Sunday, April 01, 2012

How to Launch a Book, Part I

Between us, Cynthia and I have launched twelve books (with more forthcoming :-)), so I thought the time was ripe for some observations on a launch and signing. 

While it's perfectly valid to ignore the publication of a book and treat it as any other day, Cyn and I have had a policy since we started in the business of celebrating each success, however small.  As Bradley Sanguini says, "Life merits celebration."  And the hatching of a new book is a big deal.

Also, a book launch is in some ways a marketing tool in addition to being a celebration -- it gets people talking about and buying your book.  And hopefully excited about reading it. 

There are several ways this could be done, of course, including a bookstore signing, a signing or event at another facility, or a party at your home.  For CHRONAL ENGINE, we had a public party and signing at BookPeople and a private reception at our house.  We chose to split the event so we could have something open to the public but also be able to celebrate with members of the immediate community (I will talk about a launch party/reception in a subsequent post).

So, here are some thoughts, in no particular order, about a bookstore launch. 

The Bookstore Event

Things to do long before your book comes out or even sells to a publisher:

Bookseller and author Madeline Smoot directs traffic
Get to know your local bookstore and the booksellers.  Don't be stalker-ish, though.

Buy books at your local bookstore.  They are a business, after all, and it needs to make business sense for them to open their facility to you (for free).  Frequenting the store will develop good will toward that end. And, really, you should be reading anyway.

Attend other book launches and book-related events at the local bookstore. You will learn things, have fun, and enjoy being a part of the scene.  And you don't want to be one of those types who doesn't support others but expects their support in return.

Be a part of a community of writers.  In addition to being fun and uplifting, apart from immediate family, these are the folks who are most likely to share in the excitement.  And, unlike family, they will be able to get it get it.

Random photo of Deinosuchus and me.

Planning the launch:

Book your facility.  Many place book months in advance, including your bookstore. 

Decide what you want to do.  Do you want a genteel wine and cheese party or a more raucous hootinanny?  In either case, make sure the bookstore (or whatever facility you choose) is up for it.

Do you want to do an event by yourself or a joint event?  When Cynthia's HOLLER LOUDLY came out, she did an event with Bethany Hegedus and Brian Yansky.

Try picking a theme related to the book for both decorations and refreshments. 

Obviously, in the case of CHRONAL ENGINE, the theme was dinosaurs, so I had dinosaur footprints on the floor, dinosaur-shaped cookies, cupcakes with dinosaur pictures.  When Jeff Crosby's WIENER WOLF came out, he had mini hot dogs from Frank's and relatives dressed up as wolves.

Decide on the refreshments:  In addition to the above, I had kid's party triangle tea sandwiches (peanut butter & jelly, ham and cheese, etc) and a lot of water and soft drinks in the 8 oz. cans.  The cookies were prepared by Anne Bustard and the sandwiches and cupcakes came from Central Market.    

Anne Bustard's dino-cookies
Dino cupcakes
Triangle finger sandwiches
If you choose an outside facility, make sure your bookseller can actually sell books there. (Cynthia Levinson held her launch for WE'VE GOT A JOB at the Carver Museum, and BookPeople sent staff to handle the sales).

In addition to food and drink, know whether you will need to have tablecloths, napkins, cups and plates.  For my launch, BookPeople provided all of these, so it was one less thing we needed to consider. 

Varsha Bajaj, Shana Burg, Sean Petrie Margo Rabb
Jennifer Ziegler, Gene Brenek, Bethany Hegedus
Betty X. Davis, Cynthia Levinson

Know the facility.  My local bookstore has excellent WiFi in the coffee shop, but seems to have a WiFi "dark spot" with a very slow connection in the most optimal location for presentations to large crowds.  Consequently, for events there, you will not necessarily have access to the Internet -- this can be a problem if you want to show your trailer via YouTube, if you want to Skype, etc.  So, you need to make other arrangements.

Have backups.  Your bookstore will likely have its own projector but you will probably have to bring your own laptop or tablet computer.  If you do, make sure you bring necessary cords or Bluetooth connectors or wireless remotes, etc.  Sometimes these things can get lost and, if you are dependent on them, you don't want to find out minutes before your presentation that a vital technological component is not available.

Extra cordage

Be aware, of course, that even the best of plans might not work out.  When I launched CHRONAL ENGINE, I brought along an extra extension cord for my computer as well as an extra-long VGA cable (I didn't have a wireless/remote mouse for my computer and I've found that ones for the projector are a bit iffy).  I also had masking tape to secure the cords against people tripping on them.  That way, I figured, I could stand at the lectern and operate my slides myself.  I had also prepared a Prezi presentation using the laptop (not cloud-based) version, because I knew I wouldn't be able to get Internet access.

The Adapter of Doom
I was quite pleased with my foresight and planning, and then when I hooked up my laptop, I discovered that the power cord adapter wasn't working.  Fortunately, Cynthia has the same model computer, and I was able to dash back to the house and grab her adapter. But if that hadn't happened, I would've been prepared either to present a traditional Powerpoint or just have "winged" it.

In this regard, you should also plan on getting to the facility sufficiently early that you discover such glitches while there is still time to fix them.

Know your audience.  At the CHRONAL ENGINE launch, I knew there would be a lot of people in the writing community, including writers and illustrators, teachers and librarians, professors of children's literature, family friends and spouses who are not in the community, as well as a good number of real live, actual children and teens.

The presentation should be such that all parties are engaged.  Try having an interactive component that will involve young readers in the audience.  You don't necessarily want people to just sit passively.
Interior illustration by Blake Henry
Prepare your presentation.  Ideally, it should be relatively short, engaging, and visually interesting.  With mine, I was able to show pictures of dinosaurs and pictures from the book itself.  If you do an overhead presentation, do not simply read off your slides.

Practice your presentation.  You should know what's going on without having to consult your slides or hem and haw.

Ask for help.  There is probably no way you can do it all yourself.  For the CHRONAL ENGINE launch, friends were gracious enough to lend coolers; take pictures; help with carrying refreshments and coolers out to the store; pick up the refreshments from Central Market; and bring stuff back afterwards.  

Get the word out.  Nothing is more disheartening than a bookstore signing in which no one shows up.  Publicizing the event can take many forms and when your signing is at a bookstore, they can help out, too (either on their web site or sending notices to the literary section of the local newspaper, etc.).

If you blog and are adept at social media, use those.  Perhaps take out a Facebook ad.

Post on local writer list servs, get your local SCBWI chapter and other writer organizations (e.g., Writers League of Texas) to blog it.

Send out invitations, either by traditional mail or using Paperless Post or Evite.  Emphasize that it's a party. 

Talk to local teachers and librarians.  Ask your kid to take postcards to school.

Lindsey Lane, Jerri Romine, and Meredith Davis
At the signing itself, engage the folks who are coming.  Perhaps have postcards and other swag to give away.  Decide how you're going to sign (e.g., are you going to have a special catchphrase or stickers, stamps, etc.).  

Thank people. 

And have fun.  Because life merits celebration.


Barbara O'Connor said...

Great post, Greg!

TA Demings said...

Love that last line!

This was really helpful. I'm still in the writing phase of things, but it's still good to be prepared for celebrations to come!

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