After you finish the final edits of your novel, it’s time to launch your book into the world. But how do you get readers so excited about your book that they can’t wait to buy it and tell their friends? How do you create hype for your novel?
Many first-time authors make the mistake of rushing to upload their books to Amazon and then kicking back, waiting for readers to flock to their books. But nothing magical happens when you upload your book to Amazon. In fact, nobody even knows it’s there unless you tell them.
I asked author C.J. Milacci how she got readers excited about her debut YA novel. C.J. writes stories for teens and young adults with heart-pounding action and hope. She is an active member of the Novel Marketing community and has participated in the Book Launch Blueprint as well as The Five-Year Plan.
Why did you start writing?
Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: How did you get started writing?
C.J. Milacci: I started writing because I was working with the youth ministry at my church and asking the girls about the books they were reading.
I started reading some of the titles they mentioned, and I could see why they liked them. The books were exciting. But inevitably, I’d feel depressed when I finished reading because they had such hard, dark endings. The books also included a lot of inappropriate content that I couldn’t believe a teen was reading. I felt it was so inappropriate that I could barely read it as an adult.
I was looking for a well-written, exciting, engaging alternative that would bring hope and Christian worldview values. I had a hard time finding that kind of book, so I decided to learn how to write one myself.
I wanted to thrill my young adults and teens with incredible stories woven with deeper truths and a good message without all the doom and gloom.
Thomas: I love that you started with your target reader and not with a story that was burning in your heart. You wanted to write the kind of book they already liked but one that wouldn’t leave them depressed.
Young women are more depressed now than they’ve ever been in recorded history.
Your aim is very noble, and from a marketing perspective, it’s very savvy. Writing for a specific reader with a particular need makes every other book marketing task easier because you know your reader.
C.J.: Half of the girls I was talking to were already depressed and struggling. As I read what they were reading, I knew those books were certainly not helping them feel better about life or the world. Those girls and their needs have definitely been the motivating factor for me from day one.
What did your writing process look like?
Thomas: What did your writing process look like?
C.J.: I started like many other writers. I wrote the first draft and thought I was done. Then, shortly after that, I came to the hard realization that the first draft was awful.
I love learning, so I started to read books on the craft of writing. I wanted my book to be well-written, so I looked for ways to improve the craft of writing. I went to writer’s conferences. I took courses. I started to learn, develop, and grow as a writer.
I learned how to write faster and better, and that process changed the first book I wrote. There are seeds from that first story in Recruit of Talionis, but that first book isn’t one I want anyone to see.
I’ve written many things since then, and it’s been a process, but I’ve learned, grown, and become a stronger writer through it.
Thomas: One sign that you’re ready to publish a book is that you finally have eyes to see that your first book is actually so bad it’s unpublishable. That’s why the ninth commandment of book marketing is, “Thou shalt not publish thine first book first.”
A writer who is still finishing their first book is probably certain it’s a masterpiece. They don’t yet realize that their first book is for learning about the process of writing a book and building confidence.
Your first book is practice, but it’s not wasted.
For example, you were able to use the best parts of your first book and build a new and better story around them.
C.J.: Yes, exactly.
Thomas: A new author tends to think of their first book as a pearl, but it’s simply a grain of sand that can become a pearl if the author puts in the work.
How did The Five-Year Plan help you improve your craft?
C.J.: I signed up about two years ago, so I’m not finished, but I did an accelerated version of it. I condensed it into a shorter term by reading a lot of craft books and writing a lot of short stories within a few months. Through AuthorMedia.social, I’ve connected with other authors taking the course, and they keep me accountable.
Thomas: The Five-Year Plan has been around for almost five years, and nobody does it at the recommended pace. Everyone does it faster or slower than the outlined schedule, which is kind of funny. The idea behind the course was to help authors maintain a recommended pace of growth.
What did you learn from The Five-Year Plan?
Thomas: What did you learn in the course that you weren’t already learning beforehand?
C.J.: The course curates some of the best information and brings it together in one place. There are so many craft books, novels, and nonfiction books available. It’s nice to have a list of the best books I should be reading.
Writing the short stories was helpful.
You recommend listening to certain early episodes of Writing Excuses. I’d heard of the podcast before, but the course prompted me to actually do the exercises.
Then, instead of having information overload, I could apply what I learned to the short stories I wrote. That’s one of the best parts of The Five-Year Plan.
I still re-listen to the modules and reread the books because I find the reminders so incredibly helpful.
Thomas: As you grow as an author, you start noticing more when you read other books.
