How to Launch a Book
[note: I accidentally sent this only to free recipients so I’m reposting this for everyone. Apologies for those of you who got this twice!]
I have eight book launches happening before the end of July. I’m sure there are many agents out there who regularly have more, but in the cycle of my career as an agent, this is a lot. I joined the agency four years ago this July, so as I’ve taken on clients and built my list and waited the 12 to 24 months it takes for a book to release, this is the tidal wave of releases from the past several years of work. Many of them are debuts, launching whole careers rather than one project in a line of many.
For the record they are:
March 5 - Carlos Hernandez’s Sal and Gabi Break the Universe*
March 26 - Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire*
May 14 - Eliot Peper’s Breach
June 4 - Sarah Gailey’s Magic for Liars*
June 18 - Max Gladstone’s Empress of Forever
July 2 - Duncan M Hamilton’s Dragonslayer
July 16 - Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s This Is How You Lose the Time War*
July 30 - JY Yang’s The Ascent to Godhood
* marks debuts
This isn’t just bragging. Okay, it’s a little bit bragging. I mean look at these shiny beautiful books! I'm so proud of each and every one of them and the brilliant, wonderful writers who made them happen.
Anyhow, the point is, having so many of these arrive back to back is not only wreaking havoc on my sleep schedule, stress levels, and leaving me on a general roller coaster of emotions, but it’s highlighting for me, once again, just how much each book launch is a bespoke product.
Some book launches go great. Some don’t. Some are quiet but land hard. Some are blustery but vanish beneath the waves without a trace. It’s impossible to predict until you see the numbers and start to get a picture of what’s actually happening. Even then, the numbers are vague, inaccurate, and slow.
Even the ones that go well go well in ways that are so unique it’s hard to replicate them for the future. The ones that go off the rails hit speed bumps that are so specific to the personalities involved, the state of the market, and sometimes just mysteriously, inexplicably, don’t work.
I’ve talked before how nothing matters but everything does, and this is where that comes to a head. All those micro decisions that fall one way or the other add up to an avalanche of momentum, pushing a book to success or knocking a project off the path.
We spend a lot of time trying to understand what happened and what to do next time. I’m not saying this is wasted time. We’re always pushing to get better, to be sharper, to anticipate more. But trying to treat books like interchangeable products that we can cut and paste a strategy from one author to another, from one series to the next one, is always a trap. There’s no trick. There’s no magic bullet.
So, what are we even talking about then? Well, keep your eyes on your own paper, for one. Just because someone’s getting buzz on Twitter doesn’t mean your book is a failure. Just because someone else is getting a book tour or getting starred reviews doesn’t mean you won’t have the career you want. Don’t get me wrong, those things are, by and large, good things. It means people are excited and if you are getting them you should be excited.
But your book is your book. Your launch is your launch. Your readers are your readers. There are many paths to finding readers and I don’t have the answers to tell you what your path is. Sometimes we only find out after the fact, no matter how much experience we have or how hard we try.
That said, we have to do something. So, do the things you’re asked to do. Do the things you can think of to do. Ask for the things you want to do but don’t know how. Launches are hard work. Don’t underestimate how difficult they are. You won’t have time to finish that draft of book two. You won’t have time to do the things you normally do to keep your life moving. Rest up before. Drink lots of water. And please god, ask for help when you need help.
And always always remember, there’s more books to come. If this book takes off: great, what’s next? How do we build on this success? If it tanks: same question, what’s next? How do we pivot from here?
And remember, past performance is not an indicator of future success. If your book doesn’t do well, I’m not going to say there aren’t challenges ahead, but your career is not “over.” There’s always moves to make; there’s always challenges to overcome. I think it’s possible to claw your way out of whatever unpaid advance hole you might end up in. I think it’s possible to build a career even when you feel like you’ve been flailing at the bottom of a cliff for too long.
When you’re focused on launch, focus on launch. Do the million things you need to do. Trust your team. Build the career you want. But once your book is in the world? Keep going. Keep building the career you want. No matter what happens, take a breath, then roll up your sleeves and start tackling what’s next.