Planning a Book Launch: Launch Day!

It happened! That day that loomed up ahead for almost a full year, that long-awaited, exhilarating day took place. In the days leading up to it, people asked me if I was nervous, and I looked at them funny, wondering why they were asking such a thing. Little by little, their questions created nervousness where none had been, so that by the night before the event I had trouble sleeping, and I woke up with that quivery feeling in my stomach. Perhaps I hadn’t rehearsed enough? Maybe I should change the passage I was going to read, maybe it was too slow, or too long. But then I remembered how much I’d put into planning the event, and by mid-afternoon I relaxed. I knew attendance would be good: over 70 people had registered in advance through the Eventbrite notice I’d sent out to my mailing list. I had pre-packed the car the night before, I made sure to drink throughout the day (water, that is, although something stronger was definitely tempting), and I left for Porter Square Books early with my mother, visiting from France for the occasion, to help with set-up.

It felt odd, being the star of the show, but also so heartwarming to see one friend or supporter after the next arrive at the bookstore. As people filed in, the staff pushed more and more of the bookcases back, setting up row after row of chairs. The caterer came right on time, and we set up an urn of masala (spice) chai and platters of samosas and pakoras (Indian snacks). The young girls from the Chhandika Youth Ensemble arrived, full of smiles, and sat in a corner to put on their dance bells. I set up a row of yellow and orange carnation heads to demarcate the dance space and separate it, at least symbolically, from the shoes on the feet of the first row of audience members in an attempt to maintain cultural appropriateness. (The song the girls performed was a devotional hymn, which typically would be sung in a temple or a space in which people removed their shoes.) The girls from the book club I run tumbled in and surrounded me with hugs. Friends from all corners of my life arrived, beaming. They brought their parents, their friends, their colleagues. Folks from the Boston literary community and Grub Street Writers showed up. Students and parents from Chhandika. Colleagues of my husband’s. Neighbors. It was like being at my own wedding, with so many people I wanted to hug and chat with, but little time to do so.

By the time we began the event, the bookstore was packed, with standing room only. I felt an odd sense of calm. The bookstore events manager made an introduction, and then the two young dancers performed their beautiful piece, setting a musical and peaceful mood. I followed, going straight into my reading so as not to break that mood. I read from the middle of the book, a scene in which the main character, eight years old at the time, found herself alone in the temple (in 16th century India), danced, communed with the temple’s deities, and questioned her role and impending dedication as a devadasi, or dancing servant of god. I followed that piece, about 14 minutes long, with a shorter, 3-minute excerpt featuring her warrior brother riding a horse in the desert, and finding in the rhythm of the horse’s hooves on the sand a musical dance pattern. Throughout the reading, I wove in movements and gestures from kathak, the classical Indian storytelling dance form around which the book is centered. I had practiced the passages many, many times, learning segments by heart so that my eyes could leave the page to lend expression to the reading, and to make contact with the audience. I think this all was effective, as many people in the audience told me how much they enjoyed that aspect of the reading. Particularly heartwarming was a comment from a blind woman in the front row who asked if I had been adding movement in, and who said she could tell from the pauses in the reading which even she, unable to see, found enhanced the experience. I knew then that I’d succeeded.

I followed the reading with a short talk, recounting for people how the idea for the book had even come to be. I’d worked on this book for so long that I figured some folks, especially those who’d met me more recently, might have thought I was born working in it! I had the audience laughing at times, and smiling a lot, and I wanted to pause that moment and just be in it for a while, reveling in the generosity and support of all those who’d taken the time to attend, to help me throughout this long project. But it was over in a flash, and next thing I knew I was signing piles of books for a line that stretched far down the store. I was glad to have supplied tea and snacks for those who waited. My bronze colored Sharpie started losing ink just as I signed the last few.

In the end, the bookstore sold 72 of the 74 copies they had on hand, and told me it was one of the best attended launch events they’d ever held. I was beyond pleased. As the event wound down, friends and relatives started heading to the nearby restaurant where I’d reserved a room for some food and drinks. The bookstore staff folded up the chairs, put bookcases back into place. My writing group friends helped package up the small amount of leftover food. I picked up the carnations and put them back in my bag. My uncle, who had been taking pictures, urged me to head out to join everyone at the restaurant. I told him to go ahead, that I’d be right here. For a few moments, I stood in the bookstore as the staff prepared to close up, surrounded by books, absorbing the moment, thinking to myself: I did it! I thanked the staff and headed out into the unseasonably warm night, taking my time to walk the single block to the restaurant, breathing in the evening air and reveling in thirty seconds of calm and solitude. The launch felt like a long-awaited arrival… at a new beginning. 

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  • Nina Angela McKissock

    Thank you Anjali!

