After my post about the launch of A-Z of Dumfries: Places-People-History, a number of people asked how we organised it. Some of you were particularly interested in the book signing at Waterstones and if it was worth doing. I should clarify that the book launch and the Waterstones book signing were two separate events.
Organising the book launch:
A-Z of Dumfries is traditionally published but everything I did applies equally to an indie-published book (my friend Lynn Otty and I held a joint launch for our indie-published short story collections following the same steps).
Whether you are buying at author discount from your publisher or from Amazon if you’ve gone down that route this is the main event. This is the one at which you hope to sell lots of books, make a bit of money – and generate interest in your book even after the event.
Decide on a date and time: we chose a Thursday evening towards the end of November, starting at 6.30pm. It’s probably best to avoid a weekend when folk tend to have other commitments. On timing – I’ve found it’s better to make it early enough so people can come along and still have the evening ahead.
Find and book a venue: okay, in this I’m lucky in that as an alumnus of the university I can book a lecture room free of charge. It’s a bit out of town but I live in a rural area, so even a town centre venue means people have to drive to get to events.
Design your invitation: Make sure you include a date by which people should RSVP – some will, some won’t so it’s always a bit of a guessing game but it does help.
Send out invitations: go through your address list and invite everyone, unless they live an unrealistic distance away. Friends, family, authors you know, journalists, acquaintances, everyone you can think of. Send personally. Don’t send it so it is obvious you’ve done a mass mailing. Invest in a ‘send personally’ thingie, it’s worth it. Don’t forget friends on Facebook who aren’t on your email list – send them a pm with the invitation attached.
RSVP: The RSVP date has arrived. Try not to panic. Out of over 200 invitations only 20 acceptances have come in. Resist the temptation to re-send the invitation or phone people!
Media: Send a press release to all media outlets in your area. You can find out contact details of the news desk on the internet but if you have a named contact that is better. Write your press release as if it’s an article you would read in the paper (don’t read your local paper? Then shame on you and why should they be interested in supporting your book if you don’t support it? Sorry journalist’s hat on for a moment) rather than adorning it with PRESS RELEASE PRESS RELEASE across the top and a list of facts. No, really, check out your local paper to see how they publish information on a new book release. Include a pic of you and your book and/or a couple of pics from the book. Send it to local radio stations as well – without the pictures – and local TV stations. We had A-Z of Dumfries featured in the entertainment section of two local papers, a full page spread in another a few days before Christmas, a photo and para in a lifestyle magazine which is going to do a double page spread in the next issue and a radio interview. For Secret Dumfries we even had a 15 minute slot on a local television programme thanks to Keith’s contact. Remember though, a television programme can’t be seen to promote you book – there has to be a hook. In our case that was local history secrets – in yours it might be a local site chosen as a crime scene, or a new slant on a character based on a local legend…
Social Media: Put it on your FB page and on any other FB pages which are relevant. We put A-Z of Dumfries on certain local pages. Go for pages relevant to your genre. Respond to comments, including an invite to the launch party. Do this after the RSVP date. You don’t want your specially invited guests to think just anyone can come along! Tweet about your book coming out. Always include a link to where they can buy the book. It’s unlikely Twitter followers will be able to come to the book launch but they may click on an Amazon link and buy direct.
Refreshments: Now you have to calculate how many bottles of Prosecco you need and how many bottles of fizzy water to make non-alcoholic elderflower cordials, nibbles (vegetarian, gluten free, vegan, nut allergies, dairy free – nightmare). Avoid nuts and browse your supermarket shelves for savoury bites to eat – apologise profusely to those guests who can’t partake. Most people are not in the least interested in nibbles – just keep topping up the Prosecco. We buy from a supermarket which lends the glasses for free. And they were so thrilled when we brought them back washed – most people don’t. Yuck!
RSVPs: More acceptances come in – other apologies, too. Reply – just a line to say how much you are looking forward to seeing them (or sorry you can’t make it).
The Launch: Arrive early enough – with helpers – at the venue to ensure there is enough seating, have a sign pointing to the room where the launch is being held, set up a serving area for your refreshments, mix the elderflower cordial, open the wine, decant nibbles into bowls, set up a table for your books.
It’s a party. As people arrive, offer drinks, introduce them to other people, let them mingle and chat. After a while people will sit down; give them time to settle. Do your talk/reading, starting with a big thank you to everyone for coming along. Keep it to a maximum of 15-20 minutes. Invite questions. Invite everyone to top up their glasses – and mention the book is available to buy and you’d be happy to sign it. Mention Christmas. If your launch is at any other time of the year, mention birthdays.
Chat to people as you sign their book (check spelling of names), thank everyone. People will start to drift away at this point and it’s difficult to say goodbye to everyone while still signing books for others. Once the last guest has gone, pack up.
Out of the 200+ invites we sent we had over 60 guests, who bought over 40 books, which meant we were in profit. Also many of the people who could not attend asked if we could keep them a book so we made a lot more sales over the next few of weeks – plus the sales in local bookshops and on Amazon. When I thanked people on a local Facebook page and included the Amazon link, the book sold out in a day. The second order sold out and for almost two weeks before Christmas it was out of stock. This happened last year with Secret Dumfries so I need to work on improving the timing.
Waterstones book signing: We did a book signing on a Saturday morning a couple of weeks before Christmas between 11am and 1pm.
Before the event, I took in some fliers and laminated posters. I also left fliers in places where they were likely to be picked up – libraries, university coffee bar, shops which take promotional materials for local events. Waterstones put an advertising board outside the shop with event details.
I emailed some photos from the book which they used in a display inside the shop. In fact, they removed the display material for the latest Billy Connolly book and replaced it with ours – how cool is that?
Waterstones ordered the books direct from the distributors. We will eventually receive royalties for the sales. If it had been a self-published book we would have brought them along and they would have taken fifty per cent of the sale price.
I sent out a press release and we advertised the event on social media.
On the day, a table and chairs were set up directly opposite the door with a full height display of the book behind us and more piled on the table. We don’t approach customers but wait for them to come to us. At one time Waterstones refused to host local indie-published events because of authors following customers around the shop suggesting/begging they buy their books. Blanket ban – which is understandable. We signed books for those who wanted them signed. Before we left, we were asked to sign twenty books and a ‘signed by the author’ sticker was attached.
We were not sure how many we’d sold because, with all the chat, we forgot to make a note. I went in two days later to ask. We’d sold almost 20 in the two hours plus several copies of last year’s Secret Dumfries and all the signed copies had been already sold. The shop had sold a total of 72 – with two weeks left until Christmas and a full page feature in a local paper still to come.
Worthwhile? Yes. It requires a lot of work in advance and Waterstones isn’t going to give window space to a book which sells in the numbers we’re talking about here, nor are they going to spend time promoting the event, though given the materials they did make a good show for us.
Launching the book has been hard work but it’s been fun and it gets our names known, which will help when we publish future books.
Happy to answer any questions on the nuts and bolts of organising a book launch, writing press releases or anything else launch related.