It’s a common misconception that if your book secures a deal with a major publisher they will organise a lavish book launch and all you’ll have to do is show up in a new frock and graciously accept the toast. This can happen, but only for the chosen few books that get the lion’s share of the marketing spend. The majority of traditionally published authors have to organise their own book launches, although publishers are often happy to make some kind of contribution. If you’re self-published, of course, you’re on your own.
A book launch is a major undertaking and to be honest I haven’t bothered with it for every book but, when I have, I’ve always felt glad I made the effort. After all, a book is a major personal achievement and one that’s worth celebrating. If you’re organising a book launch, here’s what needs to be on your check-list:
- Notify your publisher if you have one and ask if they would be willing to help by, for example, providing promotional bookmarks and cards, designing the invitations or contributing towards the cost. Don’t think this is cheeky. You and your publisher are a team, and they’ll be delighted to know you’re making an effort to help promote your new book.
- Plan your guest list and send out invitations well in advance.
- Choose a venue that is appropriate to the kind of event – small and intimate, big and showy or possibly themed to the book, such as a historic building if it’s a historical novel or a railway station if it’s about travel or a cake shop if one of your themes is food. Be creative!
- Set a time and date. Most launches tend to be early evening, say 6-8, during the week, so that people can come by after work and you don’t have to provide a meal.
- Think about the catering. As well as sparkling wine for the toast, what other drinks are you going to provide? If a lot of people are likely to be coming by car, remember to lay on plenty of soft drinks too. Can the venue provide a cash bar, to top up your offer?For food, you could get a caterer to lay on a variety of canapés or provide something simple like cheese and olives yourself. Most launches these days seem to involve a fancy themed cake, but that’s still optional. Remember you’ll need someone to serve the drinks and nibbles.
- Think about setting out the room. Don’t have too many chairs – just one or two for those who can’t stand for long periods, or else people will not circulate. You’ll want flowers and possibly some kind of display, with posters of the book cover, you doing events or whatever. You could have a colour scheme, such as pink and sparkly for a children’s fairy book, which could extend to the food and drinks as well as the tables and displays.
- Arrange for a local bookseller or friend to handle sales of your book on the night (a bookseller will normally charge 30% of your takings)
- Arrange for at least one person to take some photos and possibly video your speech/readings (Liz Kessler took mine, including the ones in this blog post – thank-you, Liz!)
- Decide whether you’re going to do a talk and/or readings and practice in advance. Check there’s an elevated spot such as a step to stand on, or take a footstool for yourself so that everyone can see you.
- Ask someone to propose the toast – this could be your agent or publisher, a fellow author or someone else who has some connection to the book.
The way you tackle these points will depend upon your goal in having a book launch. For example, if you’re having it to get publicity and make lots of sales, your guest list will include local media, any movers and shakers you know and as many people as you can bring in, via leafletting and social media. If you take this approach, ask people to let you know if they intend to come along, so that you’ll have some idea how many you’re catering for.
But publicity and sales are not the only reasons for having a launch. There may be times when something more personal could feel more appropriate. For example, my book launch for Writing in the House of Dreams last week came from a deep desire to thank my family and friends for all the support they’ve given me over the years with this child-of-my-heart book.
I didn’t invite any press and I chose the little cafe at the open-air theatre in my village for the venue. Those of my children who could get time off work and my ex husband travelled from Orkney, London and Brighton to celebrate with me; my friend Liz Kessler came up from St Ives, my friend-and-editor Helen Greathead came from Plymouth.
Among my local friends, there were Cornish Crones, Gospel singers, counsellors and some of the people who have been on my dreaming and writing workshops, all of whom, in some way or another, have been present for me during the often-difficult writing of this book.
I did a speech! I don’t normally do that, but Writing in the House of Dreams isn’t my normal kind of book. I wanted to explain what writing it had meant to me, and express my gratitude for the help and encouragement I had received. The book was available to buy, but I would not have been upset if nobody had bought it – actually, I might have been relieved. It’s a personal book and a bit out there, and although I’m happy for strangers to read it I was worried what people who know me might think.
Launching it felt like a kind of coming out, and it has been liberating. Before the launch, I had three weeks of technology meltdown, with both my computers and my mobile phone all giving up the ghost, so I couldn’t do the publicity I had planned.
Sometimes the outer world expresses what’s going on inside, and I think maybe I had to announce the arrival of my book-baby and show it off to my family and friends before I could feel really ready to take it out into the world.
Have you ever organised a book launch? Is there anything I’ve missed from my check-list? Is there anything you might do differently next time?