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Book Launch Case Study: Heather Day Gilbert

Today I am interviewing Heather Day Gilbert, who is talking about the release of her first novel, God’s Daughter, which I recently reviewed on Iola’s Christian Reads. Heather’s second novel, Miranda Warning, will release on 20 June 2014.

Welcome, Heather!

What platform did you have prior to the launch of God’s Daughter?

I’m so thankful I had an agent who encouraged me to build my platform while my book was out on submission (it was out for almost a year and a half!). In that time, I joined Pinterest, Twitter, and started a Facebook Author Page. I changed my email, website, and twitter handle to reflect my author name (not an idea, like @vikingwritergal). I joined with two other authors, Becky Doughty and Jennifer Major, in a group website dedicated to the love of fiction and the need to nurture marriages (Married…with Fiction, which is no longer an active blog).

So by the time I realized God wanted me to self-publish my Viking novel, I had a firm platform in place. I would say I had at least 1,000 twitter followers and 200 Facebook fans at that time. I truly feel Facebook is where I connect most easily–it doesn’t require long posts so I can get relevant info out fast and regularly touch base with readers. Pinterest is also a wonderful way to connect with other Viking-lovers all over the world.

Since my launch, I’ve added more outlets–a newsletter email list, a Goodreads/Amazon author page, and a Soundcloud account (for my audiobook).

What was the strategy/planning behind your book launch? Where did you get your information and ideas?

I got my ideas two ways:

  • Reading self-publishing blogs, such as The Creative Penn.
  • Watching traditionally published authors’ marketing strategies very carefully and emulating what I could afford to.

What activities did you undertake to launch your book?

I’ve actually run a 4-part series on this topic on my blog, titled “So You’ve Decided to Self-Publish“.

The first and most critical step is to have a great blurb and cover art in place (not to mention a well-edited book!).

The second step was to lock in early readers, so the early reviews on Goodreads/Amazon were well-thought. Then I gave them 2-3 months to read and/or endorse the book.

The third step was building buzz for my book (I pulled quotes from my book and created pinnables, did vlogs, lined up blog tour, etc).

The final step involved the actual launch–sticking to a firm launch date, getting the CreateSpace softcovers loaded, and giving myself a little wiggle room while formatting for different uploads (Smashwords is different than Kindle, etc). This stage also involves book giveaways on blogs, Goodreads, etc. And the marketing at this stage goes on endlessly.

How long did that take? How difficult was it?

My novel, God’s Daughter, released November 1, 2013. I was marketing for at least 2 months ahead of that to build buzz, then I did about 39 guest posts for the blog tour over the course of 2-3 months, and I honestly haven’t stopped marketing since.
I knew I had to give over 100% to get the word out on my debut novel, or I’d be invisible in a sea of Amazon books. I tried not to cross the line into spamming territory (scheduled tweets, etc), but I was an aggressive marketer. I actually enjoy marketing.

I think the key to marketing is believing, at your core, that your novel is worth reading and sharing. I was passionate about this novel because I believed people don’t know enough about this period of Viking exploration and they like to ignore the fact that some Vikings were documented Christians. Also, women played a huge and undeniable role in Viking society, as my main character historically sailed with all three husbands…and with one to North America, no less! I also strongly believe we need more CBA books with married main characters readers can relate to, not just dating characters.

How successful was the launch (and how do you define success)?

In my mind, it was quite successful, because it exceeded my expectations (though I try to keep my expectations low!). God’s Daughterhit three bestselling lists on launch day, as well as the Hot New Release lists. It stayed on those for about a week or two. It has stayed on the Amazon Norse/Icelandic Bestseller list for seven months now. I think creating buzz around release day had a lot to do with it. Not to mention God’s blessing!

The book continues to reach people and garner reviews, and was recently picked up to be sold at the Royal BC Museum Vikings exhibit. There is now an audiobook version of God’s Daughter on Audible.com (narrated by my crit partner, Becky Doughty, of Bravehearts Audio). So I feel the book will continue to expand its reach.

But the real definition of success is finding readers who are hungry for this novel and find it unforgettable. That just revives my little author heart and makes me want to keep bringing books to them.

