Launching a print book? Think local.

By Carol / July 30, 2012 /

With the advent of e-books and social media book launches, I wondered if print book launches even happened any more. But I’ve seen several indie authors question how to launch a print version, so I’m sharing my book launch experience and hope those of you reading will add our ideas.

Product, Price, Placement, Promotion – These are the starting point for any product launch. A book is no different. Whether it’s an ebook or a print book.

For the sake of this discussion, we’ll assume the book is written, the content professionally edited, the cover professionally designed, and the book priced so readers see a price/value correlation. That leaves placement and promotion. For a print launch, Think Local for both placement and promotion.

Placement – People have to be able to find your book. Seems obvious, but there are many considerations.

  1. When I launched, I sold my book off my website. The plus? I made the most money. The negatives? I had to do all the packing and shipping. Plus, if people didn’t know my name and couldn’t remember the name of the book, they couldn’t find my website.
  2. I walked my book into all local bookstores and gift stores. Indie bookstores like Beaverdale Books were super. The reception I received from them reinforced this lesson: You need to ask. Many authors are shy about this, but it’s time to put on your big girl panties and get out there. Ask if they’ll stock your book. Ask if you can hold an event. And keep asking. It took me four trips into one gift store to connect with someone who had the power to decide. Remember, the worst thing they can say is, no.
  3. Though indie book stores were wonderful and website sales kept me busy, I quickly learned this reality: Amazon and Barnes & Noble are the default book sources for most people. If you aren’t there, people jump to the conclusion that you don’t exist.
  4. Amazon is easy to get on through Amazon Advantage. I chose not to sign with Amazon at first because the economics (they keep 55% and I had to pay shipping) didn’t work with my book price and cost of production. With my second printing the economics worked. For me, worldwide visibility is worth some expense but not if it means losing money on each sale. For my next book, I’ll get production costs low enough to be on Amazon from day one.
  5. Getting books into Barnes & Noble is more difficult because you usually need a distributor, but it can be worth the effort. It’s a matter of scale. Indie bookstores took my book in lots of five or six. B&N took them by the case. When enough people requested my book at their stores, B&N contacted me and walked me through their process.
  6. When you think distribution, think broadly about where your book could go. Gift stores in airports, hotels, restaurants, and pharmacies are a better option than I originally realized, particularly when it comes to smaller towns that don’t have bookstores.
  7. Don’t underestimate libraries. Even though I held my hometown launch event at the library, I didn’t extend that thinking to future events. (Here is where you see me hitting my forehead and screaming, Doh!) Libraries are in the business of meeting the needs of readers so they may buy your book. Libraries like to have authors do readings. Generally they’ll let you sell books afterwards. Double bonus. Since the launch, I’ve done dozens of library readings, connecting with readers and selling books. Next book launch, I’ll do a postcard announcement to all libraries in the state.

Promotion – No promotion. No sales.

Hometown library launch

Here is where a print launch generally varies the most from an ebook launch.  A few ideas:

  1. Write a news release that has a hook specific to your book and can be personalized to each event/town/date. For me the hook was Iowa girl writes book about growing up in Iowa. Email the release to local media along with .jpg images of the book cover and your author photo. Maximize the local angle, i.e. Iowa girl (Preston girl, Jackson County girl, Eastern Iowa girl – ‘local’ can be anywhere, get it?) writes book.
  2. Schedule as many book signing and reading events as you can. Media cover events. Media coverage equals more events and more sales.
  3. Call local radio and TV stations and let them know you’re available for interviews. Again, the local angle: You’re a local person who’s written a book. You’re holding events their listeners/viewers will be interested in knowing about. (I know it’s scary, but ask. They want news. You, your book, your events can be news.)
  4. Hold multiple launch events. 
  • I held a reading/book signing event in my hometown library, arranging to have the local pharmacy stock books on consignment in advance of the event, and sending the local newspaper a release and photos touting new (local) author, new book, local event, where to buy books.
  • In the town where I live now, I teamed up with two other authors who also had new books and we held a reception/book signing for our friends, family and business associates.
  • I arranged book signings at three local indie bookstores and a restaurant gift store. I let the newspaper know about all four events, which caused them to see this as news and run an article. The article was read by bookstore owners around the state who contacted me to carry my book and arrange signing events.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.

This is a bare bones outline of what my launch included. And I know it’s only one approach. If you’ve done a hard copy book launch, please share your experiences. If this triggers thoughts, let me know. We’ll share and all hold better launches in the future.

