I’m beginning to plan the launch for my new book, The Gardener’s Daughter, which will be released in March. I’ve just dug out an article I wrote about my experience of launching two books in 2016, which I circulated to a group of authors who were about to be published by Instant Apostle and were wanting some advice. It’s a useful check list of things to think about, so I thought I would share it more widely.
For me, one of the scariest things about having a book published is the book launch. I feel nervous standing up and talking in public, and I don’t like being the centre of attention. I’m an introvert. That’s why I love writing!
Here’s a few things I learned from launching my books The Girl at the End of the Road and The Key of All Unknown.
Date of Launch
Try and time your launch as close as possible to the date of publication of your book. I held both my book launches a couple of weeks before my books were actually available online and in shops. This meant that people were reading them and were giving me feedback by the time the books were released and I had something to tweet and post about, and a couple of nice reviews.
Think carefully about which day of the week to hold your launch. Friday and Saturday nights at first sight seem like a good idea, but they are also the nights when people tend to socialise and might have other engagements. A weekday evening from 8.00 – 10.00 pm might be a better option. You know the people you are going to invite. Try not to clash with another event when it’s likely your friends won’t attend, e.g. when the FA cup final is on the telly! Make it as easy as you can for people to be able to come.
Choosing the right venue, both in terms of practicality and cost, is vital. Here are a few things to consider:
Is it within your budget? Church halls and libraries might be free or very reasonably priced. Hotel function rooms are lovely but are also very expensive.
Is it easy to get to? Is it near good public transport links? Is there parking (preferably free) nearby? Is there disability access? Try not to book a sports club which is way out in the back of beyond and down a dark, unlit track in the middle of winter. It’s not the kind of place people want to turn out to on a cold, dark evening. However, it might be lovely in the middle of summer.
Is it the right size? Nothing is worse than having too few people rattling around in a large hall. It will make you feel very exposed and make the launch look like a failure even if it isn’t. Draw up a draft list of people you will be sending personal invitations to, then estimate that about 10% won’t be able to come on the night.
Does the venue suit your book? You might be able to find a venue which fits with the theme of your book. If your book is set in a particular place, maybe you could hold a launch there. I held my first launch at a local Arts Base.The staff there were very helpful and gave me lots of advice about how they publish their own events, which meant that I had people I didn’t know coming along and buying the book. I’m trying to hold my next launch in a local garden centre to link with the setting in The Gardener’s Daughter but I’m not sure if this will be possible.
Does the venue have a good layout? Try and imagine what you need for your launch. You will need a room with seats, either in rows or round small tables, facing a stage or a lectern where you will speak. It’s also good to have a mingling area for when people first come in so you can greet them and offer them refreshments (tea/coffee/biscuits, or wine/fruit juice/crisps). You will also need to have two large tables spaced fairly well apart. One is for you to sit and sign your books and the other will be for your guests to buy your book. Queues are likely to form at both, so don’t have them too close together as queue management can become a problem.
For both my launches I hired venues which had several areas I could use – a room for the talk, a mingling area and a signing/buying room. This had the advantage that I could invite quite a large number of people, but if not many came the event didn’t feel empty. I had seating for about 25 people, but there was standing room at the back of the room. It’s much nicer to feel people are crowding in than facing a sea of empty seats. Having a different room for greeting your guests, serving refreshments and mingling prior to your talk, and where you can also sell and sign your book after your talk is ideal.
What are the facilities like? Check that the toilets and kitchen areas are appropriate. Can the venue offer a microphone and lectern for you to use? Is there a music system for you to be able to play background music? Do they have enough tables and chairs? Do you need to use a screen as part of your presentation? Will there be someone there to help you on the night with setting up and clearing away, or are you being given a set of keys and being left to set up everything and clear up yourself?
Will a local bookshop do the launch for you? Waterstones often support local authors, and might be willing to host your launch event or offer a signing opportunity. You might live near an independent bookshop which might be happy to host the launch. If this is the case, they sometimes provide some drinks and nibbles, thus saving you the expense. However, if you are a self-published author, or if like me your publisher expects you to buy a certain number of copies of your own book for resale, you need to remember that the shop will be selling their copies of your book and you will be receiving a much lower royalty on each sale than if you sell directly to your friends and family. The advantage of having a launch in a bookshop is that you can inform the local media, get some great photos of yourself doing a signing in a shop, and have your book stocked locally. The disadvantage is that it’s not going to help sell the box of books in your garage!