I saw you used NetGalley to get book reviews. What made you decide to use NetGalley?

How NetGalley work for you? Would you use it again? Did it represent value for money? Would you recommend it to other indie authors?

I would not do it again the same way I did. I paid for a monthly slot, but it was with a publishing house that primarily sells romance. Therefore, I think the readers came into it thinking my book was romance (it is not categorized that way, since the main character is married, although I would call it a love story). Not onlydid I receive very few reviews from that, the reviews I received weren’t stellar, as I think it hit the entirely wrong demographic.

I found the most effective strategies for garnering reviews were:

  • Tracking down every book reviewer I could find who reviewed historicals and offering an ebook in exchange for honest review (time consuming!).
  • Doing a Kindle Freebie of the book, which necessitated pulling it from Barnes and Noble (Smashwords) and going with Kindle Select. This garnered some reviews from non-demographic readers, but it also reached many soon-to-be-loyal readers I couldn’t reach otherwise.

Miranda Warning

What will you repeat for your upcoming book launch? What will you change?

Great question! This time around, I’m not focusing so heavily on author endorsements. For my debut novel, I wanted as many as possible to prove I wasn’t a complete unknown quantity. But I’ve asked my Facebook fans about this, and most say they rarely, if ever, read endorsements, unless it’s an unknown author. I do have a couple so far, which I’m so thankful for, but that is not my focus this time.

I’m also not lining up such a strenuous blog tour. I’m pretty wiped out, having gone basically nonstop from about June 2013. When my mystery, Miranda Warning, releases June 20th this year, I am hoping I can pull back from marketing somewhat. That said, I don’t truly believe books will just sell themselves. As an author, you need to stay on top of your sales (which is sadly impossible for traditionally published authors), and tweak your marketing strategies to fit your numbers. This is a true benefit of being an indie author. I can implement marketing ideas and see immediately if they’re working or not. I’ve definitely had some hits and misses!

And I’m starting out with only a softcover version and Kindle version of this book, so I’m going with Kindle Select, versus trying to upload to Smashwords (Barnes & Noble) as well. I love having control over my freebie/discount dates.

What advice would you give to other authors about to launch their book?

My best advice (primarily for indie authors) is don’t rush the launch process. I love having a firm launch date, but I try to set it late enough so that I give my early readers time to read and so I can make sure my cover art/formatting is in place.

For traditionally published authors, I would say be as involved in the marketing process as you can be. I know your hands are tied on scheduling freebies/discounts on your books, but you can build your Facebook page, pin pics of your book topic, etc. I know many traditionally published authors are doing marketing work, outside the publicity firms.

To be perfectly honest, I think one author, 100% dedicated to getting the word out on his/her book, can be as effective as a publicity firm. We might not be able to afford expensive electronic gadgets as giveaway gifts, but we can keep the pedal to the metal and be relentless in our marketing. And I believe that’s what it takes. A publicity firm only works on one book a limited amount of time. As an author, you can promote your book at any time. This is something I’ve definitely learned from being an independent author.

Thank you so much for having me, Iola! What wonderful questions, and I hope this interview encourages many authors out there!

About HeatherHeather Day Gilbert

HEATHER DAY GILBERT enjoys writing stories about authentic, believable marriages. Seventeen years of marriage to her sweet Yankee husband have given her some perspective, as well as ten years spent homeschooling. Heather regularly posts on Novel Rocket about self-publishing.

You can find Heather at her website, Heather Day Gilbert–Author, and at her Facebook Author Page, as well as Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Goodreads. Her Viking novel, God’s Daughter, is an Amazon bestseller. You can find it on Amazon and Audible.com. Her Appalachian mystery, Miranda Warning, will release June 20th.

 

Book Launch Case Study: Paula Vince

Today I have a guest post from Paula Vince, an award-winning Australian author, about her new release, Imogen’s Chance. This was recently reviewed on Iola’s Christian Reads as part of Paula’s book launch.