When you first learn to read, you don’t understand why the sentences are structured in a certain way. You can’t spot foreshadowing. But after a while, you start to see when and why an author is using certain techniques.
How did you begin writing Recruit of Talionis?
C.J.: I became a much faster writer because of the exercises in the course. I also grew more disciplined. Even on the days I don’t want to write, I can sit down and push through the first few difficult minutes before getting into that writing flow.
I can write every day and do things I couldn’t do before. I wrote my second book, Recruit of Talionis, much faster than I wrote the first one.
Is it possible to write a book even when you don’t feel like writing?
Thomas: Do you mean to tell me it’s possible to write even when you don’t feel like writing?
C.J.: Yes, I know. I didn’t want to believe it either, but it is possible.
Thomas: Self-control is real, folks. It’s not a myth. You can control yourself and do things even when you don’t feel like it. You may not have power over anyone else, but you have power over yourself if you choose to wield it. You can learn more about getting into a flow state of writing in my episode on How to Write Faster and Better.
Authors who earn their living writing learn to treat their writing like a real job. You do a real job whether you feel like it or not.
It’s not a hobby.
It’s one thing to go to the ski slope on your vacation because you want to. It’s another thing to go to the ski slope 100 days in a row to teach tourists how to ski.
Treat your writing like a job, even if it’s something that most people think is all fun. Most people would think that skiing every day is fun, but a ski instructor does a real job that involves hard work.
What did you do after you finished Recruit of Talionis?
Thomas: Did you just upload it to Amazon and move on to the next thing?
C.J.: No, not at all. I might have if not for the Novel Marketing podcast and your courses and writers groups. I’ve learned that uploading immediately is not the way to go.
After a lot of deliberation, I decided to go the indie publishing route. But I wanted my indie book to look as professional as possible. I hired a cover designer who was amazing to work with, and she produced a cover I could never have produced on my own.
I worked with editors like Jon Shuerger, who’s a Marine. He reviewed the military elements in my book and told me everything I did wrong, which was extensive. Apparently, my version of the military is not accurate. He shredded my book and said it was well-written but inaccurate.
So, I rewrote it.
It was hard. It’s like not wanting to go to the gym and work out, but later, when you’re stronger, and you feel better, you know it was all worth it.
That’s what happened with my edits. I went to the “gym” every day and killed myself, but I came out on the other end with a book I was far more excited to share with people. It just was stronger, cleaner, and better because it had gone through those edits.
I tried to let as many people as I could into the process so that I wasn’t creating in a bubble. Since so many people have touched the book and given input, it became something I could never have created on my own.
I never was in the military. I don’t know that perspective, but some readers have said, “Hey, I was in the military, and I felt like your military aspects were really accurate.” That thrilled me because I knew that wouldn’t have happened on my own.
Bringing others into the process helped me produce the best possible product to send into the world.
Thomas: Reality is different than research. If your main character is a physician, you should probably have a physician do an edit.
You had an advantage in that Jon Shuerger is both an editor and a former Marine, so he could act as a sensitivity reader, giving you feedback and recommendations.
But not everyone will have that perfect fit. Don’t feel like you have to find that magical person.
For example, you may not be able to find an astronaut who is also an editor to give feedback on your space scenes. But there is possibly an astronaut who could potentially read your book, point out problems, and help you find a believable solution.
I really appreciate authors who do the work to get it right. For example, I’m from Texas, and everybody here knows how guns work. But many authors who aren’t from Texas don’t know how guns work and don’t bother to learn before they write about guns in their novels.
It’s irritating to people who know, but I have noticed that it’s improving. It’s much easier to get feedback from experts than it was 30 years ago.
Why did you put your book on Kickstarter before publishing it?
C.J.: I decided to do a Kickstarter because of your advice. I took your Ultimate Crowdfunding Course, and since Jon Shuerger also did a Kickstarter, I talked to him about it through the course community group.
The more I learned about it, the more intrigued I became. It seemed like an interesting way to start your book’s life.
A Kickstarter campaign allows a connection with your readers that just doesn’t happen when you only launch it on Amazon. I know every one of my Kickstarter backers. I can message them and give them extras and other fun stuff.
The idea hooked me, and it ended up working well for me. Plus, I enjoyed the process.
Thomas: A Kickstarter campaign allows you to earn more money from your super fans.
I backed your Kickstarter at $20, which is more than I would have spent buying your audiobook, which would have cost me a $10 Audible credit.
When you crowdfund with Kickstarter, you can enter your launch with money on hand and a lot of confidence.
How much money did your Kickstarter raise?
C.J.: About $8,600.
