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Writing, Novels, Resources

Run Lab Rat Run Launch Plan

This Run Lab Rat Run launch plan is largely for my tracking of the initial release on Amazon, which is my first book release of my debut self-published novel. I doubt anyone will ever read this article, but if anyone does, perhaps there will be a few helpful tidbits here for those starting off on their self-publishing career.

This is a work in progress.

Goals & Assumptions

I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m relatively intelligent, experienced in online marketing, have what I believe is a quality novel, but I know I’m going to get most of this wrong the first time. So, my goal is to fail fast, learn fast and try as many different things as a I can on this first launch. Pretty obvious, but helps to put it in writing.

My goal is specifically NOT to make a lot of money on this first book, though that would be nice. I want to sell a lot of books, get reviews, and build a reader base. If I can come close to breaking even, that would be a miracle (even if you only count hard dollars and exclude all writing and editing time).

From this learning and reader base, I hope to know enough to start making some income on the second books and so on. But I still realize this is a challenging goal that almost no self-published (or traditionally published authors) ever reach. So, difficult but not impossible. Publishing this book will helpfully tell me how realistic these goals are…

Creation & Design

Writing & Editing

This includes everything from the basic writing to beta reviews and editing.

Step & Details Status & Next
Various Drafts
The usual pantser process. Editing included use of Word spelling and grammar checker and the free version of Grammarly, which I find moderately useful but inflexible esp. with regard to my writing style (which uses sentence fragments and avoids use of Oxford commas).
Done
Various Beta Reads
Great feedback from many. Thank you! Substantial improvements to drafts.
Done
Shortening & Simplification
Cut from 130k+ to 115k, removed many acronyms and abbreviations, etc. This was largely for querying agents, which did not pan out (though there were a few full manuscript requests).
Done
Professional Copy Editing & Proofreading
Friend I met at a conference is doing this. Exceptional skills and insight. Looking forward to her feedback.
In Progress
Updating Book
Received 7/26
Final Draft Complete
TBD. Do final read, check all dates and stats, check all chapter headings, etc. Include internal to new title and remove reference to anything else.
Pending
Target 8/1
Final Title 
The original title was Modified, which is now the book series (presumably). Also considered Dead Girl Running (which was taken) and The Dreams of Weak and Fragile Things, which was too literary. Run Lab Rat Run worked better for a a number of reasons. Should have had this finalized before starting work on cover.
Done
Book Parts (Front and Back)
Finalize all front, back and cover matter:

  • Cover Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Secondary Cover Page?
  • Dedication?
  • Email Solicitation?
  • ToC (eBook Only). Decided to leave contents out of paperback to save pages, $ and formatting issues.
  • Acknowledgement
  • About the Author
  • Coming Soon (Beasts)
In Progress
Target 8/2
Foreword from Laz
Done and included. I’m so appreciative that he did this, given how out of his normal wheelhouse this book is. Yet another example of how Laz rocks.
Done
3D Course Map (Optional)
Asked for pricing on Fiverr. Would probably be helpful, but could be expensive. Found someone will to do for $150, but still not sure it’s worth it until there are more sales. Maybe next time, or if the book does really well, do online or in second edition.
NA
Chapter Header Art
Probably not.
NA

Miscellaneous Early Items

You know, other stuff.

Step & Details Status & Next
Attend Writing Conferences
This was more about learning industry and making contacts than the book per se, but it was a great experience and resulted in winning the “Best Science Fiction” at the show in 2020, my first writing award. This was nominally helpful in the query process and allows me to say “award winning author” on the eventual cover.
Done
(More to come)
Select Publishing Name
Going with my name vs. pen name for simplicity, but we’ll see how that works out. I might have gone with SCButler, but the domain was taken.
Done
Pick Initial Platform
I’m going to go with Amazon KDP for both ebook (Kindle) and paperback versions for simplicity and cost reasons. Depending on how book sells, I may add other platforms after the 90-day Amazon exclusive to be in Kindle Select. I’d love to not be so dependent on Amazon, but it’s just a monster…
Done
Get ISBNs for Both Versions
I don’t want to be stuck with Amazon’s free versions (which limit sales to Amazon), so I’ll by a pack of ten (10) for RLRR, Beasts and future books. Used Bowker for this.
Done
Pricing for Amazon Kindle & Paperbacks
I’d always wondered by Amazon Kindle vs. Paperback pricing was so different depending on self- vs. trad-published books, and know I know. The cost of on-demand printing at my page count (around 380 pp for 115k words) means the paperback has to be < $13.99 to make it worth selling. So I picked $15.99 for paperback and $4.99 as initial target for Kindle, but will start at $0.99 with free promos to boost sales
Done?

