Marketing a new release that comes late in a series is often different from marketing a standalone or early series book, yet the goals are similar: catch readers’ attention and build a loyal fan base. To provide our readers with insights on the challenges (and opportunities!) of marketing a new series release, we interviewed Julianne MacLean about how she marketed The Color of the Season, the seventh book in her The Color of Heaven series. She was kind enough to provide an extremely thorough account of how she marketed this book, as well as the results — positive or not. This is a must-read interview for authors and book marketers.
Julianne is a USA Today bestselling author who has written 20 historical romance novels, including the bestselling Highlander Trilogy with Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press and her popular Pembroke Palace Series with Avon/HarperCollins. She self-published The Color of Heaven series, and the first novel in that series was a USA Today bestseller in 2013. You can follow her on BookBub here.
What were your goals for the book launch of The Color of the Season?
My goal is always the same — to grow a large contemporary fiction readership — the keyword being “grow.” To me, that means growing your readership from one book to the next, and continuing to build it with regular new releases. So with this book, I wanted to sell at least as many copies as the previous book, but preferably more, to achieve an upward trajectory.
What marketing did you implement prior to this book’s release?
My new release marketing and promo plan has become a well-oiled machine, and I do a lot of the same things with every book. This is what I did for The Color of the Season prior to its release:
1. Pre-order: I made it available for pre-order with an excerpt, cover art, and live purchase link at the back of the previous book, and I made sure that link was live on launch day of the previous book. It’s especially important to include the purchase link for your next book in your back matter on release day because that’s when you will be selling at peak levels. I can’t stress enough how important it is to capture your readers and hold on to them at the moment of their happy sigh when they come to the end of your wonderful story. If you wait until later to set up your next book for pre-order and add the purchase link to your back matter, you’ll be leaving a lot of readers without an easy click-button to your next book. And those pre-orders really add up over time. Don’t let them be lost sales.
2. Cover reveal: I always get my covers done months in advance and post them on my website’s Coming Soon page, in my newsletter, and on social media (and of course in the back matter of the newest book, with the all-important live purchase link!). For The Color of the Season, I also created a few inspiring, shareable graphics with the new art and a quote from the book to tease readers and arouse interest. I posted these on social media.
3. Social media: I maintained a consistent presence on social media, even when I wasn’t pushing my new book. Building that following each and every day served me well when the time came to get out my megaphone and tell everyone about my new release.
4. Book trailer: I don’t usually do book trailers, but I was inspired to do one for The Color of the Season because it was a Christmas book and I wanted to do something a little extra. I posted the trailer on Facebook, YouTube, and Goodreads a few weeks prior to release. In terms of results, the success of it is difficult to measure, and I think there are better ways to spend your marketing dollars for a book launch, but it was fun and I’m glad I have at least one trailer for the series. It’s still out there as a marketing tool, handy for every future holiday season.
5. Discounting: One big thing I did differently for The Color of the Season was to discount it during the pre-order period and launch week to try and increase unit sales for a better showing on release day, in order to try and hit a major bestseller list. I promoted the special pre-order price heavily in my newsletter, on social media, and I even bought a few ads on some popular romance sites. Interestingly, I did not see a substantial increase in units sold compared to pre-order sales levels at full price, so I lost a lot of money by having the pre-order at the lower price, and I didn’t hit any of the big lists. It was an interesting experiment — and I do love to experiment — but I will not discount a pre-order book again. Of course, hitting a list would be lovely, but I don’t want that goal to take priority over my bottom line.
6. Advertising: The upside of having the book discounted during launch week was that I was able to book ads with ebook websites that only accept discounted books.
7. Blog tour: I did a blog tour with book giveaways that was arranged by an online service for a fee.
How did you market your book on launch day?
For The Color of the Season, because it was discounted, I was able to arrange ads for release week, but normally it’s difficult to find sites that are willing to promote full-priced books. My current strategy is to discount a previous book in the series on release day and try to get a BookBub Featured Deal to run on that day or soon after. (I don’t run it before release day, because readers love instant gratification, and you want your new book to be available when your ad runs.) I arrange this 30 days in advance of the release, and I also book a number of ads on other promo sites for both the new release and the discounted book to keep the momentum going. I put as much effort into promoting the discounted backlist book as I do the new release. I’m always promoting two books during launch week.
I also sent out a newsletter to my subscribers on release day.
With The Color of the Season, since it was the holidays, I hosted a Facebook launch party with ebook giveaways. It attracted lots of readers and we all had a great time and it improved my reach on Facebook that week, but I didn’t see a significant increase in sales. For that reason, I don’t always do a Facebook party for every launch. If I do it, it’s mostly for fun and to give back to my readers.
