How to Throw a Killer Book Launch Party

Hacks for Hacks - sense of humor requiredWarning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.

Well, well, WELL, look who’s got a book coming out? What started out as some chickenscratch on a napkin has culminated in a published book with a cover and paragraphs and everything. This calls for a celebration. A book launch is your chance to inflate your ego, generate some buzz, and to show your doubting parents that those rent-free months in their basement weren’t for nothing. If you’re going to throw a shindig, though, don’t just set out some Cool Ranch Doritos and two-liter bottles of pop. You owe it to your career to make this the social event of the season. I’m going to show you how.

Planning

Set a Budget: Precisely calculate costs for food, alcohol, decorations, pens for signing books, and giveaway bookmarks. Once you’ve got that total, tack on 40% or so since you know you’ll go over budget anyway.

Theme: Choose a theme that relates to your book. Is it historical fiction? Period-inspired clothing is all the rage. Literary fiction? Set up tables where attendees can smoke cigarettes and contemplate the constant daily dehumanization inflicted by modern life. Military science fiction? Have some guys with guns burst into the room without warning. Ha ha, what fun!

Invitations: Like any good party, you can’t have just ANYBODY showing up. Limit invitations to whoever happens to be on your Facebook friends list. Don’t bother with real-life invitations–you’ve burned out all your real-life friendships by asking them to beta-read your novel.

Reserve a Space: Bookstores are great because they sell books. You also sell books. This is not rocket science. Still, you’ll want to be sure you get your preferred date and time, so book the venue, at minimum, an hour or two before the party.

Precisely calculate costs for food, alcohol, decorations, pens for signing books, and giveaway bookmarks. Once you’ve got that total, tack on 40% or so since you know you’ll go over budget anyway.

Refreshments:

  • Drinks: Make your life easy and get a keg. Kegs are great because they’re economical and have no labels, so nobody will question you if you say the Natty Light is Stella Artois. If you want something classier than beer foam in red Solo cups (my MY, aren’t we FANCY?), you can magically improve the taste of any beer merely by adding umlauts to the label with a Sharpie. Those bottles of Coörs or Büd Lïght Lïme sound kinda swanky all of a sudden, don’t they?
  • Food: Taco bar.
book signing
photo by Swansea Photographer

At the Event

It’s time to set up and meet your adoring public.

Have a Drink: This is your big day, you need to take the edge off.

Make an Entrance: My favorite part of a football game is when the team takes the field while the school fight song plays. Achieve a similar effect by hiring a marching band to play as you triumphantly enter the party. Bonus: Those hundred-odd extra people really fill out an empty room.

Remember to ask how to spell each person’s name. Or just write in cursive so they can’t read it anyway.

Meet the Help: This isn’t an important day only for you. Don’t forget you’re helping the bookstore, too, being a real, live author whose books are stocked on their shelves. I’m not saying to walk around like you own the place…even though it IS authors like yourself whose works keep their lights on and pay their debt-ridden English-major employees. Goodness knows some extra buzz from a big-shot like you might mean the difference between them eking out another month in the dying print industry, or seeing their business swallowed up in the jungles of the Amazon. Oh, what’s that, Mr. Staff? Can you get me anything? Uh, maybe that water I asked for five minutes ago? I mean, as long as doing your job isn’t a big hassle or anything.

Have a Drink: The guests are about to arrive, and you’re more charismatic when you’ve had a couple.

Mingle: Meet them! Greet them! These people are here to see you, so don’t be afraid to talk about your book. They say you’re never more than three feet from a spider. So, too, should you keep every conversation within eight words of discussing your magnificent book, wrapping your new friend in an inescapable literary cocoon where they await their fate (by which I mean, your book).

Have a Drink: You’re giving your reading next, and you need a nip of courage to beat back your crippling stage fright.

Give a Reading: Remember to project. Speak from your diaphragm. I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know where that is, exactly, so Google that before you speak from it. Also, work on your character voices. I have a stable of five that work for any reading: normal voice, old guy, female, dog, and carnival barker.

Sign Some Books: This is the part where you really feel like you’ve hit the big time. Remember to ask how to spell each person’s name. Or just write in cursive so they can’t read it anyway. Did you know that if Stephen King misspells your name, it legally becomes the correct spelling? Something to shoot for at your next book launch.

Have a Drink: You did it! Your book is now in the wild, and people are talking about it and buying it. Drink a toast to this great accomplishment! A drink will also stop you from grinding your teeth over how you blew half your advance on a party that sold fourteen books.

Want to share some party tips of your own? Help out your fellow authors by leaving a comment.

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About Bill Ferris

After college, Bill Ferris left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his wife, Jen, and his sons, Elliott and Wyatt, and he looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.

Comments

  1. says

    They say you’re never more than three feet from a spider. So, too, should you keep every conversation within eight words of discussing your magnificent book, wrapping your new friend in an inescapable literary cocoon where they await their fate (by which I mean, your book).

    I smiled my way through this, but that gem made me laugh out loud. Thanks for a fun start to the day, Bill — and just as I’m planning a book-launch party, too. Now I realize what’s been missing from my plan all along. Taco bar!
    Therese Walsh´s last blog post ..Pre-Order The Moon Sisters, Receive My Debut for FREE!

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  2. Judith Coopy says

    thanks for the interesting article….but sometimes it is not all good with a bookstore.

