[BREAKING: I now have a course on book marketing, Book Launch Hero. It’ll walk you through everything I did to make my first book a bestseller, and provide you with a kit of materials — including my best emails — to help you promote. Enrollment closes Tues Jan 30th, and the live double masterclass happens Jan 31st and Feb 1. Click here to find out more.]
During the book-launching process, which pretty much begins the moment you get a book deal, I was lucky to receive advice and support from a number of friends who’ve already become bestselling authors (some, a few times over) or were just ahead of me in the process. Above me on “Book Mountain,” as I call it.
Many of their tips and insights, I understood but still had to learn on my own throughout the publication and promotion of Tough Titties, if that makes sense.
Originally from a hugely popular email, here are 13* surprises from launching a book that many people had already told me but maybe I didn’t believe them?
Except for number 6. That one, no one’s mentioned.
(*The email listed 11, but one item was buried in the middle of another and I forgot to sub-head and number it. So, 12. And then I had to add an extra because I have this thing where all lists should be odd numbers, unless it’s a list of 10.)
1. You do most everything when it comes to promoting and selling your book.
A sampling of items that are all on you, unless you shell out to hire a PR firm:
You track down, beg, harangue authors for blurbs.
You find authors or other public figures to pair with if you want bookseller events.
You pitch yourself to publications and podcasts.
You throw yourself the launch party, if you want one.
You pay for travel, if you decide to go on tour.
Not always, but often, you connect with bookstores and get them to carry your book.
Most of all…
You promote it and get people to click “buy” — something I never could have done without a subscriber list and the hugely lucrative skill of writing them emails that entertain and sell.
[I teach these email storytelling-and-selling skills in Inbox Hero.]
If you’re lucky, your publisher will promote you on social, take care of mailing out books and swag (mine created fantastic merch), and maybe get you a plumb bookseller event. Mine got me Barnes & Noble.
But all the other lifting? You, you, you.
Many authors told me it would all fall on me. My agent’s offer of representation even stated it: “Selling this book is up to you!” And still, l had to learn it myself.
2. If you hate asking for favors, you’re going to be very uncomfortable. (I do, I have been.)
Favors have included:
- Read my early stuff, which is a hot pile of mess? 🙏
- Intro me to that agent? 🙏
- Intro me to that author? 🙏
- Ask that influencer if I can send them my galley? 🙏
- Will you read and blurb my book? 🙏
- Hi, me again, any chance you’d be willing to read and blurb my book? 🙏
- OMG, I’m SUCH a pest! Not sure if you’re even seeing these, bc probably in your requests folder, but…please see above, would still love to send you the book for possible blurb! 🙏
- Oh, hey, friend who’s already been so generous and helpful, will you also promote the book to your subscriber list? 🙏
- Hi, I know you’re so busy! Congrats on everything! Will you still give my book that shoutout you promised when you said you were no longer blurbing books? 🙏❤️❤️❤️
- Now that you bought the book and supported it, would you care to support it even more with an Amazon review? ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🙏
You may also find yourself using more emojis than fit your personality.
3. The New York Times list is for turd munchers. (Unless you or I make it on there, yay me or you!)
Don’t pay attention to the NYT list, I was told; don’t invest one shred of your self-worth in it.
It’s a mystery decided in dark of night by a secret society in hooded robes, who eat a steak dinner, chant in Latin, sacrifice a goat and/or debut author, hold up the beating heart, and then say, OK, boys, let’s decide some fates!
(Not that inclusion on the list decides your fate, nope, not at all.)
A few people had to remind me about the self-worth part — some, several times — and they were right.
For real, the list doesn’t make sense. It’s not bestsellers by number of sales, so much as bestsellers the NYT likes that day.
If you want to get on the NYT list, there’s no surefire way on, but it probably helps to get an essay or op-ed kind of thing in there before your book comes out. Still, no guarantees.
Nobody knows how it works and it’s nearly as unlikely for a new author as being struck by lightning. Even lightning, you’d probably have more control over. Climb a tree on a hilltop during a storm and hold up an old TV antenna. Crack, boom.
Recently, I talked on the phone to a big TV celebrity who’s also a NYT bestselling author. They said, “Before my book came out I was like, fuck the Times, what matters is that I wrote a book. And then, I did hit the list at number 2, not number 1 because of that damn Jennette McCurdy sitting at the top forever, and the next week, I plummeted to number 5 and was like ‘Everybody hates my book!’”
Author’s note: I loved Jennette McCurdy’s book. That one deserves its reign on The List, if any does.
Author’s note 2: My book did make two important bestseller lists, one of which makes it a national bestseller. Even if that doesn’t make me more worthy as a person, I REALLY WANTED IT!
First week of publication, Tough Titties made the Publishers Weekly bestseller list.
And then, thanks to a sales bump in September, it made the USA Today list, which had come back out of retirement that month. I’d been so mad that list was on hiatus when Tough Titties was released, because I had the sales numbers to make it pretty high up. But no matter. Thanks to this, the paperback edition of Tough Titties will have “NATIONAL BESTSELLER” above the title.