To be honest, I don’t do much else on launch day, because all the work has already been done in advance. I just watch the numbers and respond to reader emails and pay attention to social media (as much as I do every day) — and get back to writing the next book.
How did you continue the momentum in the weeks following your book’s launch?
At this point, I am mostly concerned with getting the next book written, so I rely on word-of-mouth, and I arrange another $0.99 sale on a different book in my backlist to run about a month later. As a general practice, I discount a backlist book for one week and promote it through BookBub and other advertising sites every 30 days. This keeps my entire series floating high between new releases. I consider this part of my marketing strategy for the new release because it brings in new readers who may go on to buy the newest book. It all works together.
Of course, in order to do this, you need a sizeable backlist in your series, so as always, the best advice about how to market a new release is to keep writing and building your catalogue, so that you have enough titles to play with in between releases.
What did you find was the most effective way to garner new reviews?
Making a book free is probably the fastest way to get reviews, but you don’t want to do that with your new release. In the past, I’ve relied on a very small team of special, dedicated readers who I send advanced reader copies (ARCs) to as soon as I have my book copyedited. I found them by putting out a call to my entire newsletter list, where I asked for volunteers willing to post reviews during release week. In order to qualify to receive an ARC from me, they had to send me a link to a previous review they’d written for any of my backlist books, because I didn’t want to give away books to anyone who raised their hand.
I also include a letter to readers in the back of all my books, and I say something like this in the body of the letter: If you enjoyed this book, please consider leaving a review at Goodreads or your favorite online retailer to help others discover it. (A live link to your book on Goodreads doesn’t hurt.)
Other than this, I simply wait for the reviews to trickle in organically, over time, and they always do. I’m a big believer in the slow build. I work hard to do everything I can for immediate results, but I am patient and I believe a good book, over time, will do a lot of the work for you through word-of-mouth.
Which marketing tactic do you think had the biggest impact on book sales?
I think everything I did played a part and it all added up to something great. But if I had to identify the most effective thing: having the pre-order available for as long as possible always results in a lot of sales that are credited to me on release day. (And this is supported by the all-important excerpt and purchase link in the back of the previous release.) Also, my current strategy of a BookBub ad for a free or discounted backlist book on release day really boosts sales and exposure of the new title. Promoting two books at once creates a bigger splash in the marketplace.
Which marketing tactic had the least impact?
My experiment with discounting The Color of the Season during the pre-order period didn’t yield the results I’d hoped for, which taught me that my readership is not overly price-sensitive. (Although a BookBub ad might have made a difference. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get one for that book during release week.)
Considering the fee I paid to the blog tour organizer and the number of blogs that participated in my giveaway, it was not a good investment.
How did you measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts?
I always watch my sales numbers during release month and compare them to the previous books. If I do something different, I try to identify if it caused a bump — or not. Unfortunately, a lot of what we do can’t be measured, because resulting sales from some newly applied strategy might not happen right away. A reader might need to see your book cover and description 10 times before he or she finally clicks the purchase button. So I keep doing everything I can, on a daily basis, just to keep my books out there.
What did you find was the biggest difference between marketing a later book in a series and marketing the first book in the series?
Marketing the first book in a series is, without a doubt, a tough slog and can be very discouraging for a new writer starting from scratch. You really have to hang in there and never stop believing, and keep writing new books, hone your craft, and try to make each new book better than the last. It will get easier to promote when you have more books in the same series and you can make the first one free.
Also, by the time you get to a later book in the series, your readership will have grown organically, so you’ll get better results from many of your marketing tools — like your newsletter list, which will have grown as well if you put the effort in all along. And by then you’ll have more followers on social media, etc. It’s also easier to convince new readers to give you a try when you have a decent-sized backlist and lots of reviews, which will happen over time if you’re writing good books. A decent-sized backlist and a social media following will show readers — and online retailers — that you are a growing concern and an author to invest in.
What do you wish you knew now that you didn’t know when you started marketing this book?
This applies to my career as a whole, but I wish I had known to write more books in the same series faster, rather than dropping a series after three or four books and moving on to something else, which is what I did when I was published traditionally. I think a lot of authors give up too soon on a series or simply get bored and switch gears, when they might be better off going deep, not wide. I’m writing Book 10 in my The Color of Heaven series now, and every day my readership grows a little bigger. I also have plenty of options to discount and promote the backlist titles on a regular basis. All of this fuels the marketing possibilities for the new release.
I think it’s important to remember that everything you do in between new releases (i.e. promotion and especially writing the next book) matters as much as — if not more than — what you do on launch day.
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