Depending on the size of the venue, you will be restricted by health and safety regulations on the numbers of people that can be safely invited. You can produce your own invitations fairly cheaply on a computer. Cut and paste the front cover graphic of your novel, and set out the time, date, venue, parking availability etc. Encourage people to RSVP as this will reassure you that people are coming.
You could also see if you could have your event advertised in your local newspaper. Your venue might be willing to put up a poster or have invitations by their reception desk. Ask your local shops if they would let you stick an invitation on their customer notice boards. Advertise on Twitter and Facebook, particularly in local Facebook groups. Ask your friends and family to help spread the word, perhaps by having a poster up in their window. With social media, putting up posters and leafleting houses, I think you will get about a 1% response rate. This seems low, but if you post on an appropriate Facebook group with 500 followers, you could get 5 positive responses.
If you have decided you would like to pay for some promotional materials, make sure these are ready for the big day. This could include banners, business cards, book marks, postcards, badges, fridge magnets, pens etc. Vista print produces basic business cards at a very reasonable rate, and it’s always good to be able to hand people your contact details and let them know if you are on social media.
Ask for Help
You will need to have a team of helpers on the day, for example
- someone to help set out the room if heavy lifting is required
- someone to serve refreshments
- someone to sell the books while you are signing copies
- someone to act as Master of Ceremonies, introducing you at the beginning of your talk, interviewing you/asking questions etc.
- someone to take good quality photos or video the event. Pictures of you signing books, speaking and having people queuing up to buy your books are great to Tweet and put on your Facebook page. Even if you have a small launch, good pictures will make it look like a worthwhile event.
- someone to help you clear up afterwards.
Once you have your date and venue and the invitations have gone out, it’s time to plan the programme. It’s good to draw up a timed agenda. My launch events were between an hour and a half and two hours. Some people leave straight after having their book signed, and some like to linger and chat. This is just a suggested outline – you know your guests and how long you want to speak for.
15 – 30 minutes meeting, greeting, mingling and refreshments
30 – 45 minutes author talk, thanking people, reading from your book and answering questions. You might like to take questions from the floor, or if you are nervous agree some pre-prepared questions with your Master of Ceremonies. Don’t forget to ask people to leave reviews of your book on Amazon and Goodreads.
30 – 45 minutes selling and signing copies of your book and chatting to your guests.
Things to Remember on the Day
Get to the venue early to set up. It takes longer than you think. Things to bring with you:
- Your books!
- Your speech
- Signing pen
- White table cloth for your signing table
- A cash box and float of money, with plenty of small change
- A notice saying who cheques should be made out to
- Any promotional material you might have ordered (banners, business cards, book marks, postcards, badges, fridge magnets, pens etc)
- A sign-up sheet so your visitors can sign up to receive email updates from you (you have to ask permission before you put people on a mailing list)
- A visitors’ book for signing and leaving comments (I use this also to encourage people to leave me their email addresses rather than doing a sign-up sheet)
- Refreshments (wine/fruit juice and crisps or tea, coffee, milk, sugar and biscuits depending on what kind of event you would like it to be)
- Wine glasses if you needed to hire them (Waitrose hire them out for free)
- A CD player and CD’s if you want to have gentle background music.
- Camera (for someone else to take photos)
- Bin bags for the clear up
Lastly . . . Enjoy your event
You will probably be a bit nervous, but first and foremost this is an opportunity for you to celebrate with your friends and family.
Don’t forget to thank people for helping and coming along. Tell people on social media how it went, including lots of photos. You could write an article for your local newspaper, telling them that you had a launch event, and include a good quality photograph of yourself and the front cover of the book. They might not use it but sometimes they are looking for space to fill. You could draft out the article in advance and have it ready to send off with the photos the next day so the news is really up to date.
When people begin to feed back their reactions to the book, be thankful and gracious even if not all comments are positive. If someone raves about your book, encourage them to write up a review for Amazon and Goodreads and to share their enthusiasm on their own social media.