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The Justin Timberlake School of Rocking Your Book Launch

In addition to charming you with his suave style, sweet dance moves, and amazing falsetto melodies, Justin Timberlake can teach you a thing or two about how to rock your book launch.

Teach us, oh master.


For those of you under-the-rock-dwellers, Mr. Timberlake recently released his third album, the 20/20 Experience, and sold 968,000 copies in the first week.

That’s a lot. Even for Justin.

Most of the agencies that project numbers for these sorts of things estimated Justin’s third album in seven years would move about 500,000 copies at best, given the market for music these days. (How many people still buy whole albums when you can grab a single on iTunes?)

So what made the 468,000 copy difference?

Justin Timberlake ROCKED the heck out of his product launch.

What can we learn from the master?

A ton.

I poured over this detailed outline of events leading up to Justin’s launch on March 19, 2013, and used that to put together these 7 ideas we can take and apply to our next book launch.

1. Start early

What Justin did:

After finishing his album in July 2012, Justin got together with his team to begin planning his launch in September 2012 (six months before his release date). By November he had advertising partners lined up for the big event.

What you should do:

Six months might be a little far in advance to plan your launch, but three months is the minimum amount of time I would set aside to get your ducks in a row.

You need plenty of time to set-up a blog tour (your version of Justin’s pre-launch ad blitz) and plan a steady release of exciting content leading up to the big event.

You can still be in final edits with your manuscript during those three months, but by about four to six weeks out you should have a well edited version to send out to your last group of beta readers and reviewers.

2. Set the tone

What Justin did:

In early January 2013, Justin posted a short video to his website announcing his return to the studio. Days later, he released the title of the new project and shared a very earnest letter with fans.

(Take a moment to go and read the letter, I’ll wait!)

That letter is a PERFECTLY crafted piece of marketing copy.

It’s sincere, builds anticipation, but remains vague in any details (notice he did not give any dates or other specifics).

Still, he made his fans feel like he was in their living room, sitting next to them on the couch, making an exciting personal announcement and asking (without asking) you to be happy for him and be a part of the magic to come.

What you should do:

Begin building anticipation with your fans via a direct, sincere message.

Tell them honestly how much work–how much heart and soul–you’ve put into your new novel. Tell them how excited you are to share it and how much you’re looking forward to enveloping them in the fun.

This will set the tone for what’s to come–it’s an exciting, special, unique, original, authentic, and passionate project. It’s not just a book, it’s a piece of work you have carefully crafted just for them (that’s not to sound overdone, but honestly we all put a lot of hard work into our books and it’s okay to say that sometimes).

3. Give them a taste

What Justin did:

A week after sharing his letter, Justin released his first single from the new album.

The timing here is critical. He kept the excitement rolling week-to-week from that letter straight through the launch of his new CD.

In this case, people were still buzzing about his return to the studio when they suddenly got a taste of what Justin had in store.

What you should do:

A single is to an album what an excerpt is to a novel.

(Did you just have a PTSD flashback to your last SAT test?)

Pick an exciting excerpt from your book (it doesn’t have to be the prologue or first chapter) to share with your fans.

This should get their taste buds tingling with anticipation. You want them to be eagerly checking back with your website or social media accounts to find out when there will be more to indulge in.

4. Keep the ball rolling

What Justin did:

Mr. Timberlake spent the entire month of February acting like the sample guy at the grocery store.

(You know you get excited on sample day at the market. Do I want a free, hot tasty cookie? Why yes, yes I do!)

He popped up every few days with a new little cup of goodies for fans to try out — the official release date of his album, the cover artwork and tracklist, a concert tour announcement, and a video to go with his first single.

This kept the momentum going as the big date approached, without beating people over the head with it or releasing a deluge of information that would just overwhelm his fans.

What you should do:

Maintain a level of excitement with your fans by releasing sample tastings of your own in the month leading up to your big release.

You can share your cover art, summary, reviews (if you have any in advance), character profiles, research/inspiration, blog tour dates/sites, and of course the official release date of your forthcoming novel.

These should be spaced out about a week apart in separate blog posts (which you should be sure to share on social media as well).

5. Get your feet wet

What Justin did:

At the same time he was sharing samples with fans, Justin made a few select appearances to perform material from his new album.

