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Don’t Swim Upstream: 7 Flop-proof Book Launch Ideas

  • Toni TesoriToni Tesori

Last week, the (hot, humid) Florida summer finally broke – I actually felt a hint of coolness in the morning air.

Okay, it was still 75 degrees, but I was so excited I nearly skipped down the driveway!

You see, fall is my favorite time of year. It signals the start of my true loves: football games, holidays and going outside without being instantly drenched in sweat.

The season also brings, however, memories of a peculiar nightmare from over twenty years ago.

Back in those days, Christmas was my favorite holiday. You awake to your very own pile of gifts: what could be better?

Well, in this nightmare, my eagerly-anticipated goodies were nowhere to be found. In their place was a note simply reading:

“Sorry! Love, Santa”

It sounds silly, but as a 7-year old, this dream was heartbreaking.

As an adult, however, I watch my friends go through something like this on a daily basis – and it’s just as devastating!

Epic Sales to Epic Nightmare

Over at Duolit, I help out indie authors who have walked right into their own Christmas morning nightmare.

After the trials and tribulations of the self-publishing process, their reward isn’t the pile of book sales they imagined, but the equivalent of that “sorry” note from Santa: meager sales with half (or more) coming from folks related to them.

Heck, I’ve been there, too: our first book sold exactly 14 copies (although none to family members, so at least there’s that).

The good (or bad) news is that we’re not alone: sadly, 80% of books flop, and that’s just traditionally published work. If self-published books and ebooks were included, the percentage would certainly be much higher. Most people don’t even know how to self publish a book!

Why do good books flop?

If you’re like most authors, you imagine the publishing process to go something like this:

  1. Write a kick-booty book
  2. Publish said book
  3. Market the heck out of it

While that model works for traditional publishers (who have the means to throw tons of money at old-school marketing channels), modern indie authors need a different solution. To prevent a flop, we must flip that outdated thinking in an epic way!

The post-promotion problem

You see, the problem isn’t necessarily what you’re doing to promote your book, it’s when you’re doing it.

Waiting until after your book is published to begin marketing starts you out at an immediate disadvantage. You end up like a spawning salmon, struggling to swim upstream: working twice as hard for half the results!

If you’re ready to break out of the 80% flop trap, the good news is that I can help. It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction, sci-fi or YA, this stuff works!

The bad news, however, is that these flop-proofing strategies take time and patience — in other words, there’s no magic button for instant success. Work hard, persevere and you WILL get there!

7 Flop-Proof Book Launch Ideas

1. Chill out.

Once you (finally) finish your book, I completely understand the temptation to release it as soon as possible, but heed this warning: rushing your launch will negatively impact sales.

After wrapping up that final round of revisions, take a deep breath and step away.

Plan a launch date three to six months down the road. You’ll still beat the pants off the traditional publishing timetable and have plenty of time to ensure a successful launch!

Note: If you’ve already released your book, this still works. Simply plan to release a second edition!

2. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

You may not even know how to self publish a book. So while you’re chilling out, take part in some (friendly, non-creepy) stalking. Check out successful authors in your niche and note the promotional methods they use.  You can also look at rollouts of new stuff by people in other industries – once you learn how to launch a new product in one area – you can transfer those skills! Ask yourself:

  • When did they release their book?
  • Where did they promote it? Which tactics did they use?
  • How can I adapt this to my book? What can I do better?

3. Connect with your readers.

After completing your stalking (err, research), invest some time toward building your fanbase. Even if it’s a very small group, dedicated followers increase the effectiveness of your marketing efforts exponentially.

It may sound backwards, but having merely 100 true fans (I’m talking Twihard-levels of adoration here)  are far more valuable than 1000 more wishy-washy readers.

While you can connect with your readers strictly through a newsletter, it’s far more effective to know them individually.

Begin recognizing their names, responding to them thoughtfully and offering up exclusive perks. In exchange, you’ll have a built-in “street team” come launch time, ready and willing to evangelize your book!

4. Elicit the help of your fans.

Don’t assume, however, that every one of your new-found fans will automatically become book purchasers!

You know that enticing Asian restaurant in the mall always handing out free samples? Follow their lead and whet your fans’ appetite by releasing snippets of your book. Ask for feedback (involving them personally in the publishing process) and they’ll be hooked!

Sharing bits of your work prior to its official release also:

  • Allows you to utilize your readers’ feedback to improve your work
  • Builds excitement for your book’s release
  • Helps your fans feel invested in your book’s success

5. Don’t underestimate professional editing and cover design.

It’s a secret your readers loathe to share: if your book hasn’t been professionally edited and designed, they can tell.