About Paula Vince

Paula Vince’s youth was brightened by great fiction and she’s on a mission to pay it forward. A wife and homeschooling mother, she loves to highlight the beauty of her own country in her stories. Most of them are set in the lovely Adelaide Hills, where she lives. Paula’s books are a skillful blend of drama and romance. Together with elements of mystery and suspense, you will keep turning pages.

Welcome, Paula!

What platform did you have prior to the launch of Imogen’s Chance? How did the book launch improve your platform?

I’ve been published since 2000 and Imogen’s Chance is my ninth novel. In that time, I’ve seen many changes to internet marketing opportunities. I hate to admit it, but fourteen years ago, many of us were still getting used to sending emails to each other. I’d never heard of blogs, Facebook and Twitter were still several years in the future, so the platform for my first few books consisted mostly of paper mail-outs and word-of-mouth.

Within the last three or four years, I have set up a Facebook author page, a Goodreads profile, a Twitter account and two blogs. I have also joined Pinterest and Google+, although I don’t visit or update them as often.

My book launch resulted in several extra likes and followers on my three main forums (blog, Facebook and Twitter). More importantly, it’s made me aware of several generous bloggers and their lovely blogs, which I wouldn’t have heard of if I hadn’t put the blog tour together. I have joined their blogs and pages as a follower, and now receive interesting updates. I’m hoping steady continued communication may result in even more opportunities for the future. That’s what I’m reminding myself to keep in mind. The results of any blog tour may be further reaching than just the month it runs for.

What activities did you undertake to launch your book?

For a few years, I have been involved in several on-line writers groups. For each of these of which I’m a member, I emailed a request asking whether others might like to support me by offering me a guest post to help promote my new release. I was delighted to discover that several people, who love to host guests on their blogs, considered that the favour was reciprocal.

I made a list of people who agreed to host me, running all the way from the tail end of March through April and into May. I tried to spread these all through the time period. Some offered interviews, some asked for guest posts, and some wrote book reviews. They all went into my blog tour and I’m pleased with the good combination.

I made up a blog page all about the tour, to make it easier for anybody interested in following along to tick each one off. And I decided to offer prizes. Several of the bloggers agreed to have a giveaway, and I plan to have several more prizes on the Grand Finale post, which will be May 31st.

How long did that take? How difficult was it?

I sent the request emails in January, three months before the tour was due to start. Getting the list finalised was ongoing job, and actually writing the guest posts and answering the interview questions was enjoyable but time-consuming.

I am not naturally the most organised person, so I took particular care to start working on the blog posts as soon as I’d finalised each date and had the questions sent. Even giving myself time, I found I had to work on it steadily. I shudder to think what would have happened if I’d left them all until the week before the tour. It’s definitely not the easiest venture I’ve attempted, but well worth it.

I can’t emphasise enough the importance of planning ahead. I’m typically scheduling posts two months in advance for my book review blog, Iola’s Christian Reads, so it’s vital to give bloggers plenty of advance notice. You don’t have to have the book ready to send them, but you do need to contact them to arrange to save the date. 

What support did you get from your publisher?

When my publisher found out what I was doing, she sent me an electronic copy of the book suitable for Kindles, so that I could offer it to some of the bloggers who requested a copy in return for a spot or a review. I really appreciated that, as it would have become a fairly costly venture if she hadn’t.

Paula Vince ICHow successful was the launch (and how do you define success?)

Although I’m still not sure about the overall number of sales, I do consider the launch a success. You’ve asked a good question, as I don’t think success can be defined solely by numbers of sales or positive reviews. Success is pretty personal when it comes to writing.

If you end up happy with the story you’ve told and the characters you’ve created, it’s a success no matter how many readers it reaches. As each of the guest posts helped highlight the interesting and unique qualities about this new book, every time anybody saw a post and maybe left a comment was a success.

I like your attitude about success! 

What will you repeat for your next book launch? What will you change?

At this stage, I think I would do pretty much the same. I’ve got that blog page with the list of every stop in my blog tour, and I’ve never had anything remotely similar for any of my previous books. It will be a great online keep-sake to look back upon. Having said that, I am open to taking on board other people’s good suggestions, things I haven’t considered yet.

