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Saturday 15 August 2009


It's a while since you've had a full-scale rant from me and I feel it's been too long. How you have managed, I have no idea. Wait no more: I feel the need to share a little thing that has been bugging me since a book launch I went to a while ago. Let's not be precise about the exact date and let's not go anywhere with the name or genre, because I do not wish publicly to embarrass the author, who should be embarrased enough all by herself. I'll just say that once I was in London and found myself persuaded.

Tomorrow evening, I am going to a launch which will not be crappy. Lin Anderson, gruesome crime-writer par excellence (gruesome crime, not gruesome writer) is launching her new book in the Edinburgh Book Festival and I am going. Partly to cast my eagle eye over the tent because that's where the Soc of Authors party is being held and I need to forestall any glitches which would otherwise come back to haunt me. Partly because I've been asked to another party immediately after it (God, my life is dull) in the same venue so I won't even have to damage my pink suede shoes by walking anywhere. But mainly because it will be a good do and Lin is the consummate professional.

Unlike the author whose launch I took time out of my day to support. Little did she care. I tried to talk to her and say well done but I just got a slit-eyed glare and a miraculous disappearing act. Had my reputation preceded me? Did I kick her with my pointy shoes? No, I missed that chance. Next time, next time ...

Now, when it's your first book, there are lots of things that you can do wrong at your launch and get away with, like being nervous and shy. Nervous and shy can be very endearing. I remember a debut author's launch when there was barely a dry eye in the house, so endearingly nervous and shy was she. You could tell that she had really taken trouble - she'd spent time working out something nice to say and how to thank the various people "without whose help and support" etc etc. Yes, she was shaking with nerves, but she looked at us. Yep and yay, she looked at us. And smiled. Even one of those two would have been enough.

But rude author did neither of those things.

See, there are crappy things that no one should ever do at one's own launch (or in fact anyone's). A sensible publisher should never let a new author loose on a book launch without some timely advice.

Now rather than personalise this, because I really don't want to, let me stop talking about that launch and just talk about launchy mistakes in general, mistakes that can be made and indeed have been made at book launches. In the spirit of helping you achieve a happy launch when your time comes, I give you my simple guide to:

"How to make a good impression at your first book launch."
  • of course you will invite lots of your own friends: lovely! But please ask them not to be rude to the staff or to the established authors there, who have come to support you, and who may well have better things to do. Those authors wish you well - usually - but you won't get many chances. Earn your place; earn your friendships. Or live to rue the day you were so frigging rude.
  • prepare something to say - you don't have to be a stand-up comic: just say a few words about how happy and how grateful you are. Because you should be.
  • prepare a little bit to read; and damned well practise it, often, until you can actually read it in a way that people will listen to while they're standing up with warm wine in their hands (it's always warm, even when it starts cold - it's not the host's fault ...). And, while, you are reading, look up.
  • smile modestly, occasionally. Or even often.
  • don't drink too much wine before you speak
  • if anyone from your publishing company comes, show gratitude. If two people come, be seriously flattered.
  • when your editor says fabulous things and compares you to JK Rowling, realise that this is what editors do. It means sod all**. It does not mean you're going to be really really successful, or even a bit. It means they're living on dreams and couldn't think of anything else to say. And it also means that everyone in the room who actually knows about publishing is trying not to laugh. (**For Lynn's sake, I should stress that it's only the JKR bit that means sod all - all the other lovely things your editor says are most likely true. Even when they are being paid to say it.)
  • if anyone buys your books, be grateful; spare them some time to chat and SMILE; thank them for coming
  • and never, ever, ever play the prima donna. You've got to be stupendously good to get away with it. Actually, to be honest, you'll never get away with it. No one ever does. You may sell books but people will say crappy things behind your back and then blog about you.
The people you meet at your launch are people who gave up some time to support you. They did not come for the free drink and pretzels.

Thing is - back to that launch ... - I had a look at the book, read a few sentences. But all I heard when I tried to read a few words was the author's voice.

And I didn't buy it. Frankly, I wouldn't read it if you gave it to me.