Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Will your book launch be in London?

I’ve had this one a surprising number of times. I blame Bridget Jones.

Book launches frighten me, not because I know nothing about them (I’ve been to loads), but because I’ll probably be one of the few people at mine who does know anything about them.

Sis: I’ll help you with your book launch! I’ll sort everything out, I have loads of ideas, it’ll be brilliant!
Me: Great! Thanks!
Sis: Um… What actually happens at a book launch?

At least she asked. Other people’s expectations are making me nervous.

- Will it be in London?
- No.
- It’ll be huge though, yeah?
- Not exactly.
- With spotlights and champagne?
- There might be inexpensive wine.
- Your publisher will organise all that, though won’t they?
- Um…
- And it’ll be circus themed, in a circus tent, with a circus, and live music played by circus clowns? No?

The disappointment is palpable.

What do you mean, there's no chocolate fountain?

Your publisher/publicist will talk about ‘the launch’ a lot, but what they mean is the actual process of the book appearing in bookshops and all the publicity and marketing stuff. When you talk about ‘the launch’, you mean the launch party, which is a whole different thing.

The fact is, publishers don’t go in for book launch parties anymore. Yes, there was one in Bridget Jones, attended by Salman Rushdie and people in cocktail dresses, but the reality is they only do that for an author who’s going to pull a huge crowd of the book-buying public.

For a debut author, the only people who’ll come to the book launch are people who were going to buy the book anyway. I.e., your mum. So really there’s not much point in the publisher using their very limited marketing budget on that. Instead they’ll, very sensibly, plough it into getting you into a newspaper or festival or something.

Most authors organise their own book launches, and they’re simple affairs. They’re actually just a bit of a celebration for the fact that you’ve just birthed a book. Kind of like a christening but less dressy, shorter, and you don’t have to renounce the devil. In terms of sales and publicity they probably don’t have any real impact and you’ll spend more on wine than you’ll make in royalties for the number of books you sell, so there’s probably no real point at all, except that you just birthed a book. You’d never forgive yourself for not marking the occasion in some way.

So it’s up to you how mad you go. You can do it really cheap, or you can spend money. Personally, l haven’t thrown a party since my wedding and I have no plans to ever throw one again, so I am prepared to spend a little bit of money on this, but it’s really just for the venue and wine.

This may be overkill

I’ve been to loads of book launches and I’ve just finished planning my own, so here’s what I've learned so far:

- It’ll probably be in a bookshop – an independent will usually let you use their shop for free since these things do at least generate income for bookshops. Or if the shop is too small, hire a bigger venue and ask the bookshop to provide the books. I’ve been to launches in arts centres, cinemas, universities, museums and concert halls. Ask around. I’m having mine at the Crescent Arts Centre but I’ve got No Alibis providing the books.

- It’ll feature the writer worrying that no one will come, followed by a bit of awkward chit chat as the first five people arrive, and then floods of relief when more people show up and start drinking.

The worry can be lessened if you’ve done enough advertising of the event. Make a Facebook invite and send it to everyone. You’ll be amazed at who might come. And don’t forget people who aren’t on Facebook. Put it on your blog, Twitter, Instagram, email, and write little notes on actual paper for people who only exist in the real world. And do it all a month in advance. This is the invite I made for mine (you’re very welcome to come along btw).

- There’ll be free wine or some sort of refreshments. You can totally get away with soft drinks and your mum’s traybakes. If you want to have wine, I’d recommend you start looking out for offers as soon as you sign your contract. 

I’ve had bottles of Prosecco from that Sainsbury’s offer sitting in my house for months. (And I’ve only drunk one of them! This is the definition of will power.)

Must... resist...

- If your book has a theme you can maybe do themed snacks/decorations/venue. My sister and I are having a lot of fun with this. But my theme is circuses, which is easy and fun. If your theme is like, the Holocaust, maybe think twice.

No one wants this guy at their party

If your launch does have a theme, make sure you get good pictures and give them to your publicist; they can maybe use them.