Cover Design & Artwork

You know, that thing on the outside of the book in the real world.

Step & Details Status & Next
Figure Out What I Like
Poked around at what works in fiction, science fiction, etc., and knew quickly I didn’t want the usual melodramatic SF cover (nor did I think I could afford one that looked unique. Saved some on Pinterest.
Done
Cover Art (6″ x 9″)
I started using Canva (free or $119/yr) to come up with some book cover ideas, thank God, because my initial ideas were frankly terrible (See Pinterest board). I was still reluctant to go with the $700+ standard cover services, so used Fiverr to test a $50 option. This worked surprisingly well and resulted in the final cover choice, saving me more than $700 or so. Take a look these guys ($600) for next time?
Done
Cover Art Change (5.5″ x 8.5″)
After the 1st paperback proof, I did some more research and realized I could use this trim size w/o changing page length and get a better look. Paid $20 on Fiverr for updated PDF / PSD files and a slightly updated title font.
Done
Cover Art Market & A/B Testing
Did not do this, though I can see why people do. Got feedback from friends and used gut instinct. Cover seems professional enough as compared to most other SF covers, though it’s not going to win any awards. See here ($50+) or one related service for future reference. See more cover design suggestions here.
Done

Typesetting & Versioning

Think of this as how everything inside the book looks and feels.

Step & Details Status & Next
Various eBook Typesetting Rounds
I spent a LOT of time formatting the initial ebook version to remove Word artifacts, get things to work on Kindle, etc. the primary issue was that the default styles needed to be changed but couldn’t be without losing direct formatting (lesson learned). I also learned to use page-breaking sections in Word rather than page breaks in order to get header formatting to work in all chapters.To test changes, I loaded versions into KDP and used the Amazon preview tool to see how things looked. I also emailed these versions to my Kindle to confirm formatting. This was free, fast and resulted in greater confidence about final output.
Done
Generating eBook Formats (ARC, etc.)
This was harder than it should have been, due to me using an older PC with an EOL operating system (Windows 7) on which the standard eBook conversion tool (Calibre) wouldn’t work. So, I used a web tool and then SmashWords to do the sample versions, but I’m not a fan of any of these tools; they just feel quirky, overly complicated and sometimes auto-insert branding information I didn’t like. Still more to learn here, but was able to get everything I needed for the ARC versions (See reviews, below). In the end, I got a solid epub and PDF versions without much trouble (ignoring several hours of missteps and learning).
Done
Final Kindle Format
After final edits, I’ll update Word source doc to include:

  • Possible interior cover copy page
  • All caps on chapter starts
  • Final chapter titles / formats
  • Chapter graphic (probably not)
  • Single spacing, paperback fonts
  • Reference to additional resources
  • Etc.
Pending
Various Paperback Formatting Rounds
This was substantially different typesetting and font from what I used in the eBook, but I think the final paperback version will work better in both.Again, I loaded into KDP (along with cover) to use Amazon preview tool several times before ordering a proof. while the tool is a bit slow, it was great to evaluate final look and feel.
Done
Book Proof #1 (Paperback)
Received and reviewed (cost was about $10 from Amazon KDP). Several things I’d like to improve, including font, spacing, cover layout (minor), etc. Not much I can do about quality of paper (it’s thick and a bit coarse).I would like to see what page implication is of smaller font to allow for smaller trim. Went from 12 pt TNR with single spacing to 10 pt Garamond with 16 pt spacing. Overall page count didn’t change much, but it seems more readable. Also might try white paper with standard font color on Amazon vs. B&W on cream. Need a better SS font for headers, but I’ll try Calibri for now.
Done
Book Proof #2 (Paperback)
Do final proof when you’ve finalized blurb and all related front / back / cover matter. Most important thing is how type looks in new format.
Pending
Target 8/3