He played a small concert for a group of VIPs before the Super Bowl, performed at the Grammy’s, and made an appearance at SXSW.

These performances were not only a sampling of his new music, they were a warm-up for Justin as he prepared to take over the world prior to his album release date.

What you should do:

Outside of your pre-launch blog tour, plan a few events in the month before your release to get in front of an audience and break the ice.

You can do a guest post, a Skype session with a book club, or a Twitter chat with some fans. Anything that will get you talking about your book.

This will give you a chance to fine tune your message and figure out exactly what your fans get most excited about with the new book.

Plus, you’ll begin to build your street team of excited fans who will go forth and conquer–or at least tell all their friends about an awesome author with a new book they just heard about!

6. Flood the market

What Justin did:

About two weeks before the release of his album, Justin Timberlake was everywhere.

He was in commercials, hosting SNL, and making an entire week of appearances on Jimmy Fallon’s late night show. You turned on the TV and he was there. You turned on the radio and he was there.

That is–if you were between the ages of say, 25 and 35.

Justin did a very good job in this stage of not just getting himself out there, but getting himself out there through the right channels for *his* fans.

Here are Justin’s partnerships from the launch in a nutshell: SNL, SXSW, Jimmy Fallon, Bud Light Premium, and Target.

Here’s an alternative line-up of appearances/ad partners he *could* have had: American Idol, Warped Tour, Jay Leno, Coors Light, and Wal-Mart.

But Justin knows his fans. He knows who they are and where they hang out and what they think is cool and what they think is NOT cool.

He knows his most passionate fans are 20 and 30 somethings (myself included) who fancy themselves just a little bit hipster (enough so that they disdain today’s pop music and its primary production factory, American Idol), are still young enough (or single enough) to get their laughs from late night TV (but not those stodgy old guys their parents like–sorry Leno and Letterman) and would never admit to shopping at Wal-Mart (but know Target is the cool place to be).

What you should do:

This is where your reader profile and target market worksheets really come in handy. Your blog tour (an author’s equivalent to Justin’s all out pre-launch media blitz) should be carefully planned around the places your fans would hang out.

You need about 8 – 10 stops around the Internet planned for your launch (more is better if you can handle it, and keep in mind if you ask 10 – 12 blogs to be a stop on your tour, you can hope for about 6-8 “yes” responses).

But unlike Justin’s pre-sale blitz, you should plan your blog tour to start on the day of your book release and run through the next week or two.


Because you want fans to have the opportunity for instant gratification. As soon as they decide they like you and your book, you want them to immediately go to Amazon and make a purchase.

Asking them to remember to go back to Amazon in a week and make a purchase is dicey, at best. You’ll lose momentum. So it’s better to have the option available at the time of your tour.

You should also mix-up your stops, offering giveaways, excerpts, interviews, and guest posts so even if you’re sharing the same information, the different formats won’t make people who follow the entire tour feel like it’s all redundant.

The second most important part of this step (after tailoring it *your* fans) is this: You have to make it EXCITING.

Listen, I’ve been a fan of Justin Timberlake since the days of *NSYNC (note the proper asterisk placement and spelling denoting my TRUE devotion here) but even I was not excited of my own accord about Justin’s new album. I’m not that into pop music these days and though I love Justin, I had my doubts about what he could do after a seven year absence from the music industry.

But all the activity leading up to his release got me REALLY excited.

It is YOUR job to get the fans excited. You have to make your book launch into A BIG EVENT so your fans will feel the anticipation and want to be part of the big release (instead of waiting a few months to buy it whenever they feel like it).

7. Kick it up a notch

What Justin did:

On the same day he released his album, Justin also released an exclusive “deluxe” version (featuring two additional tracks) available *only* in Target stores.

I honestly could not tell you when I last bought an actual CD from a store. Like most people these days, I get my music from iTunes, delivered straight to my iPhone.

But moved by the perfect wave of Justin’s promotions, I took my butt to Target (after the gym, in my sweaty clothes, during rush hour traffic on a Friday for pete’s sake) and bought the exclusive deluxe album.

It was the same price as the regular album (for a limited time) but I would have paid more for it without blinking.

What you should do:

Create a limited edition set for your novel release featuring some special bonuses that will *only* be offered as part of this exclusive offer.

You can include a special bookmark, a hand-written thank you note, some sort of book-related trinket, and (of course) an autographed copy of the book.

