Well, if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably sick of me by now. (And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you might want to check out Part I and Part II.) You’re in luck – this part’s gonna be pretty short. This is partly because I don’t have a ton of experience with in-person events, so hopefully other people can share more of their own experiences, and partly because I’m incredibly exhausted, but I promised I’d have something up on this today, so, voila.
A general thing about in-person events: if you did get swag, they’re great places to bring it. Especially if you didn’t get the kind of swag that fits into a standard envelope, like buttons. Just have it laid out in front of you, and bonus points if you bring something to sign it with. Bookmark are often glossy, but I find metallic Sharpies work on them really well.
I was lucky enough to sign at BEA – a lovely perk of Spencer Hill, who’s great about doing in-booth signings for their authors – and it was a lot of fun. It was great to meet people, great to see my ARCs in people’s hands, great to be able to give out bookmarks when I ran out of ARCs… a lot of greatness.
Let’s talk about signing things:
1. I was really afraid I would screw up someone’s name. I didn’t. I’m sure I will someday. If you do, you just give Julie another book with her name spelled properly and pray you can find someone named Jumanji who wants the copy you wrecked. But generally, the way signings work are that someone ensures each person’s name who wants a personalized copy is written on a post-it, and the person presents the post-it, and you pay careful attention.
2. Sometimes pens don’t work. Bring a lot of them. Test them out on things. Be careful with stuff that has a glossy finish. It’s really not ideal for signing, but often Sharpies are the key. No one is more attentive to matters of the correct pen than Corinne Duyvis (Otherbound) so if you’re stressed about the right pen, absolutely check out this post she wrote.
3. It’s really, really hard to talk and sign at the same time. Here are a couple of things that help:
- Signing 101: come up with 1-3 stock phrases you’ll use to sign every book. Sometimes your brain will be functioning well enough to write something more personal, and sometimes it won’t. Don’t feel pressure to be super creative. Just find something(s) that tie(s) in well with your book – a phrase, a sentiment – or a simple “Thanks for reading!” will do. Some people don’t write anything at all – just sign their names. It’s all okay, I promise.
- This is one thing I love that I have to credit to Caela Carter (My Best Friend, Maybe), who in turn credited it to Alison Cherry (Red): Keep a copy of your own book there and use it as a guest book, so while you’re signing X’s book, X is signing your book. It lets you focus, gives them something to do, and is an amazing souvenir at the end of the night.
4. Read this post by Mary Robinette Kowal, which is the most helpful post I’ve ever read on book signing.
To be perfectly honest, I’ve only been to launch parties in three places – all indie bookstores in NYC – so again, I can’t speak to all experiences; hopefully people will chime in if things are drastically different in other situations. But here are the things to take into account:
- Date, time, location
- If/how you’ll be selling books
- What scene you’ll be reading, if the activities include reading
So, let’s go through those:
Date, time, location: There are two main options for date – you can have it on your actual release day, or you can do it at some point that weekend. As long as your book will be available for sale, that’s what matters. As things worked out, I did mine the night before my release, and actually am thrilled that that happened because it took a lot of pressure off the release day, but it’s never a guarantee you’ll have books available by then. As for time, take into consideration who you really want there, and work it around their hours. (Mine was at 6 p.m., as most launch parties at Books of Wonder in NYC are.)
As for location, again, two main options: bookstore, or not-bookstore. Bookstore is the easiest to arrange selling books, for obvious reasons. I won’t go into all that stuff about consignment etc. because I don’t know all that much, honestly, and my publicist is the one who arranged that stuff with the store. I just got in touch about three months before the party to book it (the summer is particularly packed), gave an estimate so they’d know how many books to order, and took care of whatever else was on me.
If you don’t do it in a bookstore, you’ll have to see if one will distribute for you. I have to be honest that I have no idea how this works, but I imagine it’s not that hard to find out.
If your book is digital, and so you won’t have hard copies, there’s no real advantage to doing it in a bookstore. Just have it wherever you’re comfortable, and (totally ripping off other people here) try to have at least one computer present so people can order it online at the party.
Invitations: Facebook, evite, or Paperless Post are all fine. I kind of did a stupid, lazy mix. Send six weeks before, remind two weeks before, accept that it’ll only give you some idea of your numbers, and as with anything else, people who say they’ll come won’t, and vice versa.
If/how you’re selling books: See “location.” In which I’m still useless on this question. Thanks, Patrice!
Refreshments: Every launch party I’ve been to has allowed people to bring their own food, though I’m sure some places, especially if they have cafes inside, do not. Tying refreshments into the theme of your book is a fun thing to do, but remember that it’s not the reason people are there; don’t drive yourself crazy. Store-bought everything is fine. Probably don’t bring champagne into a children’s bookstore. Cheese and crackers, fruit, cupcakes, and some bottled drinks are perfect.
Activities: Some people are cute and clever. I am not. I went with the super standard Intro -> Reading -> Q&A -> Signing. If you wanna do more, power to you. Just remember that for a two-hour party, you should expect to fit the mingling and all activities into the first half, and leave the whole second half for the signing. It takes longer than you think.
Scene: I don’t really know how to advise on this. I picked my scene for its lack of profanity, basically, and ended up having to lean away from the microphone to whisper the words “drug-fueled orgy.” So, WTF do I know. Just pick something reflective of your book and style, not too spoilery, and preferably funny if you’ve got it.
Swag: As per above, if you’ve got it, bring it, and put it out on your signing table.
Outfit: Be awesome. It’s your freaking debut launch party. There is no such thing as too much. Take it from someone who wore a tiara.
Panels, Tours, School Visits etc.
I literally know nothing about this stuff other than what I’ve been to as a fan/spectator and what I’ve followed from other people’s. Here’s what I can tell you:
If you do these things, you will most likely be sending and financing yourself.
Yes. True thing. There are some publisher-backed events and tours, but they are very, very rare, especially for debuts. If they happen for you, great! But do not go in expecting them. Do not expect to be reimbursed for travel or hotel. Just, don’t.
Set a limit of how much you’ll spend/how far you’ll travel on your own dime for something like a school visit. If a request goes beyond that, it’s okay to ask if they will pay, or help defray the cost, or do a Skype visit instead. You are under no obligation to spend your own money; you are under no obligation to say yes to requests that require you to. You’re actually under no obligation to do much of anything at all, unless it’s literally in your contract.
If you do do these things, keep the same stuff in mind – all the important things re: signing, swag, etc.
One huge difference between a launch party and…basically every other kind of event, is that for a debut launch party, I would say to do it solo. It’s your family, and friends, and pub family, and they want to see you. There’s no reason to make it about anybody else.
However, for any sort of panel or other event, especially if you’re a debut, I highly recommend bringing in 2-4 other authors, at least. It’s extremely hard to work up an audience for your average event if you don’t already have fans. So talk to other people with books similar to yours, in similar geographic areas, and work out some kind of panel. Or talk to your publicist, and tell them where you’ll be, when, and ask if there’s anything happening you might be able to join. Etc. Etc. So many writers have gone through the awkward situation of mainlining an event, only to have almost no one show up. At least if you’re not the only author there, you have someone to laugh about it with. But more importantly, you’re just more of a potential draw as a group.
Sooo, I think that’s it? Yeah, let’s say that’s it. And I’m sure you have questions, because I was only half coherent when I wrote this, so, bring ’em on in the comments!