Debut Author Lesson: The Launch Party

This entry is part 18 of 21 in the series Debut Author Lessons

So, your book is coming out and you are trying to decide if you should have a launch party. They cost money but everyone seems to do them. So the question you keep asking is: Are they worth it?

The thing to understand about an event like this is that it serves multiple functions. Here are the things that a launch party does, in order of importance.

It is a way for you, the author, to mark something important in your life.  Think of it as a reward to the people who put the thing together, your significant other, your parents, your best friend, but mostly it is a party, for you. So it should be a party you want to do.

It is publicity and should get people talking about your book.   This is a long-term investment that will make people predisposed to speak kindly of your book and talk about it to others. This is the start of your word-of-mouth campaign.

The goal is for people to have a good time and to go out and talk about it. It’s the same concept as an opening night party at a theater. You are trying to jumpstart positive discussions. This means that the party needs to be memorable and unmistakably related to your book, without making it seem like you are expecting people to buy books.

Last, least, it sells books at the event. Make no mistake, if you go into the event thinking that it you will see a beautiful return on the investment, you will be sad. People will buy books, but not enough to cover the cost of party.

Knowing these things allows you to make decisions about priorities when making your plans. Speaking of plans, here are some things you will probably want to think about.

I do want to be clear that this next bit isn’t a how-to but a list of things you’ll need to think about when deciding if you want to have a party.

Location:

This should be something that is easily accessible, and has enough space for people to move around in. Ideally, you want people to spend time at the party because a) more fun, b) more likely to talk about it afterwards, and c) chances of buying the book increase over time.

If you are at a convention, your choices are to rent a space or do a room party. The choice depends entirely upon who you want for an audience and your budget. A party will feel more like an event if you rent a suite, but the costs go up.  A room on the party floor is more likely to have casual drop-ins.

Control costs

  1. Hire a bartender — Yes, rather than asking a friend, go with a pro. Give her instructions to do small pours and to cut people off who’ve had too much. People will take that better from a professional, and it also makes the event look classier. You will save money on the cost of alcohol in the long run.
  2. Limit your menu — Decide your budget per person, first. Then, figure out what foods reflect the theme of your book and aim for the broadest selection possible within your budget. An array of choices will look more bountiful than having a lot of a single item.
  3. Small plates. It’s such a simple thing, but people judge the quantities in proportion to the space. A small plate will make them take smaller portions. Likewise, having a wide selection of small dishes available means that they will take fewer of any one thing.
  4. Cool swag that people will keep, is going to do more for you than novelty cocktails. Yes, novelty cocktails will get people in the door, but there’s no takeaway value afterwards. Swag should be useful, related to your book, and have — at minimum — the name of your book and the url of your book’s site. You want it to be something that people will use because that increases the likelihood that they will talk about your book to other people.  Check out wedding favors for cheap neat things. Again…figure out your budget first.

Before the party. Here are some rough things to think about.

  1. Work out your budget. DO NOT VARY from it. You will be tempted.
  2. Contact a really reliable friend and ask them to be the stage manager at the event. You, you need to be responsible for nothing except greeting people and signing books at the party.
  3. Reserve the space. Plan for an hour and a half pre-party for setup and an hour post-party for cleanup.
  4. Contact a bookstore and ask them to sell books at the event. Why? Because that counts as a bookstore sale toward your total numbers, which is good. They will also be more likely to hand-sell your book later. Some stores will order the books and let you sell them. Alternatively, contact Author, Author and purchase books through them.
  5. Issue invitations and ask people to RSVP early so you can get a headcount. Use Facebook, G+, evite, email, and/or your website.  (Note: Target your invitations to people who are likely and available to attend. Do not send it to your entire Facebook list, because that will annoy people.) As a general rule, 80% of the people invited, in a targetted invitation, will actually show up. At a convention like Worldcon, for a large publicized event, you can expect 5-10% of the population to drop through.
  6. Contact catering — if using — and give them a number that is 80% below your RSVPs. People flake also, people will rarely eat full portions at events like this.
  7. Order party favors/swag
  8. Plan decorations with your stage manager.
  9. No later than a week before the event, confirm everything.

At the party

  1. Your primary goal is to meet every single person who comes to the party. They all want to feel like they got to share a moment with you.
  2. You need a signing table, at which you can sign books. Be aware that once you sit down to sign, you will be there until the party ends. Plan to spend the first hour socializing.
  3. You should not have anyother responsibility at the party. Those two things will eat your brain. Have your stage manager assigned to handle everything else.
  4. Make sure that you have someone assigned to bring you food and beverage once you are trapped at the signing table.

So after all that…. is it worth it? That is entirely up to you. At least now, hopefully, you have some tools to use in making the decision.

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10 Responses

  1. K.W. Ramsey

    Good advice Mary. I’ve attended a couple launch parties at conventions, mostly for small press books from local Ontario authors, most of them at conventions, and enjoyed them immensely. From a consumer perspective I’d say they were a success as I left each one with a signed copy and a favorable impression of the author. (In most cases at least.)

    I think it helped that for the majority of them the author had a support team similar to what you’ve mentioned above, comprised quite often of other authors from the same publisher. Those authors helped out and in return had a) a party and b) a chance to sell their own books there. The focus was definitely on the primary author though, and the other authors did everything they could to support him or her and nothing that could be seen as taking away the limelight. It also helped that at least one of the authors had stage experience and did a great job of MCing.

  2. Marlene Dotterer

    This is great advice. Thanks for summing it up. I hadn’t thought about doing this, but now I’ll think about it and decide if it will be a good thing to do. It certainly sounds like a FUN thing to do!

  3. Mindy Klasky

    *You* are a goddess! Thanks for pulling together all of this information, and presenting it so logically!

  4. Kelvin Kao

    I found the part about inviting people that are likely to show instead of notifying the entire list to be quite interesting. I was thinking the more the merrier, but I never thought about sort of selecting who these people are. (Then again, I never wrote a book, so…)

  5. Nene Ormes

    In Sweden it’s common to give flowers to the author (especially at debut parties) and one thing that’s easy to forget is to bring buckets fo the flowers (or vases if you want to do it prettily). I’m not sure how it’s in other countries but that’s a pro tip for us anyway.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

      Personally, I think flowers are always appropriate, regardless of gender. BUT be aware that bringing flowers means that the person then has to deal with them. I’d suggest taking something in a vase, or that doesn’t require a vase to survive.

  6. Janet Akroyd-Stuart

    I’m considering having a launch for my book, ‘Half a World away’ and liked the part about introducing yourself to everyone at the launch.
    Thanks for sharing your proven experiences.

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