Publishers Launch

ISLANDERS by John BarlowA traditional book launch, at least in my experience, is a pretty nerve-wracking affair. You wait to hear whether the pre-publication orders are good, and a week or two prior to the launch itself you get the Publishers Weekly and Kirkus reviews. If you’re lucky you also get some early reviews in newspapers and magazines. For most books, that’s probably the high-point. Because few books gain any real traction immediately after their release, although of course this is exactly what is needed if your book is to remain on the shelves of bookstores for more than a month or two.

[ANECDOTE. When my first book was out in the UK, a beautiful hard back, my partner went into a large branch of Waterstones in London and asked for it. ‘Oh, yes,’ the guy said, ‘we have it in the storeroom. We didn’t think it was going to sell, so we didn’t put it out.’ This was on the very day of its launch.]

When I self-published my crime novel HOPE ROAD in December last year, I tried hard to get traction. It was only out as an eBook, so I mailed a lot of bloggers, and got some pretty good coverage. I did a number of guest posts and interviews, and got reviews and features in some decent crime fiction sites, including ones that don’t typically take eBooks and/or self-published works.

It did OK, but six months later the book was floundering. Monthly sales were around 50 copies, and I thought I’d made a serious mistake going indie. The trad mentality had obviously rubbed off on me, and because the book had not flown in the first months after its publication, I considered it a flop. I had forgotten that eBooks don’t die.

Anyway, with little to lose I enrolled the book in Amazon’s Select Program a month ago. Five ‘free’ days later I had 54,000 downloads worldwide, and since then the novel has had around 3,000 sales and ‘borrows’. Many of these have been in the UK, where the book is set, and which is the book’s natural home market. At the time of writing it’s #260 in the overall rankings on

The lesson from this, I think, is that I need to think longer term. Indies need to believe in the books they write, and to stop looking at things from the perspective of a nervous editor fearful for his or her job.


Last week I published a new YA novel, ISLANDERS. I *really* believe in this one! It’s taken over five years to finish, and in that time it’s been my special MS, the one I kept coming back to (but never quite finished). Well, it is now.

With ISLANDERS I can’t jump straight into Select, because that route seems to work best if a book already has a good number of positive reviews. So here’s what I’ve done for the launch (critiques, comments, laughter welcome):

1. FLYER. Rather than bombard bloggers with free, unsolicited copies of the ebook, I sent them a flyer, rather like a trad publisher might. Here it is:

Was this a good idea? I dunno. Perhaps I should have simply have sent all potential blogs an ebook at the outset. What do you gain by being reticent and stand-offish? Any thoughts?

2. PRICING. I want this book to stand up next to the best in the category, so I’m trying the fairly ambitious price of $4.99. The cover looks fantastic–the designer currently does some of Stephen King’s books in the UK and he’s great–so why price it low? However, ebooks being what they are I also wanted to try and see if I could get a quick take-off with sales. With that in mind the book is at 99cts through November on Kobo and Amazon, the only two retailers where I can control the price directly and quickly. Perhaps I’ll revisit the pricing issue. Again, I just don’t know. Your 2cts welcome…

3. BLOGS. I have about a dozen guest posts this weekend, to coincide with the launch, and the same number of interviews and reviews on other book blogs over the next week or two. And of course I will be taking advantage of an announcement post on Indies Unlimited. That really is the full extent of my publicity. I’ll tweet all of those, and the first three chapters are on Wattpad, although success here is pretty much dependent on you being highly interactive, and I just don’t have the time. I will make time for any future YA releases, because it’s a great site–just ask Margaret Atwood.

4. SOCIAL MEDIA. I know a lot of people who contribute to Indies Unlimited are enthusiastic FaceBookers, and there’s no doubt that it’s become a great place to talk about books. But I don’t feel comfortable doing endless promos for a book there. If I suddenly start jumping into book groups and communities that I’ve never participated in before, that’s going to look bad. It’s like inviting yourself into someone’s house then trying to sell them insurance. Should I establish a FB page for the novel? Perhaps I should. Would it help? Really? Evidence? (Okay, so I broke down and made a Facebook page at I have an entire TWO likes, and I’m one of them.)

