Making Your Book Launch Stand Out

I’m always too busy to do book launches, but I know they are important—just one of those things I shake my head at, wishing I had the time and knew the best way to go about doing one. Last year I watched my blogger friend Angela Ackerman (The Bookshelf Muse) launch her nonfiction writing craft book The Emotion Thesaurus—a compilation and expansion on many months’ posts on how writers can show characters expressing emotion (showing, not telling, which is so important). I joined in on some of the fun the week of the launch and helped by tweeting and posting about her book. One year after launch, she’s sold more than 20,000 copies, so I asked her to share what she did and how writers can launch their books successfully. What interested me particularly was how and why she decided to self-publish. Here’s her post:

A book release is both exciting and terrifying. When my coauthor Becca Puglisi and I launched The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression, we seesawed between euphoria and dread. Two writers, unpublished and unproven, launching a self published “how-to” book about writing? How could we possibly compete with books like Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel, Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, or an arsenal of popular writing books from Writer’s Digest?

Back in May 2012, a lot of friction between the traditional industry and self-publishing existed, so Becca and I had barriers to work past. And, to break into a market dominated by heavy hitters, we needed a BIG book launch. We ended up surviving on coffee, trail mix dinners and too little sleep, but when the dust settled, our launch brought over 10,000 visitors to our blog and gave our book exposure beyond imagining. And we did all this by mentioning our book’s release on our blog only ONCE.

Yes, you read that right. One time. Read on to find out how!

Marry Your BRAND To Your Book Launch

Becca and I had no idea how to launch our book at first. It wasn’t fiction, so the usual gamut of teasers and trivia and swag-like giveaways wouldn’t work for us. Worse, Becca and I are TERRIBLE when it comes to pointing attention at ourselves. Some people are naturally confident and can rouse excitement about book purchasing . . . yeah, not us. Direct “buy my book” promotion made us feel like we were selling timeshares.

Promotion had us stumped until we began thinking about how our brand could work with our book launch. Becca and I have worked hard to try and bring good content to the writing community through our blog The Bookshelf Muse. We are known as “Writers Helping Writers,” and so we decided to launch our book authentically, we needed to stay true to that.

Create An IDEA That Stands Alone

All of us have seen a million book launches, haven’t we? People utilize social media and create Facebook & Goodreads events to coordinate cover reveals and Twitter blasts and blog tours and giveaways. Some create a theme around their tour that ties into the genrehosting a “First Kiss” blog hop for a YA romance for example. Others go with the “Book Cover & Blurb” exposure on as many blogs as possible on the same day.

The thing is, everyone is doing this. And with so many books being released into the wild each day, launches start to blur together. To make your book launch command attention, start with a unique idea that fits your brand and offers something NEW to your potential readers and network connections. Make them want to pay attention!

Becca and I believe kindness makes the world go round, so we decided to build a launch that embraced this and fit our brand. Random Acts of Kindness for Writers was born! However, to make this event truly altruistic we made the choice to sideline our book and focus instead on celebrating writers. It was a risk, but we love the writing community and so promoting it rather than a book gave us something to get excited about. By making our “book launch” be about embracing the concept of gratitude for our fellow writers, we managed to stand out!

We went a step further and found sponsors within the publishing community, and asked if they would donate RAOK prizes that writers could win on our blog. All we did was contact writer-focused companies like Scrivener, Writer’s Digest, Auto Crit, and Query Tracker and explained our idea of using the excitement for our book release to celebrate writers. So many people loved this concept that we ended up with over $1500 in prizes! It was amazing to see how generous the publishing industry could be, and how they too wanted to show their appreciation for writers.

Build An ARMY

Our goal was to create a RAOK initiative that would move forward on its own momentum and last a week. To light the “spark,” we put out a call on our blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and to newsletter subscribers, telling them Becca and I had a secret idea and needed help. We asked people to sign up by form if they wanted to hear more. It was a big risk to ask people to commit to something without knowing what it was, but we wanted RAOK to “blitz” the writing community, and that meant keeping things quiet. Those who signed up got an email outlining the project of singling out a writer and performing a RAOK for them–maybe giving them a small gift, or featuring them on their blog to raise their profile, or perhaps to offer to beta read or critique their work. People who were interested stayed on our email list, leaving us with about 100 participants. On release day they blogged (or Facebook-blitzed) a writer with a RAOK, and the whole community was flooded with goodwill as news spread.

We didn’t just want people to notice our eventwe wanted to inspire them to act! Becca and I wanted to prove that kindness was contagious and sure enough, as the week wore on, more and more people were joining in and performing a RAOK to someone they knew. We have a Pinterest board with some of the people who joined up, and hundreds of writers were given RAOK that week.

Think EXPOSURE, not Sales

So, our RAOK Blitz was a great success . . . but if we sidelined our book, then how did it help us? Simple: exposure. Becca and I have a blog filled with unique writing content and a book that is unlike anything else out there. So by focusing on drawing people to our blog where our book is featured, we allowed discoverability to happen. We trusted that our audience would find content that they needed, and stick around. This is exactly what happened.

