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Lessons learned from a bad book launch

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If you’re like most authors I’ve talked to, you think your book would be great for two things: Christmas presents and New Year’s resolutions. So, a book launch in December or January sounds like a great strategy, right?

But these are probably the most logistically difficult months in which to publish and launch a book. Believe me, we just lived through it! We published and launched one book in December and one book in January. I know I teased you with this blog post title (that’s called marketing ;) ), but both book launches actually went well and even landed #1 positions in a couple of Amazon categories, but the behind-the-scenes process was not as smooth as we’d hoped for. Let me walk you through some crucial insights we’ve learned about how to launch a book in December and January, which just might save you dozens of hours of frustration.

At Paper Raven Books, we have a pretty great timeline down for how long it takes us to handle cover design, formatting, proofing, and publishing. But we found out that the book launch timeline gets completely thrown out the window in December, for several reasons.

Weather

We were working out the last details of a cover design with a brilliant designer in Canada. Well, Canada in December? Yep, his power was knocked out for close to a week, and there was literally nothing we could do. We wanted to honor the contract with him, and we were so close to finishing the design, but we just had to wait for his power to come back on, so he could finish the design, and that set us behind a full week.

Sickness

I know people can get sick at any time, but statistically speaking, cold and flu cases (which are typically what affect the average worker) peak in December. So, chances are, at least someone on your design and publishing team will be sick in December, and if you don’t have an extra three days in your timeline, you’re going to be stressed. We didn’t have three extra days in our timelines, and we had several people out sick. This is not fun for the sick person (how can you rest properly when you know you’re missing deadlines?) and it’s not fun for the rest of the team.

Traveling

In our team, we work with people all over the world—U.S., Canada, U.K., Belgium, Australia—and many of our team members love to travel while working. And I’m one of them! My family and I traveled through Europe for six months in 2016, and I worked as we went. But traveling while working can slow down your productivity. Of course, December is one of the peak travel months. If several members of your team are traveling and have a slower turn-around time, even if only a little bit, it can be enough to throw your timeline off by several days. (Again, I was one of the ones traveling! Know thyself, right?)

Busy customer service lines

Anytime we encounter the slightest hiccup in our publishing process, for any launch, I’m on the phone with customer service. The people on the other end of IngramSpark or Kindle Direct Publishing are generally super helpful and can save you hours of banging your head against your laptop. But, in December, their lines are busy. It takes much longer to get in to talk to a live person, and they take longer to resolve your issue. Our January launch book sat in “publishing” status on KDP for a week—for no reason! Except that, KDP was super busy. Any other month, they would have had the issue resolved within 24 hours, but not when their emails are backlogged and phones ringing off the hook.

Overburdened software

Now, I don’t have proof of this. It’s more like a general hunch, but I felt that with the two books we launched (one in December and one in January), it took at least twice as long for the services to actually review and approve the files. When you upload your files to IngramSpark or CreateSpace or Kindle Direct Publishing, there is a review and approval process. This is a total black box to me—I mean, does a real person review and approve every file? Or is it partially automated? Why isn’t it fully automated?—but it definitely felt like the time between when we uploaded files and when they were ready for purchase was longer. And when I tried to call customer service to ask why, I spent a heck of a long time on hold, so I’m guessing sheer volume was to blame!

Mailing costs

Because the shipping volume in December is so high, mailing physical books took longer and was more expensive. CreateSpace normally ships books in a week but was estimating three weeks shipping. We ordered some fake blank books, with the real book covers, for book promotion, and we had to pay exorbitant shipping fees, just because it was December.

So, if I had to do a December or January book launch all over again, what would I do?

For a Christmas book launch, I would suggest planning for release no later than December 1. That means, if you’re aiming for a Christmas launch, you should have your book finished by Thanksgiving. If your book isn’t finished (uploaded, ordered, promotions planned) by the end of November, put the launch on hold until mid-January. You may disagree, but that’s my honest advice.

For a New Year’s book launch, I would suggest having everything, except the e-book upload, done by December 1 and just waiting until the New Year to upload that e-book. Why wait on the e-book? You know I’m a fan of Amazon, and the Amazon algorithm gives your book the most visibility during the first 30 days of it being live on Kindle Direct Publishing. So, I’d hold off on the actual e-book uploading until about 10 days before you officially tell the public that your book is launched. So, yes, your paperback, hardback, and audiobook are uploaded and ready to go December 1. Your promotions are planned out. Your box of books is ordered and on the way for your first book signing. And the only piece you’re reserving is uploading the e-book.

These plans will make your November a bit more crazy, but at least you won’t hit the December craziness (weather, sickness, traveling, busy customer service lines, over-burdened software, and mailing costs), and even if you do hit one of these issues (because every launch hits one of them), you likely won’t hit all of them and you’ll still have time to recover before your actual launch.

What does this mean for your 2017 book launch?

If you want to release a book by the end of the year, you’ll likely spend a few months writing the book, then you should allow three to four months for editing, cover design, formatting, proofing, and uploading. That means you should be full-tilt writing by April or May.

If this gives you a shot of adrenaline because you know you want your book out in 2017 but you don’t know if you can get it written and done in time, we’re completely here for you. In fact, I’m opening up new writing coaching slots, starting in April. If you want a book in 2017 and you want a seasoned writing coach by your side, let me know here.

I hope this is helpful in your launch planning process! Let me know, are you planning to put out a book in 2017? Drop a note in the comments below.

FREE QUIZ: Which "Publishing Path" Is Right For Your Book?

There are four different publishing paths for the modern author.
Do you know which is right for your book?

TAKE THE QUIZ