Plan A Great Book Launch Party
by Kelly Carey
My debut picture book launched in April of 2020, a little more than two years from the day I sold the book. Some folks balked bug eyed when I said the book would not be out for 24 months, but not me. I was thrilled that I had two years to learn everything I could about book marketing and put a plan into action.
I made plans. Some spot on and some ridiculous and untenable that I scrapped. I filled a huge binder with loads of information. Trust me when I tell you that I have reorganized this binder multiple times and it is still a cumbersome beast; which is a perfect description for marketing. It is a cumbersome beast.
The trick is to tame the beast. Manage your own expectations. Believe in your product. And most importantly, find infectious joy in the process.
Great, you’re thinking. How the heck do I do that?
Take it in small chunks and find a place to start that feels familiar. At one point you have probably planned a party whether it was a birthday, wedding, or family bbq. Good. If you have ever planned a party, you can plan a book launch. Let’s get started. And you can all start NOW! Whether you just signed your contract, are querying, or still working on your manuscript, today is the day to start planning your party.
Pick Your Location
While I don’t have an independent bookstore in my town, I do have wonderful bookstores within a thirty minute radius of my home. Since your launch will mostly feature your local friends, family and writing colleagues, pick a spot nearby that it is an easy distance for your guests and offers a good space for your event.
You can ask the marketing team at your publisher to help you make contact with the bookstore; however it is best if you already have a relationship with the bookseller. That means you’ve spent your pre-published time visiting your local indie bookstores, attending events, and have become a part of the bookseller’s patron base (aka – you buy books!).
Virtual flip: Your wonderful event has gone virtual? No problem. That same bookstore can host your event virtually. But you still need a good location. Your guests will not want to look at your messy kitchen! Do not pick a wall of windows as your background; while that looks lovely in person, the backlighting will be a problem. Turn on every light in the room and consider how comfortable the spot will be for you. Add some colorful and interesting props: your book, flowers, and possibly an item related to the theme or subject of your book.
Plan on attending launch events at both your chosen venue and at other venues. Watch how the bookstore manages the event. Notice how the audience reacts to how authors and illustrators present their books. What worked? What didn’t work? Create your own “best practice” guide based on what you think would work best for your presentation style and for your book.
Virtual flip: Tune in to a variety of virtual events and get a sense for how the technology works. It will be helpful to consider the event as a participant versus a speaker as you think about how you want your presentation to work. For example, do you want to hold your book and read it or share a power point as you read the book? Attending events will help you formulate the best plan for you.
Invite Guests & Market the Event
Just like any good party, your launch will be a success if folks know about it and actually come! The bookstore will market the event, but your friends, family and writing colleagues will be more excited to attend if you send them a personal invitation. I sent out evites and news of the event to my newsletter subscribers. An evite is easy and you can use emails you have already collected BUT I highly recommend that you spend the time between signing your contract and the launch to build up an email subscriber list using Mail Chimp. For more information on building an email list of fans see this wonderful post by marketing expert Colleen Riordan.
Send out your invitations about a month before your event and be sure to send out a reminder a day or two before your launch. Blast info about your event on all your social media.
Virtual Flip: When your live event has to go virtual, you’ll rely on that evite program and your newsletter platform to let everyone know the new plan.
Set Up Pre-Order Opportunity
From the moment you announce your book deal, people are going to be excited for you. You will not leave the house without someone stopping you at the grocery store, lacrosse field, or school event to ask about your book. The closer you get to the publication date, the more people will ask, “How can I get a copy?”
You will want a good answer to this question. First, invite these folks to attend your launch. But you will also want to make it easy for these folks to purchase your book. Ask a local indie bookstore to facilitate autographed pre-orders and include information in your evite and newsletter about pre-orders. This way fans that are farther away and might not be able to travel to your launch can still get your book. Send those folks an evite anyway – they will be grateful you have an option to allow them to purchase the book even if they cannot attend your launch.
