Tales in Publishing: Book Launch Parties

Tales in Publishing: 

Book Launch Parties

When I published my novella, it felt fantastic. We had an online book launch party for the entire anthology which was a fantastic learning experience. I was a bit sad though, as I couldn't have an in-person one with all my friends, you know the kind of posh event you see on TV and in movies.

Then I published a full-length novel, Apidae. It came out at a bad time financially and time-wise for me: five weeks before Christmas. Yes, this was good for sales, but I had no budget. Christmas presents must be bought. The end-of-the-semester crunch of paper grading was slaughtering me. I gave up on the idea of an in-person book launch--after I painstakingly made grand plans in my head I could never afford. The online launch was pretty successful though.

So when I published my second book, Fyr, in the summer, there were really no excuses since I wasn't teaching and no presents needed buying. And I figured, I deserved it, but I still needed to budget well. You must spend a good amount upfront with the expectation to only make some of it back.

It all started to take shape when I was talking about it at happy hour at a local bar/restaurant. The bartender, who is also manager and part owner, offered to let me have a party there for free. Since I had another book out already, I decided to have the party be a launch and signing combination and scheduled it 3 weeks after the second book was out. I did this so those who ordered it during the online book launch would have it delivered in time to be signed.

  • Books. By far, the most expensive thing was buying the paperback books to sell. You do get a discount by ordering through publisher, but you still need to pay for printing and publisher's share of the the royalties. I played it safe, thirty books of each. Because most of my close friends who would come would've already bought it, I figured if I sold half that, it would be great. Then I could try to get the indie bookstores in the area to buy the rest or sell a few on Ebay autographed. Thirty would be easy to move, but fifty or more intimidated me.
  • Door prizes. Everybody likes winning. For incentive to buy a book or to bring one to be signed, I decided to have a raffle. Grand prize was an Amazon giftcard, and I set up smaller gifts such as color changing mugs with the book cover on it thanks to the affordable Printifyus through Etsy, and a thematic gift of stone necklaces created by a little boy entrepreneur.
  • Bookmarks. They are a must. I had 100 made by a very affordable company, GotPrint.com, that allowed me to design it through their online template. I urged everyone to take one, even strangers who happened to come take a peek at what was going on. They might just throw it away, but they could check it out, buy a book, or give it to someone who might be interested. The book marks were fairly cheap, so this was definitely worth it.
  • Food. The idea of buying food and drink for my guests was going to be pricey, especially if a lot of people showed or if restaurant goers decided to join in to get free stuff. The alcohol consumption could be a liability issue as well. Research told me that book signings in bookstores would have no food or something simple like chocolates or cookies. I decided to serve thematic cookies that I made and guests could buy from the restaurant what they wished which would make the establishment money.
  • Decor. Choosing a chill place and not renting it saved me loads. Their decor has a humble fishing pier vibe, so I simply decorated a table. I printed things out myself on special photo paper, used my crafting skills, and hit up the dollar store for table decorations. 
  • Invitations. I simply used Facebook to create an event through my author page, so it was free. It would take a lot of prep time to get everyone's address and to send off invitations. Not everyone sees these invites so a week before the party, I sent out personal messages. I only sent the message once weeks after the original invite; I didn't want to be too pushy or seemingly desperate.
In the end, only my friends came and a few strangers looked but didn't buy, which I heard can be common for a newly published author. My friends had held off on buying the books, so now bought them. I sold about twenty books altogether, and then eight more to people online who missed it but wanted an autographed copy (for this, I put the items in an Amazon cart to estimate tax and shipping). I have books left, but intend on keeping some on hand for another book launch in February for my next book. This time, I'll expect few people. Overall, it was a great learning experience, while I had fun with friends. I intend to do it again with lower expectations. Who knows, maybe this time I'll be surprised by more people.

Note: my area has zero book signing events, except one local bookstore that brings in authors sporadically. Otherwise, the closest place is two hours away and that is only for big-time best-selling, traditionally published authors who tour the nation. I'm hoping I'm onto a need in the area and get something going annually with other local authors.