As co-director of a small press publisher, Christmas Press, and its associated imprints, Eagle Books and Second Look, November is a busy month for me. We have three book events scheduled, two being a launch for the same new book on two different days in two different cities and the other being a re-celebration, in a different city, of a book published (and launched) earlier this year. In the weeks and months leading up to the events, I nailed down the details; venues, publicity, making sure authors can come, and ensuring that the books would be available at the various venues. This is easy when it’s being held in a bookshop, as one event is, but not so simple when they are held in other places. It’s certainly not the first time that I’ve run such events, both as publisher and as author, and it’s pleasing to know that they have generally been very successful. It struck me that perhaps WU readers might be interested in some of my tips on planning book events.
If it’s a launch, think carefully. I know most of us authors love a good book launch but not every book needs to be launched—and wearing my publisher hat, I understand why publishers can be reticent about that! For a start, it’s a lot of work, it costs money, and your supporters can get launch fatigue if you do launches too often. Launches are especially good for debut books; for bespoke, collectible books; and for group books, such as anthologies and collections. In each of those three cases you are pretty much guaranteed to get a good crowd, as friends and family flock to the debut author’s event, connoisseurs and special-interest people get fired up over owning their own signed copy of a collectible book, and contributors to anthologies and collections can be relied on to turn up to celebrate their group effort, bringing their own supporters with them. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that other types of book launches don’t work. They certainly can, but you’ll need to put in extra work and imagination if the launch is for say your fifth or tenth or twentieth book—unless of course you are a bestselling author for whom crowds will always come no matter what!
Who will be launching the book? That can be a drawcard in itself. But don’t get ‘stuck’ on one particular person. Have a list of possibles ready so you can easily move on to the next person if your first choice is unavailable. Remember that going for a famous personality might ensure a good roll-up to your event, but it might not ensure a good launch. I remember hearing about one event where the hapless author of the book being launched was completely ignored by the launcher, who just went on and on about themselves—and their own book, published not long before…
An ‘in-conversation’ event can be stimulating but try and make sure interviewer and interviewee can actually work together. I once saw an event at a festival where the poor interviewer, who had clearly prepared some good questions, was struggling mightily with the featured author, who just kept answering ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, without elaborating. Better is a panel discussion where even if one person is monosyllabic others can jump in and cover any embarrassing silences. But take care—a very dominant personality can take over a whole session. Make sure you appoint a good chair/moderator—firm but not dictatorial– who can move things on without fuss or feather-ruffling!
If it’s a celebratory event around a classic or already-published book, think about the audience you are targeting. Usually events around those kinds of books are best held not in a bookshop but in another kind of venue, where books and culture are also valued, but which have a different ‘feel’ to a bookshop. A library, school, cultural organisation, or art gallery, might be the best fit. As noted in my introduction, that makes bookselling a little more complex to organize. However, we’ve found that not only are many bookshops willing to send someone to provide that service for you at the venue, but that there are also good freelance booksellers around who will do the same. You could find out if there are any in your area by asking local bodies—author or publisher organisations—whether they know.
Make a timeline for what you need to do (and here I am basing it on a small-scale event, not on a major one, say a festival or big book launch which needs more time).
- Stage 1 (at least 3-4 months ahead): Have the event clear in your mind. Make sure the people you want to feature are available on the dates you are thinking of. Find a suitable venue and book it.
- Stage 2 (around 2 months before): Arrange for stock to be available at the venue, if it’s not a bookshop. If it is, make sure the bookshop knows where to order stock of the book. Decide on refreshments, if any, and where you are going to source them. Make sure, if it’s a launch, that the launcher has got a copy of the book. Put together a list of people you want to invite, or who should know about your event. Start getting some publicity together. Do you want to send out invitations? If so, print or digital? You can do a combination of both. Get some press releases written.
- Stage 3 (around 4-6 weeks before): Start sending out press releases and invitations. You can do this earlier but we have found it’s better not to do it too early, as people forget. Try and include an RSVP request, but make it easy to do so. Create a Facebook events page. Contact your bookseller—if you have to freight books yourself to a freelance bookseller or participating bookshop, make sure they have them at least 3 weeks ahead of time and make sure they have adequate information on the title, including price, ISBN, etc, so they can enter the book on their systems. Contact your key people who are taking part in the event and make sure all is still good with them. If it’s a panel discussion, make sure the chair/moderator has everyone’s e-mails so they can contact them to discuss format well ahead of time. If it’s an interview event, ditto–hopefully then you might avoid the kind of embarrassment I mentioned earlier! If it’s a launch, make sure the launcher is still on track.
- Stage 4 (2-3 weeks before): Follow up on any remaining press releases, media contacts, invitation stragglers. Make sure your website and social media has updates on the event frequently, but not repeating the same thing over and over, which quickly turns people off! Make sure you have your refreshments sorted.
- Stage 5: (a week before): Cross all t’s and dot all i’s. Is everyone on the same page? Is everything ready?
- Stage 6: (on the day): Welcome everyone who came. Remember to thank everyone who helped, in whatever way that was. Enthuse your audience. Get the featured book noticed and sold and talked about. And above all—enjoy!
Over to you: What are your favorite anecdotes of book events, and your own tips for planning great ones?