(Book) Launch Lessons Learned

The official day has come and gone — my debut mystery novel The Murderous Haircut of the Mayor of Bel Air was released into the wild to find homes on people’s shelves, phones, tablets or to be scrolled by on Twitter. I have no experience with this kind of thing, so I’m not certain how to measure success at all, but I did notice a few things that I thought I’d share, particularly around Apple Books. 

I’m doing that because, mostly, there isn’t a lot out there concerning marketing on Apple Books. Rightly so, the self-pub world is generally owned by Amazon/Kindle. Since I am a righteous idiot who is NOT publishing through Kindle, I’ve had to focus on every other channel, and Apple Books seemed to be the natural #2. Especially since, in America, it literally is #2. 

So first, some facts: I published 98% through IngramSpark, but handled Apple Books separately. This might seem like an overcomplicating, since Ingram will publish to Apple, but I thought this gave me more flexibility. I’m using Ingram to handle the wide reach to the rest of the planet, but using iTunesConnect and iTunes Producer were free options and didn’t add considerable amounts of time, so I went with it. 

Lesson 1: Reader Reviews on Apple Books Is Tricky. I had a plan to get some early reviews from friends and ARC’s together, so that come launch day, the major pages wouldn’t be blank. This proved relatively easy on Goodreads and B&N.com, but Apple Books… it’s gatekeepy. 

Firstly, Apple Books requires that the reviewer actually purchase the book. Not a huge deal, but different from the two other sites mentioned. I navigated this through a mix of sending promo codes out, or having generous friends who were willing to buy the book (thank you again). However, even after the readers posted their reviews, there’s a serious delay in seeing on-screen results. I actually ended up contacting Apple about this, and they confirmed that, yes, there’s a quality assurance process around reader-submitted reviews that can result in a 24-hour delay for reviews to post. Kind of wild. 

What’s really annoying about this is that if YOU went on Apple Books right now, you could try to post a review for a book you didn’t buy and the app wouldn’t give you a blatant “No.” It kinda just looks like the review is accepted, or disappears… just like if you had really bought the book and it actually WAS accepted. See? Wild. 

Lesson 2: Details In Your Description Count. Every creative person I know struggles with writing their product descriptions. You wanna sell without giving too much away and while not giving too little away. It’s a fine art that requires refining. 

But one thing I would definitely recommend is that you put in popular titles. For instance, mine starts off “one part “The Long Goodbye,” dabs of “Blanche on the Lam” and “Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie,” with just a little X-Men mixed in, too.” Not only is this a legit comparison, but it (apparently) has the added benefit of linking my book to those titles in Apple Book search engines. 

Search up “Blanche on the Lam” and see what comes up: 

PS: why only the audio book? Give Neely her due, man.

Same with “Sweetness… Pie” and “The Long Goodbye” (though truth be told, there are about 2 million books titled or related to that title, so you get a lot of noise in the search… but mine’s in there!

My point is that I’m going to try to get even more pinpointed with these choices in future books. In the meantime, I’m honored to share the screen with Barbara Neely’s work, even if I’m just a leech clinging to the side. 

Lesson 3: What ‘Sold Out’ Could Mean. This might be more seasonal than evergreen, but I think it’s worth explaining. The ever-resurgent pandemic has created delays in Ingram’s production. I still haven’t received a set of books I ordered in mid-August. In the lead up to my book’s release, I know a lot of people who pre-ordered it through B&N, as well as their local bookstores (thank you again). Some even did it through Target.com. I got a kick out of seeing the title appear on these major stores’ sites. 

So I was shocked when, about halfway through the day, both B&N and Target.com listed my book as “temporarily out of stock.” Observe:

What happened? It’s still early to tell, but I think it was a mix of things. 

1. It’s not like those stores were going to order 200 copies of my book to just have lying around. 

2. I think I did OK on marketing/guilting people into buying it, so they were eager to do I beyond the capacity at which these stores were prepared. 

3. See the earlier mention of a resource strain in Ingram’s production processes. It’s my theory that people who pre-ordered the book a few weeks ago were set to receive theirs on time, while those who ordered closer to the 9/1 release date were too late for that first batch. They’ll get theirs eventually (I hope!), but for now, I’m taking it as a win. We broke the big boys!

I’ll try to come up with more ideas to share later. 

Published by Phillip Mottaz

Writer, father, husband and fan of Batman, Star Wars and the Rolling Stones. I also have a Ramones Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/ramonesoftheday

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