Originally published at Ideas on Fire, February 10, 2021
A book launch is a crucial part of successful academic book marketing. Like everything else these days, book launches are now primarily virtual. A book launch is not a single event and it doesn’t refer to when the “buy now” button goes live on your publisher’s website. Instead, a book launch is a series of planned practices you undertake over several months to connect with audiences and let people know how your book can help them.
So how can you plan out a book launch that helps you meet your goals for your book while also remaining flexible enough to adapt to the large changes we’re all living with right now? Here are some of the key elements of a successful virtual book launch that I recommend to both first-time and seasoned authors alike.
Your author website
One of the most important elements of a successful virtual book launch is a great author website. You might be tempted to put off building a website, figuring that your publisher’s site and Amazon will suffice. Resist this urge. You do not control (or own) any of the content on those sites and have no access to your audience through them. They are wonderful supplements but in no way substitute for your author website.
If you already have a professional website, you can build a book page there. If you don’t, you can design a site from scratch fairly easily. I usually recommend that scholars create a general professional website with individual book pages, rather than separate sites for each book. This allows you to keep all of your projects together and lets visitors see the connections across them. That said, if your new book is a big departure from your previous work or you want to keep it unconnected for whatever reason, a separate site might fit your needs better.
Your author website should provide a compelling description of your book and its key features. Because it’s your site, you don’t have to reproduce the ad copy on your publisher’s site. Feel free to play around with your description and key features, highlighting those that speak directly to your audience.
Include a high-resolution image of your book’s cover. Most publishers will provide these to authors if asked. You can also take your own photos, for instance if you want to have a snazzy shot of a book stack.
Your author website should contain prominent links to where visitors can buy your book. I recommend including links to several sources, including your publisher, WorldCat, and several online bookstores like Amazon and Bookshop.
Finally, include your upcoming and past book events, a contact page, your author bio, your author photo, and links to where folks can connect with you on social media. Incorporating SEO techniques and regular updates (for instance, through blog posts) will help your site gain traction in search results over the long term.
The possibilities for author events and public engagement as part of your virtual book launch are almost endless. Many academic publishers and university departments have regular author interview series hosted on YouTube, Zoom, or Instagram Live. Ask your publisher and university if they have any opportunities like this and if not, ask if you can create one for them.
Planning your own events is crucial as well. You might organize a Zoom book group or Twitter chat. Or you might host a Q&A session where participants can ask you about specific elements in your text. You can also get together with other recently published authors to host a panel about a broader theme all your books engage.
Online conferences are a wonderful resource for your virtual book launch, too. Ask the author sessions are common at many academic conferences these days, as are virtual book exhibits.
I recommend a mixture of virtual event types, lengths, and platforms to reach diverse audiences. And make sure all of your events are accessible by providing captions, transcripts, image descriptions, and privacy options.
Guest appearances allow you reach new audiences through harnessing platforms that other people and organizations have already built.
Guest blogging is a common way to get your research and name in front of new folks. Many academic presses publish a blog on their website. Ask your press editor if you can write a guest post about a specific element in your book.
You can also pitch blog posts to publications that speak to the audience your book is trying to reach. Make sure your pitches follow the publication’s guidelines and specifically explain how your piece helps them reach and serve their audience (in other words, your guest post can’t just be an ad for your book).
Podcast interviews are one of my favorite forms of book marketing and should be a key part of your virtual book launch. Find shows that reach your book’s main audience and check out whether they accept guest pitches. Again, make sure your pitch focuses on the show’s goals and highlights how your interview can help the show’s producers meet those goals. Most podcast producers plan out episodes and book guests several weeks or even months ahead of when the episodes air, so plan for this early. You will probably need to book and deliver interviews before your book is actually published, even if the episodes will air after the book is released. And then, of course, help promote your podcast episode when it comes out.
And don’t discount guest lectures in courses. Now that most folks are teaching online, many faculty are looking for online content that will help students understand key concepts. A guest lecture or Q&A in a course is a good way to both increase course adoption for your book as well as humanize scholarship for students.
Finally, social media is a crucial way to connect with your book’s audience. Don’t make the mistake of thinking social media is just about broadcasting book ads, though. (Think about how much you like constant posts by brands who only ever ask you to buy something.) Instead, approach your social media plan the same way you would approach social media in any other professional context: as a way to genuinely connect with real, live humans.
Yes, you can share that your book is out and provide a link to your author website. But also post about current events that relate to your book, share related stories and posts from others, and seek out conversations that build interest around the topics your book engages. Your goal here is to build your author platform, establishing yourself as a smart voice in the conversations your book is situated within.
Social media need not be cumbersome. You can write up a bunch of posts ahead of time and schedule them out across your various platforms. Put in the effort to create engaging images and videos fitting your social media platforms’ format guidelines. And remember to tag your publisher and university/department in your posts so they can share that material as well.
Many authors have had success with designing clever user-generated social media campaigns related to their book’s content. This can let you spread out some of the marketing work across your community. Sandra Ruiz did a great job of this with her book Ricanness: Enduring Time in Anticolonial Performance.
A successful virtual book launch requires a mixture of both planning and flexibility. Take the time to plot out several months of launch events and content, but be open to tweaking things as needed in the moment. For instance, if after doing a couple of guest lectures in courses you realize you are wanting more in-depth discussions than the course structure allows, consider organizing more online book talks. Or if your childcare situation changes and you find yourself with less time for live events, consider switching to more pre-scheduled social media content or podcast interviews that can be recorded ahead of time.
The goal is to plan a launch that fits your unique situation, realizing that your situation may change. Variety and experimentation help ensure your virtual book launch reaches diverse audiences, highlights your book’s contributions, and remains fun for you as well.