Monday, 20 July 2015

How to Organize a Book Launch Party

If you follow me on Facebook, you'll know that I attend a LOT of launch parties.

At the spring launch of my pal Joe Friedman's warmhearted book The Secret Dog

I try to accept invites when I can. I know the agony and ecstasy of writing a book. I also know that without a launch party, the publication of a book feels like a great big non-event. It was in your head and then suddenly, it's out in the world. There is no fanfare, no applause, no big moment of passing from one state into the next.

Launch parties give every author a feeling of closure and release as the book you've been agonising over for ages at last goes forth into the world to seek its fortune. It is a celebration, but at the same time it is a promotion tool.

A good book launch party is both a celebration and a promotion tool

A good launch party is not just about selling a ton of books on the night but about raising awareness. It will bring attention to your book and create the ripples that can buoy your sales. But how do you bring the two together?

Here are my top tips for a successful book launch party.

1. Be creative but frugal 

The difference between Publicity and Marketing is money.

Where marketing is the stuff that might get a budget from your publisher - merchandise, book trailers, adverts in tube stations - publicity is the sort of promotion that doesn't require a budget - social media, blog tours, placements in local papers. The book launch party usually falls under Publicity.

The elegant nibbles provided at the launch of Sarah Towle's Kickstarter for the
guided tour app of David by Mary Hoffman were made by ... Mary Hoffman

The gorgeous waitress handing out canapes is inevitably the author's daughter. Here, Tabby
serves guests at the launch of Cleo, Lucy Coats' young Cleopatra book.

So if you're not a blockbuster author, you will usually have to do it on your own dime (though marketing departments will often offer to share the cost of wine). Lucky for authors, most bookshops and some libraries love hosting book launches. Scout locations and look out for tip-offs from other authors. And with frugal creativity, guests can be wined and fed in a satisfactory manner.

Chitra Soundar performing her book Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market at Streatham Library

2. Invite people who want to be there

Who do you invite? Just close friends? The media? Book bloggers? Librarians? Young readers? Do you dare invite some big name TV presenter in the hope that he or she will feature you on their show?

Start with your real friends, the ones who've been part of the story of your book. They will come because they want to celebrate your achievement - and buy your book. They are the beginnings of the community of support that you want to build around your book. Think of people who might want to be part of this community. My best guest moment? When the Philippine Ambassador to London came to my book launch!

When my debut novel Tall Story came out, I wanted to celebrate the book's theme of family coming together despite being separated by oceans (story of my life) ... I also wanted to share the launch in London with my family in the Philippines. It was important to me to give them a key role in my first launch.

I got my musical family in the Philippines to create a video that we played at the launch, and my lovely neighbours and friends came together to sing along, bringing my two worlds together.  Here's the video of that song - it still brings tears to my eyes.

 A memorable party will get the story out about your book but of course, it would be great to invite influencers from the Kidlit world.  But they must WANT to be there. How do you entice people you don't know?

Work your list. Do your friends know anybody who might help spread the word about your book? Can they help persuade them to come? A personal link can do wonders.

People you don't know will come if they love your book. So make sure proof copies are out in plenty of time before the launch. Reviewers, librarians, book bloggers - people who might keep the  noise going about your book.

What is your story? Local news media will attend if your story is relevant and compelling. If you don't know how to write a press release, now is the time to learn.

Work with the publicists of your publishing company. If your publisher has a good publicity department, they will have the contacts and relationships established over time with reviewers, bloggers and media folk to get them to come along.

Your venue will have an impact on your guest list. A party held at a bookshop tends to be a public event. Waterstones, for example, will advertise the book launch on their website and invite the general public to come.

The launch of my book, Shine, was held at a public library. This was an open event and we had to be fully prepared to provide refreshments for strangers who decide to join the party (in fact, the library requested that we only serve softdrinks - so friends had to troop back to my house for alcoholic libations after the launch).

People you don't know might come if you give them a reason to want to be there. So think carefully about the format of your party. What can you do to make it an unmissable event?

