The importance of book launches in the digital age

Authors, editors and other book-minded people talk a lot about the importance of book launches. There is a lot of pressure on authors to launch your book strong right out of the gate with lots of coverage, favorable reviews and word-of-mouth momentum.

But we don't really talk about why book launches are important. And the truth is, they aren't as important as they once were. Before eBooks came on the scene, books were sold almost exclusively on the shelves of book stores. And there are way more books than shelf space. So if you wanted your book to claim space for longer than a few years, you needed a strong launch to keep sales coming in and your book face out on the shelf.

Today eBooks make up a large part of the market and that share grows daily. So it would be easy to assume that launches aren't important. Afterall, virtual bookshelf space is unlimited. Your novel will never get pulled because the newest batch of releases are about to hit. With eBooks, some of the pressure of the big launch has been lifted.

Some, not all.

Because book launches are still hugely important and here's why:

Algorithms rule the world
Regardless of your opinion of Amazon, they are the biggest mover of books in the US. They have a recommendation system that hasn't been duplicated and can't pick out the next best seller like a blood hound on the the trail. And that means your Amazon rank matters. A book with lots of reviews right away does better in the ranking. A book with sustained sales that build over time is going to fair better than one that spikes suddenly and then falls off just as sharply.

While no one completely understands the algorithms (because Amazon doesn't share them), we have deduced a few things. We know that it takes fewer books sales to maintain a rank than it does to gain a rank. This means that even though my sales may dip down on occasion, it takes several days of reduced sales to show up in my rankings. This is because I was able to build up my sales and then keep them steady for the most part. Amazon rewards my sales stability with a stable ranking and that makes it easier for them to include me in their recommendation engine.

Everyone's a braggart on launch day
There is a limit to how much you can talk about your own book on social media. Except the week of your launch. Everyone is pretty much given a pass to be borderline obnoxious in talking about their book in the week it comes out.

But that's it. You've got one week to squawk all you want before people start tuning you out, or worse, un-following you. While your marketing plan is going to last much longer than a week, those first seven days will be your best opportunity to share your work with the most people. There is no redo on that one. If you don't use it appropriately, you don't get a redo after a few months. So don't waste those precious release week passes.

Hard core marketing isn't sustainable
I love marketing. It gets my heart pumping and my creative juices flowing. But even I get burn-out. Launching a book is exhausting. There are so many moving pieces of getting a book out on the market and then you add marketing on top of that. It's a lot of work, and not something you can keep doing forever. Eventually you have to level out, get back to writing and get ready to launch the next book. Ideally, we'll all have long happy careers with lots of books out there for people to read. But that means more books to market and more readers to find and interact with. We can't keep marketing the same books over and over.

You can always run promotions, create ads or other marketing strategies, but time won't allow you to market all your books all the time. You'll need a strong launch to build momentum that will carry your novel through times when it isn't getting much of your marketing attention.

A huge launch doesn't guarantee your book's success and you aren't doomed if your launch was less than thrilling (more on this later). But a successful launch has rewards that still make it worth your time and effort.