We’ve been following the publishing adventures of Judith Starkston since October 2013, when she signed with Fireship Press to publish her debut novel. Hand of Fire is now in bookstores and has been met with solid reviews. Here’s an example:
“But what makes the difference between a good historical novel and a brilliant one? I suggest you read Judith Starkston’s Hand of Fire and you’ll discover the answer.” – Helen Hollick, editor of Historical Novels Review, author of Forever Queen.
She also packed the house at her launch at the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Judith says that results like that don’t happen because of what you do after your book is published. It’s the result of what you start doing two years before publication. And it’s hard work.
Judith’s Advice for a Successful Book Launch
The first step in building your community is to understand who is your community and interact with them in a positive, helpful, professional way. Hand of Fire is historical fiction with some romance as an important element. It isn’t a romance novel and doesn’t fit the traditional romance arc. Romance readers probably will enjoy her book, but that isn’t her community.
“I was writing about Troy, so I uploaded content about archeology from an historical basis. It turns out that there are people out there who give a darn about that. They are my community.”
Judith started building her community by getting a website and blog built, getting on social media and regularly interacting with people who are interested in historical novels. She connected with bloggers, reviewers and authors who featured authors like her on their websites, and she interacted with them both online and in person. She hosts a chapter of the Historical Novel Society in her home, and she served on the Board of Directors for the Desert Sleuths chapter of Sisters in Crime. She attended conferences and workshops, submitted positive comments to the blog posts of the bloggers and authors in her community and became a reviewer of historical novels.
“Write solid content about the things related to your writing, and your community will build,” Judith said about what to post on both (1) your website, blog and social media as well as in (2) your comments on the blogs and social media of those in your community. Here are some websites that you might find helpful.
- Writer Unboxed is an excellent site to connect with and learn from other writers.
- Poets and Writers offers tools to help you find others like you, including a list of conferences and residencies where you can get face time with writers, bloggers, reviewers and other people like you.
- WANA International, founded by Kristin Lamb, empowers writers in the digital age with online classes and tribes. Judith recommends that you use them and others like them to learn to be the techie you were never born to be.
Start work on getting reviews four to six months before your book’s publication date.
Judith says to never pay for a review. And once you get them, not all will be positive. She spent a week working 10 hours a day sending out her requests for reviews – within the community she had built. She suggested working toward reviews from three types of people.
- Authors, bloggers and reviewers in the community you’ve built
- The “big places” that typically only review books from the major publishers
- The group Judith has named “Great Aunt Bessie.” These are your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers and are the ones to ask to review your book on Amazon.
Judith cautions that you should never respond to negative reviews, never delete a negative review from your Amazon account and never leave snarky comments anywhere online. “Promote others,” she said. Some day, they may help promote you.
Hire the people you need to help you look like a professional.
Judith says you can hire people to help you promote your novel through online books tours, getting your book into the hands of book clubs, publicity and speaking engagements. She enjoyed working with AuthorBuzz for her online promotion. You’ll need a professional author photo, press release, advance praise, back cover blurb, cover art and an emailing service (Judith uses Mail Chimp).
Have no fear.
It’s hard work to launch a book. “It used to be possible to be reclusive and a writer,” Judith said. “Not anymore.” You have to get comfortable talking to people, but you also need to play to your comfort zone. “If you follow a number of good reviewers and comment, that’s not moving out of your comfort zone. It’s playing to your strengths. You don’t have to shake hands with a total stranger. Get a sense for the kind of reviews they like and comment on a book you’ve also read. That’s very good community building. It’s real, genuine, not showy. Most shy people can do that kind of community building, and it’s really the best.” After the book launches, show your own enthusiasm for your book on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, as well as at book signings. If you can’t get excited about your book, no one else will either.