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  1. Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D. on July 30, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing your launch experiences. You’ve given me encouragement to explore more locations for book signings. After I was turned down for book readings/signings by the three libraries near me I moved on to other venues. They tend to cater to mystery writers or children’s book. My book is a self-help book on happiness.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on July 30, 2012 at 7:47 pm

      I hope you’re encouraged to keep trying. One author told me she asked for (and got) signings at the coffee shop where she often did her writing, with her college alumnae group, and at indie bookstores. Think broadly about all your ‘points of contact’ and find the ones unique to you.

      I didn’t think about the sequence until you mentioned your experience, Flora, but I wonder if the libraries around here were interested after they read/heard/saw the media coverage? Hmmm. But my FIRST library was the one in the town where I went to high school, so I was a local success story. Don’t give up!

  2. Alicia Wright Brewster on July 31, 2012 at 7:03 am

    Thank you for sharing your experiences! Would you mind telling us about your relationship with Barnes & Noble. I know many indie authors, including me, are interested in getting stocked and possibly even shelved at B&N stores. I’ve read the instructions on their website, and I’ve heard stories about indies whose books have been rejected by B&N. What does it really take to get stocked? Any thoughts?

    • Carol Bodensteiner on July 31, 2012 at 8:55 am

      I only have my own experience to go on, so for what it’s worth … Getting into B&N starts with having a distributor. Having a distributor means their stores can find your book in a computer search and order it, it doesn’t mean your book will be in all their stores. If you’re already signed with Baker & Taylor or Ingram, you’re set. Your book is available to any BN store, again no guarantee of stocking. My book is in their ‘regional interest’ category. Because so many customers were asking for it, B&N urged me to sign with one of their regional distributors. I chose Partners Book Distributing. Readers in Iowa are likely to find my book about growing up in Iowa on B&N store shelves in Iowa and possibly in neighboring states. When B&N stores want books, they contact the distributor. The distributor has my books in stock and ships requested quantities. B&N pays the distributor; the distributor pays me. So the answer to your question boils down to two things: have a distributor and have a book readers want. Hope that helps!

  3. Onisha Ellis on July 31, 2012 at 7:05 am

    Thanks for sharing your great ideas.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on July 31, 2012 at 8:56 am

      You’re welcome. Hope you gleaned an idea or two you can use!

  4. Christina McKnight on July 31, 2012 at 10:22 am


    I’m two months away from my print release and this post could not have come at a better time. Thank you!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on July 31, 2012 at 10:29 am

      You’re welcome, Christina. Good luck! I hope you’ll share what works for you.

  5. Kate Papas on August 1, 2012 at 7:43 am

    Unfortunately, I can’t “think local” because I live in Greece.But I enjoyed your article very much, got some helpuf information plus the satisfaction that I have done all that you suggest -by instict- when my first book launched in Athens, my home town. I’ll see waht I can do for the States (I’m already doing things, but it seems it takes some time to see the results. Isn’t it?)
    Thank you Carol!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on August 1, 2012 at 9:19 am

      I’m glad my post confirmed your instincts, Kate. It does take time to get results. Marketing is not a one-shot effort; you really have to keep at it. As far as ‘local’ for you in the United States, have you tapped into the Greek communities in many cities? Greek restaurants? Greek-American societies? You might find more local venues than you think. Or at least places you can network from. I don’t know what your book topic is, and that could change what local groups you could tap, but I urge you to think about it. What networks can you use?

  6. Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Living on August 10, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    Carol, I love your approach. I wish we lived close to one another as I think we both think along the same lines. In fact, if you come to Orange County, I shall help you, and If I come to your home town, you can help me. Right? Have you tried getting sponsored to travel?

    • Carol Bodensteiner on August 11, 2012 at 9:02 am

      Thanks, Sonia. I would willingly give the help and accept the help should we ever have the good fortune to be in each other’s back yards. I’m often invited to talk about my book, at libraries, book clubs, and women’s groups. All here in Iowa. I haven’t tried for out-of-state opportunities. If you have ideas, I’d love to hear them!

  7. Belinda Nicoll on August 11, 2012 at 7:24 am

    Thanks for sharing, Carol.

    I think indies should know upfront that self-publishing is one long learning curve with many phases to the process, and that they should applaud themselves for accomplishing every step in the right direction. Not everything works for everyone, and that’s okay – there’s no such thing as failure, only feedback. The trick is to remain flexible and keep trying new things. The biggest pleasure of being a part of the indie community is all the sincere advice and heartfelt encouragement among the authors.

    My launch approach was long-term; I bought into the thinking that this is not traditional publishing with a three-month window of opportunity for my book to swim or sink – it took me five years to write, and now it’s on the shelve(s) to stay there for as long as it takes. My initial press-release approach is to make people aware that this is a book that’s relevant to the upcoming 11th anniversary of 9/11. But that’s only a small aspect of my story, so after the fact, my message will change.

