Today I am conducting a joint blog with author/illustrator, Christy Hale. We are going to talk about the nuts and bolts behind planning a book launch. A successful book launch doesn’t just happen all by itself. It takes a significant amount of planning, organization, and coordination. Over the years, we have sponsored many book launches and although they are a fun reason to get people together to celebrate a joyous occasion they are not usually very profitable for any of the parties involved. Yes, profitability is one of those subjects that people don’t like to discuss, but selling books acts as the unquestionable measuring stick to tell you if your book launch was successful or not.
Recently, Christy held a book launch for her new book The East-West House: Noguchi’s Childhood in Japan. It was successful in both the amount of people who turned up and the amount of books sold. The launch also led to other connections and events that Christy was able to follow up with after the book launch had ended.
JL: Christy, can you detail for us some of the initial planning you conducted to get the book launch started?
CH: I’ve received invitations to launch parties at other Books Inc. stores in the Bay Area, so I knew the stores were open to this kind of event. I did not have an existing relationship with the local store, but two of the members of my writer’s group attend a book club meeting there regularly, and knew the person I needed to contact to set up my event. I e-mailed and together we selected a date.
JL: What kind of promotion did Books Inc. do for the launch?
CH: Though my book was published Sept 1, I didn’t contact Books Inc. soon enough for a September event—unless I wanted an event without the store’s publicity. I opted to postpone my launch until October. Books Inc. ran ads in newspapers. In addition they have their own newsletter that highlighted events for the whole month. They posted the event on their website, plus my book was reviewed on their blog prior to the event.
JL: What kind of promotion did you do for the launch?
CH: I designed an e-vite and e-mailed people in my address book. I created an event on Facebook, and sent out invitations to Facebook friends. Both of these are FREE ways of contacting people. I designed simple postcard invitations and sent them snail mail to people I could not contact through e-mail or Facebook. I also gave family members and friends stacks of these postcard invitations to give to their friends.
I contacted local elementary school librarians, and asked the librarian at my daughter’s old elementary school to put an announcement in their e-mail newsletter. I sent invitations to the public librarians. Members of my writer’s group extended invitations to their friends and their children’s school communities. I enlisted lots of help! My near and dear ones were excited for me and wanted to do what they could. I felt enveloped in good will.
I invited anyone and everyone I could think of who might be interested. I even sent an invitation to my financial advisor who has young kids! I figured that if someone could not attend, perhaps at a later point they might look for my book and I could still get a sale. I followed up by writing notes to let people know that I was looking forward to seeing them at the launch. I made this as personal as possible.
JL: One important note to make here is Christy held her launch at a bookstore in her area—a great way to get famous locally. Doing local events limits travel expenses and avoids hotel costs. If you can arrange for events in your area that are within a reasonable driving distance, do them. Christy, any other comments about locally promoting your book?
CH: My new book, The East-West House, marks my debut as an author. Being published as both author and illustrator fulfills a dream I’ve had since I was ten. It also happens that I was ten when I moved to Palo Alto. I wanted to celebrate in the place where I began this dream, and where I have my widest base of support. Books Inc is right across the street from my old high school, so in fact my event became an excuse for a mini-reunion, and friends traveled from a distance to attend. The store is also near my childhood family home. I was able to extend invitations to people who had woven into my life over the years—including old and new friends of my mother, brothers, as well as all the friends of my husband and daughter.
CH: I didn’t know when, if ever, I might have the opportunity to reach so many people again, so I wanted those two hours to be memorable. Since my book is set in Japan I used this theme and had Japanese snacks in Japanese style dishes. I even found disposable sake cups! My brother and his wife made maki rolls. I posted Facebook event reminders for “sake, maki and me.” A family member provided beautiful ikebana flower arrangements. I displayed original art. I made fine art giclée prints of my illustrations available for purchase. I brought a laptop computer and speakers for viewing my video trailer.
