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How to Organise a Book Launch

Writing.ie | Resources | Essential Guides | Selling Your Book

Christine Mills

Christine Mills was the Senior Book Buyer at Hughes and Hughes beautiful store in Dundrum. Organising a book launch can be daunting for any author or PR company who haven’t done it before, so Writing.ie asked her to give us chapter and verse on the subject of Book Launches …

In this piece I would like to give a few pointers to anyone launching a first book. My suggestions will relate mainly to a book shop launch (based on how we would do things at Hughes and Hughes) but I hope they may be of use to anyone using a different venue. This will be a fairly modest launch proposal on the assumption that most first time writers won’t be in the market for the Round Room at the Mansion House (leave that till your second book at least!)

But first, why hold a book launch at all?  A launch is a great way of loudly announcing the arrival of your book. It’s useful to boost initial sales and garner publicity. At this point, let’s just ask why an author would want to launch a book at a shop rather than at a more unusual location? The immediate answer I think has to be cost in that you don’t have venue or staff hire fees. Also practicality:  the major ingredients for a successful launch are on site. I’m thinking specifically here of experienced staff, facilities for launch sales and appropriate display equipment. Unless there’s an obvious thematic link (launching a gardening book at a garden centre for instance) a book shop generally ticks all the right boxes. And don’t forget, sales on the night through a book shop all contribute to the best seller list!

The first step is for your publisher to approach a bookshop; although it may be that you already have a good relationship with your local bookshop. Even if the publisher makes the arrangements for date, time etc it’s a nice idea for you to make personal contact with the shop if it isn’t already known to you. You can introduce yourself and chat to the staff who will be handling the launch and get an idea of the space available. If you’re feeling nervous about the whole thing it will give you confidence to have a run through of the plan for your event.

The next question is when to hold the launch? Day, evening, or weekend launch? The type of book may have some bearing on this. For instance you may be a children’s writer so an evening option wouldn’t work. A child friendly Saturday afternoon might suit instead (many bookshops have a children’s hour at the weekend anyway). Book launches for adult audiences are often held in the early evening; ‘Happy Hour’ can work well as you will catch people after work before they head home or on to other engagements. Estimated running time is often around one and a half to two hours, allowing time to sign books and talk to people.

It’s usual to offer refreshments so this is an important item to have arranged well in advance. I don’t think it need be any more complicated than wine, soft drinks and nibbles. The costs of refreshments would be borne by the publisher, though there may be an agreement to split expenses with the bookshop. You need to have a rough idea of the numbers attending to ensure that enough glasses have been borrowed and there is enough wine etc. The practical task of serving refreshments is handled by book shop staff, leaving you free to meet and greet the guests.

So who gets invited? As a starting point, the more family and friends you can drum up the better to help to create a buzz around the event. Inviting local radio and press would also be a good move. If you can’t get a press photographer then ask a friend to take pictures that you can use for future publicity. And don’t forget to invite your writing mentors, your old college lecturer and anyone else who has helped you get where you are today. They’ll appreciate it and will probably buy a book too! Apart from your guest list, the shop staff will ensure that people who may be interested in your work know about the event too.

The publisher (or wholesaler) needs to ensure that the book is in the right place at the right time. If it’s available before the official launch, then so much the better as it means that the book can be prominently displayed in a bookshop ‘hot spot’ to build customer anticipation. The publisher should provide promotional material such as posters for the staff to use in merchandising; also flyers/invitations to hand out to customers. Bookshops publicise launches on their social net working sites and can link to your web site. Be sure that your publisher is able to supply a proof copy of your book to the staff dealing with the launch so they are able to talk about the book in advance.

But what about the format of the launch? And is it good idea to have a tame celebrity? To answer the second question first much depends on whether you can get a celebrity who is not going to hog the limelight. It also depends on whether you can find a celebrity in your particular field rather than someone with no obvious affinity with your work. If you don’t go for a celebrity option it’s usual to start with a brief introduction by your publisher or agent. Then a few words and a reading from the author; but don’t panic too much if you are not used to public speaking. You can keep it fairly brief; just choose your favourite passage to give a flavour of the book. The staff will have set up a table ready for the book signing session. You might want to circulate a little first before doing signings. The public aspects of becoming a published writer can be nerve wracking at first, so it’s worth bearing in mind that people meeting you for the first time are probably just as nervous as you are.

The main thing to remember is that it’s your moment; you’ve earned it, so enjoy it!

About the author

(c) Christine Mills July 2011

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