Offer VALUE To Readers

To further allow for exposure, Becca and I crafted a free booklet called Emotion Amplifiers that is similar to The ET book. While The Emotion Thesaurus covers how to show character emotion through body language, thoughts and visceral sensations, this booklet covers conditions that “amplify” a character’s emotional state (Pain, Stress, Hunger, Illness, Inebriation, Attraction, etc.) In this free PDF, we included links to The Emotion Thesaurus and encouraged everyone who visited to take a copy if they felt it might be useful to them.

The “power of free” is a contentious topic these days as Kindle Select becomes less effective. But if you create something that is specific to your audience’s likes and needs, the discoverability factor is powerful indeed.

So, how did it all pan out? Did it provide a strong kick-start or simply create a bump in sales that soon went flat?

I’m happy to report that we’ve now sold over 25,000 books since May 2012 (without free promotions through Kindle Select). We have sold in every country Amazon, Kobo and B & N can reach, and two months after our book launched, the University of Illinois made the ET required reading for their Creative Writing Program. Yes, the ET went to university!

The Emotion Thesaurus has over 200 reviews on Amazon and has topped several best-seller lists as well as the Most Wished For and Highest Rated Lists. It has been an amazing experience to see how this tool has helped writers, and Becca and I are so glad we decided to turn our idea into a book.


Angela Ackerman is one half of The Bookshelf Muse blogging duo, and coauthor of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression. Listing the body language, visceral reactions and thoughts associated with seventy-five different emotions, this brainstorming guide is a valuable tool for showing, not telling, emotion. Follow Angela on Twitter!


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  1. Thanks for giving us an insight into how you made all that happen.

    I think I might even have a copy of Emotion Amplifiers somewhere on my computer. I didn’t realise at the time that it was part of something much bigger.

    You’ve given me some great points to think about as I plan for my release.

    Thank you for being so generous and caring so much about the writing community.

  2. Jessica, happy some of this helps! It seems that with the rise of self publishing, each day there are more and more book releases, cover reveals, contests and promotion drives on our social media air waves. So much of this turns to noise and people get tired of seeing it. For us to stand out, we need to be innovative. Understanding who our ideal audience is and what will draw their interest can help us when we brainstorm unique ideas for a book launch. 🙂 Good luck on your release!

  3. Congratulations, Angela, on ET’s success. I bought my copy unaware of your RAOK promotion, but that was a brilliant way to promote your book release without “shamelessly promoting” the book.

    1. Becca and I aren’t very good at head on marketing, but we know that discoverability was super important. I loved RAOK because it gave us a way to get excited about an event and the idea of celebrating others rather than feeling like we were pushing ourselves. 🙂

      Thanks for giving the ET a try–I hope it’s a helpful tool for you as you write! 🙂

  4. Yes, the idea was great. When I saw the cover and what it would cover, I had to buy it the same day and I did.
    I didn’t use it yet since I’m character driven. But I looked through it. It’s a nice addition to my collection

    Let me know who did the cover. It worked so well. You could email me the info. I so much appreciate it.

    Thank you,

    Anna Labno

    1. Anna, we love the cover too! Our cover designer is Scarlett Rugers–I’ll email you her name as well, and i highly recommend her. She’s the most professional designer I’ve come across, and really makes sure she knows what the writer wants before getting started.

  5. Great post! I found this book without ever knowing Angela or finding her through her launch. I think I saw it at FB or Twitter and decided to check it out. But once I bought it as an ebook and read it, I knew I needed to hold it and keep it next to me while writing, so I bought the hard copy. I blogged about it and have recommended it to many people. Yes, her launch probably worked wonders, but writing a book that people need was and is an important part of the sales, too. Well done!
    Random Writing Rants

  6. I’m a huge fan of The Emotion Thesaurus – I use it all the time and I recommend it to writers wherever I can.
    So I’m thrilled to find Emotion Amplifiers through this post – I’ve not come across it before – have just gone to your website and downloaded it – thanks! 🙂
    Having just launched my own blog, and having a book to bring out this summer I don’t think I’ll be trying your launch plan (not at all sure what I’m going to do yet), but wow, what a great idea, thanks for sharing.
    PS I’ve been a timeshare sales rep…

    1. Deborah, I am so glad you found your way to the Emotion Amplifier PDF. I hope it helps you too! And too funny that you used to sell timeshares…I actually have one myself. Some reps are good–respectful and not pushy, but others are down right scary!

  7. Thanks for posting this, it really got me to thinking about my upcoming launch.

    It also made me try to remember where I first heard about your terrific book. I don’t recall but I’d bet it was from Ms. Lakin’s blog. I’m glad I bought it. Whenever the pace of my writing slows, I pull it out and just wander around through it.

    Peace, Seeley

    1. I feel lucky to have found Suzanne’s blog too. She is incredibly knowledgeable and has her own writing book on the go. It’s fabulous and I can’t wait for it’s release.

  8. Awesome how successful your book launch was. And I really loved how you did it. It’s true that you have to offer something of value when you’re promoting a book, not just saying buy my book. For fiction books, targeted giveaways not all directed at the same group of friends can work well. But there’s a lot of competition, you’re right. Thanks for sharing your advice.