5. LONG TERM. My experience with Select was positive. With ISLANDERS my aim is to get 20+ reviews and, if it by that stage sales have not taken off, do a free promotion on Amazon. In other words, I have a Plan B.

Well, that’s it. All thoughts welcome.


When I was about to publish HOPE ROAD last year, I commissioned a Spanish translation of the novel, in a fit of bullish optimism about self-publishing. I then forgot all about it. The finished translation has just arrived, together with a fairly hefty translator’s bill. So now I’m in the hole for that. The indie adventure continues…

ISLANDERS is available at all major ebook retailers, or at least it will be when they decide to review it. Until then it’s the bargain of the year on

Author: John Barlow

John Barlow writes both fiction and non-fiction, publishes occasional food journalism and also works as a ghost-writer. In addition, he is a translator, and has a side-line in eBooks for language learning. His John Ray / LS9 crime thriller series is currently exclusive to Amazon. If you'd like a review copy of The Communion of Saints, please contact John through his website.

8 thoughts on “Publishers Launch”

  1. John, I think your flyer is absolutely wonderful. What a great idea; it took hold and I definitely read it top to bottom. Sometimes, I’m guilty of skimming, but not in this case. This seems to be a better option than sending the ebook since it is concise and offers all the pertinent information. It is difficult coming up with ways to get noticed. Readers and bloggers are likely to pay attention and absorb more with your approach. I want to try the KDP select program but I don’t have enough reviews to give it a try. I do think the amount of downloads you can receive is worth it. Plan B’s are necessary; it seems you have a sound foundation–good luck with all your endeavors and thank you for sharing.

  2. I also like the flyer idea. Depending on how your write the accompanying email, I don’t think it is standoffish, it is just polite. Informative without being presumptuous.

  3. What a fantastic flyer. Good job John, and thanks for sharing your experiences. I’ve had a similar journey to yours this past year, in fact even our free download numbers are similar. And, my new book is due out in about two weeks. Select has been very good to me too and I know what you mean about having some reviews up there before running with it. I’m so close to uploading right now that I’m even having dreams about reviews. It’s quite a nerve-wracking deal isn’t it, wanting to get it out there but knowing that it’s best to wait until all your ducks are lined up.
    Good luck with your book, let’s hope both of us fly up those ranking charts.

  4. The brochure is a great idea. I agree about facebook, although I have gone there and made a book page for both my books. I don’t appreciate the share-me-like- me approach. I don’t participate in asking or liking things I haven’t read at least an excerpt from. A couple of years ago I was an innocent enjoying the process of writing. After taking two stories into an Indie run, I realize the vast distances between promotion and publishing. They are both stars light years apart and the jury’s out on intelligent life. You sound as if you have made a great contact list, which is, I believe, the difference between sending out a blind beacon or honing in on a signal. Being heard and seen is being read and known. Best of luck. Your novel sounds marvelous, so consider this comment a like.

  5. This is a great post, John. Re sending an entire ebook to bloggers, I’ve heard some bloggers say they consider that presumptuous — they’d rather receive an e-mail request first. So your flyer (which is great, btw!) is spot-on.

    Re fans for your FB page, now you’ve got 5. 🙂

    Good luck with your book launch! 🙂

  6. Excellent post, John, I like the flyer idea. I’ve just gone onto the Select program with one of my titles, to check it out; I was impressed with Martin’s success with Select and it’s nice to hear about another Select success story. I wish I had waited for the reviews but it’s early days yet and I am optimistically hopeful.

    It looks like you’ve made all the right initial moves anyway, John, and thank you for sharing; I wish you all the very best in your endeavours.

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