Worried about the cost? Save up the money while you’re writing and revising your work (another reason why delaying your launch rocks). Don’t think of it as throwing money away — this is simply a smart investment!

For the best return on that investment, take your time and choose the best editor or designer for your personality, genre and budget.

If you can’t afford both editing and design (and I can’t recommend both highly enough), here’s my advice: If you write fiction, choose editing. If you write non-fiction, choose design.

6. Solicit quality reviews.

You know those crazy-dedicated fans? Contact a few of them directly and ask for an early review of your book.

Add in the thoughts of other prominent authors in your niche, and you’ll have quality social proof in place before your launch – a crucial tool in converting unconvinced readers into purchasers!

When soliciting reviews:

  1. Contact reviewers at least 2-3 months in advance; this gives them plenty of time to read your work and write a thoughtful analysis.
  2. Don’t pressure your potential reviewers! Be selfless and gracious in your review requests.

7. Create a compelling pre-launch offer.

While you’re gathering reviews, put together an irresistible offer for your list.  Consider creating a special limited edition of your book (with unique packaging or other such fanciness), serving up a great deal or (even better) combining both.

Whatever you decide, make this offer exceptional and exclusive.

Scarcity (whether through a limited-time offer, a set number or copies or special edition packaging) creates buzz for your book’s release. In addition, the value you’re offering rewards your fans for getting in on the ground level!

BONUS Tip: Don’t sleep during launch week.

The moment is (finally) here and it’s time for your book’s (epic) release! You’ve already put in a ton of work, but don’t rest just yet! During launch week, it’s your job to be everywhere and anywhere.

You could:

  • Guest post for powerful blogs both in and related to your niche.
  • Host a series of webinars on your book’s topic.
  • Offer special, limited-time pricing or bonuses.

Your goal for launch week: make it impossible for readers to resist purchasing your book!

Are you ‘go’ for launch?

The strategies above all revolve around one central point: for an epic, flop-proof book launch, you must put in an equally epic amount of work before your book hits the shelves.

Kick the promotional can down the road, and you’ll find yourself madly swimming upstream.

Toward a Christmas tree.

With nothing but a “Sorry!” note from Santa underneath.


Talk Back

I know some of you (like me) have lived through a flop, so I’m curious: how did you feel? What will you do differently next time?

If, on the other hand, you’ve released a successful book, what advice do you have for your fellow authors? Let’s discuss in the comments!

37 thoughts on Don’t Swim Upstream: 7 Flop-proof Book Launch Ideas

Creative Holiday Girl

Wonderful tips, I think you’re right, it’s so important to connect with your readers. It’s also crucial to separate yourself from the rest of the market!

Michelle Newell

I ran across this while doing research on self-publishing and book launching. This has to be the most concise FREE advice I have come across. I know there is a lot to this whole process, but this is great advice. Thank you so much! I hate I missed the workshop, do you have it archived?

Toni @ Duolit

Hi Michelle! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post 🙂 While the free workshop is no longer available, we did compile all of the information into an eBook you can check out here, if you’re interested. If there’s anything I can help you out with, please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email!

Sally Ferguson

While some might not think it a big deal to promote a coloring book, it was a huge thing to me that the word never got out from the publisher. How can I resurrect sales for it now that it has gone to clearance? I believe in its message and want to get it into the hands of children to affirm their choices for occupations that will use the gifts they have.
“What Will I Be When I Grow Up?” was released in 2006.

Jill Tooley

Fall is my favorite time of year too, Toni. There’s something so peaceful and reassuring about the cool weather and changing leaves…

Thanks for pointing out that a rushed book sale helps no one, especially the author. I read a self-pub article not too long ago that mentioned editing as “optional,” and I just about flipped my lid! Editing is absolutely necessary, even for the greats. No one sits down and cranks out a polished book in the first sitting. 🙂

Toni @ Duolit

You’re exactly right, Jill! While it can be very difficult to put all of the excitement and anticipation aside, slowing down and formulating a plan before your book’s release is SO much more effective.

In my mind, editing is never optional, either! It’s an essential part of putting out the most polished, quality product — the time spent making your book look (and sound) more professional is never time wasted. It will make your marketing efforts that much easier!

Thanks so much for reading and for your comment. 🙂

PS: We’re still waiting for that cool weather down here in Florida. Yesterday morning was in the 60’s, and it felt wonderful!

