Your First Book Launch

Elastic Press published my first short story collection, The Last Reef, in August 2008. Since then, I’ve released another fifteen books, and along the way, I’ve learned a thing or two about launching them.

Seeing my first book in print, actually holding it in my hands, was an exhilarating and terrifying experience. On the one hand, it marked the fulfilment of a life-long ambition; but on the other, it meant that the stories in the book were now fixed. I couldn’t fiddle with them anymore. Now they were out of my hands and had to stand or fall on their own merits.

I knew they were strong stories. Most of them had already seen publication in various places, including Interzone, but still I was apprehensive. I had the support of the publisher, Andrew Hook, and the good reputation he’d built for Elastic Press over the years, so I knew people would take the book seriously – but what if no-one liked it?

The book launch took place in August 2008, in the Citte of Yorke, an olde worlde pub in Holborn, a few short steps from the Chancery Lane tube station in London. It was a joint launch, as Chris Beckett was also debuting his collection, The Turing Test, which later went on to win that year’s Edge Hill Prize.

The front bar was almost empty when I arrived, and I immediately started to fret that we wouldn’t pull a crowd. I needn’t have worried. It was a warm but wet Saturday afternoon and soon people were packing the place. Chris and I took turns reading excerpts from our books, and then we held a joint Q&A session. I sold around 20 copies of my book. The crowd were good natured and all-in-all, it was a very pleasant afternoon.

What I Learned Then, And Since:

1. Location, location, location. Most launch events seem to take place in bookstores, which makes sense. But if you can’t find one, many pubs or restaurants have private function rooms that they will often let you use for free during the day, as long as you can guarantee a certain number of visitors.

2. Advertise the event beforehand on social media and your website. Include the time and location. Make it as easy as possible for people to attend. And perhaps consider offering signed book plates for those who can’t attend.

3. Get an MC. If you aren’t comfortable hosting the event all by yourself, ask a friend, your publicist, or a member of bookshop staff to act as MC. They can introduce you and help field questions from the audience.

4. Be nice to the staff. If your launch is in a bookstore, show your appreciation. If it’s after-hours, the booksellers might not be getting paid for keeping the shop open, so be as helpful and professional as possible. Let them know how much you appreciate them hosting you, and make it as easy for them as possible.

5. Be approachable. Don’t hide away at the bar with a clique of followers. Work the room. Shake hands with everyone. Make eye contact and listen to everything people say to you. Don’t force yourself on people, but if they’ve taken the trouble to come out and attend your event, do them the courtesy of showing them that you’re pleased they are there. A plate of baked goods on the signing table also helps.

6. When signing books, ask what they’d like you to write. Some book collectors just want a simple signature; other readers are delighted by a personal or quirky message. To avoid disappointment, ask them up front. And always check the spelling of any names – you’d be astonished how many different ways there are to spell seemingly common names.

7. Dress comfortably. Wear something appropriate. I usually wear a blazer over a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Once, I made the mistake of wearing a full flight suit, and by the end of the afternoon, I was wishing I’d worn a t-shirt. Find a balance between comfort, confidence and clothes that reflect the image you want to project.

8. Be engaging. When reading excerpts from your book, look at your audience as much as possible. Catch a few eyes. Speak loudly and vary your tone. If you need to, don’t be afraid to stop and take a drink. If you’re relaxed and having fun, chances are the audience will be too.

9. Record the event. The purpose of a book launch isn’t to flatter your ego; it’s to make a splash and sell some books. So don’t be afraid to ask your audience to live-tweet pictures of the event. Display your own pics on Instagram. Post videos of your reading and Q&A session on YouTube or TikTok. A book launch is a huge PR opportunity, and you should exploit it to the fullest.

10. Have fun. This is your chance to hang out with friends and meet readers. If you relax and enjoy yourself, everyone else will too.

Do you have any tips not covered above? Please feel free to share them in the comments.

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Author: Gareth L Powell