    I’m questioning the benefit of CreateSpace, though, and contemplating a switch to LightningSource. The biggest market for my book is the USA and South Africa, and at the moment my peeps from my home country are having to order it from Amazon UK with a long wait, high delivery fees, and custom tax. I’ve now signed up for their expanded distribution, which takes 6 – 8 weeks (why – in this day and age?). And now I’ve also realized that I really need to opt into one more option for exposure to bookstores and libraries, which forces me to distribute with their ISBN – I’m not happy about that!

    I’d like to share that I’m not happy with Amazon’s strong-arm tactics that force you into exclusive distribution for their 90-day KDP Select Program. Then again, Amazon can afford to wield its power. I’m also not happy with the free-for-all mindset of indies who rush their poorly critiqued / edited / designed products into the market because they don’t care about quality only money. Then again, the public supports this with their own freebie mindset…doesn’t matter what it takes to build a vast, personal library on your Kindle as long as it’s free.

    My biggest disappointment so far has been asking three authors I admire for their reviews – two said ‘sorry, we’re too busy,’ and another has ignored me. That’s okay; there are many others out there, who are supportive and not sensitive to having their ‘reputations’ tainted by the ‘stigma’ of self-published authors – because I’ve been told that too.

    It’s interesting times we’re living in. Thanks for allowing me to take part in the discussion.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on August 11, 2012 at 9:09 am

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, Belinda. Indie publishing is one big, long learning adventure. I agree. That’s one of the things I like so much about it. With the launch of the ebook version of my memoir, I’ve observed the same thing you mention. It’s not time specific. The “launch” is whenever you get it out there to a new market. Freeing, I think! I have not used either CreateSpace or Lightening Source. I was thinking about it for my next book but I want to keep my own ISBNs. I’ll be researching other distribution routes because libraries are very important to me.

  8. Jennings on October 13, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Hey all – I’m new to all this, as my first book was published in July and my second in September. So I don’t have a ton of ideas to share, but some comments.

    First, on CreateSpace, you can choose to have your book available to libraries. If you use your own ISBN you don’t, but they don’t charge for providing one, so I don’t see any reason not to go that route. Also, their price to the author is (to me) quite good, and I’ve done pretty well selling signed copies. Again – limited experience, but so far, mine’s been positive.

    On KDP Select… you don’t have to sign up for it. My feeling as a new author was that it was worth taking it off the other markets (esp since Amazon is by far the largest seller, anyway, and you can still sell ebooks and print there during the 90 days) in order to get my name out there to more people. I had a ton of downloads on my first 2 free download days, and, with a sequel to that book coming out this month, hopefully that will translate into sales for that book. Since Amazon is paying you out of a fund that they provide for each “borrow”, I don’t think it’s too much to ask to remove it from other sales venues for that time. Obviously, your free days are not making you any money – but they’re not actually free to Amazon (even if the cost is 3 cents, that can add up for them across the whole spectrum of free book downloads). Amazon is a business, just like I am as an indie author (and I have been a business owner for 20 years) – I respect that.

    I have been pondering approaching local sources, but haven’t yet. I was crazy busy between March and early October, and couldn’t add a single thing to my days. But things have calmed down now, so I’m going to put my big girl panties on (Yikes) and give it thought and effort! Thanks!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on October 14, 2012 at 6:14 pm

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and congratulations on your publishing success! I’ve heard that having more books helps with sales of the first ones. That’s something I hope to experience first hand in the near future.

      I haven’t used CreateSpace myself, but it sounds as though it’s working well for you and I know other authors who have been very satisfied with both the product and the service. I’ll be looking into that approach next time.

      Good luck when you step into local promotions. Whatever you do, however it works, I know you’ll learn lots. If you have a moment, come back and share your results.

  9. Linda Caddick on December 30, 2012 at 12:01 am

    After 6 – 8 months of at last joyfully writing my novel, having waited years and years for the opportunity, I did not foresee this next necessary phase of now having to put on the marketing cap. I have always consoled myself that my brain is wired for expressing myself in writing in a way that I struggle to do in speech, so imagine my dismay in finding that writers are expected to be speakers as well as marketers! I have a sneaky suspicion that I’m going to be asked to speak at a local school. I don’t mind the online marketing, but when it comes to public interaction, I feel lost inside those Big Girl Panties. Help! Isn’t there another way?

