How to Throw an Effective Book Launch Party
By Chris Robley
(Originally published on BookBaby Blog here.)
If you’re self-publishing a book or releasing one with a small press, being pampered often isn’t in the equation; you’ll need to take the lead to plan your book launch party.
But don’t feel overly worried; it’s not that different from throwing a Super Bowl party. Except, you become the main attraction, and, with luck, fans won’t be yelling at you if you miss a word or mumble a bit during your reading.
Why You Should Have a Book Launch Party
1. To spark press coverage. You’ve invested months or even years of your life to write a book. The time commitment is invisible to the public, but the expenditure has been building toward an essential point: your book release. It’s a moment worthy of a celebration.
It’s also an ideal time to concentrate your efforts on getting the attention of critics, journalists, agents, and bookstore owners who can help advance your career. If you have a newsworthy book release, you’ll receive a boost from the buzz among industry folks and your local media.
2. To get out the word. Of course, you want your family and friends to show up, possibly even some enemies if it helps to make the venue appear full. But when you attract media coverage of the event, there’s a potential opportunity to win new readers and fans – fans who may suggest your book to their friends, who in turn will recommend it to their friends, and so on.
3. To contextualize your writing life. Do you sometimes become lost in thought in the middle of dinner? Feel possessive about your early morning time before you wake the kids up for school? Grumpy and unpredictable for several days after receiving a rejection letter?
Writing is serious work, both in terms of the process and related emotional ups and downs. Many times, your friends and family may not understand. It’s a given there are few excuses for rudeness or ignoring your responsibilities. But writers can be in a weird mood sometimes, and most times, there’s an explanation.
A well-planned and successful book launch party is an ideal opportunity to showcase your work, your uniqueness, and to bring up a few of the dramatic highlights that happened behind the scenes. It’s an excellent chance to show your family and friends there is a method to your madness — and also that you appreciate their patience and faith.
4. To have fun. Let’s keep in mind the basics here — a book launch is a significant achievement. Live a little!
What’s the Best Place to Hold a Book Launch Party?
The most popular answers are a bookstore or your home.
A bookstore (ask your local independent bookseller or Barnes & Noble) will bring a vibe of literary credibility to the event. The local media might be more likely to cover your book launch if it is connected to an established bookstore. In addition, you’ll be able to be a part of the store’s promotional materials (event calendars, in-store posters, website listings, email newsletters, etc.) Also, on the flip side, you’re limited to their space, rules, and timeline.
If you want to be extra comfortable, you could hold a book launch party in your home, decorate as you prefer, and make everything about you. The drawbacks could be less space, the need to clean-up, and the reality that you may feel awkward about promoting yourself in your own home.
However, at home or in a bookstore, aren’t your only options. Libraries are another good possibility. Or you could rent a unique or well-known venue. Better still, find a space that is in line with the theme or topic of your book and use it to cross-promote.
For example, if you’ve written a nautical adventure story, launch your book with a party at a yacht club or boat store. If you’ve written a book about early motherhood, consider a local birthing center (perhaps not in the delivery room, though). If you’ve written the untold story of the Gemini Program, consider the nearest science museum as a location for your event.
How to Plan a Book Launch Party
1. Approach the venue with your idea. Be ready with a media kit and pitch. Explain why your book launch is not only good for you but also why it will help bring business to a store or interest to a cause. Make sure to point out how many people you turn out for the party.
2. Work with the event venue or store on a promotional plan. Divide up the responsibilities where possible, or at the least, have a conversation about all the promotional activities you expect to do. Show that you are serious and have a plan that can be executed successfully.
3. Enlist help. Will you serve food? Have Costumes? Props? Decorate the space? Need a podium? Music? A cage of doves to set free? Expect large crowds and possible parking issues?
Find people who want to help — family and friends are an excellent place to begin. Going a step farther, ask if caterers, bands, and other local businesses have an interest in sponsoring or assisting in some way.
Also, think about finding an author, book critic, or an engaging personality to be an informal emcee. They can provide you with a brief introduction at the beginning of the party. It never hurts to have an endorsement!
