Throwing a Book Launch Party

Posted on September 21st, 2011

Yesterday, I hosted a launch party for my debut novel, The Caldarian Conflict.  I invited virtually everyone I knew within a 50-mile radius to come to the signing event hosted at a local Rochester MN attraction, the Plummer House.  Overall, it was a huge success from my standpoint, with sales exceeding expectations.

As such, I want to share what I learned with others and record what happened so I can hopefully repeat the success next time.

Since my own book launch was the first I’d ever attended, I had little information to go on when my wife and I planned this event.  Brenda found lots of ideas, and we talked about a lot of different options.  What follows is a list of decisions, why we went with it, and what I think about it now.

Attracting attention

There were lots of things to consider as we marketed the party. We tried lots of traditional marketing, like:

  • The Minnesota Writers Alliance newsletter included us in their event list and included an excellent article about me.
  • The Rochester Post Bulletin was kind enough to mention the launch party not once, but twice in the days preceding the party
  • Robin Wolfram, one of the anchors for KTTC, a Rochester TV station, interviewed me and helped get the word out about the party

Beyond that, we carefully considered what things would draw people to our party.  For example, we knew that these things would help people say “yes” to coming:

  • Book signing
  • International Talk Like a Pirate Day theme (more later)
  • Location (Plummer House, more later)
  • Pirate costumes!
  • Seeing my 3-month-0ld son (hey, it’s for a good cause)
  • Door prizes
  • Family friendly
  • Food!

With all of these reasons to say yes, who could say no?  🙂

Location/timing

Timing was pretty easy.  After I’d written the first couple of chapters of my novel, I knew I was going to finish.  I set a target completion date of September 19, 2011–which is International Talk Like A Pirate Day.  Since my novel has a pirate theme, it was a perfect fit.

The pirate theme allowed us to have a second reason to celebrate the day: if nothing else, we could have a Pirate Day party.  This helped create another reason for people to say yes to coming.  Plus, since it related to the theme of the novel, we were also pulling in the target audience likely to be interested in the novel.

The location was more difficult.  Originally we wanted something located downtown so we could maximize parking ability, random walk-bys, and the likelihood that people could find the place.  After looking at prices and a couple of options, we were concerned about the costs.  Thankfully, Brenda came up with the option that the Plummer House and grounds could be rented for significantly less than any space we’d looked at.

There were several other advantages of the Plummer House that we discovered:

  • Though it’s a local attraction, few locals ever make the time to go up there (it’s situated at the top of a large bluff).  This created an attractive draw for people who might have been more neutral.
  • The Victorian feel of the house melded well with the pirate theme of the novel.
  • Since we held the event on International Talk Like a Pirate Day, we suggested that people wear pirate costumes.  The more remote location helped save people any embarrassment they might have felt about walking around in costume.

So, in short, the location and timing was a big win that helped this event succeed.

Giveaways (door prizes, etc.)

To avoid hurting sales, we didn’t want to use giveaways that included the novel.  Brenda did a wonderful job creating lots of different door prizes, including this one:

It included some cashews, a pair of mugs engraved with the title of the novel, and a copy of The Pirate Primer, so the winner could learn how to better talk like a pirate.

Other door prizes were targeted for children and teens, with special consideration given to each age group.  Being new parents, we wanted to make the event as family-friendly as possible.

Also, we had lots of little gift bags, special bags for the first ones to arrive, and a free eye patch.  My talented mother also created custom-made bookmarks for the books.

We received a ton of positive feedback around all the giveaways and ideas designed to keep the party a positive experience.

Overall, the giveaways were a definite win.

Decorations

Brenda found a plethora of pirate-themed decorations from Amazon, Oriental Trading, and others.  We may have helped keep some of these businesses afloat in tough economic times.

While we found lots of things we liked, we overbought.  Due to time restrictions, we didn’t use all of the things we purchased.

Also, for every item we put up, we extended our tear-down time at the end.  When I release my next book, assuming we do a party, I’m planning to take a minimalist approach to decorations.  Not only will this reduce costs, but it will also help save us time in setup and tear-down.

In summary, while the decorations were cool, I think we overdid it.  It’s an opportunity for us to improve for next time.

Food

We purposely bought much more food than we thought we needed.  We had a few friends volunteer to make things for us, and a talented friend of ours volunteered to help make some fancy hors d’ourves.  We had shrimp on guacamole and crackers, salmon on a custom blend of herbs and cream cheese, and many other seafood-themed snacks.  For the adults, we included rum balls as a tasty dessert.