(Arrive 8/10???)
Final Paperback Version
Pending. Remember to order author copies to sign and send to beta readers, family, etc.
Pending
Early August

Social Media & Website

This is all that platform stuff you’re supposed to have in place prior to launching, ideally with pre-existing traffic, etc. I had the website in place (you’re on it), and the social media accounts, but very little confidence I can drive any traffic via the latter; I don’t have that many followers and little interaction. So, work to be done is on (a) growing the audience and (b) increasing interaction.

Websites (My Platforms)

Author Website
Step & Details Status & Next
Get Domain
Decided to use shawncbutler.com because, well, that’s my name and scbutler.com was taken. Picking a pen name thus became a backward step of using an affordable domain, which is fine.
Done
Pick Service (Platform)
Already use Word Press, so that was easy. Used same theme as for other sites, but this may change.
Done
Book Landing Page
Done. Need to update as reviews come in.
Done
Book Resource Pages
Due to the complexity and backstory, I plan to have several additional pages here instead of bloating the book itself. These include the following, none of which are required pre-launch (except the glossary, which is referenced in the book):

  • Glossary (Done)
  • Characters (NA)
  • Timeline (In Progress)
  • Course Information (NA)
In Progress
Finish Timeline
Book Promo Sidebar
This is too show up on every page. I don’t have  a footer in this theme, so I’ll use this instead. I’ll need final cover art before launching.
Done
Secondary Website (Cactus to Clouds)

This site was intentionally built, in part, to be a promotional platform for any running or hiking related books, and anything relating to the Barkley–which of course RLRR is.

Step & Details Status & Next
Get Domain
Decided to use shawncbutler.com because, well, that’s my name and scbutler.com was taken. Picking a pen name thus became a backward step of using an affordable domain, which is fine.
Done
Pick Service (Platform)
Already use Word Press, so that was easy. Used same theme as for other sites, but this may change.
Done
Book Landing Page
NA. This is on shawncbutler.com
NA
Book Sidebar
This is designed to route traffic to book page and/or purchase sites including both sets of links.
Done

Social Media & Publishing Pages

Facebook Author Page
Step & Details Status & Next
Create Page
This was a few seconds. Nothing on it and no followers, but technically done.
Done
Page Banner Image
Use RLRR image and finalize when cover done.
Done
Let Friends Know
I assume some will follow. Writer friends specifically (invite them directly).
Done
Various Activities
I’ll need to come up with regular posts, calls to action, etc., etc., all of which is TBD.
Pending
Twitter Profile
Step & Details Status & Next
Create Account
Done. Some work done on building audience, but not much. Very little interaction. Around 450 followers as of end of June 2021. Probably need closer to 2000.
Done
Build Followers
TBD
Ongoing
Kinda
Various Activities
I’ll need to come up with regular posts, calls to action, etc., etc., all of which is TBD.
In Progress
Group Promo Note
Posted ARC Note
Instagram Profile
Step & Details Status & Next
Create Account
Done. Very little use. Not sure I’ll invest much.
Done
Build Followers
Meh…
In Progress
Kinda
Various Activities
We’ll see what works. Need some visuals.
In Progress
Cover posted
LinkedIn Profile
Step & Details Status & Next
Create Account
Done a very long time ago. Thousands of connections. I’d rather use via my network than directly.
Done
Build Connections
Don’t want to force this.
Ongoing
Kinda
Various Activities
I’ll need to come up with regular posts, calls to action, etc., etc., all of which is TBD.
In Progress
Posted ARC Note
Amazon Author Page
Step & Details Status & Next
Create KDP Account
Created with draft versions of RRLR for testing.
Done
Build Author Page & Profile
TBD
Pending
Need Book Launch
Various Activities
TBD. Not sure what’s useful here.
Pending
Goodreads Author Page
Step & Details Status & Next
Create Author Account
I have a person account, but not an author one.
Pending
Book Launch
Build Author Page & Profile
TBD
Pending
Book Launch
Various Activities
TBD. Not sure what’s useful here.
Pending
Book Launch
Other Profiles & Pages

I’m sure there are many others to come. I’ll probably do a book link page on Books2Read.

