29th March 2017
Planning a Book Launch
Having a book launch is scary. However well planned you are, you cannot be sure anyone other than your Mum will actually come. This is true for all but the most famous authors, and authors who are more successful than me assured me beforehand that this is normal. One even told me that she’d held a launch that was packed to the rafters, and another, just last year, when only her husband and daughter came. This made me feel better – because the success of the launch does NOT reflect your ability as an author. It’s random. There are however, a few things you can do to try and improve the situation. I’ll let you know what I did.
Firstly, obviously, you need to decide on time and place. Decide who is most likely to be interested in your book, then consider things like school term dates, when people are likely to be skiing or away on holiday.
Then choose your venue. Many authors hold a launch in a bookshop. This has the advantage of being in a public place, so you might have strangers wander over and buy a book – it increases your visibility. However, a big drawback is that most of your profit will go to the bookshop owner, as they will be selling the book and taking their cut, but you will still have all the catering costs of the launch. For me, this sounded like I would make a loss, and after producing the book, my debt was already pretty huge, so I hired a hall. Our town has a community hall, used as a cafe during the daytime, run by the local churches. In the evenings, you can hire it for £11 per hour. I figured I could afford that.
Next is catering – what will you feed people? You need to bear in mind that this is meant to be profitable. However, I was unwilling to serve my friends and family cheap wine. So, I (as a wife) decided to donate to myself (as an author) the cost of the wine. My husband is often rather flummoxed by this logic, but it works for me. As the event was in the evening, I served wine and nibbles, and made loads of cupcakes (mainly because I like baking cupcakes and they look impressive). Again, I (wife) decided to donate the cost of this to myself (author). You might be spotting a theme here. The cost of the event is an issue though. I was once told that if you self publish, when you hold a book launch, you recover the cost of the book. Unless you are charging £100 for the book, I am sure this is untrue.
One good hint is that Waitrose will lend glasses for free. You just pay for any you break. There is no minimum spend on wine. You simply have to order the glasses well in advance and collect them from the shop on the day of the launch, wash them and return them within 48 hours. A brilliant service.
You need to advertise the event. I managed to have 3 separate articles about the launch in local newspapers and was interviewed on local radio (there are some very kind journalists in my town). This did not result in anyone coming to the launch at all. Not one. It might, of course, have added to the invite as a whole, but in terms of results, it is not enough.
People came because they had a personal connection – even if a somewhat tenuous one. I made invitations and posted them through neighbours doors (in an envelope explaining I was their neighbour, as some have never met me). I invited people from church, old work colleagues, book groups I have spoken at, shop keepers who stock my books, parents who once had children in my classes. And of course friends and family. So did my Mum (really, you need to borrow my Mum, she is brilliant at all the promo stuff!) Someone suggested I make an ‘Event’ on Facebook, as this includes an automatic reminder feature. Most people just ignored it though. I sent about a million emails. Then I waited.
The majority of people completely ignore the invitation. Several reply to decline. A few (precious) people accept. Of those who accept, some never actually show up on the day. This seems normal, so invite more than you need to.
Before the event, plan the space. Think about where people will buy the book, where you will sign them, where the food and drink will go. You want to have a flow of people around the space, so might want to separate the book signing from the book buying. You will also need to ask people to help, because everyone wants to speak to the author, so you really cannot be taking money or pouring drinks. You want the atmosphere to seem welcoming, so we had some music playing. If your book has a particular setting, you might decide to theme the launch – such as decorating the space with posters or dressing up as a pirate or whatever if that’s relevant. My book is about a psychopathic poisoner – but I decided not to do that. Though it would have increased my fame considerably. I did send off photos of the cover and get them enlarged as posters.
Most authors read some of the book at the launch. I didn’t want to do that. When I read a book, I see the characters in my head, I hear their voices, I imagine whole scenes. Then if the book is made into a film, I am always disappointed. If the film comes first, when I later read the book, the characters all look and sound like the actors in the film. So, I did not want people to hear the book in my voice. I wanted them to hear their own phrasing as they read, their own accents.
I did however, give a speech. It was a chance to thank all the people who helped to produce the book. I also explained why I had written the book, what I was trying to show, and what I had found when researching it.
So, now for some facts.
If I am honest about my costs, I made roughly £2 profit on every book I sold. Which, when you compare it to selling via shops/Amazon is good. That money will offset the cost of printing all those other books.
Was it worth it? Financially, it wasn’t exactly a fortune. Anyone who tells you that a book launch recoups most of your publishing costs is either lying or knows something I don’t. (Unless, I guess, they publish very few, very expensive books that they then sell to select friends.)
However, the event did give me a ‘hook’ so that local journalists publicised me/my books – and you never know if later, when someone sees my books in a shop they will be more likely to buy it.
It also widened my reader base. I invited people to the launch that perhaps I wouldn’t have been brave enough to simply ask to buy my book. Hopefully, those people will like it and tell other people.
Also, as an experience, for me, it was worth it. I have never done anything like that before, I’ve never been on the radio before, never hosted a public event where literally anyone might show up. I think it was good for me, and because nothing went disastrously wrong, it helped to build my confidence. Which is no small thing, because if you intend to play this game, you need LOTS of confidence!