  • Anjali Mitter Duva

    Nina, yes, you can and should book the launch venue before the book actually comes out. Busy bookstores tend to book at least 4-5 months in advance. You don't really need to show them a contract. If you have an advance copy, that's a good thing to bring along. You can definitely sell your book in cafes, as long as there is no "trade" entity, i.e. a bookstore, who can do it for you. Talk to Brooke about this. A local bookstore might be willing to take care of the sales for you, and then a) you won't have to deal with that aspect and b) the sales will count as "official" sales, i.e. they'll be included in your general sales records. I do use a credit card processor for sales I make at non-bookstore events. As for readings, the length really depends on the context and the audience. I have a variety of selections, ranging from 2 minutes to 17. And no, I don't recommend having the launch party before the pub date. You want people to be able to buy the book!

  • Nina Angela McKissock

    Thank you.Did you wait until you had a publisher to present your book to the bookstore? Is our contract with SheWrites enough to show them? How much time do you set aside to read an excerpt from you book? My manuscript is on track 1, so I need to get going with plans for presenting it. The cafe where I wrote it is first on my list, but would I be the one to collect orders? Do I need a credit card processor? Which of the week seemed best? Time of day? Thank you!

  • Nina Angela McKissock

    Thank you Anjali. Is it possible to book the venue before the book is published? If the projected publishing date is in the autumn, is having the launching party a month before a good idea? I wonder if showing the bookshop owner your contract with SheWrites would be valid to them. How much time do you set aside for reading? Which day of the week is best to have it? The time of day? Duration? Thank you!

  • Colleen Hannegan

    Nov. 18th Tues. eve 6:30pm Aliso Viejo Country Club, Aliso Viejo, CA. 

    Thank you Anjali!

  • Anjali Mitter Duva

    Colleen, it sounds like you have everything lined up for a fabulous event. When/where is it? I'm sure it's going to be one of the best days of your life.

  • Anjali Mitter Duva

    Nina, for my launch event, I approached the bookstore about 5 months in advance. They're a pretty busy bookstore, so 5-6 months in advance is good for those. I created a sign-up through EventBrite and sent that out to my friends/acquaintances. In this way, I knew that about 75 people signed up in advance. I gave this number to the bookstore so they could plan the book order. For book signings in general, I'm approaching bookstores in areas where I have friends/family/acquaintances who can help spread the word and bring an audience. Bookstores definitely want to know that you have some pull in their area. For the most part, they book about 4 months in advance. Right now I'm starting to plan events for the Spring.

  • Colleen Hannegan

    Such a wonderful story, all so very exciting! Congratulations! My book launch is less than 2 weeks away. 70+ people say they're coming. I've got a great venue, food, drinks, lots of support. NOW I'm slightly freaking out about this all important event and will I pull it off and make it a grand success???? After reading your exciting story, I've absorbed your positivity and excitement and am confident I can follow your lead Anjali! 

  • Nina Angela McKissock

    Wonderful! When did you begin the process of booking signings? What did you supply to the owner/manager of the venues? Thank you.

  • Nina Angela McKissock

    Congratulations! How far in advance did you request the space? What items did you present to the bookstore owner/manager that proved it would be a good turnout? Thank you.

  • Pamela Olson

    Definitely -- my smallest event was in my home state (Oklahoma), at a bookstore where only three people showed up -- and one was a friend from high school. You just gotta plow on through, though -- and those three people really seemed to enjoy the talk and readings! You never know who you'll reach or what impact it will have.

  • Anjali Mitter Duva

    Thanks so much, everyone, for your well wishes and comments! It's quite a journey, isn't it? And now, of course, I have to adjust expectations, and anticipate some events where only 2 people show up, and one of them was only there to use the restroom.

  • Tracy Slater

    Congratulations, Anjali! So excited for you that you had standing room only.

  • Pamela Olson

    Wow, this sounds like an amazing event! Well done. Wish I could have attended, and I look forward to reading the book.

    Here's the book's Amazon page for anyone who wishes to check it out:

    A little funny story from my book launch in 2013: When I was cleaning up afterwards, one of the audience members walked up to me, aghast, and said, "Why are you cleaning up after your own book launch party?" I guess some people think that once you publish a book, you somehow acquire not only large amounts of money but also a band of servants. ;)

  • Jill G. Hall

    What a successful launch! Congratulations. You really came up with some exciting entertainment ideas to make your night special. Thanks for the tips.

  • Patricia Robertson

    Congratulations! Well done!

  • Janet Singer

    Congratulations, Anjali! Your book launch was obviously a success, on so many levels.So happy for you! My book launch is at the end of February 2015, also in the Greater Boston area, and I'm too nervous to even think of it in any great detail yet.....but I know I will have to, soon!

  • Rita Gardner

    Congratulations, Anjali - beautifully described. You really created an amazing event, with music, color, food - something for all the senses.  Kudos to you!  I had a similar experience, with nerves beforehand but feeling oddly calm when it was finally "zero hour" - buoyed up by the over 100 friends and colleagues who, after all, had come to see and hear ME! (It took me awhile to acknowledge it was actually OK to be, as you put it, "the star of the show."  I think that was harder than just doing the reading!).  So great to see your pictures and hear your after-story. 

  • Loraine Van Tuyl

    Congrats!  Good for you - will definitely look into and thanks for the tips, so useful to keep in mind for my very first book reading that I'm stalling as my book hasn't even been published yet!