The attendees would become my community of personal publicists to help me connect my book to the rest of the world, so I provided a variety of materials to equip this powerful sales force. I printed my own business cards. Avery has a pre-scored stock that is set up to easily pop out to business card size. I made a mini-2 fold brochure with reviews of the book, flap copy, jacket and interior illustrations, my photo, bio, contact information, info for Lee & Low’s link and the video trailer. I printed my own bookmarks on my photo printer. My art was done in collage, so I created over 200 collage activity kits. A group of friends helped me assemble the packages before the event. I offered the kit with the purchase of a book. The kit also served as a keepsake for the event.
I am a designer, so I have some advantages in my studio, including a small photo printer and a nice Epson color printer. I made an investment in papers and labels and printing ink, but this was way less than having the materials sent out to a professional printer. Even if others do not have access to layout programs and color printers, a simple variation done in Word on a black and white laser printer could go a long way to accomplish the same end. The main thing is that you want to equip others with INFORMATION about you and your book, so they can spread the word to others.
45 minutes into the event I spoke about the creation of the book, read the story and answered questions. This helped me to connect with all the attendees and showcase the book and discuss how it developed. After my 15 minutes of fame, I signed books for the rest of the time. I have never had a long line at signings before. People asked if my hand was tired. All I could say was, “Bring it on!”
JL: What unexpected contacts did you make at the launch?
CH: When I arrived at Books Inc. a representative from Design Within Reach, a store that sells Noguchi lamps and tables was waiting for me. She had seen Books Inc.‘s advertisement. She invited me to come do a community outreach program at their store. The store is a chain, so I hope this will lead to additional presentation and sales opportunities. I found out that DWR even sells some children’s books on their website. My book would be a perfect match for them. I met again with the rep from DWR she has continued to proselytize, recommending my book to other people and places.
The mother of one of my childhood friends attended and has since brought me information about a local sister-city program called Neighbors Abroad. Palo Alto has a new sister-city in Japan. I was encouraged to bring my book to this organization’s attention.
Another childhood friend (a librarian) and her mother attended. They have put me in touch with a niece who teaches school, a professor of Japanese history, a librarian once on the Caldecott committee. What I am learning is that a launch is like throwing a stone in water, then watching the rings spread out and out.
CH: No! This is the first time I have embraced publicity. In the past I have sent out announcements when a book I illustrated was published, and accepted invitations to speak IF they came my way. I did not pursue anything. With my debut as author it clicked in my brain that it was really my responsibility to get attention for the book. I should have been doing this all along, even as the illustrator-only.
I’ve worked as a teacher, but I’m not an experienced public speaker. I’ve been thankful that this book is a non-fiction book, i.e. about someone else—that way I feel more like a teacher, in that I’m sharing my enthusiasm about Noguchi. I can sell his story without feeling so self-centered. This book is helping me cut my teeth on being more of a public person. Usually I’m much more comfortable hiding out in my studio.
JL: Are there books on self-promotion and marketing that you have read that you would recommend?
CH: Matthew Gollub, another Lee & Low author, helped with the glossary on my book. Lee & Low sent him a copy of the book, and he sent me a lovely note. Matthew is a master at publicity and a very entertaining and sought after speaker—a tremendous resource! He offered me some tips and book titles. I purchased the books and slowly am perusing them:
- 1001 Ways to Market Your Books: for Authors and Publishers by John Kremer, Open Horizons
- Guerrilla Publicity: Hundreds of Sure-Fire Tactics to Get Maximum Sales for Minimum Dollars by Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman, and Jill Lublin, Adams Media Corporation
- Speak and Grow Rich by Dottie and Lilly Walters, Prentice Hall
- Money Talks: How to Make a Million as a Speaker by Alan Weiss, McGraw-Hill
JL: Are there any other tips you can offer our readers?
CH: Creating a book can seem so solitary. Launching a book is about sharing. Start wherever you are, with whomever you know and build outward. Enlist help. I’ve been a very independent person my whole life. This has been a humbling and immensely touching experience as I have opened myself up to community.
JL: Thanks for sharing, Christy. I welcome any authors and illustrators reading this to share any useful tips for planning book launches so we can all benefit from the collective brain.