What advice would you give to other authors about to launch their books?

Make an early start—at least three months before the blog tour, as I did. You’ll be working hard on it through all those weeks, believe me. And it takes this time gap to make sure your guest posts will coincide with the release date. If you leave it until just a week or two before asking, bloggers will be telling you they’re sorry but all their slots for that month are full.

Don’t forget to return to each post, once they are published, to reply to comments. It’s good to touch base for at least one working week after each one. You’ll find the connections with interested strangers and new friends well worth the time.

And I believe readers (and blog owners) like and appreciate the interaction with guest authors. Thank you for visiting, Paula.

 

Book Launch Case Study: Narelle Atkins

Today I have a guest post from Narelle Atkins, an author of contemporary romance. I reviewed her debut novel, Falling for the Farmer, earlier this year on Iola’s Christian Reads, and reviewed her second novel, The Nurse’s Perfect Match, yesterday.

Narelle is published by Heartsong Presents, a Christian imprint of Harlequin Mills & Boon, and I was interested to know what support a first-time author gets from one of the biggest romance publishers on the planet.

Welcome, Narelle!

What platform did you have prior to the launch?

I have an author website, personal blog, Facebook profile, Facebook author page, and Twitter account. I also have a presence on Instagram, Google Plus, and Pinterest, although I don’t spend a lot of time on these platforms.

I belong to three group blogs: Australasian Christian Writers (ACW), International Christian Fiction Writers (ICFW) and Inspy Romance. ACW also has a Facebook Group for writers and readers. ICFW members either live outside of the USA, or write books with international settings. Inspy Romance is a contemporary inspirational romance group blog based in the USA.

What activities did you undertake to launch your book?

I sent print books and electronic review copies to people interested in writing a review.

I set up a mailing list with Mail Chimp.

I organised a blog chase on my release day that started at the ACW group blog. Falling for the Farmer is a runaway bride story. I posed the question: If Kate (my heroine) ran away to …. what could she do? We had four blog stops in Australia, and two in New Zealand. Readers were asked a question at each stop in the blog chase, and they completed an online entry form for the book giveaway at the final stop on my blog.

Iola says: I was one of the hosts for the blog chase. You can find my post here: Falling for the Farmer Blog Chase

I organised a book review and author interview on two consecutive days during the release week on the ICFW group blog.

My critique partner’s contemporary romance, True North, released the week before Falling for the Farmer. I interviewed Susan Diane Johnson on the Inspy Romance group blog, and we did a joint book giveaway.

I organised author interviews with book giveaways on half a dozen blogs in the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

I set up a print giveaway on Goodreads (US, CA, UK, AU, NZ) that was open for the entire release month.

I participated in a giveaway of Love Inspired and Heartsong Presents books on the Soul Inspirationz site.

I did a blog tour with Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance (ACRBA) in March, a month after my book released. I sent print review copies to the ACRBA members who requested my book, and they posted their reviews on their blogs during the blog tour week.

I added a book launch post on my blog during the week prior to the book release, outlining where readers could find me online and enter the book giveaways.

I uploaded my book information into ACFW’s Fiction Finder site.

I emailed my book release information to my writing groups, for inclusion in their member newsletters and/or blogs.

Okay. That’s a lot of blogging. How long did it all take? How difficult was it?

It was time consuming, both the set up and execution. It takes time to write blog posts and answer interview questions. I had planned to focus my attention on book promo during the week of my book release. I spent time interacting with readers on blogs and social media.

The book launch wasn’t difficult because I was organised. I set up a spreadsheet and put all the promo dates in my diary. Each day I knew what I was doing, and I allocated time to blog visit and interact with readers.

What support did you get from your publisher?

Harlequin sells their category romance titles through their direct-to-consumer Reader Service. I was blessed to have the opportunity to write an article for the February inspirational issue of Harlequin’s Simply Books magazine. It’s a free magazine that is mailed to their Reader Service subscribers with their book shipments. There are inbuilt marketing benefits for books that are published by a known brand.

How successful was the launch (and how do you define success)?

