Preparing for the Best Book Launch Ever

So you've written a novel; now what? In this series, debut author-to-be Crystal King describes the traditional publication process from start to finish: the lead-up, what to expect along the way, and how building her social media platform has made a difference. In this installment of "On the Path to Publication" Crystal talks about planning for the book launch.

At the time of this writing, the launch of my novel, FEAST OF SORROW, is exactly 90 days away. On that day, April 25, at 7PM, I'll be gathering with fellow writers, friends and potential readers at the Cambridge Public Library, in their gorgeous downstairs auditorium. If you are reading this, do consider coming because that auditorium has a lot of seats to fill! 

Why there? Why not at a bookstore (and since it's not at a bookstore, will there be books to buy)? Who set that up for me? What am I going to do while I'm there? Will there be food? Who gets invited? Oh the list of questions runs long, but fortunately, I've attended a lot of book launches over the years and with that, plus the advice of  many well-established writers, I have a fairly good idea of what works and what doesn't. 

1. The first thing to consider is why you are having the party. Is it to sell books? Is it to celebrate with your family and friends? If it's the former, consider opening it to the public, inviting press and how you will promote the event. If it's the latter, then you might want to consider a more private space, with more food and drink. And yes, you can do both, but decide which is most important to you. 

2. Put your core invite list together. This will help you with step #3 and to determine the size of the venue you might need. 

3. Next on the list is determining the timing and location of the book launch. Start this phase at minimum, 4-5 months before the book comes out, 6 months if you can.  Most authors do their launch at a bookstore on the same day the book comes out (Tuesday seems to be one of the most popular days), but there are definitely deviations to that. Because her book came out right after Christmas, my Debutante Ball colleague and friend, Amy Poeppel, did a small party for press and friends a couple of weeks before the launch of her bestselling debut novel, SMALL ADMISSIONS. Then she embarked upon doing more readings in the weeks following the launch, but the day it came out? She was on a beach in the Carribean. Another fellow debut author, Caroline Woods, opted to do her launch of FRAULEIN M. at a local brewery. Last year I attended the launch of BOTTOMLAND by Grub instructor, Michelle Hoover, and she held it in the back room of an Irish bar and didn't read from her novel at all, instead opting to have five people read parts of the book. 

Where you decide to have it is up to you, but it may also be up to your publisher. Because my book is about food, I wanted to hold my launch at a private restaurant but my publisher felt strongly that having a bookstore back it (and help organize it) would be better for the book in the long run. I didn't want to have it at a bookstore because I have the great fortune of knowing a lot of people and I was concerned about space. We compromised and I'm excited about having the launch at the library, where I can still have food (re-creations of some of the ancient Roman finger food in the book) catered in. Talk with your publisher and determine what the best option is. If you are with a small press, you may have to do the legwork on your own, working directly with a bookseller to either host the reading, or to be the supplier of books at a reading you may decide to have in another location. When you do this, go into the bookstore, explain who you are and about the book and see if they would be willing to stock the book and host the reading for you. One thing to consider is the cost of the location you may be choosing. If you opt for a restaurant, doing your launch party on a Monday or Tuesday may be a lot more economical than a Friday night.

4. Thirty days before your launch, send out invites. Your family and friends should be invited directly, perhaps with Paperless Post or evite. If the launch is open to the public, share it everywhere you can. Create a LibraryThing and Goodreads event, get it into local newspapers and event calendars. 

5. Determine WHAT you are going to do at your book launch. The standard book launch format seems to be the bookseller or editor introducing the author, the author telling the audience what inspired them, and then reading from the book, then signing the book. It's not a bad format, but it can sometimes be a boring way for your audience to spend an evening, depending on how you organize it. Some things to think about:

  • Prep your introducer with a good bio and details about the book. Give this to them well ahead of time. Time - 5 minutes.
  • Prepare any anecdotes, stories of how you wrote the book and people you want to thank. It's easier to have practiced these than to try and come up with things to say on the fly. Keep this short, 5-10 minutes.
  • Determine if you are going to read from your book and if so, for how long. If you get stage-fright is there someone else who can read for you? If you are going to read from the novel without any additional material or entertainment, keep the reading fairly brief at about 10-15 minutes, potentially interspersed with commentary and anecdotes. I once went to a reading where the author read straight from the book for 40 minutes and that can be overwhelming to the audience. 
  • Consider supplemental material. My writing partner, fellow Grubbie, Anjali Mitter Duva, wove in hand gestures and had kathak dancers at the launch of her gorgeous novel, FAINT PROMISE OF RAIN. It was beautiful, and it added so much to the reading that a blind woman went up to her afterward and told her how much more beautiful it was to listen to. She could hear the dance and the joy in each word. For me, I will be in an auditorium and can do a big slide show and am thinking of how I can make my launch be visually interesting as well. 
  • What about music? Sharing your book trailer? Think about creative ways to do something different. 
  • Q&A is really important. Take at least 15 minutes for this. And write down every single question or answer you think you might get, so you aren't staring at the sky trying to decide which authors inspired you the most. 
  • Are you going to have food or drink? While not required this is also a nice to have. Or, often authors will invite their closest friends to a nearby bar or restaurant for a small celebration.

5.  Have someone take photos. Maybe video too. Or have them livestream your launch to Facebook or Twitter. Capture the momentous event.

Book launch of Tiffany D. Jackson's ALLEGEDLY

Julie Pennell, Amy Poeppel and Dhonielle Clayton help Tiffany D. Jackson celebrate the launch of her YA novel, ALLEGEDLY

6. Make sure you have enough books. Send out invites to family and friends so you can get a general idea of who is coming. Work with your publisher and the bookstore to get them your best guess for attendees. There is nothing worse than willing buyers showing up and then being unable to purchase the book. Those are potential sales lost. 

7. Invite the press. It's true that press don't often go to book launches, but it doesn't hurt to ask and a well-timed press release or launch invitation can put your name top of mind for the editor. Consider which local book bloggers you may want to invite as well. 

8. Prepare your social media messages. This is important not just for you, but for your network as well. A few days before your launch send out requests to your most supportive friends and family asking them to help you spread the word about your launch. A well-designed image and carefully crafted message that you have prepared for them to share will make it much easier. 

9. Be ready to collect email addresses from attendees. An incentive can be helpful in this regard. Perhaps give away a gift certificate to the bookstore, or something related to your book. Afterward, thank the attendees for coming and tell them how they can continue to help you spread the word -- write reviews of the book, share specific tweets or Facebook posts, etc. 

10. ENJOY! You worked hard and you wrote a book! Enjoy that moment when you tell the world about your book. You earned it! 

About the Author

Crystal King is a 20-year marketing, social media and communications veteran, freelance writer and Pushcart-nominated poet. On April 25, 2017, Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster is publishing her debut novel, FEAST OF SORROW, about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius. Crystal has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet writing center. A former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in media res. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or at her website: crystalking.com

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