[Path to Publication] Rooting Your Book Launch in Community
Written by
Elizabeth Enslin
October 2014
Written by
Elizabeth Enslin
October 2014

Giveaway alert! I will be gifting 5 lucky commenters my new book, While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal. Post a comment by October 29, 2014, and 5 of you will be randomly selected to receive a copy. Visit sealpress.com/rules for more information. Winners announced by October 30, 2014.

Confession: My book launched two weeks ago, and I’m just beginning to grasp the potential of that much talked about, but often misunderstood, word: “platform."

It’s not that I didn’t have one. I did. And I knew my publisher and I were already doing some things for it: a Facebook post here, a tweet there, scheduled readings in October. But I couldn’t explain how all the pieces fit together. I went along with my publicist’s instructions the way I once memorized formulas to pass high school calculus tests.

In the weeks leading up to the launch, I wondered whether my publicist and I were doing enough to reach national media outlets. Meanwhile, I was also trying to absorb other messages: Much of the initial work had to begin closer to home, in the Pacific Northwest. And, as one mentor told me, it would likely be the beginning of a long haul––especially for a book by a woman author from a feminist press on women’s issues in a marginalized place (Nepal).

My home base is a remote county of 7000 people in northeastern Oregon, 7-8 hours from major literary communities in Portland and Seattle. In my most fretful moments, I wondered if that might work to my disadvantage. How could I gain traction for a book from here? How could I compete with authors launching from Seattle, Boston, New York City?

Yet our county seat, Enterprise, has a thriving independent bookstore: The Bookloft. We are also home to Fishtrap, a literary arts organization that nurtures writing in and about The (American) West. Not every rural county has such literary treasures, but many have more than those in urban centers might imagine.

I developed a good relationship with the local bookstore when we first started visiting Wallowa County in 2007. I wasn’t sure I would end up living here then and didn’t think about a book launch. I simply love bookstores. It was a place to hang-out on cold days, use the internet, meet people (who later turned out to be neighbors and friends). When my partner and I began living here, it became my go-to place to find novels, poetry, cookbooks, gardening guides, essential books on butterflies and snakes.

Because of my established relationship with our local bookstore, I didn’t have to ask the owner to carry While the Gods Were Sleepings or help with pre-publication publicity. She contacted me first and has become my first choice bookstore for shipping out signed copies.

I joined the governing board of Fishtrap a year ago in order to serve the literary arts community in my new home. I admit I carried some vague sense that working with Fishtrap would enhance my platform and help me better plug into a network of writers, but I didn’t take the specifics of that for granted. As I began to think of details for my release party, Fishtrap staff surprised me with an offer to host it. Of course, I agreed. Soon, the event rolled into some other options being considered and my book launch became the opening event for our fall arts and lecture series — a wonderful opportunity that gave me a chance to focus my reading and presentation and drew a crowd of about fifty people.

After so many years of working on the book and the many months ahead of promoting it, I wanted a party to follow my reading/lecture. And I wanted it to include what I value along with literary arts in our community—local foods, local music, our beautiful new Josephy Arts Center as a venue. A local caterer cooked up some pakoras and chutneys. We supplied beer and wine. I hired a trio of friends to play some dance tunes.

Did my book release party help sell more books? I have no idea and didn’t focus on caring about that. I thought of my book launch more as a ritual expression of gratitude, an initiation into my new role as “author” and a time to be mindful of my roots in various communities. That freed me to let go of any expectations about attendance and book-selling and just have some fun––which I did.  

Around the time of the book launch, I read a Huffington Post piece by Brooke Warner asserting that platform is not what many assume: a social media following. Social media is a useful tool, but a successful author platform has to be so much more––90% more by her estimates. “Platform is about how many people you can reach and how authentic your connection with those people is.”

I began to see my book launch party as a fine way to begin. I was far off the well-beaten literary track, but I was rooting myself in one solid circle of authentic connection. Now that I’m a week into my book tour, I’m still drawing energy, wisdom and courage from that first event. Launching the book close to home gave me a safe, supportive place to try out various messages, understand what moves readers in the book, learn how to respond to questions, gauge enthusiasm. And I now have a home team cheering me on wherever I go. That, I now understand, is the best foundation for a platform.

I’d love to hear from you: What do you consider your first circle of authentic connection? What have you loved (or not) in book launch events? Aside from using social media, what platform building strategies have worked particularly well for you?

Elizabeth Enslin is the author of While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal (Seal Press, October 2014) which won the 2013 She Writes to Seal Press Publishing Contract Contest.

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  • Elizabeth Enslin

    Great example, Lorraine. And how wonderful of your family and friends to give you that kind of boost. Every platform needs a strong foundation.