These limited copies would be sold directly through your website (you can use PayPal for the transactions) and should cost more than the book by itself.

But your reader will be getting a special value above and beyond *just* a book.

Even if you only have 10 – 25 of these, it’s something really special and fans will want a *real* piece of the history you are making.

The ends justify the means

Yes, you’re probably reading this and thinking — “Good Lord, Shannon. That sounds like a lot of work! Have you forgotten that I also have a full time job and dinner to cook and kids to take to soccer practice and other hobbies I enjoy?”

Make no mistake, a *good* book launch does take a lot of work.

But the payoff is SO worth it.

Your book launch will set the tone for everything to come. It’s your best chance to build the kind of momentum that will spiral into steady monthly sales and therefore get you closer to your goals of doing this writing thing full-time.

People doubted Justin and he proved them wrong, nearly doubling their projected numbers for his first week of sales and breaking all sorts of records in the process.

So now it’s your turn to prove people wrong.

Show us what you got!

P.S. – In the middle of his album release hoopla, Justin confirmed a “leak” (totally planted, come on) that he will have a SECOND album out later this year. Just saying, if you want to announce a sequel…Justin wrote the book on doing that, too.

  • Wow! Awesome tips! Can’t wait to try a few of these out!

  • Robin Lythgoe

    I really enjoyed reading this! Love the way you laid out a comparison that was easy and exciting to follow, and I’m looking forward to implementing these tactics with my next book. Thanks so much for the things you teach and the enthusiasm you put into it—and keep rockin’!

    • Thanks so much Robin! I’m so glad you enjoyed it :-) Good luck with the implementation (let us know if we can help) and you keep rockin’ too!

  • Very timely! I’m editing my third book (well, will be in about 30 minutes) for a 30 July release and this comparative post has me thinking of ways to be much more proactive than with the last 2 releases. Thanks!

    • Awesome Carmen! Glad the timing matched with your new book release. It really does make a huge difference to get ahead of the ball with a launch plan (and it makes the whole experience a little less stressful and a little more fun!)

  • Laura Dennis

    These are super. amazing (and crazy sexy cool) tips. Thank you — I’ve implemented a bunch for the re-release of my memoir, but now I know what I’m going to do for an upcoming new book. Thanks!

    • Hi Laura! Glad you enjoyed the post :-) A re-release is definitely a good time to build up some excitement and anticipation, too. Even staggering your paperback and eBook can help make bigger events to drive sales. Good luck with things! (And you know I totally wrote this post as an excuse to post gratuitous JT pictures on the Duolit blog! :-))

  • Bette A. Stevens

    GREAT ADVICE… And, oh boy, did I need it! Thanks again, DUOLIT. Bette

  • What a fantastic post! All the more helped by my insane Justin Timberlake mancrush. Great job!

    • There’s nothing wrong with a little JT mancrush Ryan. :-) Glad I could fuel the flames for you!

  • When will the book industry turn around and let writers do the writing and professionals, like you, do the marketing? Am I dreaming?

    • That would be a wonderful world, Rose! Hopefully as self-publishing evolves that will become a reality. :-)

  • florabrown

    Thanks for drawing this detailed account of how we can plan a book launch using Timberlake’s album release as a guide. I especially appreciate your tips about how the book launch differs from an album release in terms of timing with the book release date.

    I’m off to share this with my colleagues and clients.

  • thank you! These tips are great.

  • Helen Ginger

    Really good advice — and memorable since you compared it to Timberlake.

    • Yes, we all pay better attention when Justin Timberlake visuals are involved, right? :-)

  • Killer tips from the master (thanks for putting them in this tidy list)

    Book launch for my new adult fantasy, Lightning Rider, (about the first ever female time traveler (who’s a badass latina) kicks off on May 31… and I’m pleased that I’ve conquered a couple of these steps on the list. Now to get the blog posts done and set up a twitter party.

  • Rose D’Andrea

    Thanks for writing a how-to-launch article that is both informative and entertaining. I will be able to happily read this the dozen times it will take for me to get all the way through to the actual launch day.

  • visanika

    justin timberlake

  • Toby Tullis

    This is the most poignant article on book launch I have ever read, and I am happy that a few of my tactics (as I was shooting in the dark) fit your script! Thank you for this. I will refer to your article for years to come