On Saturday 12th September 2015, at 3.30 p.m., I stood in a nearly empty Norrington Room at Blackwell’s Bookshop on Broad Street in Oxford. I had little idea of what to expect from my first Book Launch.
The wine and non-alcoholic drinks were laid out. So were the platters of food, both sweet and savoury, with plates and napkins. A special celebration cake, in the shape of a book with my cover on the top, held pride of place. The Blackwell’s staff had set up a book display, with piles of books, a banner and a book-signing table. The invitations had gone out, and yes, some people had said they would be coming.
The first guests started arriving, and we chatted. They picked up some books, paid for them, and I signed them. Before long the place was packed. The queue for me to sign books continued for the whole of the next two hours. We had to interrupt the queue at one point for me to say my few words and cut the cake.
In those two hours we sold enough copies for my debut fantasy novel, Destiny’s Rebel, to be the Blackwell’s number one best-selling Teenage and Young Adult title for the week.
I was exhausted, but I couldn’t have been more delighted. Needless to say, both my publisher and the bookshop were thrilled too. So I call that a successful event. Since then I’ve been reflecting on what made it work, and I’ve come up with the following.
However it is that we’re published, the Author still has to do most of the leg work.
I have a traditional publisher, Books to Treasure, but the contacts that made the Launch a success were largely my own. I had secured the prestigious venue of Blackwell’s by building up good relationships with the staff there. For the previous three or four years I had attended, month by month, their Group 2012 Writers’ Group and their Teen Fiction Reading Group. When my book was ready to be launched, they offered to host it for me, free of charge.
I paid for and brought along all of the drink, food and special cake, and even the plates and napkins. Blackwell’s provided the glasses and I’m grateful that they washed up! I paid for the roll-up banner with my book cover on, which has since been highly useful at other events, talks, school visits, etc.
I did most of the inviting of guests, mainly through getting out and about and trying to maintain friendly relationships as widely as I could in various writing and reading groups. Although online contacts have plenty to recommend them, the Launch needed those who would travel to an event in Oxford. So it was through me attending local meetings in person that most guests were persuaded to come along.
So you may well ask, what did my publisher do then?
To be blunt, they brought the books. That was, after all, the point of the whole thing. It wasn’t a wine or cake tasting, although we received plenty of appreciative comments about those. Books to Treasure also brought along promotional bookmarks and postcards, which I’ve continued to give out wherever I can.
I don’t underestimate for a moment all the hard work that went into producing those books. Once I had submitted my story to them, they took the risk of investing in it, with all their time, money and expertise. The book went through four stages of editing (structural, copy, line and proof-read), and then all the processes (mysterious to me) of design, layout and type-setting. They commissioned the maps and cover artwork (over which I was consulted and listened to), and arranged for the printing. All at no cost to me. They also took care of the Nielsen listing, ISBN, warehousing, distribution and other promotions that we expect.
So it was a partnership: the book production was their department, and arranging a successful Book Launch was my job as Author.
So the Launch was all at my expense.
Although I didn’t pay anything for the books, I paid for the rest of the Launch.
Blackwell’s didn’t charge for the use of the room, but all the food, cake, drink, tablecloths, etc., came out of my pocket. The banner I’ve used again, but the rest came to nearly £400. When I calculated my share of the royalties from the book sales that afternoon, I calculate that I earned about £50. So in one sense the event ran at a loss. But in another it was a fantastic success.
I view it as a sound business investment in the launching of my new self-employed writing career. My aim had been to throw a good party, and that meant plenty of food and drink, and lots of people enjoying themselves. That part of it worked, and that we managed to sell so many books was a bonus.
Would I do it all again?
Absolutely! In fact, I’m holding a very similar event at Blackwell’s on Saturday 10th June 2017 for the Launch of my second novel, Destiny’s Revenge. If you’d like to come to that, here’s the link to the Facebook Event.
The key point for me was that holding my Event at Blackwell’s gave me some writing credibility before I even started. I sense that readers are more willing to try it because my story has been endorsed not just by a traditional publisher, but also by such a major bookseller. And when, after the Event, people asked how the book sales were going, I could report that I was a Blackwell’s number one bestseller. Okay, the book was a bestseller in one shop, in one category, for one week, but that counts, doesn’t it?
Although the Launch itself turned out as a financial loss for me, I’m sure the success of it helped towards the selling of hundreds of further copies of the book afterwards. That’s when I managed to re-coup my costs, and end up in profit. Not to mention having had a wonderful event to remember for ever.
Writing novels can be a hard slog, with too few high points along the way. A new book coming out is a cause for celebration, so why not mark it with a good party? 🙂