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Why Every Debut Author Needs a Launch Team

This month’s blog post is a love letter to a group of people who I didn’t realize I needed as much as I do: my launch team.

Not to be confused with a *lunch* team (somehow, I mistype that every time and get so hungry for a bagel sandwich lol), a launch team is a group of people who can help an author birth a book out into the world.

I have only ever been on one launch team. It was about a year ago – a lovely author who I met on Twitter was getting ready for her first book’s release and she reached out within the Twitter community for volunteers to early-read and post reviews. I wanted to see what the experience would be like, so I signed up. She writes psychological thrillers, which are not typically my thing, but hers was really good! I read it quickly, wrote a glowing review, posted it on Goodreads and later, on her release day, I posted it on Amazon. And that was pretty much about it.

She sent out a few emails in connection with the launch team, so I received those. She also did a contest or two, as I recall. But I think most of the activity happened on Facebook, which I don’t have, so I wasn’t able to participate in any of that.

I took some loose notes on the experience at the time, in case I decided to put together my own launch team one day. I read a bunch of marketing books and blogs and didn’t see a whole lot about the idea… so I thought maybe it wasn’t that important. I began booking events, interviews, met with my publicist, etc. Nothing about a launch team came up.

Then the Netgalley Read Now happened in January and the Goodreads reviews started coming in (if you missed this part of the story, might I direct your attention to my blog post from last month), and I was a total fucking disaster, obsessing over reviews day in and day out from people who got the book for free and who may or may not even have known anything about it other than the cover was pink or the author’s name was unpronounceable.

You guys, I really, really try to be endlessly optimistic about this writing thing. I want this to be my career, so I serve literally no one if I spend my time bitching and moaning about the industry or about reviews or other things that keep me up at night. It’s better to focus on the value of hard work, of believing in myself, of the power of positive thinking and all the other tenets I try to impart to my children.

But sometimes those little voices get in your head and it’s really, really hard to get rid of them.

So, in a moment of genuine desperation – an attempt to cling to my sanity, if you will – I decided to put together a launch team.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to keep my writing life pretty private when it comes to friends and family. I think it’s kind of elusive – people know you’re “working on a book” but they don’t really understand what happens to your brain when you’re crafting a piece of fiction – how you live in this fully fabricated world that exists only in your mind, how the characters become real to you, how pieces of your past, or your present, or maybe even your future can sneak into your prose, forcing you to notice them. A story is an intimate look into the soul of its author, and some of the people I was most nervous to share my novel with are those closest to me. First, there’s the issue that lots of the people who I love don’t really like to read, and I didn’t need them feeling like they were doing me any favors by reading my book. Also, they range in age, and my sense of humor is pretty juvenile – so I didn’t want to offend or raise the eyebrows of anyone who I might consider an "elder." But I think the biggest concern I had was that I’d share my art with people and they’d judge me. Maybe not to my face, but to themselves, or worse – to each other.

Which, essentially, was the same thing I was facing on Goodreads – only this had the chance to be even worse, because those Goodreads people don’t know me. I don’t have to see them at Thanksgiving, you know? Our kids won’t have playdates together, I’ve never worked professionally with their families, and I won’t have to run into them at the pool in the summer. Having a launch team meant putting myself out there – something I typically don’t like to do.

Still, I was reminded that within a few months, the book would be public domain anyway – so anyone who wanted to read it would be able to. By bringing together a launch team, I could engage people who had already shown interest in what I was doing in a positive way. By offering the book up to others of my choosing, I wouldn’t have to feel so lonely about its release. I could share the job of bringing it out into the world with other people who would hopefully feel invested in its success too. Also, it’s a fun book, and I wanted to be excited about it – but without a launch team, my friends and family hadn’t read it – so there was no one to get excited with.

I wanted to create a launch team experience that would be enjoyable for the participants, not just a chore, and I knew that would require a financial investment. First of all, I needed to figure out how many people to invite. To be honest, I felt like it would be unfair to be “super exclusive” about the team, as that could create the opposite effect of my intention, which was to include people in the process of delivering Gracie’s story to the public. So I invited pretty much everyone I know. I told my husband to invite his work ladies (he’s a teacher, so he’s got a lot of work ladies) and when people inquired about inviting their friends, I said sure, the more the merrier. I added a handful of people I’d interacted with online meaningfully as well. I was careful not to include any authors I knew who were coming out with a novel in 2023, as I didn’t want to create any conflicts of interest for them with their own marketing plans.

I was incredibly surprised to find that 104 people were on board in just 48 hours.

The next thing I had to consider was the financial investment. I wanted to have a good time with my launch team, so I gave myself a generous budget of $1,000 to play with. I recognize that many authors starting out don’t have this kind of luxury, so you might have to be creative if you’re not able to put up any capital. Maybe there are things you already have that you could use as giveaways. Maybe you can upcycle unwanted holiday gifts. Necessity is the mother of invention; if you need a launch team, you’ll come up with interesting ways to engage them.

As for me: I took the easy road. I started out by buying everyone on the launch team a Starbucks gift card for $5. It’s not much, but in my book, Gracie drinks a lot of Starbucks, and I could e-deliver them, so I felt it was the most bang for my buck. Plus, it was something everyone could enjoy, as opposed to a contest which would only yield a few winners.

Then, I began drafting communication. I was so, so lucky to get the Publishers Weekly starred review when I did, which enabled me to stop looking at Goodreads. Naturally, I still want to populate as many good reviews as I can, but I can’t bring myself to look at the site, so I’ll just have to blindly trust that my launch team folks will post reviews on there once they’ve finished the book. I decided to use only email instead of Facebook or IG or a newsletter platform for my launch team communication. Something about good old-fashioned email just feels normal to me, and I decided that I’d reach out once every two weeks with updates, contests, prizes and more. I wanted to strike a balance where I could create buzz and excitement without being annoying. So I came up with a set of fun, inclusive contests that would keep folks engaged as they read. I also figured I could update them on things that I’ve been up to: events I’ve booked, accolades, any authors I’ve met or any new blurbs we’ve gotten. The goal: create as much community as possible.

So far, I’ve only put out 4 communications: 1) the initial email explaining what to expect, 2) the email with the Starbucks card, 3) the email with the pdf of the book, and 4) one follow up email, 2 weeks later. But, can I tell you? I have heard from about 25 people so far that they’ve either started the book or finished it already. They’ve sent me such kind comments – ranging from funny anecdotes of their own to offering suggestions for where to get the best Greek food in Queens. It’s been so great to interact with people who I already know and trust and to celebrate this thing of writing a book together. I can only explain it like this: when you have your first child, most new moms have a baby shower. Everyone plays games and pauses to take in the moment: the last few months before the little one is out there in the world. Everything will be different for the mama once the new addition comes. But also, that new addition will be a new grandchild, or niece, or cousin, or close friend to all the people in the room. Everyone will get to enjoy the baby. The baby is a product of the DNA of its parents, but it will take a village to raise it up.

So, cheers to my village. I am so grateful that we’re in this together, and most importantly – thank you for walking alongside me on this journey.

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