4. Promote it every way you can! You may be planning a book tour or have scheduled upcoming readings and signings, but you won’t have another launch party for this book. Do it well. Invite your friends, family, and fans by email, phone calls, in person, and on social media. Remind people about your book launch through your email newsletter. Post an event on Facebook. Tweet and blog about your event preparations. Shoot a video invitation for YouTube. Make the party sound fun!
Create flyers and posters. Put them up in coffee shops, bookstores, libraries, and community centers.
Alert the media at least two months in advance. If it’s possible to give them three months’ notice, they’ll appreciate it even more. Do it by sending a concise and unique press release and media kit. Make sure your distribution list includes regional newspapers, weekly rags, local art papers, literary reviews and journals, colleges and universities, professors who may choose to inform students, radio stations (remember local NPR affiliates, community radio, and college radio stations), event calendars online, book bloggers, local access cable channels, local news shows, and TV news magazines, and anyone else who may be interested.
Read our article on creating a digital media kit for your book.
5. Follow up with everyone. Maintain a thorough spreadsheet with all people and media outlets you’ve contacted, along with their information, and the date of the first contact. Follow up with everyone two to three weeks later to confirm they’ve received your press release. Ask if they will be covering your event and if you can work with them in any additional ways (e.g., interviews, free books for giveaways, guest blog posts, etc.).
Then follow up again close to the event date. It’s relatively common for scheduled stories to be dropped or miss a deadline, and it’s possible the story of your launch party could fill some dead air or white space.
The Book Launch Party Itself: a Sample Time Line
First off, it’s useful to remember that even though you’re the star of the evening, everyone’s attention span is short. No one enjoys a self-important blowhard, and no one wants to sit silently while you read your work for an hour. I recommend you keep things on time, to-the-point, and always include leisure time in the end for guests who want to linger. Perhaps a schedule like this:
7:30 pm: Doors open. Be present to meet and greet guests as they arrive briefly. Ask your helpers to be on duty and serving snacks or drinks.
7:50 pm: Sneak away to get ready, steady your nerves, use the restroom if needed.
8:00 pm: Official beginning of the event. Guests should have all arrived. Others will notice latecomers.
If your launch party is at a bookstore, the store owner, manager, or an event coordinator will announce that things are underway, thank people for attending, speak briefly about their venue/store, promote upcoming events, and introduce the emcee who will be introducing you.
If you’re hosting the party at home or a venue, a spouse, partner, or friend can make the initial welcome.
8:02 pm: Introductions. You don’t want to congratulate yourself, so the informal emcee handles the task for you! Their introduction sings your praises for a couple of minutes as anticipation builds and the audience segues from a group of family, friends, and acquaintances to interested fans.
8:05 pm: You’re on! If you’re exceptionally comfortable with public speaking, and if you’ve planned it well, you can use your remarks to weave together several things — recitations, readings, annotations, asides, personal back-stories, and more! If you’re less comfortable as a speaker, work in personal details and comments about your book during the first 5-10 minutes. Then you use the remaining time to read directly from your work.
8:30 pm: Q&A. It’s common for authors to think, “I will know most of the guests. A Q&A sounds awkward. They’ll feel as though they need to ask something to be polite!”
It might be true in some cases, but many times, a reading helps people who know you well to understand a different side of you. They become curious and go on to ask questions out of genuine interest in the new revelations. Also, if you feel nervous thinking about Q&As, remember that a perfectly acceptable answer is “I don’t know, I’ll have to do some soul searching and put thoughts on my blog later.”
8:45 pm: Thank yous and goodbyes. You or the emcee can then thank guests for attending. If you want the party to continue, let it run later if people choose to stay. People will appreciate being freed from their official responsibilities, and then you can relax and unwind together.
Always Maintain a Positive Attitude
During your book launch event, you can choose to be in persona if you prefer, behave mysteriously, cool, gregariously, funny, or anything else; but be kind to your attendees. Show them a genuine appreciation for their time and attention, and they will do the same for you.
Also, you never know who they may be: book critics, bloggers, acquisitions editors in town visiting parents or your newest number-one 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.”