Marketing & Marketing Services

One thing I learned quickly by listening to other self-published authors an watching some videos on YouTube (of course) is that there was a lot I don’t know about promotion, mailing lists, Amazon Ads, review solicitation and far more. Some of that in listed here.

Social Media Marketing Services

Step & Details Status & Next
Bublish
Do contract work for authors. Probably pricey, but checking.
Pending
Phone call pending
Fiverr Gigs
I had no idea this existed, but interesting. See list toward bottom of this linked page.  Try this one?
Pending
Book Launch
Net Galley
Probably too pricey, but researching.
TBD

Book Email Promotion Services

Given my lack of a mailing list or desire to create my own list, I’ll probably need to use one of these (though it’s not really a replacement). Adds some $$$ to budget, but we’ll see. Apparently the recommendation here, money dependent, is to do multiple such pushes.

Step & Details Status & Next
BookBub
Pricing for services is high. For science fiction, a Featured Deal would cost $754 if priced at $0.99 or $2,640 if priced at $4.99. Clearly, this is only affordable or me at the lower level, if then. They claim to have 1.7m SF subscribers and an average download count of 1,180. They also have a New Releases for Less feature ($?). Free user (subscriber) resources include recommended Books
In Progress
Claim Author Profile when on Amazon?
Partner Account
User Account
BookDoggy
They have an $20 promotional newsletter for authors. Appears to require existing book online for at least X days, and then sign up for promotion? Books submissions reviewed and not guaranteed for selection.
In Progress
Research Needed
Account Setup
FreeBooksy
Has both free and bargain book pricing. Promises email to 119k SF readers for $40. Dates appear to be available about a week out.
In Progress
Use for Launch?

Author Account Setup
Fussy Librarian
Appears to be best for using free promos when you have more than one book, and the others are not free (to boost sales.
On Hold
Use for second book?
Others
See this list of free book promo sites
TBD

Some interesting ideas in here about how to setup and prep for free book promotions in sync with Amazon Unlimited free days:

Book Review Services

These include services like Booksprout (with a free option) and paid options like Kirkus. Lots of options, but thankfully far fewer than with book promo sites.

ARC & Newsletter Management Platforms

These two functions are blended together, largely because getting ARCs and collecting newsletters both depend in these models on giving away free copies.

Step & Details Status & Next
BookSirens
Offers paid marketing via their own newsletter a’la the paid promotion of Booksprout. I’ll definitely look at this if StoryOrigin doesn’t work out.
Pending
Applied 7/20/21
Booksprout
Seems to have a free version worth trying. Next level is $10/mo or $120/year, so I’ll have to see how free version works. I’ve read that (a) the free version is not protected and (b) doesn’t really work anyway. So on hold for now.
NA
BookFunnel
A little pricier than Booksprout w/no free option, BF seems to have higher rates / more positive feedback online esp. because of spam blocking and book protection. Primary focus is on getting newsletter subscribers, NOT reviews.
NA
Insta Freebie
Old name for Prolific Works. Also with poor reviews.
NA
NetGalley
Another ARC platform, originally for trad published authors but also with a free-based structure for self-published books.
NA
Prolific Works
Very similar to BookFunnel, focused on getting newsletter subscribers. Based on online reviews and comments, not using for now.
NA
StoryOrigin
Much like BookFunnel, but with a free offering. Seems to be the rising star. In both cases, the $100/ yr offering seems best for my needs. Based on the combination of cost, documentation, feedback and features, I’m going with SO for the launch of RLRR.
In Progress
First promo joined
ARC copies loaded
Book Review Bloggers

My initial impression is that trying to reach (free) book bloggers is a colossal waste of time, with the effort and costs high, the probability or a review low and probably far out in the future, and the value questionable. I may change my mind if I learn more about this, but for now, I’m not putting any energy here. I’ve submitted to a few bloggers just to see if anything comes of it. For reference, Reedsy has a list of book review bloggers, filterable by genre, which includes both paid and free reviewers.