Thomas: You had 131 backers and raised $8,600, which averages to $65 per backer. That was probably enough to cover most of the editing. Were you in the black when you launched on Amazon?
C.J.: Yes, but not by a lot because I’d purchased extra author copies.
Thomas: That’s a great way to start your Amazon launch. You’re in the black, your print books are paid for, and when you sell those books, you’ll make a good profit. That’s the beauty of a Kickstarter, and you don’t have to sell that many copies.
Kickstarter doesn’t undermine your potential Amazon sales. The one drawback is that your 131 backers will probably be the first to leave reviews on Amazon. Since they didn’t purchase on Amazon, their reviews won’t be verified.
People love to be part of something special. They want their names printed in the book, and they’re willing to pay a premium for it. You didn’t cajole them or pressure them into backing your campaign. You just invited them and said, “I’m writing a book for this reason, and I’d love your help to make it happen.”
People got on board to help you launch your book.
What did you do for your novel’s book launch?
C.J.: I went through the Book Launch Blueprint and took excessive notes, and then I applied what I learned.
I shared the book with my email list. Then I built my launch team, which ended up being awesome. They were one of the biggest factors that made my launch go well.
Did you use the Book Launch Blueprint method, where members have to buy a copy of your book to join the team?
C.J.: I did.
Thomas: You’re the first person I’ve interviewed on the podcast who use has used this method that I recommend.
The classic book launch model recommends that authors give each launch team member a copy of the book for free.
I don’t recommend that, and I get more pushback on that one thing than everything else.
What were the results of asking members to buy a copy of the novel to join the book launch team?
C.J.: They were really excited to be a part of the launch. I had people from all over the country, and it didn’t seem like it was a hardship to buy the ebook.
I offered the ebook at a lower price at the beginning of my launch so they could buy it for $3.00 instead of $6.00. They were all excited to purchase and share about it.
They had to invest a little of their hard-earned money. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s still notable that they bought in. I think it almost made them feel as though they were tied to the success or failure in a deeper way than if I had just sent them a free copy.
Thomas: As Jesus said, “Where your money is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
When you ask somebody to be on your launch team, you’re asking for several hours of work. Their time is worth far more than $3.00. If they’re not willing to spend $3.00, then either they don’t value their time, or they weren’t really planning to participate. They just wanted a free book.
I’m a huge advocate for this method, and I talk about it in the Book Launch Blueprint. It’s based on solid human psychology. Giving someone a $5.00 book is not a strong incentive if their time is at all valuable.
If they value their time, they won’t be motivated by a free ebook that they have to disclose in their Amazon reviews, which also hurts your algorithm rankings.
C.J.: The Book Launch Blueprint method worked well for me. My launch team has been amazing. They’ve gone above and beyond. I live in Pennsylvania, but they have been hanging posters in coffee shops in Montana and Arizona. They’re leaving reviews, and they’re excited about it.
It’s been a bit humbling in many ways but also so exciting to see their excitement catch on.
Thomas: One of the most satisfying results of writing my book was receiving wedding pictures from people who read the book. They included the book in one of their wedding photos.
It’s funny because I didn’t do that when I got married. I probably should have.
What else did you do to prepare for the book launch?
C.J.: I set up my Amazon and my Goodreads author pages far in advance, so it was all up and running. Because I did a Kickstarter, Goodreads approved me as an author before the book was published on Amazon. I had my book on pre-order early enough to allow that to happen.
I did all my category and keyword research with Publisher Rocket.
I did every little detail I could do in advance so I could set my book up for success in the best possible way.
One of the guys on AuthorMedia.social has published many nonfiction books, and he was in one of my writer groups. I asked if I could pick his brain. I combined what I learned from him with what I learned in the Book Launch Blueprint.
Thomas: That makes me so happy! I created AuthorMedia.social to be a place where writers learn from each other. You’re learning how to make it work for you.
And you know what? I’m not right all the time.
Some of the things that I say may be right for some authors, but they won’t be right for other authors. You found a mix of strategies that played to your strengths and your audience.
I don’t know much about teen girls except that they’re experiencing depression and anxiety in record numbers.
I couldn’t help you tweak your message for that audience, but you know that audience well!
You have to interpret what you’re learning from all these sources and adapt it to connect with teen girls in a way that works.
Did you do anything off-the-wall to reach these young ladies?
C.J.: I don’t know if it’s considered off-the-wall, but I’ve created character quizzes and character personality quizzes. Teens like that kind of thing. They’ll do the quizzes to find out which character they’re like or which Harry Potter house they’re in. They’re curious about that.
