Now that I’ve hosted my first virtual book launch and had some time to reflect on my successes and “failures,” I thought I would share what I learned from the experience, and how you, too, can celebrate the release of your work online.
(Note: Results may differ for any number of reasons, but especially for fiction writers. I have yet to have experience launching anything other than poetry, so take that into consideration as you read this.)
Whether you’ve been forced to cancel an in-person signing as a result of stay-at-home orders and bookstore closures during a pandemic, OR you simply want to try something new and reach audiences in a new way, the virtual book launch can be a fun and gratifying way to promote your work.
And the most important thing to consider is just that: promotion.
If you want people to attend your launch, you have to tell them about it. It seems obvious, but in order to succeed here, you need to be posting on all your social media channels and personally contacting as many individuals as you can well in advance of the event. And don’t just tell people about it — sweeten the deal with giveaways, discounts and (inexpensive) prizes to lure *ahem* encourage them to attend.
Even though print journalism isn’t the most popular form of advertising anymore, free papers are still a smart choice for promoting your book. Or at least, it can’t hurt.
Now — did anyone show up to my virtual launch as a result of print advertising? Probably not. But will I still do it next time? Probably. After all, if I have access to free real estate (and time to fill it), why not? You never know who might come across it.
Timing is also important. I floated the idea of a virtual signing in the first week of April, shortly after I was told my book signing — three weeks away at that point — was canceled. The proof of Interstitials was already in my hands, with the rest of my author copies on their way. I ended up hosting my virtual launch the last weekend in May, which means I only gave myself about a month and a half lead time, and it was less exciting because I hadn’t set my book up for pre-order. Obviously the world was (still is) in a state of flux, but I think three months out is probably a more ideal starting point for promoting a book launch. That said, you don’t want to overwhelm people, so here’s what I suggest:
- Announce the event with a cover reveal or unboxing at 3 months out — if you haven’t ordered your author copies yet, do it now. Order more copies of your books than you think you need (but not so many it’ll break the bank). They don’t go bad, and the faster you can send them out after people order, the happier your customer base.
- Remind people about the launch 2 weeks later with a review or an excerpt from the book. Encourage pre-orders, whether on your own website or Amazon.
- Start posting details weekly at 2 months — if advertising in print, get it out now.
- With 1 month to go, consider advertising on Facebook and/or YouTube. For $30, you can get a surprising reach on each platform.
- In the last 3 weeks, post something about the event (excerpts or pre-order rewards and event giveaways) twice a week or even more in the final week. Call and email as many individuals as possible.
- Organize your space and make sure all your equipment is in order at least 24 hours before the event (more if your launch is on a weekend/day when electronics or IT stores are closed)
As far as equipment goes, make sure you consider hardware and software. You’ll definitely need a good webcam and microphone/headset for a virtual launch, because if people can’t hear or see you well, they’re going to leave.
There are multiple ways to get your face in front of people at a scheduled time, but one of the simpler platforms is YouTube. To host a live stream on YouTube, you’ll need to sign into your account and request permission from YouTube to stream (basically to prove you’re not a robot) through YouTube Studio. Facebook Live requires a little more finessing if you’re going to schedule it (which is what I’d recommend) and Instagram cuts you off at an hour (plus you’d have to do the whole launch from your phone), so I’d avoid these if you’re a newbie like I was (which you probably are, since you’re reading this article). Also, not everyone has these “mainstream” social media accounts, so you may be limiting your audience by using one of these platforms. YouTube streams, on the other hand, can be viewed without audience members signing in, so you could potentially gain some random followers that way. I also think the chat function is easier to monitor on YouTube, before and after the initial broadcast/recording.
If you are interested in more advanced displays, you can always download OBS software and go through their tutorials to show your stream on multiple platforms at once (I may try this next time, but I have not put in the hours to know how to work it yet).
Oh, and don’t forget a good chair if you’re planning to sit — I was planning to stand but ended up sitting on a high stool (which was not the most comfortable) to make the best use of my space. As with most things, though, you just gotta do you.
Although you’re here to learn about virtual events, it’s important to remember: Context changes everything. A virtual launch is different from a state fair signing, which is different than a bookstore signing, which is different than a bookstore signing and reading in a more populated town that is favored by writers and readers in your genre (I’ve done all of these). Online, you’ll have to sell the strengths of your writing ahead of time, rather than as people come in front of you — you’re probably not going to have people just happen upon your virtual event as someone might pop into a bookstore and decide to take a look at your book. You probably also won’t have people ask you (if you have more than one book), “Which one is the best one?” like I did at my in-person signings last year, when I had an array of different volumes spread out on my table. (But in case you’re wondering, the answer is always, “The latest one.”)
The last bit of advice I want to leave you with is this: BE GRATEFUL. Even if you don’t sell as many books as you would’ve liked — before, during, or after your event — it’s important to personally thank anyone and everyone who showed up for their support. Whether they bought all your books and engaged with you in the chat the whole time, or they came in late and just quietly listened to one poem, if you can track them down, let them know you appreciated their presence.
By the same token, try not to be offended if (when) certain people don’t show up — while it’s natural to be disappointed, it’s better to focus on the people who did come. Acquaintances and strangers will often surprise you, and it’s important to remember and acknowledge them.
Want to see what a virtual launch looks like? Check out this video!
If you found any of this helpful, or if you have questions or tips of your own to share, please let me know! Like or comment below, or use the contact page to get in touch.