Step & Details Status & Next
Artisan Book Reviews (160k v/m)
High quality site with lots of great reviews.
In Progress
Submitted 7/16/21
Book Reporter(113k v/m)
Cool site, but only published and rarely indie.
NA
Maybe post-launch
The Reading Cafe (20k v/m)
Free book review blogger, nice vibe, probably inundated, but does review SF.Update: Kindly responded in hours with interest. Cynicism reduced. 🙂
In Progress
Interview 9/11/21
Response 7/15/21
Submitted 7/15/21
Book Review Vloggers (Booktube)

No idea how to approach these, but I assume there’s be a convoluted process involving video breadcrumbs and Star Trek references. Off to dig around YouTube for specs of information. In all cases, I’ll try to reference one of their reviews I especially liked. Just as with “regular” bloggers, my expectations here are low.

Step & Details Status & Next
Kalanadi
Cool reviews, but “I do not taking reading requests and I am currently not accepting books for review.”
NA
SFF180 (Web)
Famous and established SFF reviewer, major stuff, so no idea if interested, but worth a shot.
In Progress
Submitted 7/16/21
Becky M
Nice, quirky reviews and similar tastes. Says she’s too busy for now to take on the review.
Rejected 7/15/21
Submitted 7/15/21
Dan Greene (50 million views)
Popular, cool guy, lots of energy, low probability of interest.
In Progress
Submitted 7/15/21
Bookstagram Influencers (#Bookstagram)

No idea how to approach these Instagram influencers, so research pending. A fellow author recommends using a paid marketer for Instagram.

TikTok Book Reviewers (#BookTok)

No idea how to approach these.

There are many. See this list, this Publishers Weekly list, and others. Debating value of these sites, as I’m not sure why readers would value paid reviews. Maybe to jump start unpaid reviews? We’ll see.

Step & Details Status & Next
Bookish Elf (30k views / mo)
Thought this was a free book review blogger, nice vibe, probably inundated, but does review SF, but turns out it’s a paid service starting at $75.
Pending
BlueInk
Kinda pricey. Might as well do Kirkus?
Pending
Kirkus Reviews
One of the most expensive and respected among paid provider options, min $425 for 250 word review.
Pending
Indie Reader
Much like Kirkus, but $275 for a review and have a “purchase in advance” option to save $50, bringing it down to $225 if you buy 5 weeks in advance of publishing. Turn-around in any case is 5-9 weeks.
Pending
Self Publishing Review
Starts at $89.
Pending
Step & Details Status & Next
Publisher Rocket
See for analysis / keywords esp. on Amazon.
TBD
Amazon Ads
Just need to learn how this works and budget for it. if like most online ads on search engines, should be short learning curve.
Pending
Amazon Kindle Deals
Unlimited, Select and others. RLRR eligible if exclusive for 90 days from launch, which is planned.
Pending
Facebook Ads
TBD
TBD

Launch Plan

TBD

Before Launch

One Month Prior to Launch

Pretty much everything done above, with some notable scheduled items here:

Step & Details Status & Next
Start Sending ARC Copies
Start sending ARC versions to readers, and keep looking for new possible reviewers.
In Progress
Two Weeks Prior to Launch

This covers all work to be done the fourteen-to-seven days prior to the planned launch date.

Step & Details Status & Next
Start Sending ARC Reminders
Meaning, start sending notes to ARC readers about finalized date, and being very damn grateful.
Pending
One Week Prior to Launch

This covers all work to be done the seven days prior to the planned launch date, with a focus on delivering a professional product, having reviews lined up, and hitting launch day running.

