Some dos and don’ts for hosting your book launch

Last week I launched the paperback version of my debut novel, A is for Angelica, at the delightful Lantern Theatre in my home town, Sheffield. It was a smashing evening and I loved every second. You can see all the pictures over on my Facebook page. While you’re there, feel free to like me, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, I wanted to share with you a few lessons learned from the experience. I think these dos and don’ts apply to any writer, whether you’re published traditionally or launching a self-published piece of work. It’s one of those many places where we all have common ground.

The what to dos

My first tip would be to get the right venue. I’d hoped to hold the launch in the Sheffield branch of Waterstones, but they couldn’t fit me in (I’m expecting twins and have specific time-related requirements!). I thought about other bookshops but went for the Lantern because it has a sensible 80-person capacity, is run by nice people, and it has a bar. The last one is very important. People like a drink.

And because people like a drink, you might try and find a way to offer your guests a freebie of some sort. That could be a glass of wine, but it might also be something related to your book or even a nice piece of cake. We went for the first and third of those options. Both were popular. Everyone likes free stuff.

I always think that you should keep your readings short. There’s nothing worse when you go to a spoken word event than having to listen to long pieces of prose. It’s just so difficult to focus and after a while, people lose track of what’s going on. I read for about 20 minutes in total, but I did it in short sections that lasted no more than a couple of minutes each.

I heartily recommend you get someone to help sell your books. This is a very important part of the evening and, frankly, you’re the star of the show and the last thing you want is to be doing admin work, like taking money and carrying boxes around. I was lucky enough to have someone from my publisher with me to do all that stuff. I concentrated on flouncing about, mingling away and signing books.

You probably want to know how many people are going to attend. I was unsure about having a launch so close to becoming a dad, so I left the whole thing a bit late for organising. By setting up a page for the launch on Eventbrite (for free), I could ask people to register and that way I knew exactly what numbers to expect. It also helped me work out how many freebies I’d need. And how many books, of course.

The what not to dos

I know I said that you’re the star of the show, and that’s certainly true, but try not to make it all about you. The best way to do this is to thank people for coming and to acknowledge those who’ve helped you get the book to this point. You might also want to ask someone to introduce you and, like I did, have a section for questions. I also asked my novel’s cover designer, Jonathan Wilkinson, to talk about what he did and why.

Launches are exciting, so don’t forget to celebrate. It’s easy to get carried away and take your special night too seriously. Yes it would be nice to pack the place out and yes it would be good to get a load of press people and publishing types there. But first and foremost, your launch is recognition for what you’ve achieved and a farewell party for your book as you send it out into the world.

Which is also why you should make sure that you don’t ignore your friends and family. Like I say, your launch is a chance to celebrate and for me, it provided a great opportunity to get my loved ones together to say, ‘Hey, you know that thing I’ve been doing for the last few years? Here it is. Thanks for your support.’ And of course, more than any other group of people, friends like freebies.

It’s your party

Above all, the most important thing to remember is that this is your launch party. Be advised by your publisher and get all the help you need to make it happen, but don’t be kowtowed into doing something that you don’t really want to do. The only caveat to that you must ensure that what you want is also good for your guests. They want an enjoyable evening too.

Anyway, what’s your experience of book launch events? Have you heard any horror stories? Got any good tips? Let me know in the comments or start a conversation on Twitter.

8 Comments 11 September 2012 Reply

Delighted it went well. I think the point about keeping readings short and having free wine are both very important – in the case of the latter, it’s also really important to speak to the venue – many venues, especially non bookstores, make their money out of selling drinks so might want to charge you corkage. 11 September 2012 Reply

Absolutely, and I should probably clarify here. There was a small but more than sufficient budget from the publisher which was used to pay the venue for the ‘free’ wine. The bar was open all night as normal for other drinks and nibbles. 12 September 2012 Reply

Good tips, but what exactly were your freebies?
I love this – and so true on KEEP IT SHORT. I’m part of the Chicago live lit scene, and I can’t tell you how many boring 20-minute readings I’ve sat through. Plus, “keep ’em wanting more” is a truism. If you just read me your entire short story, I ain’t gonna buy the book! 12 September 2012 Reply

Wine and cake! The publisher’s budget helped pay for a glass of wine for every guest and my wife very kindly baked 70 cupcakes, each with its own letter of the alphabet on top (my novel’s chapters are alphabetical, you see). And yes, I used to run a spoken word night called Words Aloud and we had a three minute rule. It never got dull and actually, it helped people think about what they should perform. Thanks for the comment! 12 September 2012 Reply

Really useful advice, and as I’ve just been offered a publishing deal, I was very interested to read your piece. Thanks for sharing. 12 September 2012 Reply

No problem, thanks for reading. 12 September 2012 Reply

I enjoyed the evening very much (and even appear to have sneaked into one of the photos… ), the whole thing was just the right length and the content/structure was enough to both satisfy and raise interest I think. The location was great, and I think that getting a venue that feels personal without being tiny, and is big enough to fit everyone without being overly large is key to setting a good atmosphere and encouraging a bit of mingling, which I indulged in happily 🙂 12 September 2012 Reply

Thanks again for coming along Dan and nice to meet someone from the internet in person! And thank for the kinds words, glad you enjoyed it.

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