Virtual flip: I used my newsletter email list to let folks know that they could pre-order autographed copies from my local indie that would be shipped to their homes. The bookstore allowed me to sign copies alone in the store to fulfill orders. Bookstores may also prefer that you offer signed bookplates that you can mail in bulk to the store rather than coming into the store. I have seen authors offer to mail individual signed bookplates if a book is bought, but your profit on each book is so small, I don’t believe this is cost effective. If the bookstore cannot help you facilitate autographed copies, I would not offer it as an option.
Make it Special for Your Reader
First and foremost, you’ll read your book at your launch. But, folks can do that on their own. You want to offer them something MORE when they are at your launch event.
I shared some behind the scenes secrets with my guests, talked to them about how the main character got his name, why the story features a blueberry pie instead of an apple pie, and why the tractor was so special. Be careful when you consider these extras that you keep your reader in mind. It might be tempting to talk in depth about your writing and revision process but that will likely be best for a school visit or a program for fellow writers. Keep your reader in mind!
Consider this. If I come to tour your home and you tell me about the trip where you found that interesting carving, or why you have so many bird pillows, or who the people are in that black and white photograph, then I will be amused and charmed. BUT if you take me to the basement and show me your hot water heater, open up the cabinet under the sink to tell me about your favorite cleaning products, and open up the closet where you stashed all the clutter before my visit, I will still be amused but no longer charmed. Keep your reader charmed!
Offer Food, Games and/or Crafts
A party with fun food, a game that gets the crowd involved, and a craft that acts as a party favor all add to a guest’s enjoyment. My book features a blueberry pie and I had planned to hand out individual TableTalk pies to guests. I used Megan Dowd Lambert’s Whole Book Approach to think about how to actively read my book and came up with a “find the cat” game kids could play as I shared the story. Finally, I scoured Pinterest to find an easy craft kids could do at the event. I recommend a very simple craft without many steps. Even a coloring page of a character or scene in your book is a crowd pleaser.
Virtual Flip: I still offered a craft during my virtual events. The publicity before the event listed the supplies needed and I reminded folks about those at the beginning of the presentation so that they had time to collect materials. A great website will be helpful for you virtual events. You can point viewers to a website where they can find activity sheets, directions to crafts, and even recipes to make their own book-themed food.
You will be nervous on launch day. Like industrial strength deodorant nervous. The best way to quell the nerves and to mitigate their negative effect, is to practice! Stand in front of a mirror and rehearse. Keep notes so that you don’t forget to mention things or lose your place. Go to the bookstore and if the event space is separate, practice your presentation in the space.
Virtual Flip: Technology can be scary and challenging. Be sure to practice on the platform of your event- Zoom, Crowdcast, Facebook Live, or Instagram Live. The bookstore that hosted my launch offered a practice session the day before and I was grateful that we knocked out some kinks. If the bookstore cannot accommodate that, consider your own practice session. Set up your own Zoom meeting with a few trusted friends and practice that tricky toggle between your camera and sharing your computer screen. If things go wrong on the day, just breathe. Folks understand that technology is finicky and while the delay may feel like hours to you, it will likely only be mere minutes for your guests. It’s all good.
Take Care of Business and Be A Good Partner
The launch is about you and your book, but be sure to notice the folks who made the book and the day possible. Mention your illustrator, editor, publisher, and agent. Thank the bookstore and tell folks why it is such a great place to visit and plug an event or feature at the bookstore. I like to mention the cafes in bookstores, special gift items that they carry, and encourage folks to attend future events.
Send folks to your website to learn more about you, print off activity guides, find recipes, and book you for future events.
You may be asked what books you like to read or what other books you recommend. Be ready to answer this question and use it to feature books by your friends! I was happy to hold up books written by my writing partners and books launching from my publisher, and I think my writing partners and publisher were thrilled that I made that effort.
The more you can prepare ahead of time, the more you will enjoy your launch day; whether it is live or virtual!
But remember, while it is your special day, you want to share the moment and more importantly, your wonderful book with readers. Keep those readers as the focus as you plan your launch party and it will be a success.
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