Teens have asked me which character I’m like because they assume I’m doing those quizzes all the time as well. Those quizzes have been great, and they’ve brought in additional readers and email list subscribers.
I’ve also accepted speaking engagements wherever I could, but again, that’s not really off-the-wall.
I did a workshop with the Young Writers Workshop. They let me host one of their office hours and talk to the students who are interested in writing.
It was a blast. I connected with a ton of kids that way. They joined my email list and asked me questions. They’re excited about the book, so that’s been neat.
Perhaps my most off-the-wall thing is happening right now during the launch month. I hosted a game I called “Where In The World Is Recruit Of Talionis.”
People can take pictures of themselves with the book and send me their pictures. I have a gallery on my website this month, and people can win prizes for buying the book and photographing themselves with it in different places around the world.
Thomas: So, if a reader is on vacation visiting the Taj Mahal, they can take a photo of the book at the Taj Mahal.
That’s a fun, creative way to connect with readers, and frankly, it’s a great way to do social media. I don’t know if you’re encouraging them to post photos on social media or not, but instead of you creating photos to share on social media, you’ve created an excuse for other people to take photos they can share on social media. You reap the benefits, and it doesn’t cost you any extra time.
Did you do a book launch party for your novel?
C.J.: Yes. I hosted an in-person launch party. Two of my friends are entrepreneurs who are excited about my writing. They were pushing me to have a launch party, and then The Book Launch Blueprint recommended it too. You said it was a great way to connect with people and get excited about the book’s release.
We planned an open house on launch day, and I had no idea who would come.
It ended up being so much fun. More people than I expected showed up. They asked me to do a reading, and it ended up being really worthwhile.
One of the most surprising things has been seeing that men are interested in my book. And after I did the reading, several of my friends’ husbands purchased a copy because they wanted to read it.
Thomas: Your launch party is a great opportunity to sell your author copies, which you bought at a great price, for full retail price.
The launch party is also emotionally rewarding. If nobody comes, nobody knows that nobody came. It’s very safe to fail.
The surprising thing about writing for your “Timothy,” or your target reader, is that it’s not exclusionary.
The fact that you have a red dot on the middle of the target actually makes people want to be a part of it.
If you put the velvet rope in front of the door, suddenly, more people want to go through the door. Writing for a specific reader gives your writing clarity, but it also makes it appealing in a powerful way.
People don’t want to be excluded or feel left out, so even if they’re not in your stated target audience, they still want to read.
C.J.: It’s true. The diversity of readers emailing, commenting, and leaving reviews has been the most surprising part of the process. Many of them say they’ve read it in two days. It’s a long book.
I even had an 11-year-old reader who was younger than my target. It’s a clean book, so moms are willing to let their kids read it, and they’re devouring it.
None of that was in my head when I wrote the book. I wrote for the teen to 20-something girls who struggle with depression and need hope in this crazy world.
Thomas: Speaking on behalf of the population who’s not a teenage girl, I can tell you they don’t have the market on depression and anxiety.
Depression and anxiety are common ailments. Many people are struggling. A book that provides a solution or even a short hiatus can be a lifesaver.
What have you learned about growing an email list of young people?
Thomas: I get a lot of pushback from YA novelists when I push email list growth as a strategy. They say that kids use social media instead of email.
What have you observed? Do your readers use email?
C.J.: I used to think the same thing, but I’ve found that if they care about something, they will open and respond to their email.
I’m personally shocked. But even yesterday, I spoke at a homeschool event and talked with a 14-year-old girl afterward.
When her mom found out I had an email list, she said, “Oh, I’ll have her sign up for it. She’s going to absolutely love getting emails from you.”
I thought, “Oh wow. She’s 14, and her mom’s saying she’ll read my emails.”
The challenge is to find ways to make sure they care about what’s in the email.
Teens want to know you care about them. If I can communicate that I write because I want them to experience hope in their crazy lives, they can sense I care, and they’re ready to hear what I have to say.
Thomas: Having a clearly defined audience helps you write the kind of email they want to open. You’re not writing a generic email to generic readers. You’re writing an email for teenage girls, and that audience will influence your voice and topic. If the topic isn’t interesting to a teenage girl, don’t send it!
If they get used to receiving interesting emails from you, they’ll look forward to reading them as soon as they get them.
What were the results of your book launch?
Thomas: You followed the recommendations and did the work. What kind of results did you see during those first weeks after the book was released?
C.J.: I was blown away because I had wondered if my Kickstarter backers were the only ones who would buy. However, I hit Number-One Bestseller in multiple categories of new releases.
