Your book is coming out soon and you want to mark its entry into the world. You don’t want it to just slide out unnoticed amongst the serried ranks of ‘New Releases’ in the bookshops. You want it properly launched. But your publisher isn’t keen to do a launch. Too much time and effort for too little return, they imply. Unless you’re a celebrity, or a highly publicized first-time author with a dedicated, free-spending, large family and friends network, book launches aren’t a big part of many publishers’ promotional strategy these days. But—surprise, surprise—we authors still love them! And so it’s become more and more common for authors to put together their own book launch.
But launches are not as easy as they might sound to someone who is new to the process—that time and effort cited by reluctant publishers as reasons not to have one are very real things. As a veteran of many launches—both those I’ve attended and those I organized for my own books as an author–I can vouch for that! I’ve also recently organized other people’s book launches as a small-press publisher–generally small publishers are warmer to the idea of book launches than big ones. So I’ve accumulated some knowledge of what can help to make your launch a hit and not a miss!
First of all, it’s about planning. Planning well ahead of time, months ahead of time. Ask yourself:
What kind of launch do I want? Big, small, straightforward, themed–that is, not just themed around your book, but with a certain look? You will not be surprised to learn that a big, themed launch is the most time-consuming and expensive to pull off. However, don’t let it stop you if that’s what you want. With our small press, we’ve run a couple of themed kids’ Christmas book launches with a cast of thousands. Well, not exactly thousands but you know what I mean. Readings, music, party gifts and prizes have worked really well, but have also been a large amount of work to get right, with many panicky pre-launch moments.
The smaller, more straightforward launch, where someone launches the book with a short speech, the author says a few words, then everyone toasts the book baby with the sparkling stuff before hopefully lining up to buy signed books whilst trying to graze on the last remaining nibbles, might not be as glamorous but they can still work really well, especially if this is your first book, you’re celebrating it locally amongst your family and friends, and everyone’s excited to see you in print. When you’ve had several books out, it’s better to space out your launches—don’t have one for each book, because people, even your nearest and dearest, get launch fatigue. And small, standard launches are much, much easier to get right, aren’t nearly as much work, and booksellers know exactly what to expect and don’t get jumpy about unusual activities happening too close to those neat shelves.
The kind of launch you want will help you answer the next most important question: in what venue do you want your launch to take place? Bookshops are, of course, the most obvious, but we’ve also held successful launches in libraries and toy shops, and I’ve been to one held in a market, and another in the author’s home. All worked very nicely, were well-attended and were much fun. However, whilst it’s fun to think of unusual places to host your launch, people who deal with books every day, like booksellers and librarians, are likely to understand more quickly what it is you want. And booksellers have the great advantage that they sell books—thus they are set up for the whole admin and financial process. They order the book from your publisher or from you, if you’re self-published, put it into their system, and hey, presto, you don’t need to think about that aspect of the whole deal at all. Whereas of course you do if you have it in a venue such as a library—either you bring a local bookseller in or you have to do it yourself. If you do the latter, I recommend asking a deft and patient friend to handle sales—you want to be celebrating and signing, not struggling with cash floats and capricious portable banking devices.
But really, bookshops are the easiest venue. Which leads us to our next question: Which bookseller is best? Your local neighbourhood one, or that famous one in the distant city that you like to visit on occasion? The answer depends on several things: what kind of contact you’ve had with said bookseller; what kind of space they have–important if you’re planning a big launch; and, of course, what their schedule is like. Some very popular bookshops have launches happening every week, sometimes more than once a week, and that’s why, if you want to nab one of those coveted spots, you need to speak to them months and months ahead of the book’s release. You also need to consider how many people in your networks are likely to be able to come— even if it’s a popular bookshop, if you know very few people where it’s situated, you aren’t likely to attract a large crowd, because, let’s face it, unless you have been heavily promoted by your publisher, very few people are going to turn up to a stranger’s launch.
Okay, so you’ve chosen your type of launch, and your venue. You’ve talked to the bookseller, or whoever you’ve chosen, and they’re keen. You need to choose a date and a time for the launch. Before or after official release? Evening weekday launch or Saturday late morning/afternoon launch? Each option has its advantages—if it’s an evening weekday launch, people can come straight after work; if it’s a Saturday launch, people are more relaxed. But each has its disadvantages, of course: after work, people are tired and may want to go straight home; on Saturdays, people may be too relaxed and not feel like going out. You can’t guarantee, I’m afraid, if what you choose will work. You just have to go with your instinct. And pick a date and time fast!
So now you have all the essentials of style, venue and timing locked in. Time to think of an MC or book launcher—who might you ask to launch your creation into the world? Well, it depends on your book: but you can go with an author friend or acquaintance, especially if they are well-known, or local celebrity of some kind, if you happen to know them, and know they are a reader. You may also go with someone from your publisher or decide to do something different and simply make the launch speech yourself. I’ve also been to a few launches in my local town where the bookseller actually does a Q and A with the author, and that takes the place of speeches and is very effective. If you have a big launch with lots of moving parts, you need an MC rather than a launcher; in that case I suggest you ask someone efficient and organised and good-humoured in your own networks.
Now comes the part when you need to establish the program for the launch: when things will happen, when food/drinks will be served, how long speeches/readings/whatever should be, when you want to hit the signing table, and so on. Best to determine that with the bookseller as they can advise on what timings work best. Then once you’ve done that, you need to communicate it to the other people who need to know, such as your MC/launcher.
Catering, of course: how much are you going to spend, and can you get support for that expense from the publisher or bookseller? What sort of food and drink will you provide? It depends of course on who’s likely to turn up: whether it’s likely to be just adults, or families with kids. Finger food of the non-sticky, vegetarian and non-messy kind is best, in my experience; whilst a mix of wine, fruit juices plus water is very much a one-size-fits-all standard for drinks. Cakes are also popular—whether large ones decorated like the book cover, or trays of pretty iced cupcakes, with the sparkling stuff and/or nice juice to go with it. Hot drinks are problematical in all sorts of ways so usually are best left out.
Now you have all the elements locked down, it’s time to promote your launch. Schedule Facebook posts, send out invitation emails to your contacts, inform the local media, though you want to inform them pretty close to the time, not too far ahead—they forget easily! Create posts, flyers and posters, whether electronic or print or preferably both, with the print ones reserved for pasting up around town, in shops, libraries, cafes, etc. Usually local businesses are happy to put something up, as long as it’s not huge and shouty. Send electronic flyers to your bookseller for them to use too: and remember, mention them on the flyer as hosts, right up front, not just as the venue. It’s easy now for anyone with a bit of design flair to create a good-looking flyer: just remember not to have too much text, but all the essentials of time date place and book front and centre! And couch it as an invitation, not an advertisement: ‘Author X and Bookshop Y invite you to the launch of Book Z…’
All the hard work’s done, you’ve ticked every box, the launch has been well-promoted, lots of people have said they’ll come, the bookseller’s happy, the big day is upon you—what can possibly go wrong now?
Well, that’s a story for another time.
Right now, it’s over to you: What tips do you have for planning successful book launches? And what book launches do you think work best? Love to know your thoughts and your experiences!