If you build it they will come.

3. Add value

The usual format of a book launch is an editor or publisher saying nice things about the book and the author. And then the author saying thank you to their peeps then reading an excerpt from their book.

It's a tried and tested format - but how can you add value to it? Is there something you can do to add even more zing to the moment?

Everybody wants to go to a Sarah McIntyre-Philip Reeve book launch. The wigs! The costumes! The singing! The ukes!

Authors like me, who hate dressing up, have to add value in other ways.

I used the launch of my second book Shine, to make contact with local schools. My guest list glittered with authors ... why not create a memorable event that could bring young people in contact with my author friends? I invited the young writers of a local school to submit their writing and in an electric and inspiring session, we read their work aloud in turn and my author guests responded to the writing of the children.

Line up of authors talking to children at Shine's book launch (left to right - Teri Terry,  me, Jane McLoughlin,  Jackie Marchant, Cliff McNish, Steve Hartley
The obligatory reading from the book doesn't have to be performed by the author - often, getting an actor to do it hits the spot.

At the recent launch of This is Not a Love Story by Keren David, actress Laura Jane Cook reads an excerpt  

Actor (and children's author) Andrew Weale reads from Dougal Trump Where Is My Tarantula by Jackie Marchant

If budget permits, a little bit of merchandising doesn't go amiss!

Giraffe headpieces were offered at the launch of An Vrombaut's animated giraffe film Tie
People will go anywhere for cake. At the launch of Cleo by Lucy Coats

3. Launch with a big bang!

When writing pal Teri Terry's debut novel Slated was coming out, Jo Wyton and I had the brainwave to get all Teri's friends to 'slate' themselves - Photoshop their faces onto the cover of Teri's novel. We all posted these images on Facebook, tagging Teri, so that when she woke up her feed was a sea of 'Slated' friends. It made waves everywhere, book bloggers were slating themselves, people Teri didn't know from the Philippines slated themselves. And we all had great fun doing it.

Is there an element of YOUR book that you can play with to the same viral effect?

4. Be generous

One of the most important lessons a self promoting author needs to learn is: successful promotion is not about you. Never.

The best kind of promotion is when you give your audience something they really, really want. So think hard. What do readers, teachers, librarians, booksellers really really want? Can you use your launch to give it to them?

At the recent launch of Ways of the Doomed by Moira McPartlin at the beautiful Barbican Library. Moira spent more than a week performing free school visits as part of her launch programme.
Sometimes librarians just wanna have fun. Carnegie chair Matt Imrie at the launch of Nicole Burstein's not-so-super hero book Othergirl
If your author friends are coming, why not share the glory of your day?

At the launch of Teri Terry's Mind Games, the bookseller Blackwell's very kindly exhibited the books of all the authors who attended the launch (Shine is top right)
If you're not doing it in a bookstore, make sure you do book sales via a local bookseller. Booksellers hand sell books (and authors) they like. They also organise a lot of  book events and are on the  lookout for authors who are good performers.

The Book Nook of Hove came along to sell books at the launch of The Farm Beneath the Water by Helen Peters at Roedean School

Victoria Park Books at the launch of Catherine Johnson's The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo on a cool rooftop park in Dalston
Tales on Moon Lane at the launch of Cleo by Lucy Coats
The Children's Bookshop in Muswell Hill sold books at my launch (but because it was my launch I couldn't take pictures ... so there is no photographic record waaaah!).

5. Take Pictures

Don't forget your signing picture. Teri Terry at the launch of Mind Games

... and photos of your friends holding up the book! Don't Panic, Annika! by Juliet Clare Bell
Just reading this, you can see the benefit of a good photographic record, right? The photos of the event carry on being shared on social media long after the event. You can use them for publicity and they are a record of your book's birth.

Make sure there are pictures of all the  guests. In this brave new world of social media, it's all about sharing. More photos of more people=more sharing=more awareness.

