What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Book #2: Book Launches

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.

Award Ceremony

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.

Mental Blanks

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.

Apocalyptic Mayhem

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

Issue #1: Getting a blurb

Issue #2: Book Launches

Issue #3: Publicity

Issue #4: Prizes

Issue #5: Festivals

Issue #6: Feelings

Issue #7: Social Media

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.

22 thoughts on “What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Book #2: Book Launches”

  1. Oh I’m loving this behind the scenes expose! From the point of view of the public it’s all so glamourous and swisho. Is there a sitcom in this???

  2. Good thoughts here.

    As a writer who has also been a long term indie bookseller, I’d actually push doing a book launch a little harder. Here’s why:

    a) People may buy your book anyway, but people are busy. They may not. They really, really may not. If you have a launch, it’s a way to rally all the people who support you around your book and there are fewer excuses not to buy it :). Even if people can’t come, they’re more likely to buy your book with the extra attention that is being drawn to it.

    b) It’s easier to get certain kinds of media for the book. This isn’t always the case, and it depends on the location and the style of the launch, but if you play it well it can provide an excuse for a feature or review in the right place, particularly if a media outlet has a good relationship with the bookshop. Which brings me to:

    c) Do it in a bookshop, if at all possible. Yes, there can be good reasons to do it in other places, but if it’s the right bookshop, you will get attention drawn to your book beyond the night of the launch. They’ll have to get stock in – that might sit somewhere, perhaps in a window. They may advertise, or incorporate it into an email bulletin. They may keep a greater volume of stock for longer – perhaps it hits the best-seller list.

    None of these options are available if you do it in a cafe or similar, which is why I reckon the bookshop route is the way to go. 🙂

    1. These are excellent thoughts Ben, and I really see what you mean about the benefits of launching in a bookshop. In my experience, the staff having that experience of the book makes them more likely to hand sell it, and as you say, promotion in their newsletters etc can also help.

    2. It’s a good point, Ben. I launched ‘The Handbook’ at Readings in Carlton, and for the week after the launch it was in their top 10 sellers. That’s a pretty awesome feeling, even if it’s no New York Times bestseller list. And the staff at the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville, where I’ve had two launches, have been incredibly kind, handselling my books like no one’s business.

  3. Something I should have said in my entry: be kind to your launcher! The person who launches your book works hard – she or he has probably written a speech, which might take hours or days or even weeks. They have to stand up in front of everyone and give that speech, which is nerve-wracking. And they don’t get any of the adulation or book sales at the end. So get them a present or buy them dinner or something, and if they have a book of their own make sure you plug it too.

    1. Yes, absolutely! Writing a delivering a launch speech takes time and energy. I’m hugely grateful to the people who’ve launched my books.

  4. Another fascinating and enjoyable post. Of course, like most of us I’ve been to quite a few book launches, mostly in bookshops (Paperchain here in Canberra does a lot but so do others here including of course the NLA bookshop) and writers festivals. I enjoy them – some more than others, depending on the book and who is doing the launching. The best launchers are those who can tell a good story (preferably about the book and/or its writer) and not go on too long. It’s always nice to have a glass of wine if you’ve taken the trouble to go out to the launch!

    My funniest launch story has nothing to do with the book or the writer, but one of the attendees. She was someone I knew (through my kids’ primary school) but hadn’t seen for some years. During our chitchat, she mentioned that her goal for the year was to read 5 books!! 5! I sure hope she achieved it.

    1. I agree with you about the launch speech. Sometimes when the author talks, and the publisher and there is an official launcher as well, the speeches go on for half an hour and everyone gets antsy. Less is more. Wine is pretty important I think!

      5 books. wow. *cries*

  5. Thanks you, great to read these thoughts. I’ve got my first novel coming out next year and, frankly, the idea of a launch makes me feel queasy. The wedding analogy seems fitting; as an event it’s more of a thank-you and acknowledgement to those that helped get you there. I’d love to not have a launch, but would that be considered rude? (Also, the idea of forgetting people’s names before signing books, as mentioned in your post, gives me cold sweats).

    1. Queasy! That word again. Congrats on your first novel. What’s it called and who’s publishing it, Robert? If you really don’t want to have a launch, then I wouldn’t have one. It’s your book. You get to choose how to bring it into the world. There’s no one right way to do it. I don’t think anyone would think it rude although they might be disappointed not to be able to celebrate such an exciting moment with you. If you’re worried about the name thing, get the person who is selling the books to put a post-it note on the front of each book with the name of the person it’s to be signed for. They often do this at book-signings so it’s not weird.

  6. Ha, thanks.

    The novel’s called Keep The Lion Hungry and it’s out in March 2018 through UQP/Penguin.

    I’ve got a feeling I’ll warm to the launch idea when the time comes, just as a ceremony if nothing else. And the wine, of course.

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