I’m a proponent of well-designed launch parties. When a book is first published, the author is in a great position to plan and host a local event to kick-off the arrival of the new book.
This a key activity for book marketing that authors can do better, more personably, and often more creatively than publishers.
For a book I’m publishing in May through my Crickhollow Books imprint, Plank Road Summer, a historical novel for middle readers, the co-authors Hilda and Emily Demuth are hosting a party in a rural schoolhouse, the Yorkville School in Racine County, Wisconsin. (It’s near the site of where the story takes place.) And one of them plays in an old-time contra dance band, the Hoosier Recruits. So it’ll be a music/dance/book-launch party. It sounds fun to me!
My worst book launch ever? Think Katrina hurricane. I mean, literally. I worked for a year as editor on a book titled Lost Gold of the Republic, about a Civil War–era steamship, headed to New Orleans just months after the end of the Civil War with lots of gold and silver coins. It sank in a hurricane. The book launch site? New Orleans . . . the exact afternoon the evacuation for the whole city was ordered on the eve of Katrina’s onslaught. The museum where the book was being launched closed, and everyone ran for it. The irony it all wasn’t lost on us, but the sales were, and the news media had other things to cover for a while after that.
Why do a book launch party?
Motivation. It gets author and close friends to focus on a local promo campaign, something that only the author can do really well. A launch party is a way to spread the word the book has been published: to colleagues, neighbors, family, and friends, as well as to the local public interested in the book’s topic.
Celebratory Spirit. If family and friends turn out, the event can be lots of fun and enthusiastic. And getting a brand-new published book should be celebrated with gusto! It’s a huge accomplishment.
Spin-off Visibility. A well-announced event builds interest even if people don’t come. They hear about it beforehand – and if the event was a success, afterward.
Press Hook. Local papers and talk shows like to have an event to justify mentioning a book. (They may not see a need to review a book, but will announce events of local social interest – “things to do around town.”)
Circles of Influence. Word of mouth is key. Your neighbor or the receptionist in your office or your insurance agent might know someone influential who could boost your book.
Tips for planning a book launch party?
Location. Inexpensive or free! No need to rent the Grand Ballroom and hire an expensive caterer. But I do recommend finding a public place rather than a private home. Think about local community groups, cultural centers, or restaurants or pubs that serve food and have a meeting room. If you can hook up with an interest group or site that has its own newsletter or place to post a flyer in advance, that’s a bonus.
Theme. If your book has a theme that lends itself to a party, use it! A Jane Austen literary-criticism book will have different theme than a Canadian fur-trade voyageur book). Doesn’t need to be overdone, but it helps to create interest if you add a bit of topical flavor in some food to be served, design of the invitation, etc.
Program? Personally, I prefer to see a launch party as just that: a festive party, without expecting attendees to sit through a full program. An exception is if a sponsoring host wants to you to do a talk or slide show for a regular, well-attended meeting, followed by a reception. Of course, at some point, it’s good to have someone introduce you, to say a few words to the assembled throng.
Sales. Yes, you’ll sell some copies. How many? Depends on the book, the price, and how broad its appeal is! (Will people want to buy copies to give to others? Gift giving is a major impetus for book buying.). Personally, I like to give a small discount on the price, rounding down a bit. It’s an incentive to buy a copy right then, and a little thank-you gift to those who came. Others feel you shouldn’t mark down your work. By the way, have someone else in charge of the sales, to take the money. You need to be working the room, perhaps taking a few moments to sign a few books.
Order Form? I recommend not having an order form (some people will take that as an excuse to not buy at the event).
Send me any creative details (as a comment below, or email me) describing your book launch, and maybe I’ll feature it in a future post!