    Recently a friend of mine and her mother wrote a wonderful book about the woman’s childhood in the Warsaw ghetto and being able to get out. Well the local bookstore wanted them to pay $100 to have a book launch and signing. These women are well-known in my area and would have brought many people to the store.

    She was shocked to say the least. Is it normal for bookstores to charge a fee for a book launch/signing? Needless to say, now I know why other authors do not use that bookstore!
    Judith Coopy

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  3. says

    I recently saw a Mexican movie from the fifties in which the hero was followed by a mariachi band everywhere he went. Very classy. Granted, a mariachi band won’t fill up an empty room as well as a marching band, but their costumes are undoubtedly better. Just a thought for those us who live out west.

    I was very surprised by Judith’s comment about the bookstore wanting $100 to rent the space. Not that that’s a huge sum (and probably a lot less than renting another space), but on principle, it seems silly. I would think bookstores would be delighted to host events like that. Anyone else have a similar experience?
    Lori Schafer´s last blog post ..The Dubious Witness: Does New Research into the Functioning of Memory Make All of Human Recollection Unreliable?

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  4. says

    Hire a marching band? LOVE IT!! Period costumes? Absolutely. My novel is set in Venice, so there will be masks… lots of masks. And since there are ghosts in my book too, perhaps the decorations shall come to life during the event. If only planning the plot were as fun as planning the party to sign the books. Right?

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  5. says

    Thanks for this. I clicked on it thinking, “Good, some pointers. I need more pointers.” As I laughed throughout, I realized it’s actually exactly what I needed: a reminder to chill the f*** out and have a drink.

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  6. says

    OMG – I can’t believe the marching band thing didn’t occur to me. That would have solved SO many problems at my launch!

    Dude, I am SO hiring you to manage my next book launch. I’ll be in touch.

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  7. says

    I think you and Dan Blank should pair up and form a book-party-planning company. In fact, I’m shocked he hasn’t already thought of the idea. Shocked, I say.

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  8. says

    Oh, this had me chuckling! Now I’m in Hyde County, NC, 3 hrs west of you. Maybe we should schedule a duo book debut and do one together? That way we could get a bigger keg . . .

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  9. says

    This was hilarious. Thanks for the morning chuckle. I may be in the minority here because I love throwing parties so I usually have my launch planned before the book is even written. But…I never launch at a book store and my goal is for everyone to have a great time. I find places for free that are thrilled that over 200 people will come to their store. DYING FOR A DANCE was launched at a huge antique mall. I served a case of wine donated by the winery because I happened to mention them in my book. Some inexpensive desserts for munching and entertainment provided by my ballroom dance teacher and his professional partner. I held my luau launch for DYING FOR A DAIQUIRI at an enormous outside furniture store. It was the only place in Sacramento that still had palm trees and umbrellas in October. Costco made two sheet cakes with the cover of my book for $15 each. I did hire a guy with a daiquiri machine (well worth it) and local hula dancers. And all of us, including the venue, promoted one another. What’s fun for me is that friends and co-workers from my past can have an opportunity to catch up with one another at my annual event. And yes, I sell lots and lots and lots of books! I also have a local non-profit involved so they get free press as well as a $1.00 donation for every book sold. Launch parties aren’t for everyone but the promotional benefits are well worth it!

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  10. says

    I did a bookstore launch for my two books followed by a party at a restaurant down the street. Had the most people ever for a signing (over 60) and sold as many books. Could have enjoyed myself more if I hadn’t had a TV appearance the next morning at 8:00 and I had to drive an hour plus. Forget about paying for the party with proceeds from book sales, its all about the buzz.
    Tony Vanderwarker´s last blog post ..Tony Vanderwarker on CBS 6 News

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  11. says

    Or you could go the traditional route and serve cheese cut into cubes and white wine in plastic cups. A folding card table is mandatory. For iconoclasts, a platter of unripe cut fruit from the local deli is a wild idea.

    Men: If you go the traditional route, be sure to wear a wrinkled dress shirt, blue blazer and rep tie. If you don’t wear glasses, get some. Tousle your hair. You’ve got to look the part.

    Women: Wear nothing attractive, please. If you write anything historical, appear in costume. Be sure to sign books with a big, thick black sharpie. Fountain pens are, ahem, a tad pretentious.

    Don’t just have a drink, get stinking drunk. Make an inappropriate remark about your editor, and be sure to do so in front of your wife or husband. Don’t be afraid of the public fallout. You’ve got to get people to leave somehow.
    Donald Maass´s last blog post ..Deal: P.C. Hodgell

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  12. says

    I think at this moment I am three feet from at least ten spiders. It’s just been that kind of day. Spidery and webbish.

    But YOUR post makes me feel like those ten spiders are merely those gentle Daddy Long Legs kind and not Wolf Spiders. Which can kill you.

    From Wikipedia: [Wolf spiders] are robust and agile hunters with excellent eyesight. They live mostly solitary lives and hunt alone.

    Muchas gracias, Senor Funny-Pants.
    Sarah Callender´s last blog post ..Membrane

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  13. says

    Thanks for the chuckle. I live in eastern NC–maybe we could combine the costs of hiring that marching band and have a party for our next books together?

    One time I did an event in the lobby of a local hospital and donated $2 of each book to their Volunteers. So many people stopped by to buy a book to bring upstairs to the person they were visiting that it made it one of my best days ever~

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