By Chris Robley
(Originally published on BookBaby Blog here.)
If you’re self-publishing or releasing a book through a small press, being pampered isn’t usually part of the equation; you’ll have to take the lead on planning your own launch party.
But don’t get fever chills; it’s not all that different from throwing a Super Bowl party, only YOU are the main attraction and hopefully overly-enthusiastic fans won’t be screaming at you if you drop a word or don’t enunciate clearly during your reading.
Why should you plan a book launch party?
1. Press coverage. You’ve put months or years of your life into writing your book. That past investment is invisible to the public, BUT the pressure of that time expenditure is pushing towards a single point: the book release. It’s an event worthy of celebration.
It’s also the time to focus your efforts on attracting critics, journalists, agents, and bookstore owners who can help you move your career forward. If you can make your book release truly newsworthy, you’ll have some assistance building a buzz from industry folks and the local media.
2. Spread the word. Sure, you hope your family and friends show up, maybe even a few enemies if it helps make the place look full. But if you can attract media attention for the event, there’s a chance you’ll have the opportunity to earn new readers and fans – fans who will recommend your book to their friends, who will recommend it to their friends, and so on, and so on.
3. Contextualize your writing life. Have a habit of getting lost in thought during the middle of dinner? Possessive of your time early in the morning before you wake your kids up for school? Irritable and manic for a few days after receiving a rejection letter?
Writing is hard work, both in terms of process and emotional ups and downs. Sometimes your friends and family just don’t understand. Granted, there are few excuses for rudeness or shirking your responsibilities, but… ya know, writers can be weird sometimes, and usually there’s an explanation.
A book launch party is the perfect opportunity to showcase your work, your quirks, and talk about some of the dramatic highlights that happen behind the scenes. Now you can show the people closest to you there’s a method to your madness, but that you also appreciate their patience and faith.
4. Have fun. Let’s not forget the basics here. A book launch is a big achievement. Live a little!
Where should I host my book launch party?
The obvious answers are either a bookstore or your home.
A bookstore (try your local independent bookstores or Barnes & Noble) will lend an air of literary credibility to the event. Local media may be more inclined to cover your book launch if it is tied in with an established bookseller. Plus, you’ll be able to call upon some of that retailer’s promotional resources (event calendars, posters in the store, website, email newsletters, etc.) But, on the flip side, you’re confined to their space, their rules, their timeline.
If you really want to be comfortable, you could host the event in your home, decorate as you see fit, and cuss to your heart’s content. The drawbacks to this approach would be potentially limited space, clean-up, and the fact that some people just feel awkward about promoting themselves in their own home. They end up feeling like what they’re really doing is entertaining guests.
Those aren’t your only options, though. Libraries are always a possibility. Or you could rent an event space. Better yet, find a space that is sympathetic to the theme or topic of your book and cross-promote.
For instance, if you’ve written a nautical adventure, host your party at a yacht club or boating store. Have you written a book about early motherhood? Party down in the local birthing center (maybe not in the delivery room, though). Written the untold history of the Gemini Program? Maybe you should hit up the closest science museum.
You get the point – synergy! (Yes, I hate that word.)
How do I prepare for my book launch party?
1. Approach the desired venue with your idea. Be prepared with a press kit and pitch. Tell them why this book launch is not only good for YOU, but why it will help bring new business to their store or new interest to their cause. They’ll also want to know how many people you can bring out for the party.
2. Work with the event space/venue/store on a promotional plan. Divvy up the responsibilities if possible, or at the very least, have a discussion that outlines all the promotional activities you plan to do. They’ll see you’re serious, and you’ll have a plan to execute on.
3. Enlist help. Will there be food? Costumes? Props? Decorations? A podium? Music? A cage of doves to set free? Parking issues?
Find some folks to help out. And yes, family and friends are always a good place to start. Beyond that, see if caterers, bands, and other local businesses would be interested in sponsoring or assisting somehow.
Also, try to find an author, book critic, or other personality to act as a kind of informal MC. They’ll handle your brief introduction at the beginning of the event. And hey, everyone loves endorsements!