Jill Tooley

I don’t think some authors realize that they could jeopardize their entire project if they release early and include all of the errors. I agree; excitement should never trump professionalism.

If it could be in the 60s all year round, then I’d be one happy person! Talk about the perfect temperature…


Hi Toni – I love the suggestion that we get our fans to review the book ahead of publication. I’m publishing an ebook – what format would you suggest I send to my reviewers?

Great article; thanks for sharing!


Toni @ Duolit

Hi Lilith! Thanks so much for your question and comment.

Unless you’re sending your book out to a ton of reviewers at once, I’d ask each one individually which format they’d prefer. This serves two purposes: (1) shows your genuine care and concern for the individual reviewer and (2) makes it as easy as possible for them to read and review your work!

If you’d rather just have one format for everyone, .pdf or .epub are most universal. Definitely don’t send out a .doc! If there’s anything else I can do to help, just give me a shout! 🙂

Kimberly Houston

Loved this post. The strategy you’ve laid out here could apply to launching almost anything — a book, an e-book, an online course, a new product or service offering, etc.

I’ve got launching on the brain lately b/c I’m planning a mini-launch before the end of the year, mostly to get my feet wet and put myself through the launch process for the first time, though a few actual sales would be most welcome as well! So I’m adding this article to the other articles about launching I’ve been stockpiling recently. ; )

Love the idea of putting together a special limited edition version of your book for your email list to generate pre-launch buzz. Great idea, and highly adaptable to other kinds of offerings as well, I’m thinking.

Thanks for a wonderful article!

Toni @ Duolit

Thanks Kimberly! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, and you’re very right: these strategies could apply to almost any product. I’d love to see how you use them in your upcoming mini-launch! Good luck, and please give me a shout if there’s anything I can do to help.

Kimberly Houston

Thanks Toni, will do!

PJ Reece

Timely post! Thanks, Toni. I’m in the run-up to the relaunch of my young adult novel, “ROXY”, which was published three years ago by a traditional press. This will be an e-Roxy version. I’ve invested in a new cover and am now re-tweaking the thing to read more easily. Now, about the marketing… I, too, will chill and strategize. I’m excited!

Toni @ Duolit

Kudos to you on planning a re-launch, PJ! That’s a strategy many authors don’t feel comfortable taking, but it can be very effective. If you had lackluster results the first time around (or want to release a digital version, like you’re doing), it’s the perfect way to have a second chance. I can’t wait to see how your launch goes — please don’t hesitate to give me a shout if you need any help 🙂

PJ Reece

Thanks, Toni — that’s very gracious of you.

Marie James

Great post, Toni! We are getting ready for our first book launch this winter and we’re really glad to find such a concise collection of tips. As an editor I can’t agree more with your advice to get your work edited. Even editors have another pair of eyes check their work! We are in the process of finding a professional designer to polish up our cover concept rough draft. Thanks for all your ideas.

Toni @ Duolit

Oh man, Marie, you’re so right. The importance of pro editing cannot be overstated! Some authors feel like hiring an editor means their work is somehow lacking, but the opposite is true. Great editors can take already-wonderful work to even greater heights! Thanks for your comment and best of luck with your book launch — I’d love to know how it goes 🙂

Jeremy Delancy

What I gather from all of this is that Pareto is alive and well. 80 percent of the work is upfront. Get the marketing done before the book is even seen. by the public.

Thanks for the post.

Toni @ Duolit

Exactly, Jeremy! The more work you put in upfront, the less you have to do down the road. It’s not the instant gratification solution, but it certainly provides longer lasting results! Thanks for your comment 🙂

Elaine Cougler

Hi Toni
I love your idea of chilling out and working on marketing after the book is essentially written. This also allows some time to reflect as well as to get quality editing and cover work done. How many times have we rushed to finish something and shove it out the door, only to think of would’ve, could’ve things afterwards. Great post!

Toni @ Duolit

Thanks, Elaine! You’re so right; I know it ‘s certainly not the fun/easy solution, especially when you’ve finished something you can’t wait to share with the world, but a little chill/reflection time will make things infinitely easier own the road!


Hey Toni,
It is common these days that thousands of books roll out on daily basis and only few get the fame all around the world. Marketing is everything in order to get attention of your readers. And eliciting the help of your fans plays a major role. And i do agree on promoting on quality blogs during the launch time of the book to get the max buyers.