I was most excited when a friend sent me a screenshot of my book listed at #7 right under a Brandon Sanderson book. My mind was blown.
I couldn’t believe it. I asked people to type in keywords to search for my book, and my book started ranking on the first page of search results. Even if you looked up very general keywords grandmas might use, like “teen and young adult books,” my book was coming up on the first page. It worked. Books were selling, and people were excited and leaving reviews.
The fruit was born after all the time of sowing the seed.
That faithfulness to do the little things paid off in the end.
Thomas: That’s another technique we teach in the Book Launch Blueprint. If your launch team members buy your book, you can leverage their search to amplify your search ranking on Amazon’s search engine.
Listen to my interview with Dave Chesson to learn more about How to Rank in Amazon’s Search Results.
I’m not surprised by your success. When you went through the Book Launch Blueprint, you attended every session of office hours, which is our Q&A portion. You had a question every day, and you got your money’s worth from the course.
Where you sow, there you will reap. And if you sow abundantly, you’ll reap abundantly. If you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll see the results.
What would you do again next time, and what would you do differently?
C.J.: I’d do all the things we’ve talked about, which are the basics. I’d do everything you teach in Book Launch Blueprint.
One thing I’d do differently is to make sure all the technical issues are ironed out before launch day. I had a major tech issue with Ingram Spark, and since it was an upload issue, it really affected things on launch day.
I also wish I had set up more podcast guesting and interviews. As it was coming down to the wire, I was getting the final details ready for launch, and I didn’t want to spend that time pitching podcasts.
When you pitch a podcast, you have to listen to get a feel for the show and the host. Then you must write a quality pitch to each podcast host. I didn’t have time for that. Next time, I will work on that much further in advance. I want to have some podcast interviews set up or pre-recorded to release during the launch.
Thomas: You might consider researching and pitching podcasts now. If you give a great interview, they’ll say, “Come back anytime! Let us know when your next book is out.” Then, a year from now, when your next book comes out, they’ll be happy to have you as a returning guest.
That strategy gives you a soft invite. You won’t have to listen to another episode and put together a special pitch. You can just say, “Hey Joe, it was great to talk to you a few months ago. I finally have a release date for my book.”
Then Joe will say, “Great! Let’s record it on such and such, and I’ll publish it around your release.”
That kind of friendly pitch only happens after you nail the first interview, but you can do that first interview any time. You can check out my episode on How to Get Booked as a Podcast Guest.
Now that you’re a published author, you can pitch Christian or religious podcasts that target teenage girls or their parents on a variety of topics.
The constellation of potential podcasts is pretty large for you.
C.J.: Yes. I wish I had done more of that further in advance, so that’s a great idea.
Next time I will also space out my Kickstarter and my launch. For this launch, they were only three and a half months apart. That window was a bit tight, especially since it was my first time doing both.
Until you actually experience it, you don’t know how exhausting it is to fulfill a Kickstarter. I would like to give myself a little more breathing room so that when the launch comes, I can just walk through those doors instead of having to build the door and open it first.
Thomas: Yes, I agree. Spacing out your Kickstarter and launch is a bit more rewarding for your readers, too. The perk of backing the Kickstarter is getting to read the book early. If readers get it a week early, that’s not much of a perk. But if they get to read it several months before everyone else, that makes them feel special.
And that whole time, the non-backers will know they can’t read yet because they didn’t back the Kickstarter.
This year I created a Crowdfunding space on AuthorMedia.social. Authors discuss the logistics of their campaigns in real-time. They ask one another questions and report results. In the questions and answers of the threads, you can find a whole mini-course where people are helping each other out.
When does your next book release?
C.J.: I’d love to run my Kickstarter early in 2023 so that I can release it six months later. I hope that will give me more breathing room this time around.
Thomas: If you want to watch the crowdfunding and launching of a book in real-time, I encourage you to visit C.J.’s website and subscribe to her email newsletter to see how she does it and back her Kickstarter campaign.
If you Google “How to Launch a Book,” you’ll get over 500 million results. That’s a problem.
Because how do you know which sites will give sage advice and which ones are wannabes?
You can’t afford to spend your time (or money) on programs that are little more than wishful thinking. You need proven strategies that will launch your book into the stratosphere successfully.
That’s precisely why we created the Book Launch Blueprint.
The Book Launch Blueprint is a 28-day, interactive course developed by Novel Marketing host Thomas Umstattd Jr. (that’s me!) and Christy Hall of Fame author James L. Rubart.
You will learn exactly what you must do to make your book launch a resounding triumph.
Learn more at BookLaunch.fun
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