How to Host a Successful Book Launch Party
Contributor
Written by
Annette Gendler
14 days ago
Contributor
Written by
Annette Gendler
14 days ago

I just hosted my very first book launch party, and I am happy to report that it went very well: We ran out of chairs and we ran out of books, but most important, people enjoyed themselves. For many of my guests it was the first book launch/reading they ever attended, and I like to think they got a good taste of what fun can be had at literary events. Following are some tips from my experience:

  1. Pick the perfect venue. I held my book launch party at the Book Cellar, an independent bookstore in Chicago. I chose the Book Cellar because its manager, Suzy, was immensely helpful when I asked for assistance in identifying comparative titles for my tip sheet. Also, the Book Cellar features a café that sells wine (!), coffee and a myriad of other beverages, along with nice snacks, and therefore has a nice event space for people to sit at tables rather than on folding chairs in a back room. I had attended a friend’s book launch party there and had been favorably impressed. The Book Cellar turned out to be even better than I could have imagined: They had a cake waiting for me as a surprise, featuring my book cover, dishing it out after my official program.
  2. Don’t divide, conquer—meaning, I planned only this one local bookstore event to celebrate my book’s release, and I invited everyone, from all chapters of my life, who I thought might possibly be interested. By doing only one event, I left no option to choose between events, but I also didn’t want to overtax my community with events. Doing only one also lent it some exclusivity, which doesn’t hurt.
  3. Book the event date early and schedule it a few days after your official publication date, allowing enough time for books to be shipped. Suzy and I agreed on the date of my book launch party about six months in advance. Over the course of the approaching months, I kept in touch with her to make sure she knew where to order books, how many people I expected, and I included her on my evite invitations. I announced the date in my regular newsletter and to my writing community, always emphasizing the personal invitations would follow as well.
  4. Order party paraphernalia early—I did book bags featuring my book cover as party favors because I really wanted to give something to all who schlepped out to attend my party. I also had a stand-up poster with stand that I can reuse at book fairs, and of course book marks, the overage of which I left at the Book Cellar. I got the designs done about a month before the event, leaving enough time for printing and shipping.
  5. Send invitations 5-6 weeks in advance and cover all bases. I did an evite for the bulk of the invitations, which has the benefit that I could tally RSVPs. But I also printed up invitation postcards that I mailed to friends who I knew either weren’t that reachable on email or would appreciate a “real” invitation they could stick on their fridge. I also carried these postcards in my purse leading up to the event and handed them out whenever I talked about my book. And don’t forget to set up an event on Facebook!
  6. Send reminders a few days before the event. I had 45 RSVPs but a few days before the event the inevitable cancellations trickled in. However, I sent a reminder note to all those who had not RSVPed and got a few more confirmations.
  7. Put together a celebratory “book publication day” email newsletter. On my official publication date, I sent an email newsletter to my subscribers and also to my friends and family email list to whom I usually only send my New Year’s letter, detailing the various ways they could support my book, among them attending my book launch party. To my surprise, two of my husband’s friends showed up at the book launch party solely because they had received that newsletter.
  8. Offer more than just a reading and book signing—I did a Q&A with a cohost in addition to reading a short chapter. From my own experience attending readings and signings, I knew they can be stodgy and boring affairs, so I thought long and hard about what would make it more fun but also get people interested in the book. I felt a talk-show-type Q&A would accomplish that, but finding the appropriate interlocutor was another challenge. It needed to be someone who was supportive of my work, but also someone who was professional, articulate and reliable. I did find the perfect person in Amy Davis, who runs the Writers Workspace in Chicago where I am a member. I thoroughly enjoyed planning the event with her. We discussed beforehand what types of questions Amy would ask, without choreographing it too much as we still wanted it to be a real conversation. She set a timer for 20 minutes so we wouldn’t go on and on. Having a cohost took some of the pressure off me, and it had the added benefit that a bunch of people attended solely because Amy had sent an invitation out to the Writers Workspace email list.
  9. Get friends to help out. While it was great to have Amy as cohost, I had two other friends help out as well. One brought flowers to grace the book signing table, and helped hand out the book bags I had printed up as “party favors.” Another served as the evening’s photographer, taking care that we didn’t forget to take posed shots of Amy and me as well as my family and me.
  10. Circulate a guest book. Before I began to read, I asked people to pass around the guest book and sign their name so I would have a record who was there and could send out thank you notes.
  11. Plant questions. I have been to many a book event where deadly silence reigned as soon as the audience was asked to pose questions, so I asked a few of my beta readers who I knew would attend to come prepared to ask a question. In the end only one of them piped up to ask his question because our “talk show” had already gotten the audience into question-asking mode.

