Steps to a Successful Book Launch

This past Sunday night, one of our indie press’s authors had her first book launch. This was only the second launch by the press, so we’re far from experts. But by almost all measures the launch was an overwhelming success.  I’m going to take a look at why.

What are our measures of success?

  • About 75 people attended.
  • We sold out all the paperbacks we’d ordered, and we sold another 17 in advance of the next shipment.
  • The other two authors who also read sold books too.
  • The musicians sold a bunch of CDs.
  • All the food was eaten and the bar did good business.
  • The buzz in the room told us people were having fun.

Book launches, unless you are a famous author, are primarily for the family and friends of the author to celebrate their success. It’s a little like a graduation. Judge the number of people who will come by that measure. Keeping that in mind, what can I share about a successful launch?

Location. We chose to go with the upstairs bar at our indie bookstore for several reasons. The space is frequently used for book launches: it has a stage, a sound system, and staff familiar with the entire process. By holding it there, it guaranteed free advertising on their website, and the book in their new releases section, and, the week of the launch, in their front window. There is a charge for the space, but for us the benefits were well-worth the cost.

Even though the space is downtown, on a Sunday night there is plenty of free parking, and it’s close to public transit, both serious considerations.

Day and Time: Because our author had friends and family coming from some distance, a weekend was ideal. Saturday night looks good at first glance, but there is competition for the space, for parking, for the musicians’ bookings. So we chose Sunday from seven to nine p.m: after dinner to not too late. Sunday afternoon worked well for another of our authors last winter, for most of the same reasons.

Format: The author’s book and her reading were the focus of the evening, but not the only entertainment. Two other authors with our press did very brief readings, and there were live musicians. Between the readings by the ‘warm-up act’ readers, and the author, the duo played two songs specific to the era and location in which her book is set, taking those of us old enough to remember (most of us) to Montreal in the late 60s.

Other readers help reduce the author’s anxiety, and it also encourages friends and family of those people to attend. Reading before the author means that any adjustments to the sound system or the lights that weren’t picked up in the sound check don’t fluster the author, and it settles the room.

We had an MC, a member of our press collective who is trained in drama and improv, but any outgoing person who can think on their feet can take this role. We also had a schedule, and she did a fine job of keeping us to it.

Book Sales: at the back of the room, with the author’s signing table well away from it to not block the flow of people. Once someone has the book in their hand, they’ll wait for the signing, whereas they may get impatient with waiting to both purchase and get the book signed. I suggest a tablecloth, stands to show off the books, clear pricing, plenty of small bills for change, a receipt book, bags for the few who want them, and, if possible, the ability to take credit and debit cards. We use the Square, and having it meant we sold a third more books than we would have otherwise. We’d also anticipated (too late) the possibility of selling out, so had created vouchers for people who wanted books but couldn’t get one.

Food and drink: We’d advertised hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. The venue has a finger-food menu for these events, but it’s not necessary to feed people immediately after the dinner hour, if the budget doesn’t run to it.

What didn’t (on the surface) work?

We did a lot of (free) publicity for this event, through the events section of our local print and on-line papers, and through the indie bookstore that hosted the event in their upstairs bar. But nearly everyone who attended was a friend of the author, through work or community. On the surface, this looks like it wasn’t worth it. But looking at it more closely, that advertising means a lot of people in our town have seen an image of the book, and when they go into the bookstore and see it on the new-releases shelves, they’re a little more likely to pick it up. It’s familiar. (The bookstore has told me it’s selling.) So while this tactic didn’t bring in people on the night, it may have longer-term benefit.

A few other ideas: name tags for all the people helping out are useful. Make sure the MC points out washrooms, coat rooms, and any other ‘housekeeping’ type announcements. Tip the bar staff. Send thank you notes to everyone involved the next day.

And a ‘graduation’ present for the writer, especially if it’s a first book, is a nice touch. I suggest a bottle of Writer’s Tears Irish whiskey, personally.

And the book we were launching? Nikki Everts’ Evidence of Uncertain Origin, a mystery set in Montreal in the late 60’s, against the backdrop of FLQ violence. Published by Arboretum Press, it is most easily available in wide release from Amazon, in both paperback and ebook formats.

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