Toni @ Duolit

Thanks for reading and commenting, Sunil! Your comment is right on. A single book is a (very) small fish in a (ridiculously) huge pond. Taking marketing down to a grassroots level and building up a dedicated fanbase is one of the few proven paths to success! 🙂

Turndog Millionaire

Sage words, Toni 🙂

Some great launch tips. Let the nerves begin…

Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

Toni @ Duolit

Thanks, Matt! Don’t let those launch nerves get you — take a deep breath and focus on the excitement instead. Definitely share what you’re feeling with your fans; I bet they’ll be quick to reassure you that everything will go swimmingly (ick, bad pun on my headline)!

Coach Comeback

Hi Toni. Great overall plan of attack. I think this will discourage the fly-by-night IM’ers because it actually sounds like work. And when it is not something you are passionate about you will probably not have the dedication to see it through for 6 months in advance.

But when you totally believe in your vision with an unshakable passion the way I feel about the service I provide……. Nothing sounds like work. Just the price of success to get your message out.

Toni @ Duolit

Exactly — one of the biggest things we try to tell folks is that, yes, there are “overnight” successes like Amanda Hocking, John Locke, etc., but there are just as many ridiculously talented authors who never sell even 100 copies.

Self-publishing success is a combination of many factors: talent, quality, investment, luck, timing, connections, etc. Some of those are out of your control, but one factor you CAN control is the amount of work you put into building your fanbase. So, that’s our focus. It’s certainly not easy, but it DOES work!

You bring up another great point: loving what you do is SO important! We’ve found that to be the case with successful authors, as well. They are so passionate about their book (and sharing it with the world), that the tactics we teach don’t feel like work. They go above and beyond to earn that success!

I’d like to argue that our book marketing tactics shouldn’t feel cumbersome (not in the traditional slimy “me-me-me” approach to marketing, anyway), but I suppose it’s a significant time investment (even if it is a fun one)! What I tell folks is this: “if your marketing feels more ‘used car salesman’ than ‘chatting with friends,’ you’re doing it wrong!”

Thanks for reading and commenting, Coach! Best wishes. 🙂

PJ Reece

Hey, Coach! Yes, it’s that old brick wall again… the one that’s there to stop the OTHER PEOPLE! (who said that originally?… I’m just repeating.)


I think the source is Randy Pausch, author of the Last Lecture. 🙂

PJ Reece

Exactly… thanks, Danny. After all, I did blog about it, a couple of weeks ago. Shame on me.

Coach Comeback

Bad PJ! Go to your room! Yeah Danny referenced that lecture last week. My first time hearing. Pretty awesome. That brick wall will definitely let you know if it is a hobby or a passion.

There is no overnight night success. But with consistent persistent action, you cant help but succeed.

Johnny B Truant recently posted a blog saying something similar with a different yet unique look at it called “Everything is simple, but nothing is easy.” Really awesome read to go along with this post.

Toni @ Duolit

Hi Michelle! Fortunately, the Santa letter was just a dream (err, a nightmare). Can you imagine if that really happened?! So devastating!!

I know that it can feel like a drag, but the longer you “sit on the sidelines” before your book is published, the better your results (if you use your time wisely — which you are!) .

It sounds like you’re doing a wonderful job preparing for your book’s release, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the post 🙂 If I can do anything to help you out, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email!


Hi Toni!

Did the “Dear Santa” letter really happen? I’m so sorry. That’s awful. I can’t imagine any seven-year-old on Christmas morning reading an apology letter from Santa. Devastating!

Great post. I’ve written several books and have an agent, but nothing has been published yet. I’m one of those sitting on the sidelines taking my time building my fan base. At first I didn’t want to take the blog plunge, but since April I’ve learned so much about marketing, blogs, tweeting and FB. You are SO right about chilling out, taking time to research what’s been successful for other authors in similar genres, and I love your special limited edition idea. I’m going to keep this post in my Ever Note file to reference.
Well done!

Toni @ Duolit

Thanks for reading, Sheyi! You’re so right that the ways to launch a book are too numerous to count and it’s definitely easier if it’s a collaborative effort (cross-promotion rocks!). If you’re on your own, though, the more planning and hype-building you can do before you release your book, the better. 🙂

Sheyi |

I sent you guys a message and I am yet to read from you.


Toni @ Duolit

Hi Sheyi! It must have gotten buried in our inbox. Getting back to you now!

Sheyi |

There are too many numerous ways to launch a book – but to be successful at launch, not until the way you used brings you the success.

If you have influencers who contributed to your book, then you are good to go since they agree to send update to their email lists.

If not, then create a fanbase first and pray and hope they buy when you release.

Just make sure they know the reason why they are buying.

PS: Crazy headline. love it!

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