- If you know another writer, it can be nice to get them to play ‘host’. Ie make a little speech welcoming people and introducing you, Ms Famous Writer. Remember, you’re not only planning this event, it’ll be down to you to set the tone. If you want to look like a proper writer, have someone introduce you like you’re a proper writer. Make a speech like you’re a proper writer. For one night only, you need to set aside the deep-seated shyness and insecurity that probably drove you to the page in the first place. Because you may be much more comfortable shuffling up there in jeans and mumbling something incoherent about wondering why anyone would bother to show up when really you’re a terrible writer and you never deserved this publishing contract in the first place (we’re so good at this in Northern Ireland), but you’ll leave your audience wondering why they’re not at home watching Netflix. 

For example, I’ve spent ages wondering how to say ‘I’d like to thank…’ without saying ‘I’d like to thank…’ because saying ‘I’d like to thank…’ makes me feel like a knob at the Oscars, but the fact is there are some people I’d really like to thank. 

Just pretend you’re Margaret Atwood. Just for one night. Make everyone think it was worth leaving the house for.  

Maybe don't do this

- After the short I’d like to thank speech, there’ll be a reading from the book. For God’s sake, keep this short. Personally, if I’ve gone to a book launch, I’ve probably decided before I arrived whether or not I was going to buy the book. And no one needs a lecture about exactly why this bit of the book was genius, or how p34 foreshadows p68 so wonderfully, or how intricate the running metaphor of the duck in the storm was. Just read them a 5-7 minute section where something actually happens. 

This is especially important if there aren’t enough seats for everyone to sit down and luxuriate in your meandering prose, and in fact they’re standing there in their winter coats in an overheated room trying to balance handbags, wine glasses and the copy of your book they no longer need to read because you just gave away the ending.

- I’ve been to several book launches that also have a bit of entertainment, usually musical, and usually from a friend of the author. This can be a cute touch, especially if the music is related to the author or the book. Shirley McMillan’s launch of The Unknowns featured a performance of a song that’s actually in the book. Two of Jan Carson’s launches have featured the wonderful Hannah McPhillimy playing songs she wrote about Jan’s book, Malcolm Orange Disappears. 

In that department, I am very lucky as I happen to be one fortieth(ish) of the incredible Belfast Ukulele Jam, who are the nicest people in Belfast and they’ve agreed to play at my launch!

Free wine and ukuleles – I don’t want to meet the person who wouldn’t want to go to that. 

But I’ve also been to launches that didn’t do any of that, and they were great too. Give people a drink and a chance to chat and they’ll be happy.

- Then it’s all over bar the writer signing copies of the book for people they see every day but whose names have somehow been suddenly wiped from their memory. You know that bit in The Devil Wears Prada where Anne Hathaway has to stand behind Meryl Streep at a party and feed her the names of the people she’s talking to so she looks like she remembers who they are?

This bit

There’s definitely a market for this service at book launches. I’m pretty crap with names in general and the added pressure of social interaction on a large scale plus uncomfortable shoes will not help, so I’m dreading this bit. And I have appalling handwriting and now I’m regretting the very long title of the book since it doesn’t leave a lot of room for writing on the title page. Seriously, if I forget your name or spell it wrong, please forgive me!

- I think what I’m looking forward to most is catching up with people I haven’t seen in ages, so make sure you leave plenty of time for that. I’ll be heading straight to the pub after my launch, and I’m hoping people will join me.

And that’s basically it. It’ll be a short event and it’ll fly by. As they say about weddings – do try to stop for a minute and take it in.

PS - my launch is on Sunday 11th March at 7.30pm in the Crescent Arts Centre and if you’re around Belfast you’re very welcome to come along!

Next time: Do you get to meet loads of famous people?


Candy Gourlay said...

Wonderful post! I wish I was in Belfast. Have a good launch.

Unknown said...

Kelly this is a brilliant post .. Due to the current situation at home with all these assessments not to mention childcare I will probably find it difficult to attend but I have been following your blog and amazing journey so far. Your mum and dad will be so proud and so are we. It is an amazing accomplishment and I wish you every success with the launch and book release. I'm definitely getting a copy xx

Rowena House said...

Fab blog. Madly taking notes!

Jacqui McVeigh said...

Brilliant. Hope to see you there.

Kelly McCaughrain said...

Wish you were too!

Kelly McCaughrain said...

No probs Jenni! Hope it's all going ok. Feel free to bring the boys if you want to but don't worry if you can't make it x

Kelly McCaughrain said...

Not long now!

Kelly McCaughrain said...

Well *I'll* definitely be there ;)

Morna said...

Looking forward to this

Sue Purkiss said...

Love this - brilliant choice of pictures!