(BTW don't wait weeks before posting the pics - post them while people are still high, tweeting and talking about your book).

I am a compulsive photographer and I love taking pics at the launches of my friends' books. But when it came to my own book launch for Shine, I was so busy I completely forgot to ask someone to take pictures. I have a few pictures of the event with school children. But of the book launch? It's just impossible to cover an event when you're on the stage. I need a clone.

Here I am taking photos at Lucy Coats' book launch. I was snapped by editor Emily Sharratt, who's fed up with me taking candid photos of her in awkward poses

6. Design your launch so you enjoy it

A book launch is not something to be endured. With careful planning, you should also be able to enjoy it. Delegate tasks to family and friends. Make sure there's a comfy chair and table where you can sign books and chat with friends you haven't seen for a long time. (Comment at one of my launches: "It was like they were queuing up for a consultation") Plan the event so that you can spend time with friends afterwards in a relaxed environment.

This is it. This is what you've been working towards. You are allowed to enjoy it.

Just celebrating at the launch of The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson. (left to right) Thomas Taylor, Tanya Landman, Cathy Johnson, Jack Noel, Emma Lidbury

View Candy Gourlay's previous blog post on how to create language in fiction Why We Should All Be More Like Shakespeare.  You could also read about how she almost drowned in Korea.


  1. Awesome post, Candy. So helpful! I'll be sharing it far and wide. Thanks, as ever, for your generosity!!

    1. Thanks, Sarah! In fact I've just added one more idea - I forgot about the time we went viral for Teri's launch!

    2. I loved the Slated viral thing you all did. That was awesome! :)

  2. So good to be there and to celebrate such hard won achievements! Glorious post! I can't wait to launch the next one.

    1. I'm coming to yours if you're coming to mine!

  3. Big thanks from me too, Candy - your photos made the event experience even better. So nice to have those memories captured. And this is the PERFECT post for anyone wanting to run an event and not knowing where to start.

    1. Lucy, you just gave me another idea for a tip. You looked fantastic at your launch - and undressy authors like me should take a cue from you!

  4. Great tips Candy and you're very generous with your time and expertise when you go out to so many launches - I know at the cost of writing or downtime - but it is very good to see friendly faces in the event when the launch does happen. :)

    1. Thanks, Chitra. I love going to launches because they are a hopeful and happy event in a tough business.

  5. I still don't know why publishers don't capitalize on such simple things and give the writers a bit more help around this - like asking a bookstore or a book-blogger to attend or just retweeting your tweets.

    1. I think a lot of people underestimate the book launch party as a key tool in promoting a book - but you do have to really make something of it. It is possible to have a launch party that does nothing for your book. Launch parties are another opportunity, it's up to us to grab it.

  6. Thank you Candy, lots of brilliant tips given just as I'm preparing to launch The Tragickall HIstory of Henry Fowst in early September. Will learn from the DOYENNE of launches. :) (Or should that be 'doyen'?)

    1. Oh golly I will have to look that up! Thanks and good luck with your launch!

  7. This is SO GREAT and I've been thinkiing about that thing you said...I have...honest....

  8. Brilliant, Candy. Yet another helpful, generous blog. You're a star.

  9. Many thanks for this fantastic post, Candy. I'm currently preparing for my launch in September and this is SO useful!

  10. Such a generous (as ever) and informative (as ever) post, Candy. Thank you so much! Kate

  11. I just had my debut launch, and it went well, but I could have used some of your fine tips, Candy! Thanks for sharing!!

    1. You can use them at your next launch ... and the next ... and then next! Thank you for dropping by!

  12. So much to think about - thank you!

  13. This was a great post! Bookmarking it for (hopefully) future use!

    1. I'm sure the future is near! Thanks @kcallard!

  14. My own book, Dark Muse, is scheduled for release in November 20116, and I'm already getting a rough idea of who to invite and where to hold it. Sounds like loads of fun.

  15. Thanks for this... gives me ideas for my book that is coming out in January! I love the "Slated" thing; such a good idea.


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