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Tuesday 31 March 2009


All of you unpublished authors out there are dreaming of your launch party - I know you are. And my expert contact at Publishing Scotland, who has clearly been to a few launches too many, suggested that I should do a blog piece about launches. I think he is hoping that publishers will take note of Rule 3 below and DO SOMETHING TO CHANGE IT. They won't, because they think that you are there for the book, not the wine. Odd people, publishers, and often not in the real world.

So, here are my observations about Launch Parties

The Myth
On publication day, the sun will shine and ostentatious flowers will arrive from your publisher; and a chauffeur will collect you in a limo to take you to your champagne launch at an exclusive hotel / royal palace / hilariously original and wow-factor-inducing venue, a launch which will engender many thousands of book sales and inevitably propel you to world-wide acclaim, perpetual fame and endless wealth.

The Truths
  1. publishers hate launch parties, because they do nothing for sales and cost a packet, and cause the author to think that this is how life will be from now on
  2. authors like them, because their non-author friends believe the above myth
  3. it is an absolute rule that bad, warm white wine and parrot-cage-rough red wine must be served. And orange juice from concentrate. If the wine is fizzy it will be accidentally so. Or it will have been fizzy once. There may be crisps. The invitation may have said canap├ęs, but you won't see any. Or you might see one, but it will not be clear what it is, when it was made or whether it is safe to eat.
  4. the few book-sales that your launch party will create are the ones actually made at the party, which will be very few unless you have guests who understand that No, you don't get all your books free and No, the advance is not enough to cover your chocolate / alcohol / boots bill.
  5. authors should consider having their own launch party - and, as the past mistress of self-organised launch parties, I have generously included my recipe for success below
  6. organising your launch party and then asking your publisher for a contribution is a very good idea. It's not guaranteed to succeed but you can pretty much gauge how much they adore you from the response. They do tend to like this though, as it is a fairly cheap and 100% hassle-free way to be nice to you on your special day, and, being essentially decent and reasonably sensible, they want to do this. After all, it's only one day ...
My tips for organising your own launch party

Funding it / Choosing venue
  • a cheap and simple method is to get a bookshop to hold it. The downside is that Rule 3 absolutely applies (though I must hastily say that the launch I went to at Vanessa's lovely Edinburgh Children's Bookshop broke this rule by supplying, at my request, genuinely fizzy wine and very nice sandwiches. I didn't try the orange juice but I am so not bothered by the orange juice. Also, of course, any bookshop I've ever had my own launches in also had good fizzy wine, largely because I supplied it.) The upsides are that there's no venue cost, all the book selling and ordering is not your problem, they can invite lots of book tradey people if you don't know any, and the venue is usually small so it doesn't take many to fill it. (A downside if you're a greedy and gregarious person like me.) You liaise with them about how many of your friends to invite and eg whether to make it public or private. They'll probably have done it all before loads of times, so you throw yourself on their mercy. Whether you pay / part pay for wine will depend on, eg, how many people may come and how many books you may sell, and how generous the bookshop is.
  • an equally cheap and simple way is to see if a school would like to host it. This only works for children's books - you can't expect them to host your erotic fantasy novel. The way to fund this would be a) ask your publisher if you can buy books at author discount to SELL (most contracts say you can't, but I always ask my lovely publishers and explain why I should and they always say yes), and then b) either offer the school the profit on each book sold, to cover wine+food, or else keep the money and buy the wine yourself c) also ask your publisher for a contribution, explaining how this is going to publicise your book d) let the school use the publicity in lots of ways, and you'll probably find that it won't cost you anything else, especially if you use the school's caterers. Hmm, caution required here: boiled cabbage we do not want. It makes the warm white wine taste too good.
  • what about gimicks? Good idea if you can think of one. Something to make your launch more enjoyable - especially for guests who may not know anyone or may be nervous. When The Highwayman's Curse was launched, I got some young actors from a school I was working with to perform an ancient curse on the audience - it was STUNNING and the audience loved it. At the same party, I was launching Know Your Brain, which includes a chapter about feeding your brain, so we had delicious food with reasons why it would fuel your brain, and there were displays people could look at if they were bored, with photos from previous launches. My next one is Deathwatch, which has beetles on the cover, so we'll do something to do with beetles. Er, don't know what ...
  • more expensive but easier and more upmarket is to have it in a private room in a pub or restaurant. Again, you can recoup some cost by selling books yourself, and asking your publisher to contribute. Lots of venues are free if you use their catering.
Other aspects
  • a cake with the book cover on is a fab centre-piece and needn't cost much - there are companies which will turn your jpeg book cover into an edible cake cover. I use a company called cake-toppers in the UK.
  • you have to make a SHORT speech. Yep, you have to. If you're not the wittiest most confident speaker in the world, it doesn't matter - just thank people for coming and tell them a tiny bit about your book. Read a short bit if you want to - first chapter is the obvious choice. But really, the speaking bit should be short. I have been to one where we had to sit down and listen to a lengthy and not-well-delivered lecture - this is NOT normal or desirable or helpful. Half of us, who were used to normal launches, were struggling to behave respectfully, two women were very drunk and disrupted everything, and a literary reviewer who was there was derisive. A launch is not a lecture, nor is it the chance for the author to bore anyone. How would that sell books?
  • before your short speech, you NEED someone to introduce you. Ideally, your publisher will send your editor or publicist and they can be relied on to say hugely glowing things about you. I personally cringe when this happens to me, so I've stopped allowing them to speak, but you do need someone - book-seller, confident friend, friendly person from book trade, agent, just to intro you briefly.
  • immediately afterwards (well, not literally immediately, but the next day) send a photo - you did nominate a photographer from amongst your friends, didn't you??? - to your local paper and any book trade magazines (The Bookseller in the UK) preferably of you, your book and someone dressed like an absolute idiot in a way that's vaguely relevant to your book. Papers love pics, especially of people looking weird or in severe pain. For my first highwayman book, I got some schoolkids to dress up as highwaypersons and hold me up at gunpoint for the launch pic**. Amazingly, they were encouraged by their school to carry toy guns ... Anyway, great pic, much used.
  • **when I say launch pic, I am lying. Lying is something novelists do. So, you don't actually have to have the pic taken at the launch (though that will be fun too, not for the world, but for you to look back on when you're 95) - you can set it up. Take it a few days before the launch and have it ready to send off with a little caption: "William Blake and a fierce-looking reader at Edinburgh Zoo for the launch of his new poem, Tyger Tyger ...". Even if the launch was actually held in The Lamb and Altar.
  • ONE glass of wine before your speech. More only after ...
  • PS - edited after reading comment from Tom Vowler - YES, definitely a correlation between alcohol consumed by guests and books purchased by them! Good point.
  • Enjoy it! It's not going to make you rich or famous but your friends will be happy. And it gives your mum a chance to boast. Not that she needs one.
I almost forgot - the main reason I have a book launch: I get to buy new boots.

And next time you go to an author's book launch, remember: a) you're meant to be there for the book, not the wine and b) the author probably paid for it. BUY A BOOK!! Meanwhile, get planning your own.