My primary goal was to meet readers and gain some name recognition. I was happy with the results, and I appreciated the support of my writing friends. I think it would be harder to launch a book without support in the writing community.

I haven’t received a royalty statement, so I can’t judge or measure the success of the launch from a sales perspective. Typically, an author gains readers with each new book release, and becomes more visible in the market place after their third book is released.

The frequency of my new book releases will help me find my tribe of readers. Not everyone will like our books. Different genres, plots, and characters appeal to different readers. I hope to connect with the readers who like my genre, writing style, and the types of stories I love to write.

What will you repeat for your next book launch? What will you change?

I’m launching my second book, The Nurse’s Perfect Match, in May 2014. I’m not doing a blog chase or ACRBA tour with this book. An author can only tour a book once every 6 months with ACRBA (the tours are free), and I have an ACRBA tour booked for Her Tycoon Hero in November 2014.

I’m doing book giveaways on my personal blog and group blogs, and I’ve lined up a few blog visits with giveaways. In March I set up a Love Inspired Heartsong Presents Goodreads group with my Heartsong author friends. I’ll be doing my first Author Q&A with the Goodreads group in mid-May. I have a Goodreads giveaway running for the whole month of May.

Falling for the Farmer, my first book, became available in April in my local Christian book store. I’m planning an in-store book signing at Koorong, Fyshwick in May on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. Plus, a radio interview before the signing with local Christian radio station, One Way FM. (You can access the interview as a podcast by clicking this link.)

 

What advice would you give to other authors about to launch their book?

The importance of pre-planning can’t be underestimated. Many blogs schedule their calendar months in advance. Many reviewers have a queue of books waiting to be read and reviewed. The ACRBA blog tours, especially the fiction tours, are usually booked out six or more months ahead of time.

If you’re familiar with Excel, set up a spreadsheet to keep track of your book promotion activities and giveaways. I have a page for each book release. The spreadsheet helps me to stay on top of all the little details.

I recommend allocating twice the amount of time you’ll think you’ll need for your book launch. Make sure you factor in time to reply to everyone who comments on your blog posts, and contacts you on social media. I encourage authors to enjoy the experience, and cherish the opportunities to connect with other writers and readers during their book launch.

Book Launch Case Study: Emily Rachelle

Today I have a guest post from Emily Rachelle, an author of contemporary teen fiction. I reviewed her debut novel, Sixteen, earlier this year on Iola’s Christian Reads, and I was impressed by the professional way Emily organised and conducted the blog tour, and have invited her here today to share how she went about organising her book launch. Welcome, Emily, and thank you for joining us.

You can find Emily every Tuesday and Thursday at her blog, Emily Rachelle Writes.

What platform did you have prior to the launch?

I followed and commented on several book-related blogs and websites to get my name out. I had a Pinterest account with hundreds of followers (currently just under 700, but I’d guess back in December that number was closer to 600), a personal profile and a public blog page on Facebook (with much smaller numbers than Pinterest), and a fledgling Twitter account. I also had my GoodReads account, but I honestly don’t use that much outside the book reviews I do for my blog.

My biggest platform by far has always been my blog, which now doubles as my author website. Sometimes I focus on books (lots of book reviews, with an occasional writing post thrown in), but I also write about other stuff too — movies, social media, hot button issues. Whatever strikes my fancy, really. I follow the idealogy that if I’m passionate about something, if I love what I’m doing for promotion/marketing, that will shine through to my readers; whereas if I’m doing something because I feel like it’s required or because I’m trying to stick to a plan or someone else’s advice, then my frustration or boredom will also be clear to my readers.

What was the strategy/planning behind your book launch? Where did you get your ideas, information?

I’m not the best at strategy or business plans. I didn’t really have the concrete goals an author should when launching a book. Basically, I brainstormed some things I thought would be fun, added ideas I found online, and then gave myself a few deadlines and ran with it. I focused on online marketing because originally, this was going to be an ebook-only venture, and even when I decided to add print, the first launch in January was staying ebook-only. Most of my ideas and advice came from DuoLit. They’re a great resource for self-publishers, especially in regards to marketing and promotion. Another website I love for indie authors is Catherine, Caffeinated.