4. Promote the hell out of it! You may go on a book tour or have future readings and signings, but you’re never going to have another book LAUNCH for this book. Do it right. Invite friends, family, and fans via email, by phone, in person, and over social networks. Remind them of the book launch in your email newsletter. Create a Facebook event. Tweet and blog about your preparations and what people can expect. Shoot a video invitation and put it on YouTube. Make it sound fun!
Design fliers and posters. Hang them in coffee shops, libraries, bookstores, and community centers.
Let the press know at least two months in advance (though if you can give them three months, they’ll love you for it) by sending them a succinct (but exciting!) press release and press kit. This includes the regional newspapers, local art papers, weekly rags, literary journals and reviews, colleges and universities, individual professors who may be able to inform students, radio stations (including local NPR affiliates, community radio, and college radio), online events calendars, book bloggers, cable access channels, local news and TV news magazines, and just about anyone else you can think of.
See our article on creating a digital press kit for your book.
5. Follow up. Keep a detailed spreadsheet of all the people and media outlets you’ve contacted, along with their contact info, and the date of first contact. Follow up with them a couple weeks later asking if they’ve received your press release, if they will be covering the event, and if you can do anything to accommodate them (e.g. interviews, free books for giveaways, contributions to their blogs, etc).
Then follow up a second time as the event nears. Sometimes scheduled stories are dropped or miss deadline, and maybe your event is the perfect last-minute addition to fill some dead air or white space.
The party itself
First, it’s good to remember that even hough you’re the star of the evening, peoples’ attention spans are short. No one likes a conceited blowhard, and no one wants to listen to your read your work for an hour. I suggest you keep things punctual, to-the-point, and then allow a little leisure time at the end for those who want to linger. Something like this:
7:30 pm: Doors open. Be there to meet and greet briefly with guests. Put your helpers on snack or drink duty.
7:50 pm: Sneak off to compose yourself, calm the nerves, use the restroom (and yes, you should force yourself to beforehand since public speaking does strange things to your waste-management system.)
8:00 pm: Official start time for event. Guests should have all arrived. Latecomers will suffer evil glares.
If you’re in a bookstore, the store owner, manager, or event coordinator will announce that things are underway, thank folks for coming, talk a little bit about their venue/store, announce upcoming events, and then introduce the person who will be introducing you.
If you’re hosting the party yourself, a spouse, partner, or friend can handle this initial welcome.
8:02 pm: Introductions. You don’t want to have to brag about yourself, so this person takes the bullet for you! They get up and sing your praises for two or three minutes as anticipation builds and the audience makes that strange transition from a group of family, friends, and acquaintances to adoring fans.
8:05 pm: You’re on! If you’re particularly adept at public speaking, and if you’ve scored it out ahead of time, you can use your reading time to weave between actual recitations, readings, annotations, asides, back-stories, personal confessions, and more! If not, I suggest you work the personal details and process part of your story into the first 5-10 minutes. Then you can use the remaining time to read straight from your work.
8:30 pm: Q&A. I know a lot of folks who think, “Oh, I’ll know most of the attendees. A Q&A sounds lame. They’ll feel like they have to ask something to be polite!”
That may be true in some cases, but oftentimes, a reading allows folks who know you quite well to see a different side of you. They get curious, and tend to ask question because they genuinely want to have a discussion with you about these new revelations. And if you tend to get nervous thinking about Q&As, remember that “I don’t know, I’ll have to do some soul searching and put the answer on my blog” is a perfectly good answer.
8:45 pm: Thanks and goodbyes. You or the MC can then thank folks for attending. If you want the party to rage on afterwards, go all night! Folks will appreciate being released from their official responsibilities, and then you can all unwind together.
Keep a positive attitude
You can be in persona if you want, acting mysterious, cool, gregarious, funny, or whatever else, but be kind to your attendees. Show genuine appreciation for THEM and they’ll care about you in return.
Plus, you never know who “they” may be: a critic, a blogger, acquisitions editor in town visiting parents, or your next #1 fan.
Chris Robley is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard’s Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of “Short Works Poetry.”