“My publisher told me that sales numbers the week of publication will make or break my book’s future. Let’s hurry and make sure as much news as possible goes live that week!”
“With my publication date in 3 weeks, I’d like to start PR right away to make a huge splash that day and boost my book’s chances of success.”
Nearly every day I hear comments like this from authors hoping that PR and marketing aimed at their publication date will catapult their new books to overnight success. Here’s the formula they’ve been taught:
“Get the word out ASAP = pique potential readers’ interest right away + drive sales.”
If only it were accurate.
As it turns out, reality is starkly different. Let’s unpack it.
First, getting the word out in and of itself takes time. If you have a publicist, they’ll need to develop a thoughtful strategy and messaging plan. They’ll need to build press lists and prepare marketing materials and press releases. When done well, this is a lengthy process filled with myriad gnarly details that slow things down.
Once communications do start rolling out, recipients need time to process them. Reporters, editors and reviewers get many hundreds of pitches a day sent directly to their inbox. They may not spot your pitch or press release right away. When they do finally see the news about your book (if they do!) they might not be able to focus on it for a while.
Then—if and when they do see the news about your book, and if and when they decide to follow up—lots of things need to happen before a review or interview can go live. Media contacts may need to:
- Read the book (which can sometimes take eons! We’ve heard from reporters who took 6 months or more to read….)
- Find time to schedule an interview, which could happen two, three or four weeks out. Sometimes more.
- Line up their coverage of you to run at a time that meshes with their outlet’s overall editorial schedule. That, too, can take weeks—or months.
Sure, there are times when things happen much more quickly. But those are rare. I’ve described this process in detail before here on Writer Unboxed.
Once the coverage is out in the world your potential readers need to see it and focus on it. That, too, takes time. At any given nanosecond, your audience, like the rest of us, are all in the midst of a thousand different things.
All of this adds up not to instant interest and sales, but to the beginning of a long, slow trek. Which is why I always say that BOOK PROMOTION IS A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT.
In the sprint scenario, you race to do everything imaginable—PR, social media, newsletter marketing, signings, etc—over the course of a few months leading up to your publication date, then come to an abrupt halt or slow to a leisurely walk after crossing the finish line.
In the more optimal scenario where you see your book promotion as a long, steady marathon, you begin with various steps about 6 months before your publication date and continue for at least six months after it. Yes, at least six months. Check out this timeline of what should happen when.
You’re probably wondering: at least six months after my pub date? I know it sounds like a lot, but there are all sorts of things that, in an ideal world, you can and should continue over time after your book releases. Here’s how one of my favorite author friends, Anjali Mitter Duva, has done it.
A few pointers for the journey:
1- Pace yourself. As with any marathon, if you burn out early in the race you won’t make it all the way.
2- Rather than try to do everything, focus on the things you will enjoy doing overtime or can outsource.
3- Whatever you do, do it over and over and over and over again. It takes persistence and repetition to get people’s attention.
By the way, if your publisher is insisting that success all comes down to the week of publication, my advice is: tune them out. We have seen plenty of books start generating visibility and sales months after their publication date or later. Publishers have their own internal imperatives that mean they can only focus on a given book for so long.
Luckily, though, books have a very long shelf life.
Where is your promotion and marketing vision focused? Publication week? The coming years? Somewhere between those? Share your vision and experiences.