    • Carol Bodensteiner on December 30, 2012 at 11:47 am

      Congratulations on writing your book, Linda! Revel in that huge accomplishment. You’ve earned it. To your question about the necessity of speaking. Hmmm. I suppose you could refuse speaking engagements. But, I’ve found that speaking directly leads to book sales, so if – having written the book – you also hope to sell some, speaking will definitely help. One thing I personally found successful was telling myself that I wasn’t doing public speaking – all I was doing was telling a friend or a group of friends how I did it. Just telling little stories. That’s all. I also found that it helped me to get to the Q&A as fast as possible. I told my audiences right at the beginning that they’d enjoy it a lot more if they asked questions. And I hoped they would. Some speakers offer some give away – a copy of their book or some other book-related thing – to the first person who asks a question. To break the ice. I’ve never found that necessary. But if you want to really get the audience engaged fast, that’s one way. I know speaking will be uncomfortable at first, but the more you do it – and the more you engage the audience – the more at ease you’ll become. Good luck. And remember to breathe!

      • Linda Caddick on December 31, 2012 at 1:16 am

        Thank you SO much for the encouragement. I know I’ll have to do it, so will take a very deep breath, put on cap and panties and Go For It! Are the talks mainly about the writing of the book, or do you get deep theological questions as well?

        • Carol Bodensteiner on December 31, 2012 at 9:20 am

          The questions vary. And of course the questions you’d receive related to a novel would be different than the ones I get on my memoir. The most common questions relate to writing process, getting started, sticking to it. In my case, people want to know if my family remembers events the same as I do, if anyone was upset by what I wrote, etc. Memoir types of things. I can imagine people would want to know where you got your ideas, how much of the story is autobiographical, what kind of research you did. People are generally interested how publishing works. A couple of things you might find useful. 1) Go to a few author readings to see what they present and what kinds of questions they get. 2) Ask your friends to tell you what questions they’d ask. People want to know you as a person. They’re friendly. However you approach it will be fine. Breathe! Have fun!

  10. Wendy Francis on March 18, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    What a great piece. Thanks for sharing. I also see that you’re from the Midwest. If you have a chance, hope you’ll check out my novel, Three Good Things, set in a fictional small town of Wisconsin! Thanks, again, for the good tips. Especially like your tip re: libraries. Those librarians know their stuff!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on March 18, 2013 at 1:06 pm

      Thanks, Wendy. We might think of libraries as competition – letting people read our books for free – but quite the opposite is true. They’re a market in themselves and a conduit to readers.

      My dad’s family is from Wisconsin and I have many cousins living there. Love the countryside. I’ll look up your novel.

  11. Carole Lanham on April 15, 2013 at 8:51 am

    Wonderful tips! Can’t wait to try them out with my newest book. Some of these things I did with the first one but many of them I did not. I know I made the mistake of being a local girl in the newspapers rather than a Missouri girl. 🙂 These are all excellent ideas. thanks for taking the time to share them.

    Carole Lanham

    • Carol Bodensteiner on April 15, 2013 at 9:00 am

      Glad you found the tips helpful, Carole. Small adjustments can make a big difference. Good luck with your next book!

  12. Mary Tod on June 3, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Great tips, Carol and very interesting to see input from other authors going the indie route. Had not thought of local libraries as well as gift stores and so on. I’m going to revise my plan!!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on June 3, 2013 at 10:26 am

      Glad to have offered a few new ideas for your marketing plan, Mary. I’m learning all the time and appreciate people leaving their ideas for me and others!

  13. Grant Overstake on June 20, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Excellent, excellent post! I wanted to share that while writing my first novel, I took many “Artist’s Dates” to our city’s premier indie bookstore, walking around, imagining what it might be like to have my book on the shelves. Let’s just say, some of those dates were better than others. After publishing through CreateSpace (which I personally have found to be excellent), I started a blog and Facebook page and Twitter account and went live on Amazon and Kindle. Then, as you say, I put on my big boy pants and went to the ominous bookstore. I asked if they might, just maybe, consider selling my book, and they said “No! Get the hell out!” Not really. They said, “Sure, we make it a policy to help local authors!” Since then I’ve had consistent sales and a book signing there, with more than 70 in attendance. The manager was so delighted, she waived the fee she normally charges. And the last time I went to another author’s reading, the owner stepped up to introduce herself, apologizing for missing my reading, and thanking ME for bringing my book to their shelves.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on June 20, 2013 at 10:06 pm

      Good for you for being brave, Grant! It paid off. Your last comment is really important. Bookstores are in the business of making money. If you have a good book that sells – and your book signings bring 70 people into their store – you’ve been good for their business. You should thank them for the opportunity, but they should thank you, too. Thanks for sharing your story. Write on!

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