My book launch party went better than I could possibly have imagined. We were sold out of books before the program even began, and my only regret is that I should have brought an even bigger box of books as backup than I did—we would have sold them all! A few of my coworkers from my day job attended, and the next day it was nice to hear their chatter about how much they had enjoyed themselves. And that, to me, is the greatest measure of a successful event: That the guests had a good time.

 

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Comments
  • Darlene Burns

    Thank you so much for this post. The tips that you've provided along with insight is wonderful. I will definitely be incorporating the ideas you presented into my next book release coming soon.

  • Renate Stendhal

    Thanks for the Costco tip, Annette! That's great. I learned there is also cake.com with a cupcake option! Bright ideas indeed...

  • Annette Gendler

    Peg, the book store I held mine at advised that weekdays were better than weekends, and 7pm was their preferred time - it gives people time to grab some dinner after work but it doesn't require them to schlep out again like a weekend event would. But these preferences might be location specific, so I would ask the venue where you want to have yours what they recommend.

  • Peg Daniels

    Do you find that there is a particular day of the week and time of day that works best for the book launch party?  Thanks!

  • Annette Gendler

    Renate: Yes, people did buy their own drinks & food at the cafe counter. I don't know who made the cake for the Book Cellar but I've been subsequently told that you can even take an image of your book cover to Costco and they will customize a cake for you, so it seems to be a pretty standard thing.

    Dyane: Good luck with your book launch, sounds like you're a planner as well!

    Pam, Roni, Antoinethe: Thanks for your comments!

  • Renate Stendhal

    Congrats, Annette. this sounds like a wonderful book launch and a great success. I am printing out your post in order to prepare for the launch party of my memoir Kiss Me Again, Paris, in June. Two questions came up: did your guests buy their own drinks and food at the café counter? I've never seen a nook cake before: spectacular! What special bakery made this happen?

    Thank you, and good wishes for the life of your book!

    Renate Stendhal

  • This is such a fantastic post!

    I was feeling a little sheepish because last week I scheduled my first book event six months out, but when I read you also scheduled six months in advance, I felt vindicated! I'm definitely going to use many of the excellent tips you mention in this article. Although I love the indie store's space you described, I have already selected my beloved local library as my venue. My husband, also a published author, spoke at the library and his talk went very well. I'll be donating a portion of the book sales to two non-profits: The Friends of the Libraries (who will do a fine job of advertising the event in tandem with the main library system) and NAMI Santa Cruz, a local mental health non-profit. (My book is a memoir about postpartum bipolar disorder.)

    I'm creating a PowerPoint presentation to help guide me & give me talking points. I had planned on having a Q&A session &I love how you brought in a co-host for your Q&A. I'm going to seriously consider doing that and I have ideas about some brilliant & charming local authors I could ask. The cake you had looked fabulous and the gift bag idea appeals to me as well.  

    Can you tell you have inspired m? ;)  Thanks so much!

    Congratulations!!

    Dyane Harwood

    "Birth of a New Brain - Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder" (Post Hill Press, October 10, 2017)

    foreword by Dr. Carol Henshaw

    www.dyaneharwood.com

    www.proudlybipolar.wordpress.com

  • Pam McGaffin

    I want a piece of that cake! Congrats on a successful event. Planning pays off.

  • Roni Beth Tower

    Comprehensive and helpful, Annette - and it sounds like all your careful and personal attention to detail helped your event be a launch not only for your book but for a lovely career in the making. Brava!

  • Antoinethe Martin

    This is great information. Thank you. I am going to use this as a check sheet for my book launch planning.