Leanne Smith, author of Leaving Independence, knew what she wanted to do. She wanted to step off of her path as an academic writer and fulfill her dream of completing a novel. She knew, however, that with academic writing she had an audience almost guaranteed through her position in a university. That would not be true with a fictional piece.
“In college I wrote for my university’s newspaper,” Smith said as she thought back on her beginnings as a writer, “and for five years I wrote a weekly family humor column for a couple of Middle Tennessee newspapers. When I stopped writing my column, I continued to write informally—newsletters, bulletins, articles, web content, and then academic papers when I returned to graduate studies. Ten years ago I began teaching university business courses full-time and wrote the curriculum I use.”
Smith loves her teaching and interaction with students, but she knew that her desire to write fiction was always with her. “I’ve been working on fictional stories as long as I can remember, getting words and ideas on paper, then ripping up the pages when they didn’t measure up to my own critiques. I put in 10,000 hours of practice on creative writing long before I did so on academic writing.”
For Smith, the challenge came in being comfortable finally sharing her creative writing. “It’s been harder to share my creative writing, to put it out there for potential criticism and rejection, because it’s such a personal part of who I am.”
The challenge also came in building a brand new audience—readers who have never and probably will never read any of her academic works. Five years ago, Smith formally started the process of writing her novel, though many of the scenes had been in her mind for much longer than that. Along with actually writing the book, Smith knew that she needed to learn how to successfully introduce her book to readers. She needed a book launch plan.
How did Smith develop the strategies that she used to get the word out about her 2016 book release so effectively? “First I had to get over the fear of telling people my dream,” Smith admits. “Second, I asked smart people for advice…tech-savvy people, sharp millennials, marketers…anyone from whom I believed I could learn something.
“Third, I began sifting through their advice, looking for the critical threads, then implementing their advice. I already had a website but had grossly underutilized it. I hadn’t sought to drive any traffic to it and was fearful of Facebook, Twitter…everything. Little by little I poked my toe in each medium and sought to understand how it worked. I’ve worked hard to build a foundation, things like forming community with fellow writers, building an email list, and engaging with social media followers.”
Smith also built a launch team with friends and acquaintances. “Someone on my publishing team suggested I ask 100 people to be on my launch team, which meant they would receive a NetGalley link to an advance electronic copy of my book two months early in exchange for posting an honest review to Goodreads and/or Amazon. I sent two emails and had about a 75% agree-rate, then folks started suggesting friends or family members who loved to read. So I didn’t even know everyone on my final team of 105.
“Of those 105, about half posted reviews to Goodreads prior to the launch date. Amazon doesn’t accept posts until the release date, but in the first week there were three dozen. I sent periodic reminders to the team in an effort to build strong momentum initially, hoping strangers would begin to take notice and investigate Leaving Independencefor themselves.”
Smith also added public events to her launch plan. “The first event was a book release party at a local coffeehouse, The Well. I work with one of The Well’s founders and it’s a great Nashville venue. My agent had told me about Givington’s, which is a wonderful organization that will get your books on-site if you have an event at a non-bookstore establishment.”
Smith continued with a signing at Lipscomb University and a local bookstore (and filming a YouTube video about her writing process). She will also be on the program for the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville in October. Smith turned her dream into a novel. Along with honing her skills as a creative writer, she also designed a plan to launch the novel, bringing her characters to life in the hearts of as many readers as possible. Smith hopes to bring many more novels to the launch pad in the future.