A few people have been asking about my launch – why I did it, how it went, would I recommend it to other first-time authors, and so on. So I thought I’d post here a little post-mortem I wrote for the digital newsletter Pass It On. I loved my launch! We could certainly have been better organised, but there are some things you only learn by doing, and that’s part of the fun.
“Launching Yourself (or, what I learned at my DIY launch so you don’t have to)”
1. Advance Planning
Have a range of possible dates and look into any other events that might be on around the same time. If there’s a festival or similar event, you may be able to piggyback your launch on this, sharing costs and publicity. On the other side of the coin, you might end up clashing with another launch or important book-related event that will affect turnout to yours.
Work out what you want from your launch. There’s symbolic value, a kind of punctuation, in a first-novel launch, drawing a line of sorts between your pre-published life and your sparkling new career (heckling to a minimum, please!), but it can also serve a number of important functions. I wasn’t able to make any decisions with regard to who/what/when/where/how until I’d worked out what those were for me. In my case, the goals were:
Celebrate the book! Mark the occasion with friends, family and colleagues. Kick back and grin. Say ‘huzzah’.
Show my face. As a first-time author with a well-developed inner hermit, I didn’t really know anyone in the industry, and no-one knew me. I needed to raise my profile, let people know who I was and what I was about.
Let your goals determine the logistics. Once I knew why I was doing this, I was able to make decisions about how. Since the celebration element came first for me, I chose a venue that had a relaxed ambience – a live-music venue in downtown Fremantle, rather than somewhere more formal like a bookstore or library. I’ll probably go with something like this for subsequent launches, but for the first one, I wanted wood floors, overstuffed couches, and a bar in the corner. I also weighted my guest-list very heavily towards friends, family and writer-buddies, with just a sprinkling of industry movers and shakers. That was the right balance this time around, but next time, I imagine things will skew the other way (call me, movers and shakers! We’ll do lunch!).
If you’re serving food, organise friends/family to help. Don’t imagine you will manage this yourself and that it will be a handy way of getting around to talk to people. If things go well, you will be stuck in a corner all night signing books and never even see a slice of the gourmet pizza you so carefully chose.
When the gourmet pizza guy tells you no problem, he’ll deliver, just for you, darling, because it’s such a special event, get it in writing. That way your husband and chief person-in-charge-of-everything-else won’t have to rush out at the last minute, leaving you trying to serve food, sign books, give out drink tickets and conduct intelligent book-related conversations with movers and shakers.
Enlist a few people to take photos for you. You will be unable to find your camera or remember how to work it. At any rate, your hands will shake so hard that any photos will be irretrievably ‘arty’, their subjects unrecognisable blurs.
Do not put your nine-year-old daughter in charge of handing out ‘one per customer’ drink tickets. At least not for more than five minutes. At minute six, her attention will be diverted by shiny gew-gaws and she will leave the tickets on a table where they may be peeled off and exploited at will by gleeful friends. At some point, one of your friends may attempt to trade them as currency. It’s all in good fun!
Take the pen you most like to write with as a signing pen. Make it a pen which does not require a firm grip and a lot of pressure. You will be signing for a long time. You will wish you had heeded the admonitions of your third-grade teacher to grasp the pen loosely, as you would a delicate flower. When you later find fingernail semi-circles etched into the palm of your hand, you will have no-one but yourself to blame.
Plan a few pithy sayings with which you can personalise front-of-book messages. Relate them to your book if you can. For Annabel, I ranged from, ‘Always be on the look-out for secret tortoises’ to ‘Remember to never, ever listen to your mother’.
Prepare a defence of said pithy lines that will assist you in fielding next-day phone calls from irate and largely humourless mothers.
Decide in advance how you are going to sign your name. I am told you should not sign with your credit card signature. Given the behaviour of certain friends with the drinks tickets, I believe this is sound advice.
Stay up late the night before making book-based activities for a kids’ table. Think long and hard about placement and set-up of said table. You are well-prepared. You are a children’s writer, in perfect step with the needs and interests of your audience.
Watch kids run around the balcony all night; pack away kids’ table and console yourself that the activities will come in handy for school visits.
3. Random Musings
Low lighting is excellent for atmosphere and very bad for photographs.
Digital cameras are evil. They enable people of questionable loyalty to you to take lots of photos in rapid succession, making it harder for you to denounce unflattering shots as the work of a bad angle, an awkward moment. The evidence will be incontrovertible, your protestations rudely mocked.
Digital cameras do not click loudly enough. Clicks are the universal code for ‘photos being taken. Arrange features suitably.’ Writing this, it occurs to me that I am old.
If you throw your arms back hard-arch-style to make an obscure skydiving metaphor during your speech, you will look remarkably like a television evangelist. One hundred and twenty-seven poorly lit, unflattering photographs will be circulated amongst your friends to confirm this.
First-book launches are marvellous. If you’re thinking it’s a lot of hassle, you’re right. If you’re thinking it probably isn’t worth it, you’re wrong. At least that’s what I reckon.