The past few days while planning my marketing campaign, I keep running up against the same question (or rather, ramming into it headlong until my brain is mashed to a bloody pulp): should I start my major marketing push before or after the book is released?
As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately wading through book blogs and trying to find good candidates for bloggers who might have the time and inclination to review my book. Now that I have a nice hefty list of 100+ blogs who might be a good match, I’m trying to figure out the optimal timing for a publicity tour.
My initial thought was to do it before b/c, well, this is how things are done! Books (from New York publishers, at least), movies, music albums, even clothing lines (H&M and Banana Republic have been doing a lot of this lately) – they all do the same thing. Announce the upcoming product launch, create a big social media presence for it, send out emails and messaging to everyone and anyone who might be interested, and then launch the thing on the appointed day to fireworks and blaring trumpets and thousands of cries of success. So I thought, okay, that’s what I’ll do too.
BUT as I work on implementing this plan, I keep running into roadblocks that piece by piece are tearing out the foundation of my plans (see lists below), and I’m starting to worry that the whole campaign is about to crumble below my very feet. The only solution I can think of would be to “soft launch” the book as soon as possible and then run the campaign afterward. Though logically it seems like this should be fine – and I believe it’s what a lot of self-published authors end up doing for the reasons listed below – instinctively it’s just not sitting right with me for some reason. So to decide my course of action, I’m going to do what I do best: make some lists.
List 1: Reasons to Do the Marketing Push BEFORE Launch and Have a Big Grand Release
Blogger Priority. A lot of bloggers said they give preference to Advanced Reader Copies (who wouldn’t? Seems like a lot more fun to me too to have an “in” on something before anyone else can get it), or that they at least would do their best to post their review near the launch date if it’s coming up, so it seems like doing a pre-launch campaign would give me higher chances of getting more blogs to review the book sooner. (One counterargument here is that a lot of these blogs said they also give precedence to upcoming blog tours, so if I decide to do a soft launch, maybe as long as I schedule a formal blog tour, I will still be able to get timely reviews?)
Instincts. Again, for some reason I just generally have a gut feeling that this is the optimal way to go (that is, if there weren’t all these other issues blocking me from doing it effectively – see next list)
Hmm… I thought there was more here, but this is all I can think of at the moment.
List 2: Reasons to Soft Launch and Schedule the Marketing Campaign AFTER the Book is Available for Purchase
Window of Opportunity. It’s summer, and it’s not going to be for much longer. Stitch is a great fun summer reading book for readers of any age, and a big portion of the target market are teenagers who have to go back to school in the fall. I need to get the book in their hands before they have homework to worry about, and while they still have enough time to finish it before all the “back to school” hullabaloo begins. (Note to self: remember this, and in the future, start planning summer releases much earlier!)
Impulse Purchase Availability. The entire point of doing a marketing campaign is so that people will buy the book, so it is absolutely critical that readers be able to act on their purchase impulse when they encounter your marketing. Unfortunately, at this time Amazon KDP does not offer the ability for self-published authors to take pre-orders on books, which means that if I did the big campaign before the book was for sale, there’s a good chance a lot of people would forget about the book by the time they could actually buy it. Note: There is a totally hacky way of using Amazon Advantage (a tool for having Amazon distribute print books on your behalf) to take pre-orders of the print book, but the problem is that the print book costs 3 x’s as much as the Kindle version, so if people pre-order the $9.99 paper copy and then all of a sudden on launch day a $2.99 Kindle option appears after they’ve already paid $9.99, they’re going to feel ripped off. And that’s a very good way to alienate readers and make them hate you (bad idea!!). Update: KDP now offers true pre-orders! But there are still pros and cons, so be sure to research it before going this route!
Ease of Getting Print Copies. Most bloggers seem to prefer the print version over the ebook format, and some even went as far as to say they would probably take 2-3 times as long to get through an electronic version versus a print version. The problem is that CreateSpace (Amazon’s print-on-demand self-publishing option) only allows the author to buy 5 “proof” copies before the book becomes available for sale, which is not nearly enough copies to send to all these blogs, especially b/c I need extra copies to do contests/giveaways. Again, there are some workarounds here, but all of them require hassle and/or make me nervous b/c there’s potential that I could screw it up. One option is to create multiple copies of the book on CreateSpace and order all their proofs but just never release all the extras (unless I somehow accidentally do!), or to make the book available on CreateSpace but then disable all the sales channels so that no one can actually buy it except me (but what if I do it wrong, or what if the sales channels don’t came back right/quickly when I’m ready for the “official” launch?). Another option is to work with a different printer to print a bunch of ARCs, but this is expensive and hassle-filled, and then I have to deal with going to the Post Office or UPS to ship each book to each reviewer, which again is expensive and a huge time-sink.
Cost and Ease of Shipping. I didn’t keep a full tally, but it seemed like many (if not most) of the bloggers I found who are into YA sci-fi/fantasy are located internationally, most often in the UK. Though sending ebooks is no problem, again, most of these bloggers preferred print books, and since I’m asking them a huge favor, I feel I should give them whatever they prefer. If the book is available for sale, I can easily sign on to Amazon.co.uk and buy the book for the blogger while paying the local shipping rates (about $4) instead of mailing it from the US for $11-16. And even for US-based reviewers, how much easier is it to order the damn thing off Amazon and have it shipped directly to the reviewer (especially since I have free 2-day shipping with Amazon Prime) versus mailing each review copy out myself? Note: Keep in mind that if you buy the book from the Amazon page (rather than ordering author copies to ship yourself), you're also paying Amazon commission on your books (whereas when ordering author copies you get them at cost). You have to do the math for your book to see if the Amazon profit is more or less what you'd save on shipping (plus the value of the convenience!). Another Note: Another caveat here is that most reviewers prefer to receive a SIGNED copy of the book, so keep in mind that you could be disappointing reviewers by shipping straight from the seller.
General Schedule Considerations. I can’t start doing this marketing campaign until the book is totally done, and I still need a couple weeks to finish the cover art and get final feedback from my beta readers. Given that I need to give most bloggers probably 4-6 weeks of lead time to read and review the book once I have the finished book, that means if I wait for the reviews to be posted before the release, the launch date is going to be creeping into September (which not only misses the summer reading window, but is also infringing on wedding crunch time!).
And that’s it for my lists. As usual, this exercise has been incredibly valuable – looking back over those two lists, it’s abundantly clear that there seems to be many more factors in favor of doing a “soft launch” ASAP and focusing the marketing and promotion after the book is on the shelves. So that’s my plan.
What do you think? Am I using the right strategy here? If you can think of any other factors that I didn’t consider above, please leave them in the comments! This question has occupied my every waking thought for the past week, so I’d love to finally put it rest… Thanks for your help!