Step & Details Status & Next

Day of Launch – August XX

This is the day of formal launch on Amazon.com, publishing early AM to leave time for debugging and checking. Get it all done, and then have a damn beer.

Step & Details Status & Next
Publish eBook & Paperback on Amazon
Check link and book profile pages
Purchase copy to ensure process works
Ensure in Kindle Unlimited @ $0.99 (initial price)
Start tracking book stats on Amazon
Order author copies to sign & deliver (#TBD)
Pending
Related Publishing Steps
Publish author page (if not already done)
Publish Goodreads page (using Amazon link)
Pending
Related Social Media Steps
Announce on Twitter (multiple varying hashtags)
– Request retweets by friends
Announce on Instagram
– Request likes by friends
Announced on LinkedIn
– Request sharing by connections
Announce on Facebook
– Post in feed
– Post on author page
– Request friend post into FB BSC group
– Request friend post into TAUR
– Request post in Fiction
– Request post in Science Fiction
– Post in bargain eBook groups
Post on primary blog update page, new post?
Post on secondary blog (C2C) including “inspiration”
Pending
Paid Promotional Steps
Launch Inexpensive Promo I
Setup paid accounts (ones requiring Amazon URL)
Pending
ARC / Review Steps
Goal = 5-10 x 5-stars by end of day
Announce publication to ARCs / reviews
Request review postings to Amazon / GR ASAP
Start confirming reviews
Pending

Post Launch

Week After Launch

Everything to be done for the week after launch, starting on day two. Key to make sure everything is setup properly, fully tested and edited, started tracking stats on promo sites via book sale / review stats / etc,

Step & Details Status & Next
Amazon eBook & Paperback Pages
Check tracking book stats on Amazon (daily)
Update book profile(s) w/critical praise
Pending
Amazon Ads Steps
Check to see reviews / evaluate start timing
Pending
Related Social Media Steps
Post best reviews on Twitter (multiple varying hashtags)
Announce on Facebook
– Post in feed
– Post on author page
– Request post in Fiction
– Request post in Science Fiction
– Post in bargain eBook groups
Pending
Paid Promotional Steps
Launch Inexpensive Promo II
Setup paid accounts (ones requiring Amazon URL)
Pending
ARC / Review Steps
Goal = 10 x 5-stars by end of week

Request review postings to Amazon / GR
Continue confirming reviews
Pending
 Second Week After Launch

Everything to be done for the second week after launch.

Step & Details Status & Next
Other Promo Sites Pending
Test Keywords inc. Negative Keywords Pending
Raise from Promo Price / Free? Pending
Continue ARC / Review Follows Pending
Three Months After Launch
Step & Details Status & Next
Start Publishing on Other Platforms
Pending

Selected Resources

The following were helpful in developing this launch plan, and might be helpful to other writers looking to launch their first book on Amazon. It’s a pretty random selection.

First Page Rankings by Dan McBeth

This is a pretty elementary set of suggestions for launch on Amazon, but I liked the simplicity and clarity of goals, some of which I adopted as my own. I’m not sure I buy everything he says, but nothing seems unreasonable or too costly. I like the idea of testing higher prices to find the right price point…

Free Book Promotions by Kindlepreneur

Pretty cheesy and basic video but see this ranked list of free promotion sites. I’m not sure how valuable it is, but list!

Book Marketing Strategies by iWriterly

Pretty basic and overlapped with other resources and lists shown here, but good summary of 34 strategies to work on. She suggests getting a professional author head shot, which…I don’t wanna do, but probably will. A press kit is suggested, which seems very far down the road. Generally, her suggestions seem fit for people with lots of time who are great at social networking.

The Self Publishing Checklist

This is a simple interactive checklist that contains MANY great useful items, even if you don’t use them all.

Five Book Marketing Services on Fiverr by SP with Dale

Just a video comparing book marketing services on Fiverr. Kinda interesting, mostly in that it shows how immature the market is. There is really no trackback to actual sales, so it’s subjective feel on impressions (ish) offered.

Peace.

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