I’ve published several books now, two through small press publishers and three self-published volumes. For each I have had some kind of book launch and although they were very enjoyable experiences I wonder what the actual value of a book launch is and how useful other writers have found their launches. Put another way, if you don’t have a launch for your new book, does that affect its public impact or is it better to put your energy and cash into other ways of promoting your publication?
If you are self-published money is obviously a concern. For my self-published books I was able to have launches at my local library, as long as I provided the refreshments and did most of the publicity myself. The most successful of the three was a non-fiction local history book which generated quite a lot of local interest. The two fiction books attracted a reasonable audience but mostly of friends and family and other local authors. The launches didn’t have much of an impact on sales but they were FUN.
My first novel, Consider The Lilies won the inaugural Impress Novel Prize and there was an impressive prizegiving at Exeter University which made me feel something of a celebrity. The surrounding publicity resulted in a few bookings for readings back home but I didn’t actually have a local launch.
My second novel, Mere has recently been published by Thunderpoint Publishing and they very generously footed the bill for a launch at a local art gallery. Again I probably knew most of the people who attended but there was a deal of press interest which further stimulated interest in the book. I did sell quite a lot of books but the best of the evening was seeing all those people who were interested enough to come and hear me read and to meet up with some people who I hadn’t seen for years. It was a great night with a wonderful atmosphere and that wasn’t just because of the wine but because we all enjoyed ourselves.
I think that is the best thing about book launches. You are networking and creating links just by being in the same room together and you have no way of knowing how news of your book may spread via those people you have collected together, whether they buy a copy or not.
There are a few ways to make sure your book launch goes well, whether you are paying for it yourself or having it laid on by your publisher. If you are organising it yourself go easy on outlay, look round for a free venue, some pubs, coffee shops or galleries may have a quiet area or room they will let you have on the strength of selling drinks etc. If you can afford it invest in laying on at least an introductory drink, usually a few bottles of wine, and some orange juice and water will suffice. Your venue might want to supply this at a charge or they may allow you to bring your own and pay a corkage fee. Even just tea and coffee and biscuits are welcome especially if you have an afternoon launch rather than an evening one. I had a cake with a picture of the book cover on it for my latest launch. ASDA do these, and its very simple, you pick the special ‘design-a-cake’ off the shelf, use the computer screen to upload your picture and the bakery will do it for you in a few minutes. Everyone at the launch was very impressed with the cake and it all went, thankfully as I am supposed to be on a diet!
You can do wonders with publicity at no cost at all. Use social media and tweet the event for all you are worth. Send a press release with photos of yourself with your book to your local newspapers and email local radio stations a few days before the event
Make sure the room is suitable and that you will be able to be seen and heard by the audience. Arrange for someone to introduce you and oversee questions from the audience after you have done your reading. Also make sure your book display is attractive, have a clear price list, and delegate a couple of friends to man the book table and sell copies, leaving you free to exercise your signing hand. If you can, arrange a couple of little giveaways, either to be raffled off at the end of the night or to be given away with copies, postcards or bookmarks are nice and can be printed up quite cheaply. I had a few mugs done with the book cover on them and had a free raffle at the end for five, keeping the rest to sell at future bookstalls or as giveaways at other events.
The most important thing of course, is your reading so prepare your excerpts carefully for maximum impact, rather than just starting at the beginning. Select several passages that will give the audience the flavour of the book but intrigue them as to what is going to happen without giving too much away. Whetted appetites definitely result in sales! Mark your selected pages carefully so you can go exactly to the point.
And although you are the star of the show, take time to greet and talk to your guests. Sometimes nervousness makes you less friendly and approachable than you would normally be but try to relax, many of them will be your friends anyway and it is a chance to catch up on what others are doing. You may also find you are asked for advice about writing and getting published so try to make time to help where you can. I always remember being myself in that situation and I’m flattered when people ask for my advice!
Although a lot of work is involved I think book launches are great, not just as a commercial exercise but as a genuine coming together of author and readers to celebrate the birth of a book and with a little effort a book launch can be such an uplifting experience. I’m already looking forward to launching my next one, but I better write the book first!
Book launch for Mere with bookshop proprietor Bob Stone as mine host at Chapel Gallery, Ormskirk, July 2018.