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  • [Tips of the Trade] What Makes a Perfect Book Party? Count the Ways
[Tips of the Trade] What Makes a Perfect Book Party? Count the Ways
Written by
Ellen Cassedy
October 2014
Written by
Ellen Cassedy
October 2014

When my friend Jackie hosted a book party for me at her home near Chicago, she did everything right. 


No surprise, given her background. As the director of The Midwest Academy, Jackie spent years teaching people how to organize for social change. 


She brought all those skills to bear as she planned and executed the book party. It showed!


P.S. A lake was involved.


Here’s what Jackie did: 


1) She stepped up and volunteered to host the party in the first place--without my asking. What a gift!


2) She knew 25 guests would fill her living room, so she figured she needed to send out at least 140 invitations. 


3) She put together a short but terrific invitation. Subject heading: “Invitation to a book party.” Date, time, address, directions, plus this link: “Books will be available for purchase at the party. If you if you can’t make it, you can order the book here.” Brief description of me and the book (provided by me).


4) She thought hard about the guest list. Who would want to come, and why? Jackie lives in a close-knit community where neighbors like to share experiences. She talked up the book party as a happening. New neighbors came to meet people. Old-timers came to see their friends.


5) She asked people to RSVP. This helped her plan the food, and she knew that once people say they’re coming, they’re more likely to do so. 


6) She followed up with a reminder one week before the party.


7) She borrowed a projector so I could show PowerPoint images. She made sure she knew how to use it.


8) She jury-rigged a podium using a plant stand and an upside-down cardboard box. It worked!


9) Before the party, she insisted on a dry run. We turned on the projector. We plugged and unplugged lamps to make sure people could see both the slides and my face. We moved furniture and set up chairs.


10) Here’s the single most important thing Jackie did: She didn’t make me feel weird for caring about every detail! And believe me, I did! 


11) I didn’t know a soul at the party, so she stood with me at the door and made introductions as the guests arrived.


12) She put out simple food and drinks--cheese and crackers, a dip, wine, and water. People milled about, noshed, and chatted.


13) She kept track of the time. About 40 minutes in, she asked everyone to sit down.


14) She gave a short introduction, using a few sentences I’d sent her, plus a few of her own.


15) I’m always gathering names for the book-related e-newsletter I send out, so Jackie had a clipboard and a pen ready. As I spoke, she circulated the sign-up sheet from guest to guest.


16) My book is non-fiction, so my talk was something of a lecture. Jackie had me speak for 35 minutes, then take questions. A fiction writer or poet might have balanced the talk differently, and perhaps kept it a bit shorter.  


17) She set up a stack of my books on a small table and took cash or checks. She had change on hand. I signed.


18) After everyone left, we cleaned up together and talked over who came, who didn’t, who asked what questions. 


19) The next day, we stopped by the house of a neighbor who wanted to chat about the book in greater depth. 


20) What about the lake, you ask? Jacket happens to live near a small one. She made sure I brought my bathing suit, and we put the finishing touch on a great visit by going for a dip.






Join the conversation. Share your own book party story--or tell us how a friend has helped you as an author!




Ellen Cassedy’s book is We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2012), which has won four national awards, including the Grub Street National Book Prize, and was shortlisted for the Saroyan Prize. Ellen’s first post for SheWrites was “Who Cares about Your Family Story? Ten Tips to Ensure Readers Will ...” Her [TIPS OF THE TRADE] series appears monthly. See all of Ellen's Tips for Writers.

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  • Ellen Cassedy

    A good friend + some good ideas = a great book party.

  • Patricia Robertson

    What a great friend! You make it sound easy. :)

  • Ellen Cassedy

    Great tips on book parties by Rita Gardner!  Keep 'em coming!

  • Rita Gardner

    Ellen - thanks for your post - much appreciated.  My tips: Plan way ahead.  My publicist Kaye McKinzie helped me by suggesting I continue to remind folks several times(via my newsletter*) about the book launch party  for my memoir "The Coconut Latitudes" (which was last Saturday at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA.) The newsletter directed folks to my website, to RSVP to the event that way. I also put an EVENT on my Facebook Author Page, and wrote personal emails to a number of people who weren't likely to RSVP, just because I knew they might not bother with that extra step. I live in a condo community, and also put a notice on one of their "newsletters" which reached about 300 people. I also participated in local art fairs, with copies of my book.  In other words, I got very involved, and while that wasn't necessarily a "comfortable place" for me to be (I am NOT a marketer-type person) - all the effort did pay off. Kaye also sent me some tips by another writer (may be a She Writes author...I just can't find those notes right now.) But it was as simple as remembering to bring a signing pen (and recommendation of specific pen to use: Sharpie Ultra Fine Point) and other details I'm sure I never would have remembered.  When the big night came and went, over 115 people came, and bought a whole lotta books.  So - it's kind of the "it takes a village" theory - and I'm ever so grateful to all who came before and who helped me get to that place. And grateful to you for what you're sharing as well!