These days it’s a rare publisher who shells out for a lavish venue and flowing drinks to celebrate a debut author’s book. (And even if they do, the money’s usually clawed back from the author’s earning’s.) It’s increasingly common for authors to hold their own launches or not to launch at all.
It can be a horrific expense – unjustifiable if your advance is tiny or non-existent. It’s a lot of work – time which could be spent on the next book, or earning the money elsewhere to fund that writing habit. But it can also be done on a shoestring for excellent reasons, and this blog is a shameless low-budget launch-plug. I love a party.
What’s a launch for? To raise the author’s media profile and rake in some precious reviews? Perhaps but probably not.
Even the local gazette hacks may have five invites that night and recoil from the non-story that yet another unknown has written yet another book. You can of course drum up a fabulous true-story of how your book came into being for the press to lap up. If you have the natural verve and chutzpah of Jane Wenham Jones, you must! But you don’t have to. Not yet. All that shoving your face into the limelight to up your Amazon ratings can come later. Tonight is your night. Your launch is your book’s only birthday party. If you want to enjoy it without busting your purse strings, here’s how:
Invite friends and family first. They’ll a) come, b) buy your book – often in bulk c) enjoy themselves because they don’t get invited to fifty launches a month.
Memories of a few flushed aunts getting spritely on the free fizz are worth more than those of a handful of jaded meedja bods looking over your shoulder for someone more famous to talk to. And loved ones are just the people with whom to scale that almighty obstacle: reading aloud to an audience. They’ll be kind when you lose your place. Or realise you do need reading glasses after all. Or stammer. And blush. And stumble on your words. When you’re out there flogging your book in the long year ahead, these amateur traits aren’t cute. Better to learn how nerves attack you and learn to control them amongst friends.
Find a willing bookshop as a venue. They have many virtues over a wine bar or club, not least being that they’ll handle the ordering and selling of your stock - leaving you free to greet and sign and enjoy the night. Daunt’s on Holland Park Avenue, where I held the launch of Hot Kitchen Snow, even laid on staff to pour wine at no extra charge. The atmosphere is just right – you’re not competing with unbooky fellow boozers or music that can’t be turned down. There’s an apt and picturesque photo opp of you against built-in shelves of neatly stacked books. And because you can provide your own wine, rather than pay hiked up bar prices, you can make sure your favourite tipple is flowing all night, free of charge. This was important to me. I didn’t fancy asking friends to schlep into London and then expect them to cough up for their own Pinot. I wanted champagne on tap.
Allow time for finding this venue – it’s harder to get the right place than you might think. Some don’t do launches or can’t stay open late. Others are too tiny. Some charge an astronomical fee. Some inexplicably seem to loathe authors and books and will harangue you that no one reads anymore. Others are absolutely perfect but involve six buses and three train changes. And have no parking for two miles.
Get out there and visit them in person. A local or central indie bookstore is a godsend. Once you’ve found them, do be nice. Hold back some wine for staff. Don’t forget to say thank you. Tell them how many are coming to help them gauge how many books to order. At Daunt’s they underestimated what a supportive bunch of friends I had and scaled down my suggested order. They had to climb into the window to undo the stunning display they’d set up. But it was good to sell out at a launch. That was a mini story in itself.
Most important of all, it’s your launch in your chosen place, surrounded by your friends, clutching your book and your favourite wine in their hands. You’ll have a great night. You worked hard, unpaid, for years to get to this point. So when the time comes, relish it.