    1. I agree, I think fiction books are more difficult to launch because of the competition, so the discoverability factor is even more important. Using giveaways to get a kick start of reviews will help that word-of-mouth.

  9. I’ll be ordering a copy of The ET book. It sounds like a great way to learn how to deepen my characters. For book launches, I also found the book APE: Author Publisher Entrepreneur to be very interesting and helpful, especially as a first time book author.

    1. I have heard a lot about APE–thanks for the recommendation. I will have to check it out. And thanks for giving the ET a try too. I hope it helps you brainstorm stronger emotional description! 🙂

  10. Angela, thanks so much for dropping in and sharing and responding to the comments. Almost every day I get RTs on my Twitter tweets about your book saying they love it or just bought it. There is a wonderful joy that comes with knowing you are providing something useful to writers that help them become better at what they do. Thanks so much for the great post and when I get ready to launch my two writing craft books, I’m going to work on coming out with a similar launch!

    1. Thank you for being such a wonderful advocate of our book and for your friendship! I love logging into twitter and seeing tweets from those who have discovered The Emotion Thesaurus! I can’t wait for your book to get the go ahead–as I said before, it’s excellent!

  11. Glad you two thought to publish The Emotion Thesaurus. It’s a valuable addition to any writer’s resources. I just purchased it and look forward to using it.

  12. Your article has inspired me to examine how this model can be applied to a novel. I look forward to reading your book! Claudia

  13. Hey Angela! Your launch was amazing. I was gifted a mug from a fellow blogger, painted with one of my favourite lines from my favourite book. It was so lovely. So I guess, I have you to thank for that! 🙂

    I have a question. Would you do it again for a second book? Or would you advise on only doing something this big for a debut?

    1. Hi Jess! It is hard to say, and I think it depends on the person, and the goals. There are a lot of things to take into consideration–do you have the time and energy to create an event like this a second time? Do you need to, considering that you now have an audience in place? Do you want to do a big event again?

      I can’t answer for other people, but for me personally, a creative approach is something I’ll always hook into any marketing I do. I can say this Blitz was a lot of work–a lot. More work followed as we gave ourselves to blog guest posting for the next 4 months. For our next book, we’ll be doing something true to our brand, something we believe in and can get excited about. But will it be as big, as grande? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know if I can bring about that kind of power a second time. So much of it depends on others, and if they can get behind the idea of the celebration. 🙂

      I don’t think a person needs to do a big blow out launch for a second book unless they want to. As long as whatever they decide to do is genuine, that’s all that matters. Authors should look at what their strengths are, and how to utilize them. One strength a person has for a second book is a built in audience looking forward to the book 2. This means a lot of enthusiastic reviewers, and we all know how important those first few are. If you look up The Emotion thesaurus on Amazon, the reviews that are most visible because they have the most ‘X found this helpful’ on them are the very first reviews to come in. I am lucky they were good reviews!

      Getting copies into the hands of reviewers and asking them to blog about the book or share it with others they network with if they enjoyed it is really a great way to fire up a follow up book launch. Pairing this with a sale of book 1 is also a smart choice. Cross promotion with a book like your own is smart too, because then hopefully your book will show up under theirs as “customers who bought X also bought” on Amazon. Both authors end up with more exposure. 🙂

      I hope this answers your question!

  14. I too have decided to abandon the traditional road to publication. I recently self published 2 books, one of them about writing, and the other inspirational poetry. I am unknown as a writer, and I have only been published in very limited niches.
    Thank you for your insights and for sharing your success story7. I like your RAOK idea.

    1. HI Bill,

      congrats on getting your work into the hands of readers. I am in both worlds…SP my non fiction and trying to publish fiction traditionally. This is simply strategy as I feel it is easier for me to build an audience in my genre by going the traditional route. That said, there are some books that went to acquisitions a few times and then died there…these books I’ll self publish before letting them rot in a drawer.

      I am very grateful to Amazon for making SP a viable option for all of us. So many wonderful books are seeing the light of day, and that is a good thing.

  15. What an inspiring, helpful, post. You found a way to offer value to others and good things followed for you and your book. I am always amazed at how good marketing reteaches lessons I learned in Sunday school.

    I have a book launch in September. Hope I can take your good example to heart. And come up with some equally creative solution to how to overcome the noise.

  16. O.K, easy question? maybe

    I’m writing a book 15 years in the making to keep children from never to try tobacco, in a 20-minute read. This will be my 4th book. Due out in Sept. I read to over 200 kids. Back then they were 10 years old. But now they’re 24.

    I have a video and original notes – they stated they would never try from listening to my story when read too. I was thinking of maybe announcing at this city’s hall meeting here in Calif. To see if I really made a difference? I’m also a school custodian of 25 years so far. This city I lived in for 22 years way back, but not anymore. Question: Should I do as a book launch or a part of?

  17. Hi Angela I have only just found your blog and am inspired. I have just self-published my first book “Faces and Footsteps” and have had my first launch on the 1st March 2014. It was scary as I wasn’t sure how things would go or really how to draw the crowds but it was a hit and now with your tips I am so ready for the next one.

    Thank you
    Morag Wade Mackay

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