Should you have a book launch? Do you need one? If you do want to launch your book, who organises it and pays for it - you or the publisher? What do you do at a book launch? Who should speak?
These days, publishers do not generally become involved in book launches (especially for first-time authors) so it will be up to you to organise your own. Many writers consider a book launch to be essential to help promote their work as well as being fun - and a validation of all the work that goes into a book!
Luckily writers are becoming a lot more proactive about marketing and selling their books. As someone who has organised a few launches of her own books, I offer here the benefit of my experience and some words of advice. Let’s take my most recent launch, of The Girl in the Basement (Morris Publishing Australia) which was held in my home town, Wollongong, in July 2013.
As the launch was of a cross-over novel (suitable for young adults and adults), the best venue seemed to be a high school. Luckily I have a friend, the retired librarian of a local co-ed school, who agreed to host the launch. In turn, she enlisted the services of the current librarian and the Head English teacher, who organised the seating and selected two classes of Year 10 students to attend.
My main job was to publicise the launch to the general public. To this end, I sent emails to everyone on my local database; I posted a notice in the South Coast Writers’ Centre online newsletter and on council branch library noticeboards. I also invited the local TV news station to film the event (they didn’t turn up, despite promising to do so.) My publisher kindly paid for the refreshments and my husband, award-winning YA author, Bill Condon, agreed to launch the book.
On the launch day the weather was atrocious – wind and rain – so fewer adults turned up than had said ‘yes’ to the RSVP, but I was happy to see so many supporters there, mostly friends.
We allowed an hour for the launch. First my hostess friend introduced me and then I thanked my helpers and those attending, following which I delivered a 15-minute power point presentation that focused on where the idea for The Girl in the Basement came from, what research I did prior to and during writing, and how the book’s cover was chosen. Next, Bill gave a short and witty launch speech after which I answered questions for about 15 minutes.
Book sales and signings followed, as well as refreshments (hors d’oeuvres, cakes, tea and coffee) and an opportunity for people to talk informally to me and to each other.
My latest launch was quite different from a few of my other book launches – for example, one involved the literal launch of a two-metre paper champagne ‘bottle’ on a pulley into my waiting arms; another saw a play adaptation from a scene in the book; another saw me arriving at the launch on a Harley Davidson motorbike. Probably the most interesting part of my latest talk was the photo I showed the audience of a teenage girl and boy bound and gagged, which was found as a Polaroid in a car park in America many years ago, the first indication months later of what had happened following the disappearance of the respective children: this photo (and newspaper article) was the impetus for writing The Girl in the Basement.
Was the launch a success? Insofar as a large group of people were introduced to my latest book -- yes. Everyone said how much they enjoyed the presentations. And it was great seeing many friends. But a success in terms of income? No. The sale of books on the day did not cover the cost of the refreshments. However, in the words -- post-launch -- of my publisher: ‘Don't be too disappointed about the number of sales. The impending holiday could have been a huge influence. Students might turn up with money tomorrow or they might go to the bookshops. It is not always an immediate result.’
How might I have increased sales? Having the launch at 2 pm on a week-day meant that many people couldn’t make it. (More would surely have come at night or on the weekend). The inclement weather was unavoidable. There was no street parking; people had to walk in the rain some distance to the school from their cars. Although students had been given flyers about buying books, only one student remembered his money. (Perhaps I should have asked for a notice to go home in the school newsletter). If I’d organised it earlier, the newspaper article (I’ve been promised) might have appeared before the launch and attracted more people. I could also have followed up on the letters I posted to the three local radio stations – more free publicity.
Life is full of should have’s and could have’s. Next time I’ll do it better. But here are some suggestions if you are planning a launch:
· Design an invitation that can be emailed as well as posted as this represents a cost saving and is also more efficient in terms of receiving and chasing up RSVPs.
· Get invitations out in plenty of time and include an RSVP: say it is for catering purposes
· Try as many ways as you can to maximise publicity
· Try to find a venue where access and parking are easy
· You can often link your launch into big occasions (such as a festival or conference)
· Keep the launch venue up-to-date with information about progress
· Offer an incentive to your hosts (for example 20% of my book sales were donated to the school library; I also gifted it several copies)
· Make sure you have copies of your book available for purchase on the day. (It’s a good idea to sign them the night before to cut down on waiting time for those wishing to buy them.)
· Have an MC who can introduce the speakers
· Invite a high profile person to launch your book: this will help attract an audience. At the very least, chose someone who is a confident and entertaining speaker.
· Recruit a team of support people, such as family and friends, so that you can delegate some of the responsibility to make organising the event as stress free as possible
· Remember to thank everyone who attends and who helps you
· Offer your guests refreshments at the end of the show
Some authors like to decorate their venue. Here is what Tricia Stringer, author of Changing Channels wrote about her experience: ‘My book is an adult romance set on a farm and the cover is hot pink. The launch was in a shearing shed, cleaned but not bereft of things like wool press, brand templates, shears and a pen of live sheep. We decorated with touches of pink.’
The launch of The Girl in the Basement was a low-key event. Other launches I’ve organised have attracted hundreds of people (two book launches were televised on national television), but it suited my purpose: it introduced the book to friends, old and new and provided another memory for me to savour in my 30+ writing career.
The Girl in the Basement is available in paperback for $24.95 and can be bought from Morris Publishing Australia, Dennis Jones and Associates, James Bennett Library suppliers and The Nile Bookshop. You can also purchase an e-book version for $4.99 via Amazon, Smash words, Kobo, Apple and other online stores.