your mailing list as well as all of your social media friends.
But you don’t want to worry about waiting online until someone shows up. So send a special invite to your close friends and family to ask who’s willing to arrive at the start of the party to get the ball rolling.
If they volunteer, take care of them:
If they’re not used to attending online events, or find technology daunting, give them easy instructions for how to reach the event and participate. If they sound unsure, arrange a dress rehearsal.
Ask them to bring 5 questions or comments to get the dialogue started.
I wanted to try a Facebook Live event, so I arranged a 40-min. Q&A for my first novel, The Wind Thief.
I practiced the night before by setting my phone to Facebook Live, but I didn’t hit start. That allowed me to see myself on camera. Then I rehearsed everything about the event, which showed what I needed to consider:
Location: I chose to broadcast from my writing desk in my office. I had to move a variety of things behind me — a hula hoop and a pair of skis — so people wouldn’t be distracted. I also had to close the window to block lawnmower and other outside sounds.
Camera angle: I chose a camera position where I wouldn’t be looking down on people, nor would they be able to see up my nose. Then I needed a prop that could reliably hold my phone in the right position without falling.
Appearance: While I love the natural light by a window, I looked washed out and so decided to wear makeup, which I rarely do. And while I love my favorite hoodie, it made me look like a bum, so I tried on a variety of things until I found what looked good on camera. Then I did the same for my hair.
Actions: I practiced addressing people while looking at my gestures and listening to my tone.
Facebook Live, and most likely other livestream choices, allow you to choose an “only me” privacy setting where you can record the practice session and play it back without anyone seeing.
Unless you’re an experienced broadcaster, your first video will be alarming. That’s the reason to practice! You’ll gradually become more comfortable and see what works. The end goal is to look and sound like yourself and be sincere when you talk to people.
The last step is to decorate! Find out how to include graphics that state the name of the event, welcome people and feature your book. Facebook, for example, offers an Online Facebook Banner Maker you can affix to the top of your page.
Too often hosts spend so much time planning and carrying out their parties that they forget to have fun. So relax and remind yourself that you invested so much effort in this book, you deserve to celebrate with those who’ve supported you thus far.