4. Books really are hard to sell.
Depending on your audience, it can be harder to sell a $28 book than a $500 or even $5000 course. You may need to come up with offers for people who just don’t want to buy a book.
When someone says “I can’t wait to read it,” most of the time they haven’t ordered it and aren’t going to unless you nudge them and say “Have you ordered it?” It’s pushy but you gotta be pushy.
5. Asking for Amazon reviews is like asking for a kidney.
I’ve started just asking for a kidney first, and if that’s not possible – totally get it! – will you leave an Amazon review?
Apparently, if you hit 1000 Amazon reviews, your book sells in perpetuity. So I’m asking for 1000 kidneys!
I also tried asking for a Picasso (oil painting, not drawing or lithograph). No can do? Will take an Amazon review!
While you’re reading this, if you can’t spare a kidney or a large-scale Picasso, would you please leave me a review on the ‘Zon? The rules say I can’t ask you for 5 stars, but I can tell you that’s what helps the book. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🙏🏻
6. You’ll be equally surprised by who shows up for you as by who doesn’t.
Actually, more by who doesn’t. Several who’ve promised to shout out your book on the ‘gram or do some other favor often don’t, and those you never expected anything from come through in shocking, humbling ways.
It’s a little like losing a loved one in that respect. Some people you’d expect to be in the first row behind the family at the service don’t so much as write a note, and others show up at the shiva early, with a whole platter of corned beef sandwiches.
Thinking about it, no one mentioned this one.
7. No one cares about your book as much as you do.
Kind of like having a baby, not that I’d know. Definitely like your birthday. You’re the only one walking around all day thinking, “Today’s a very special day!”
That said, how great of Kelly Ripa (an author, so she gets it!) to give me this extended shoutout on my Pub Day:
8. Whatever you’re told “doesn’t move the needle” might very well move the needle.
Nobody knows what moves the needle. You can look at sales sold directly from an event and say, “that wasn’t worth the time,” but then the social proof from that event can sell way more books than anything else you do. Then again, I don’t know that, I’m just guessing, which is what everyone’s doing.
9. There are a ton of expenses that all seem to cost around 6k.
It’s like renovating your home. The more you spend, the more you keep spending, because…well, I’ve come this far. Might as well.
10. Many people in your life will take forever to finish or even start your book.
If you’re insulted when they don’t dive in even though they’ve said “I can’t wait to read it,” think about all the books you truly can’t wait to read that you still haven’t. Some of us can’t read 3 pages in a row anymore without picking up the phone to check Instagram.
If you’re insulted someone was reading enthusiastically and reporting to you about it and then seems not to have finished it, think about the times you’ve dropped a book in the middle even though you’re loving it, and you don’t know why. Or remember when you’ve gone slowly because you only have a little time each day to consume media just for pleasure, and you’re brain-dead so you open up Peacock instead of that book you love.
BTW – most people who say “I can’t wait to read it” have no intention of doing so, unless they also tell you they bought a copy.
I like to call their bluff.
When someone comments online, “I can’t wait to read it,” I reply, “Yay! Did you get it yet?” And then…silence.
11. Yes, people you wrote about will read it.
If you think “I can write about this person, they’ll never read the book or if they do, they won’t know it’s about them,” you’re wrong. You can still write about them, but expect that they will read it and will ask, “Is this person me?”
12. Promoting a book is a full-time job.
Every author friend who published before me asked the same question out loud:
“How the F do people who have actual jobs do this?”
All of those friends have been either full-time authors, so that is their job, or business owners who had to neglect their usual money-making efforts if they wanted to go all in on getting the book out.
It’s a choice, of course. No one said, “Become utterly consumed by the success of Tough Titties or we’ll come after your family and take away everything you love.”
But if you do make the choice to prioritize your book, and you’re obsessive like me, you’ll be entering a season of making less income (except the passive kind, good to have that set up) and “OMG, I’m so sorry I didn’t get back to you about this when you sent it three weeks ago!”
13. Remember, you wrote a GODDAMN BOOK!
That’s what I have to keep coming back to. It’s already successful, because it fucking exists! It’s printed, with a spine. That is some next level shit. Yes, swear words necessary.
Is that it? I’m sure I’ll think of more after sending this, but I like the number 11 [NOW UPDATED TO 13].
PS – Can’t wait to read Tough Titties? Get yourself a copy! It’s the hot read of 2023/2024.
PPS – Whether you’re promoting a book or anything else where the selling is up to you and you’re not a household name like Paris Hilton, I can’t stress enough the importance of writing standout, consistently entertaining emails to an engaged subscriber list.
PPPS – BREAKING: I now have a course on book marketing, Book Launch Hero.
In a live, double masterclass, It’ll walk you through everything I did to make my first book a bestseller, and provide you with a kit of materials — including my best emails — to help you promote. Enrollment closes Tues Jan 30th at midnight ET. Join here.