  • Loraine Van Tuyl

    Hi Elizabeth, 

    I haven't published my book yet - but I'm very close.  And also quite new to grasping what exactly is meant with "platform".  I just wrote a piece about pubslush, a great online site to start a platform. Yesterday I discovered what you mean with this below:  

    "I’m still drawing energy, wisdom and courage from that first event. Launching the book close to home gave me a safe, supportive place to try out various messages, understand what moves readers in the book, learn how to respond to questions, gauge enthusiasm. And I now have a home team cheering me on wherever I go. That, I now understand, is the best foundation for a platform." 

    About 100 of my family and friends threw a surprise party for both my birthday and the start of my pubslush book campaign launch.  It didn't matter that I am "technically" perhaps another year away from a "real" release date, which is when most authors have book release or book launch parties : )They wanted to make sure that I knew that they supported me all the way, and that they loved me regardless how well the book did or didn't do.  It totally filled my heart and provided me with a solid foundation of authentic love, the best foundation for a platform, that I will draw energy and wisdom from far into the future. 

  • Elizabeth Enslin

    Thanks for the comments and ideas, everyone. You are all officially entered into the giveaway contest.

    Susan - Wordstock would be wonderful, but it is on hiatus this year and will be reconfigured under Literary Arts for next year. I've got it on my calendar. Annie Blooms is a great idea. And I agree that the PNW is a great place to be to connect with book lovers. We're very fortunate that way.

    Sherrey- I'm so glad you've made strong connections online. I've found that very helpful as well. I read at Powell's last week and will be doing a reading at Stumptown Lit Fest on Sunday (World Forestry Center, 1:10pm). I'll post a separate link to that.

  • Susan Troccolo

    Here is the link to Wordstock:  http://www.literary-arts.org/what-we-do/wordstock 

    It doesn't get better than this to get your book into the hands of many people. You've got a few weeks to make it happen--it's a dynamite event. You could even give away a few copies as prizes and generate some buzz.

  • Susan Troccolo

    Oh, a P.S....I believe there is a big book event in November in Portland. The name escapes me, I'm sorry. Word.....something. One word. Trying googling it, see if you can get on a panel there or get a booth!

  • Susan Troccolo

    Hi Elizabeth, Congratulation on your book launch. That is terrific. I live in Portland and did my first launch at Annie Bloom's books--another place known for helping to birth new authors. You might try contacting them. They are a wonderful community of folks, plus they have a dynamite newsletter with a wide reach. If you are on the Board of Fishtrap, you have a magnificent platform right there. I wouldn't hesitate to use it. You could start by talking to Kim Stafford, who is pretty accessible and an absolutely lovely guy. The Pacific Northwest is a very strong location for readers and writers, there is also a certain cache coming from there. Have fun with it!

  • Sherrey Meyer

    Congratulations on your launch and on winning the SWP contest! My first circle of authentic connection is likely found in the online friends I've met through writing, blogging, and meeting them face-to-face when possible. They are strong encouragers and so supportive of my yet unpublished memoir as well as my essays that have found their way into anthologies. I'm still struggling with the whole concept of "platform" but have Brooke's ebook on platform building which is my go to resource when questions pop into my head.

    BTW, I'm in the Portland area and would love to meet sometime when you say maybe do a reading at Powell's or one of the Barnes and Noble stores. Don't forget to give those places the opportunity to highlight your book! 

    Look forward to reading your book.

  • Patricia Robertson

    Congratulations on the book launch. You start where you are at and just keep at it. I'm working on building a platform through blogging and facebook connections. Hasn't paid big dividends yet but I keep at it. Going to try the craft fair network, starting this Saturday. Persistence and perseverance!

  • Katheryn Gallant Writing

    Hello Elizabeth! You wrote an excellent post. I congratulate you on the publication of While the Gods Were Sleeping.

    I consider my family and my friends and acquaintances from church as my first circle of authentic connection. I have only been to a few book launch events, but I especially enjoy it when the author discusses how he or she decided to write on the subject of the book and takes questions from the audience. I have not yet used platform building strategies -- I am not yet at the point where that is a consideration.

  • Dear Elizabeth, While the gods were sleeping, your nose to the grindstone was keeping!  Congratulations on your new book, which is very useful for other writers who live in rural or unknown places.  Please enter me in your contest and let me know what happens with your tour and book. I care.  I hired a She Writes editor to help me improve fiction ms. of my 13th book, How She Saved Her Life, a tale of love, business, and arson--with llamas. I sent you another email here this afternoon, but it got ripped from me before I finished it.  So I'm trying again with it. Good wishes from Carole Spearin McCauley  [email protected]  603-643-4411

  • Barbara Stark-Nemon

    As I begin to plan for my book launch, this is a wonderful piece to consider and use as a measure.  Thank you, Elizabeth!

  • Elizabeth Enslin

    Cate- Thanks for your comment. I hadn't thought about that museum trend before, but I sense museums are becoming popular in our small towns too - fascinating! I do think there's often an infectious excitement about cultural events in small towns. In bigger cities, there's so much going on, it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle, unless you're a really big name (which I am not). I wish you the best on your publishing journey.