|At my book launch party with my friend Laura Bastian, author of Eye on Orion
Here are some things I learned from hosting the October 29, 2014, book launch party for my debut novel Ghost Moon Night. This advice is mainly for first-time indie authors who don’t have a publicity machine behind them, though the same principles could apply to a traditionally published author.
(The launch went very well, by the way. The place was hopping, a line formed for my book signing, people raved about the food, and I sold about 70 books [unofficial tally]. Some people who had come in pairs came back through the line to purchase another copy, once they saw the book up close.)
1. Pick a free, spacious venue.
I went with our local library for a number of reasons: 1) no cost, 2) they allowed book sales, 3) the room could accommodate 150 people, and 4) it has a great location already associated with books. A friendly librarian can be a wonderful ally to your launch’s success. If you choose a hometown venue, the billing of “local author” can also draw more attendees.
[Disclaimer: I am a local journalist and ghostwriter, which I think helped with my credibility as an author. Many people who came to my launch party already know that I write professionally. If you don’t have this background, don’t despair. Start establishing a more high-profile writer presence in the community. Volunteer to edit or guest write for publications, write op-eds, nab a guest column in the paper, blog often and share your posts on social media. Simply put, get your name out there.]
2. Get a huge poster of your book cover and have a printer blow it up to 24×36. I thought this size was humongous/cheesy, but when I saw the event photos (like the one above), I am so glad I went big. It makes for a fun backdrop. Make sure you use durable material so you can re-use at other signings. (I had mine printed through a local printer on coroplast – the material used for election campaign signs, for under $30.)
3. Serve light refreshments. It’s good for people to linger and feel like they attended not just a book signing but an event. Cookies are great. Or you can be more creative. I served Filipino food, just a small sampler plate that I had someone cater inexpensively. My parents wanted to sponsor some litson (roast pig) so I let them. A friend brought Philippine-style muffins (puto). But you don’t have to go overboard with this. Just even a little something is good…it’s not dinner after all.
4. Designate a photographer. Recruit someone from your family or friends to take photos for free. I’m usually the photographer in our family, and of course instead of taking photos, I was busy signing books. So I had to be resourceful and had people use their cell phones for pics and asked them to tag me on Facebook. Nice thing with a designated photographer is, they can take a picture of the crowd, the food, people selling books, which makes for a more varied series of shots.
5. Have bookmarks on hand.
I used to be skeptical of this swag, but no longer. Some people didn’t buy books so it was nice to still give them something. Other people said they collected bookmarks. And then some actually used them as bookmarks that same evening. They started reading the first chapter and needed a…bookmark! Someone told me that autographed bookmarks were less likely to be chucked, so I signed mine.
|My bookmark, front and back
[On a side note: Be sure to proof your bookmarks! I had some beautiful bookmarks shipped to me from an online source. To my horror, I had used an old file with a glaring typo. Fortunately, I am able to return the bookmarks, but had to scramble to get some printed with a local printer. Moral of the story: proof your print jobs!]
6. Err on the side of having too many books on hand. I ordered 200 for my first print run on Createspace. Obviously, I had enough for my book launch. But outside of the launch, I’ve also been busy selling copies to a local storefront business, the library, family and friends who have said they couldn’t come to the book launch. If I had projected more conservatively, I very well could have ran out of books at the launch (which would have meant having to deliver books after the launch). I have a book signing event planned this weekend, too, so I will hopefully sell more books there. If you can afford the initial cash outlay, plan on at least 100 copies.
[I tried to do pre-orders, but no one did this. I think because I am a new author, they wanted to see my book first before shelling out money.]
7. Enthrall them with an author reading. I brought a barstool from home and sat on it, so I could be seen easier from the back. I would have used a mike, too, had I remembered to bring my karaoke machine. Picking a favorite passage, I gave them a bit of a background to the scene, then paused every so often for dramatic effect. I had someone record my reading so I could share with family, and possibly even Youtube someday.
8. Bring change. My daughter had to drive home quickly, floated me change from her missionary fund, and saved the day.
9. Be Square. Get the little contraption that you can plug into the earjack of your phone so you can process credit card payments. It’s so easy to use and you can sell more books this way.
10. Be sure to charge sales tax, if applicable. If you don’t, you’ll eventually have to take out that amount from your profit, come tax time.
11. Have people sign in on a clipboard as they buy books. The whole night goes by in a blur and I knew I’d have no way of remembering who was actually there. So I made up a sign-up sheet. You can also thank them in a follow up email.
12. Promote your event a good month to two months ahead.
I’m not sure that I got a lot of strangers to my book signing (you might be able to if you are with a publisher that has been doing a lot of pre-publicity for your book) from newspaper ads, but I think they established my credibility. Many people – when asked where they heard about my launch – mentioned those ads, posters around town and Facebook – that rule of 7, where it takes 7 impressions for someone to make a sale. I gave out a ton of little fliers. I think they paid off the least, and I should’ve printed not as many. (But it’s still nice to have some on hand in case you run into someone you want to invite) If budget is an issue, focus on free to nearly free ways to get the word out. Unless you are a graphic designer, consider paying a little bit to have someone design your invitation/poster.
|My book launch poster, which was initially designed for a newspaper ad
13. Giveaways and door prizes are optional. I didn’t do any of these, unless you count Filipino food as my
bribe giveaway. I simply didn’t have time to collect anything, nor did I think prizes would have drawn more people to the launch. That’s my guess anyway.
14. Invite the media. They may or may not cover your event, but if you don’t invite, they for sure wouldn’t know about it. In my launch’s case, an intern from the paper came over, stayed the whole time and took several photos. Any publicity, pre- or post-, is good.
15. And finally, put your attendees at ease.
I made sure I set up a chair beside me and in front of my table, so no one had to stand there awkwardly. That way, too, I didn’t feel cut off from the rest of the crowd. I could chat casually, have my photo taken with them (with the poster as the backdrop), and I could hug friends easier.
A face-to-face book launch is by no means mandatory. In fact, it probably is the last thing an introverted writer (is that redundant?) would willingly subject themselves to. Many authors opt for a virtual launch party, which is fine; it extends your launch reach in some ways. But nothing beats the rush from an actual party with a supportive crowd. If you have the time, money, and gumption to invest in one, go for it!
If you have other tips, feel free to add them in the comments!
Jewel Allen is an award-winning journalist, author and ghostwriter who grew up in the tropics (Manila, Philippines) and now lives in the desert (Utah, USA). She runs a memoir publishing company, Treasured Stories, and is the author of a young adult paranormal thriller set in 1950s Philippines, GHOST MOON NIGHT.