Today, I want to talk about a particular segment of time—the phase where finishing the book overlaps with the start of the launch. And I want to talk about a group of people who can really help.
When authors are developing and writing books, I always tell them to keep thinking about the reader. Have a real person in mind. Think about the challenges they are working with. Consider the knowledge and perspectives they already have. Imagine the questions they would ask an expert like you. Remember the questions you most often get asked when you work with people. All of these things keep the book focused on the reader.
When authors start the process of launching their book, the message is the same: keep thinking about the reader. Talk about the ways the book will help the reader. Look for the places where people go for help with the book’s challenges. Find others who are equally interested in the problem and would want to talk about it with their audiences.
Now, as you are finishing a book, there is an opportunity to engage with those people who are interested in your project. I am thinking about those in your network who you have strong connections with: long-term clients, industry mentors, other authors. Look through your contacts and look for the collaborators. This is really important, because you are going to make a big ask of them.
For every book that Bard Press publishes, we bring in that group as a group of early readers. We share the full manuscript with these educated, engaged readers and survey them to find out their opinions and perspectives. In doing this, we are deeply involving them at a critical point in the process and giving them the opportunity to influence the final version of the book. These early readers are not only helping us make the book better, but becoming the first gathering of potential energy for the launch.
For When Everyone Leads, we had a group of about 25 early readers look at the book. They were a combination of staff, clients and colleagues from the Kansas Leadership Center and a group of readers from Bard Press. In selecting that group, we wanted people deeply familiar with the work and others who had no connection at all. Bringing in people on both ends of the knowledge spectrum, let us make sure you have created a book for fans and for readers engaging with the material for the first time.
Let me share some other advice that might be helpful as you build an early reader program for your book:
- Set aside a month in your project plan to work with early readers. You need time to send out materials, give time for reading, and more time to collect feedback.
- We try to send an advanced reader/galley version of the book to our early readers. That means you have to have the design and layout complete earlier than many standard book production timelines. We believe we get better feedback when readers can see the finished product and early readers get even more excited by seeing the work. If you cannot send a very-close-to-finished version, just send the manuscript. Don’t send something half-done and ask the reader to imagine the finished version.
- Create a clear schedule for early readers. They will appreciate it. We only give readers two weeks to read the manuscript and another week to submit feedback. If they are interested and engaged, they will set aside the time. Giving more time will not get your more responses.
- We ask readers if they want a paper copy, electronic version or both. We use POD to print those early paper copies and send pdfs for the electronic edition.
- We are very particular about the questions we ask in our surveys. Here are some of the important ones:
- How would you describe the book to someone else? – This question gives us an early sense if we are describing it right in our book description and marketing copy.
- How well does the title represent the book you read? How well does it represent the author and their work? – These are important questions to help get a sense of the framing we used on the book and if the author has written something that people recognize as being from them.
- Is there anything that stood out that created confusion or disrupted your experience reading the book? – At this phase the book is very close to being done, but we still want to know if there is something that needs to be addressed. We have changed the order of chapters or replaced a full chapter based on feedback from this question.
- In addition to a survey, we also select a subset of the group and interview them individually. We normally set-up a 60 minute call (we tried 30 minutes and there isn’t enough time). We ask open ended questions like “What stood out for you as important or helpful?” and “How does this book fit into the work you do?” This qualitative survey gives us another sense are we hitting the mark with the book.
- Remember you also need time in your project plan to address feedback that you get from early readers.
I hope you see how early readers can be a valuable resource in validating the work you have done on your book, inform your marketing and engage some of your biggest fans early on as you start the process of creating a successful launch.