MarySmith’sPlace – Steps to organising a book launch – and a book signing #MondayBlogs

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.

a-z Launch invitation2

Here’s our invitation

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…

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Full page in a local paper

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.

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At the book launch

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.

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Happy guests at the launch

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.

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Keith and I posing for the obligatory ‘me and my book’ shot

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.

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The advertising board Waterstones put outside the shop a week before the signing event

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?

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Part of the display inside Waterstones. We didn’t think to take a pic of the display of books!

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.

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The book!

46 thoughts on “MarySmith’sPlace – Steps to organising a book launch – and a book signing #MondayBlogs

  1. Well done, Mary. All that hard work no doubt paid off. Do you know if Waterstones were up for negotiating how much commission they take? 50% seems a lot, so I guess you have to sell a lot of books? I totally understand the blanket ban on the following of customers and begging them to buy a book. That would put off a lot of people from revisiting the shop. I don’t know if you have a mailing list, but I guess it would be a great idea to allow people to sign up at these events. Plus, make sure you take plenty of pens and paper with you.

    I’m not on Facebook, but it would be useful to know which Facebook groups you used to publicise the book. I’m sure other authors who are on Facebook would find it helpful.

    Great idea to get in some help for the book signing event. I’m sure they helped do the washing up of all those glasses.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Hugh, I’m not sure whether or not Waterstones would take less than 50%. It was a friend who took indie-published books to the local branch and that’s what they agreed. It could be up for negotiation in individual branches and it seems nowadays the managers have a degree of autonomy. It wouldn’t hurt to ask. As our book is traditionally published we didn’t get involved and Waterstones ordered them in the usual way from the publishers through the distributors. Eventually, we’ll receive royalties on the sales – but we won’t be buying a yacht!
      Yes, I have a mailing list – those were the people we invited, though done through personal email rather than a generic mailshot. My list isn’t from my blog – it’s a combination of personal and professional contacts. Between us, Keith and I knew everyone who attended. I’ve heard of people running a sort of raffle for everyone who provides their contact details – they all go in a draw and the prize is awarded at the end of the event.
      Keith’s granddaughters did a sterling job of directing people to the room and then handing round the nibbles – and sorting out the chairs. His wife did the drinks and my husband did the washing up!
      I love Facebook. The sites we promoted the book on are very specific to Dumfries & Galloway – such as ‘Old Dumfries’ which is a private group with over 16,000 members, all with a connection to Dumfries. I didn’t use any Facebook pages for authors because this particular book is a bit too niche.
      I think I’ve replied to all your points but get back to me if I missed anything or you think of another question.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for getting back to me, Mary.

        I’m delighted to hear how much success Facebook was in helping you launch the book. I never found any of the blogging and writing groups I joined on Facebook, particularly friendly. All most wanted was to have their own posts or work promoted without returning the favour. Some asked me to introduced myself (which I did), but no responses back saying ‘welcome, this is how the group works, etc..’ It’s one of the reasons why I left Facebook. However, maybe I joined the wrong groups? It sounds to me as if you certainly were directing information about your new book to the right Facebook groups.
        You did well by addressing emails personally. I get some emails that I signed up for which start off by saying things like “Hey!” which come across as very impersonal. It’s almost as if I don’t really matter, but they still want to tell me their news and buy their books.

        Well done to your husband for doing the washing up. I hope he had time to mingle with the attendees as well.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I agree with you about the writers’ groups on Facebook, Hugh. It’s like posting into a void. Authors tend not to buy books from authors! Sweeping generalisation, I know, and I believe the bloggers/authors who have become real friends are the exception who prove the rule. I know you are not on FB now but I’m sure if were you would find groups whose members post about Wales and all things Welsh. A post saying, ‘You know that guy you see walking his corgis along the beach, well, did you know he’s written a new book? You’d be welcome to come to his book party at…, or you can buy TITLE on …’
          Looking at what happened with A-Z of Dumfries, it was the people on the mailing list who came to the launch party (some of those who couldn’t attend came to the Waterstones and museum signings) and the people on FB bought from Amazon or in the local Waterstones.
          It will be interesting to see how it all works out for a general title rather than local history, which I hope will be next.
          Husband did the washing up but before that he sits at the book display table taking the money so Keith and I don’t have to do that as well as signing them. Husbands do have their uses!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. You did very well. I always hold my book launch at a local independent bookstore in Canada in the town I lived in. It is usually well attended. Organizing these things and doing all the promotion is a lot of work, but worth it. Since I only go back to Canada once a year for a month, I organize about a dozen events in 3 or 4 cites. I am exhausted by the time I come back to Spain.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Darlene. I’m not surprised you are exhausted by the time you return from your ‘holiday’! It sounds like a great way to promote your books – people do like to meet local authors.


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    • Oh, goodness, Jacquie, the first time I did a book launch I felt so sick with fear I wished I had never written a book! I still get nervous but not quite so terrified. Once the audience laughs, I relax. Keith and I do quite a good double act. We don’t rehearse but each of us knows roughly what we’ll say – he talks about the photography and I talk about the text and research and we interrupt each other and one comment leads to another. I was delighted when someone commented on how relaxed and informal we were.
      You’d be absolutely fine. Just pretend you are chatting to friends.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You make it sound enticing, at least to me. Selling a book about a place, in that place must be a very nice thing to do. Great to have the contacts for the newspaper and TV too.
    Well done, Mary.
    This is great advice for so many blogging authors. I have shared it on Twitter.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing, Pete. There was a lot of work involved but it was great fun, too, and I was buzzing by the end of the evening. Dumfries people (Doonhamers) are very proud of their town, even those who left years ago, and very receptive to books about it. The ‘Old Dumfries’ Facebook page has over 16,000 members and new posts of old photos go up all the time – often with great debates.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow! Mary, superlative organisational skills here to arrange these two events and they paid huge dividends! Thank you for sharing in such detail what is required and I agree about local press! Having started out on local papers I realise how invaluable they are to the community and always willing to give a helping hand … as long as you have that all important hook/story angle! Your book is packed with these!

    Congratulations on all the books sales and fabulous attendance… lots of lessons and inspiration for us all in your post! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Annika. I’m delighted to meet another supporter/defender of the local press. We’re thin on the ground these days. The important things were the personal invitation (and I forgot to include a picture of ours in my post) which invites people to a celebration/party rather than to come and buy a book and media (including FB and Twitter) publicity. Now, I better get another book written!

      Liked by 1 person

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