by Laura Anne Gilman
In my time, I’ve been to a lot of “pub” or launch parties for new books. I’ve even thrown a few (both for my writers, and for myself). Some of them have been huge, glam affairs, and some of them have been low-key gatherings. The one thing I’ve discovered, over those years, is that they rarely have any significant effect on sales.
Yes, having a pub party is, in some ways, a mark of success – people come to celebrate you (and your book). They’re exciting because launch parties are about buzz. They’re about ego. They’re about showing that yes, among all the many books out there, YOU have presence. YOU have content. And YOU should have reader attention. But the truth is that by the time a book launch happens, the book’s already been ordered. It’s already been reviewed. It’s already on shelves. And your readers aren’t going to be the ones, in most cases, to attend your book party.
So, should you not throw a party?
Yes, and no.
No, you shouldn’t, if money is scarce on the ground, and nobody else is offering to foot the bill (if your publisher comes in with a checkbook, all bets are off, say thank you ma’am, and choose your outfit for the evening). You shouldn’t if the thought of hosting a party makes you weep from exhaustion, or you live in a town of 500 people, 480 of whom don’t read Your Kind of Book and the other 19 will be out of town that week. Be practical. Be realistic. Can you spend the time and money and energy in more useful ways?
But if the budget is there, you feel like throwing a party, and you either live somewhere that such a thing would be appreciated OR will be attending a conference or convention that month where such things are appreciated – then my advice is go for it!
But do it smart.
1. Band together
If you know another writer who has a book coming out the same week/month, share the party and split the costs. You not only save money and reduce the stress, but increase the chance that someone who has never read your work will “come over” from your party-partner’s side. Also, 2+ authors are more press-noteworthy than 1 alone.
2. Don’t be trendy
Pick an off night (cheaper) and stay away from the hot-spot locations in favor of a favorite restaurant or bar, or your back yard (advisable only in warmer weather and dryer climates), or a (willing) friend’s awesome house. Keep the décor simple and the catering likewise. For most of us fiction-writing folk, nobody’s going to think better of your book because you went all-out on hors d’oeuvres or had a bartender making fancy drinks (ok, the drinks might help).
Likewise, entertainment isn’t needful, unless a) your publisher is picking up the tab or b) you know someone who will work cheap. I once asked one of our authors – who played the harp – if he would perform during a party for our imprint, with the understanding that he’d be featured in any press we got (and so he was). But a cd playing soft music in the background does the same job.
3. Call in Favors
In addition to the friend with the great party space, or the sibling who loves to make desserts, or the cousin who bartends, now is when you call your friend the reporter (no matter what they actually report on) and say “remember when I picked you up at 3am in the rainstorm?” Likewise the friend who is a wiz at photography, or the one who is willing to work the party while you’re being Writer of the Hour.
4. Make it Count
However you’re doing this, it’s costing you. So do what you can to maximize the promotional impact. Have books available, either as a giveaway or for sale, to make sure everyone gets their hands on one, at least briefly. Make sure that nobody leaves without some form of advertising, from a simple flyer or a sample chapter, so the next week they remember that they wanted to get a copy of the book (or share it with someone else). Do you know someone who has good videography skills? Get a clip of the party up on YouTube! (especially if something funny/embarrassing happens) People don’t remember something they see or hear once, but when you start to layer the reminders, it takes hold.
5. Don’t expect anything except a party
Have fun. Celebrate. Wave the book around in a gleeful, hopeful haze. Writing – the entire publishing game – is damn hard work. Let the stress go, for one night.
If you’re lucky, your party may get mentioned somewhere, and raise the book’s profile to a useful (selling) degree. If you’re very lucky, someone in a position to help your career (Hollywood, foreign publishers) hears about it, and follows up. But the most likely result is that you’ll wake up the next morning with a serious case of exhaustion, and the satisfaction of a hard job well-celebrated.
And that’s what a book launch should be.
[note: if you are a celebrity, slept with a celebrity, or are are someone who creates celebrities, the above advise does not apply to you. But you knew that already]
Coming up in Week 33: doubt comes naturally; a subtle ego, less so.
Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, most recently the urban fantasy PACK OF LIES, and WEIGHT OF STONE, Book 2 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy. Her SF collection, DRAGON VIRUS, which SF Signal called “amazingly evocative….a potent ride through a changing future,” was published by Fairwood Press in June 2011. For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman) And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.