Fabulous launch parties for which publishers foot the bill seem to be less and less common nowadays. When faced with covering the cost themselves, writers often ask ‘do I need to have a launch party?’ If your aim is to sell books, don’t bother with a launch: most of the people who come will probably buy your book anyway, and any money you make from sales will be eaten up by the costs of buying food and wine.
However, if you yearn for a book launch to celebrate your achievement, you should have one. For most writers, a book launch is the culmination of many years work. Some days, weeks or even months might have been uphill all the way. You may have collected a string of rejections along the road to publication. But here at last is the book! No longer a file on your computer but an actual object, made out of paper with words printed on it, for others to touch and maybe even read! Isn’t that worth celebrating?
In this post, Jane Rawson and I share our own launch experiences as part of our series on what we’ve learned about the period just before and after your book hits the shelves. (In case you missed it: the first post was on how to get blurbs).
No free wine for the author
Book launches are like weddings. It takes forever to decide what to wear and when you get there everyone stares at you. You try to get your paws on the free wine, but every time you get anywhere near it, someone wants to talk to you or have you sign their book. It’s a flurry of excitement and the whole thing will leave your brain blurry.
My two Transit Lounge launches followed the standard script. My publisher organised a venue, prepared an invitation and sorted out wine and snacks. In both cases I found someone to launch the book (Dave Graney for A wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, who I’d already bludgeoned into blurbing the book, and Patrick Allington for From the wreck, because he’d been a first reader and because he knows a lot about South Australia). I also made a Facebook event and invited a bunch of people along.
At both of those launches, my publisher gave a speech, the launcher gave a speech, then I said a few thank yous and did a reading, then I signed some books.
The Formaldehyde launch was a bit different, because it was also the announcement of who had won the Viva la Novella prize (a secret badly kept by me and the two other winners). This meant I was inviting people along to a prize announcement, and I couldn’t tell them it was the launch of my book. Still, people showed up and I’m pretty sure they drank the money that had been put on the bar.
The hardest part of any launch is remembering the names of people who want books signed. You’ll know you know them, but if you’re anything like me you’ll be gripped with terror once it comes to write them in a book. This happens to me even with people I’ve known for decades. Now I’ve done three launches I’ve vowed that at the next one I’m not putting names in any books unless people specifically ask for it and tell me what they’re called. I can’t handle the stress.
Everything Taken Care Of
My debut novel A New Map of the Universe was one of two books which were the ‘flagships’ for a new fiction series being launched by UWA Publishing. They organised a beautiful catered launch party, and took care of the book sales. All I had to do was provide a list of people I wanted to invite & prepare a small speech and reading (I wanted to read the first chapter but it had sex in it and I knew my parents were going to be there), then sit and sign books. It was easy and delightful and I assumed this was the norm. How wrong I was.
Cancelled at the 11th Hour
I had lots of friends in Melbourne so I arranged to have a launch there too through a large city bookshop which had regular events of this kind. On the day of the event they cancelled because they’d only had 25 RSVPs. ON THE DAY! After crying my eyes out on the tram, I approached the small and lovely Chronicles bookshop in St Kilda and and explained my predicament, and they generously said, Yes! Bring your 25 friends here! They arranged for the cafe next door to serve refreshments (which my friends paid for themselves) & I collected the stock from the big bad bookshop & sold it through the small, friendly one. Phew! Disaster averted.
Whisky from my Dad
Fremantle Press did not have a budget to launch Whiskey Charlie Foxtrot so I organised it myself. I asked one of my fave local booksellers, Alan Sheardown, who had been a big supporter of my first book, if his lovely shop Crow Books would host. He agreed and also said they would provide nibbles and organise the stock ordering; my dad generously agreed to provide booze. I invited my friend Bernadette Young from ABC Radio to launch the book and she flew over from Queensland for the privilege. My wonderful editor Georgia Richter also spoke, as did I, briefly. I read a section about sex and my parents coped fine. (My nephew, less so). Alan suggested a roving signing instead of a signing table & this was pure genius as I felt like part of the party. Crow sold over 70 books, my friends ate cheese & drank whiskey & took home signed books. Everyone was happy.
For The Ark launch I wanted my guests to have a taste of what it might feel like to be locked inside a bunker, cut off from the outside world, forced to learn the rules of a new world, like the characters in my novel. They arrived at the loading bay of a disused department store where there were met by guards who demanded identification and asked them to sign a disclaimer:
Entry to THE NATIONAL ARBOREAL PROTECTION FACILITY is an extreme test of a person’s physical and mental limits and carries with it the potential for death, serious injury and property loss. I hereby assume all of the risks of attending.
Men and women were separated and forced to line up in chained-off areas, before being herded in groups through a dark corridor to the lift where they emerged into darkness.
Then the book was officially launched with a beautiful speech from Radio National’s Kirsti Melville, after which I thanked all the talented people who made it possible, signed books & drank champagne.
Matthew Thompson’s 3-Guest Launch
When Matthew Thompson launched his book Mayhem, about Supermax prisoner Christopher ‘Badness’ Binse, only three people showed up. It might have been because he held the launch on the side of a highway outside Barwon Prison on a Sunday afternoon. Matt wrote Mayhem in collaboration with Binse, but Barwon staff refused to let the prisoner have a copy of the book. As a protest, Matt set up a card table outside the prison with a pile of books and told whoever passed by that he’d written a story about a man who was locked up inside that building, doing 18 years in solitary confinement. He sold one copy, to a prison shuttle bus driver.
Jenny Ackland’s International Festival Launch
After a launch for family and friends in Melbourne, Jenny Ackland’s debut novel The Secret Son had a second launch at the Ubud Writers Festival. Jenny paid for the venue, food, drinks, staff to assist and sell books, and AV equipment. In return she received a four-day festival pass and the exposure of being part of an international program.
Thanks for reading. We would LOVE IT if you shared your strange, wonderful or catastrophic launch experiences with us in the comments.
Read the rest of the What to Expect series
About Jane Rawson & Annabel Smith
Jane: Recently my fourth book – a novel – was published. I’m with a small independent publisher, and they’ve previously published another novel of mine, and a non-fiction book about climate change that I co-authored with an environment journalist. My other book, a novella, was published by a different, even smaller independent publisher. None of my books has been published outside Australia, and I’m not represented by an agent.
Annabel: I published my first two novels with small independent publishers. My second novel was sold by my West Australian publisher to a small(ish) independent publisher in the US, where it has gone on to sell more than 60,000 copies. My third book, an interactive digital novel/app was self-published. I am currently in talks with a North American agent in relation to my fourth novel, the first in a trilogy.