The publisher of The Belly Button Fairy, sporting wings of her own, and the crowd she drew to her recent bookstore event.
How to Succeed with a Book-Launch Event
by Bobbie Hinman
Your new book is being released, and you want the world to know. You are excited, and you want to have a party to celebrate the launch. Do you simply throw the party and hope that people show up? Let’s see—there’s your sister and her husband. Surely you can count on them. Mom and Dad are in. Your friends from the gym will certainly support you . . . Or, would you rather have a real event?
Is it possible to have 100, 200, even 300 people attend your party? The answer is a resounding Yes, as I saw once again when we launched The Belly Button Fairy at Barnes & Noble in Bel Air, MD, with an event that drew 350 people and sold more than 200 books.
It all starts with organizing the details of the event and putting aside your fears that no one will come. My events have centered on children’s books, but the basic process can be adapted for any title.
Here are some important steps for making a book launch party a success.
Countdown—Six Months Ahead
Decide on the time and place for your party. A local bookstore is ideal for this type of event. Introduce yourself to the management and staff and let them know that you are on their team to set the stage for a mutually rewarding long-term relationship.
Remember that this is not only your party—it is also the store’s event. The planning process will involve a lot of contact with the store managers; always be friendly and wear a smile so they will be happy to see you.
Plan the event thoroughly. Meet with the store manager and plan every detail. What will be your attention-getting theme for the party? What is the best time of day for the event? What will the store employees be available to do at that time on that day? Will the event involve reading a part of the book? For a children’s book, will it involve reading the whole thing? What handouts will you offer? Are you planning to provide decorations? What else will you provide? Will it be OK for you to serve refreshments? Is a microphone available?
Plan your media advertising campaign. Make a list of the newspapers and newsmagazines in your area. Add to that list the names of any other publications relevant to your book that feature event calendars or might be interested in writing an article about you or the book. Locate relevant Web sites and blogs. Make a detailed checklist of all of this information.
Plan your local promotion. Take note! This is a vital step that will probably attract most of your attendees.
Make a list of all the locations in your area that might display or distribute invitations to your event. For children’s books, contact daycare centers, preschools, libraries, kindergarten teachers, scout troops, and the like. Don’t forget appropriate specialty stores, which might include athletic clubs, beauty shops, and/or senior centers, depending on the book.
Call or visit each location. In your most professional manner, ask the owner or manager if they would be willing to display or distribute the flyer to their clients or customers. Be careful not to come across as simply wanting their help in selling more of your books. It’s important to be clear about what the event will do for customers of a business, members of a group, people in a neighborhood, or values—like literacy, for example—that they care about.
Add a guest. One good way to attract more people to the event is to have your book’s illustrator or designer participate by demonstrating sketching or graphic techniques. People love the idea of having multiple autographs in their books—author and designer, publisher and illustrator. Be sure to include this essential information in your advertising/promotion.
Countdown—Three Months Ahead
Contact the media, Web sites, and blogs on your list. Now is the time to go through your media checklist and set up interviews. Be sure to make a list of the dates that each person would like to receive your information packet (press release, bio, book summary, cover image, and photo). Let each contact know if you are able to offer prepublication copies of your book.
Countdown—Two Months Ahead
Have invitations printed as postcards in full color on glossy stock. These look very professional. You can order them from a number of online printing companies, and they are often less expensive than the typical humdrum black-and-white flyers.
If you’re up for the challenge, order 1,000 to 1,500 postcard invitations, knowing that your goal will be to have each invitation find its way into the hands of a potential buyer. Be sure to make your event sound enticing. The promise of a gift, refreshments, or a raffle for a free book will add allure. For a children’s book, invite kids to come dressed as one of the characters.
Make it clear on your invitations that this is a party, a happening!
Purchase giveaway items. Plan to feature something special and give something away. Scour the dollar stores and the many Web sites that offer inexpensive gift items. If you would like to splurge, you can have plastic cups imprinted with your logo and fill them with goodies such as a small notepad, a candy bar, pencils, pens, or other popular small items. Magnets imprinted with your logo are another gift that will keep your name in front of your audience. Be creative and look for inexpensive items that are related to your book in some way.
Countdown—One Month Ahead
Check back with the hosting bookstore manager. While it is important to keep in touch with the store manager throughout the entire planning process, now is the time to make sure your books have been ordered.
Now is also a good time to formulate a backup plan in case the books sell out during the event. This may sound like wishful thinking, but it does happen. Often the store manager will want you to have an additional supply of books in your car “just in case.”
Review your media and blog lists. Send the information that has been requested.
Start promoting your event on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites. Then add a reminder every week and also on the day before the party.
Invite your friends and family. Follow up by sending them an email invitation and requesting that they forward it to everybody they can think of.
Ask for help. Enlist a friend you can count on to come to the event to assist you. It’s a comfort to have someone there to help distribute the gifts, serve the refreshments, and (hopefully) run to your car each time the bookstore needs additional books.
For children’s events, find an artistic teenager to do face painting, to help with a craft, or to distribute coloring pages related to your book.
Begin distributing your invitations. Deliver about 200 invitations to the bookstore and help arrange them near the information counter and at the checkout registers. Speak with the store manager about having an invitation placed in each bag when a customer makes a purchase. Stop by the store every few days to replace the invitations as necessary. Don’t overload them with too many at one time, though.
This is also a good time to deliver invitations to local libraries.
Countdown—Three Weeks Ahead
Distribute more invitations. Review the list you made six months ahead and get to work. Remember, the goal is to place the invitations where they are most likely to make it into the hands of potential buyers of this particular book.
Make sure the bookstore has received the books it ordered. If you have backlist titles related to the new book, arrange to have them on hand for purchase at the event. This is especially important if your new book is a part of a series.
Countdown—Two Weeks Ahead
Distribute the remaining invitations. For children’s books, this is a good time to deliver cards to daycare centers and schools. Talk to people in the grocery checkout line with you and hand each of them an invitation. If you have an email list, send an email invitation to everyone you know, requesting that they forward the email to everyone they know. Send or personally deliver an invitation to your local news media. Oh, yes, don’t forget reminders to your friends and family.
Order the refreshments. If you are having a cake made for the event, now is the time to place the order. A variety of grocery stores and bakeries make delicious, affordable cakes that can be decorated with your cover image.
Countdown—One Week Ahead
Distribute any invitations you still have. Yes, the ones you are holding onto! They will be of no use to you after the party.
Remind all your social networking friends of the event.
Check your lists. If you have done everything on them, you are nearing the finish line. If not, get to work!
Launch Time—The Day of the Event!
Arrive an hour ahead of the crowd. Bring a bright, attractive table cover, the refreshments, any props you might need, and that close friend for moral support and assistance.
Dress nicely. If you can, wear something a bit gimmicky that reflects a character in your book or a theme from it. Be sure to wear your smile, and treat the store personnel with respect. Remember, this is their event too, so don’t act like a prima donna.
Yes, it’s very hard work. And it does take a lot of planning. But it gets results! Along with the more than 200 copies of my new book, we sold approximately 50 copies of each of my first two books, The Knot Fairy and The Sock Fairy, at our recent B&N event.
And bear in mind that the effects of your promotions will be felt not only the day of the event, but for days, weeks, and even months to come.
Think of the movie line, “If you build it, they will come.” Now remember this version: “If you plan it, they will come!”
Bobbie Hinman, formerly an elementary-school teacher, is the author of seven successful cookbooks and credits her 10 grandchildren for drawing her back into the world of children’s literature. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit bestfairybooks.com.