For the kids we knew would come, we cooked pizza rolls and chicken nuggets.  For dessert, we had cupcakes, cookies, and candy readily available.

Everyone loved the food.  A definite win, and something I’d do again.  Next time, I might buy a little less, but I’d rather have too much food than too little.  A side benefit: my coworkers at my day job got to help me take care of the leftovers.  I think they’d declare it a win too.

Costs/benefits

From a strict income/amount spent perspective, a launch party is not likely to be worth it for a first-time author.  Unless you’re selling hundreds of books, the income from the party will not cover the costs.

That said, there are many intangible benefits of hosting a launch party beyond selling books.  In no particular order, here are some of the benefits we found:

  • I enjoyed celebrating the completion of a large project with friends who care and want to see me succeed.  We had a great time, and it sounds like our friends did too.
  • I found the Plummer House inspirational.  There are lots of story ideas lurking within those walls, and I expect I’ll incorporate some aspects of the house into future stories.
  • This event is something I think people will talk about for a while.  If nothing else, this party offered a great advertising opportunity–I think people will be talking about it for at least a couple weeks.
  • We took lots of pictures throughout the night (unfortunately, I don’t have access to them right now, but I’ll update this later with pictures), which we can use to continually advertise.
  • We loved the opportunity to have a historical landmark all to ourselves for a full day.  What an excellent opportunity to explore!
  • I’ve found no other way to feel more like a successful author than to have lots of people coming in to receive my autograph.  If nothing else, this made the whole party worth it.

Things we thought of during/after the party

In no particular order:

  • Post signs suggesting that people consider buying additional copies for custom gifts
  • Make it easy for people to prepay for autographed novels so we could have the books ready and waiting for them
  • Let people know that we’ll have plenty of additional copies available for purchase

Bottom line: This is something I’d love to do again.  All I have to do is finish writing another book!

7 responses to “Throwing a Book Launch Party”

  1. Erynn says:

    Sounds like it was, overall, a great party. Pirate Day is always a kick and most of the folks I know wouldn’t be at all bothered by wandering around dressed in pirate getup — I hang with steampunks, Pagans, and kinky people. We’re all into one form of dressup or another.

    I did my most recent book release party in the basement of one of the local occult bookshops, as that’s the market I sell to. About 30 people showed with my announcing it on my blogs, on one local Pagan email list, and posters at two of the local Pagan bookshops. I sold maybe half a dozen copies. Spent a lot of money on wine and cheese and crackers, but it was fun anyway, I taught a short introductory class on the topic of my book (free!), and got to hang out with a bunch of my friends.

    If I were going to be marketing a more mainstream book, I think this kind of advice would be pretty good stuff in terms of practicalities. Go you! Congrats on your new book!

  2. I was pretty thrilled. We had over 70 people show up, and I sold 43 novels…one to the caretaker just before we were about to pull away! All-in-all, a very successful night in my opinion. I was simply ecstatic. 🙂

  3. I think what you’re hitting on is a key ingredient: knowing your target audience. If you can get people who are interested and invested, that’s really the key. And if you can keep people talking about your book, that may really help it take off!

  4. Erynn says:

    @Mike Kalmbach
    Yeah, knowing your audience is definitely a bit part of it. I’ve been writing for the Pagan and occult press since the early 90s and have a bunch of stuff out. My first book is going back into print after 16 years in a slightly expanded and corrected edition. I don’t anticipate selling a lot of them to local Pagans, but my audience is international and I think there will be a lot of excitement about it.

    My poetry book coming out next fall (I’m in contract negotiations right now) is going to be much more of a mainstream thing. I’m thinking about talking to the folks at Hugo House, a local writer’s resource organization, for some advice about a book launch here and getting some readings. When I was doing readings locally about a decade ago, I was pretty popular with some of the local poets, so I should get out to some of the old venues again and see who’s still there from when I was reading then. It’ll be nice to have a real book of poems to take for everyone to see (and buy)!

  5. Wow, sounds like a lot of fun! If you learn some tips, please do share them with me. I’m always willing to learn–I’d rather make all new mistakes, because making the same old ones is too boring. 🙂

    Looking forward to when your book of poetry comes out. Sounds like fun! (well, work for you, fun for me). 🙂

  6. Danielle Allen says:

    I had a great time Mike, and I didn’t find the decorations excessive – they were so fun! I especially liked the cut out pirate face for pictures. Josh and I had a great time with that!

  7. The excessive piece comes from all of the decorations that never left their packaging. I think I’m mostly focused on not buying stuff we don’t use. 🙂

    Thanks a ton, Danielle. It was great to have you there!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.