What activities did you undertake to launch Sixteen (e.g. organising this blog tour)?

Well, once I had all the actual prepping-the-book tasks covered, I started with social media. I made a separate Facebook page for the book and set up a GoodReads book page and author profile. I logged the book into LibraryThing, a website similar to GoodReads, and set up my Amazon Author page. Some of these things — specifically the GoodReads and Amazon pages — I had to wait until the day the book came out to do, since I needed links to the book’s Amazon purchase page.

To prepare for the blog tour, I started by listing ideas for the posts. I’d participated from the blogger’s end in numerous blog tours before, so I found the original emails from the authors of my favorites and borrowed a few ideas from them. I also skimmed through my manuscript of the book to come up with posts that would be unique to my book and its story and themes. Once I had a list of posts to write, I emailed bloggers I was interested in and invited bloggers I knew in my writers’ group to host a spot in the tour. Through several emails, I arranged a blog to host each day of the tour. They each chose which post appealed most to them. Then I wrote the posts in Google Drive and gave each blogger editing rights once I was finished, so they could copy and paste the posts into their own blog. As a thank-you for hosting, I sent a free advance copy of the ebook to every host. A handful of them did review it — and I loved reading their reviews, the first I’d ever received as an author — but it wasn’t required.

On my blog, I set up a new separate page for the book, and posted the cover reveal a while before the launch. On the day of the launch, I posted a list of the blogs participating in my blog tour, a giveaway, and a few fun extras related to the book (a clip from The Sound of Music, for example). In the actual blog tour, I wrote a variety of posts: interviews, excerpts, dream casting for a movie version of the book, a playlist that corresponds to the book and its characters, explanations about the book or why I chose to self-publish it, quotes relating to the book’s theme, etc. You can see the full list of tour posts here: Blog Tour 

How long did that take? How difficult was it?

I started researching a few months beforehand, but I didn’t really start working on everything until two months before, when I started recruiting bloggers. It took me hundreds of hours total, I’d guess, over the course of those two months. Sometimes I enjoyed it; sometimes I felt like trashing my computer and forgetting about this whole author business. I think my stress levels and idea of difficulty were a little skewed, though, because I was also running my annual blog party — which went wrong in more ways than I can count this year — and it was my first time working a regular job during the holidays.

How successful was the launch (and how do you define success)?

Personally, I’d say it was successful. It got the word out and got readers and bloggers talking. People loved my book (yay!). In fact, I discovered that readership in general seemed to think more highly of the book than I did by that point. (I was so sick of the thing after editing!) Like I said before, I never really set any concrete goals. Writing is my hobby, not my career; I’ve always been clear about that to myself and others. Therefore, I tend to focus less on the business side of things than most self-publishers have to to make a living. The launch got my book out into the world and created a little buzz. That’s all I wanted, so that made me happy.

What will you repeat for your next book launch? What will you change?

I’ll definitely do a blog tour-focused launch again. As a reader and as an author, I love blogs as a way to promote and discuss books, and it definitely succeeded in generating hype. However, I’ll plan to do print and ebook combined rather than separately. I think sales and the launch would have been more successful had both options been available for purchase simultaneously. I was surprised by how many people wanted to wait and buy the book in print. Plus, the in-person options print/live marketing efforts are a lot of fun. I’m scheduled to do a presentation at the library for homeschool teens about self-publishing in April, and I hope to do a book signing at my local indie bookstore this summer.

What advice would you give to other authors about to launch their book?

Plan way ahead. Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need. With my crazy work schedule, the blog party, and one of my hosts dropping out last-minute, the tour took more time and work than I expected. It’s so worth it, but if I’d given myself more time between self-imposed deadlines — and assigned myself less work over the same period of time — I think it would’ve been much easier on my stress. Patience is key here.

That, and definitely check out DuoLit and Catherine, Caffeinated before making any big plans. I can’t recommend these blogs enough to fellow self-publishers. DuoLit is great for getting your marketing brainstorm started, and Catherine’s word is Bible when she says something is a good or bad idea (or whether or not something’s worth worrying about.)

~ Emily Rachelle