How to Plan a Successful Book Launch

guest bloggerToday 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.

East-West House cover

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.

interior art from East-West House

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.

JL: List for us some of the other things you did to make the launch special?

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.

East-West House bookmark and activity kit
bookmark and activity kit

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.

We sold out the store’s supply of my book that night and sold a large portion of my personal stock. Friends who were unable to attend the party have since stopped by the store asking for my book. Books Inc. had to reorder. When I was last in the store, they asked me to sign a stack of books. This is a completely new experience for me, but I’d be happy to get used to it!interior illustration, East-West House
JL: Have you always been a natural self-promoter of your books?

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

: 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.

Next: How to Plan a Successful Book Launch, part II: Storytelling and Activity Ideas

38 thoughts on “How to Plan a Successful Book Launch”

  1. This was a wonderful and extremely inspiring interview on book launching! I am lucky to live in the Twin Cities where there are two very strong and visible children’s book stores, (The Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul and Wild Rumpus Books in Minneapolis)so I have access to local venues for launching my books. The Red Balloon Bookshop has an enormous window (28″ X 10 ‘)that they offer to illustrators to paint. Every time I launch a book, I paint that window with an image from my book– they also order a large cake with the cover of the book on the frosting of the cake and yes, it is edible! I love the activity packets available with purchase of the book! And thank you for the list of books on publicity. Great blog! Thank you!

  2. Christy Hale’s campaign is very impressive to say the least. Also somewhat intimidating! I have tried to post comments on facebook about my books. Also have my friends and family and agent do this too. I have book fair and school and library events scheduled. But nowhere near the massive coverage of Christy Hale. Hail Christy!

  3. I enjoyed reading about your book launch and appreciate all the time and planning that went into it. Thanks so much for sharing titles of books that might help fellow authors with publicity ideas. Good luck to you and The East-West House!

  4. Good post Christy! I have yet to do that kind of bookstore launch with my books but it sounds like you did your homework. I’ve come to realize that my strengths come from the support I’ve received from teachers and librarians so I really focus on school visits here and in NY, and any educator/librarian events that I can hook into. They’re the ones that really spread the word, whether its educator nights at B&N, talking to media specialists in training, going to events like FCTE/NCTE or reader associations, that’s what I do. And now, extending myself online to talk virally too. I also try to visit every bookstore within an hour of here (3 big cities)to make sure they know a book is coming out, get as much local press as possible and keep hitting the pavement, old school style. But it sounds like your off to a good start. We all learn as we go and staying with what works and dropping what doesn’t. Now word has gotten out and people are coming to me and organizing multiple day visits etc. Keep it up!

  5. Go, Christy! Thanks for re-capping the steps to your successful launch. Although you credit me for knowing my way around publicity, I believe the key lies in NOT assuming that we know much at all. Even if we’ve launched books many times, it’s important to think through the themes of each book and approach the publicity with a fresh perspective. This winter, for example, I’ll launch a book with audio CD called JAZZ FLY 2: THE JUNGLE PACHANGA. Since the book introduces kids to Latin jazz, I’m thinking it would be fun to feature music by the quintet that played with me on the audio CD. Of course, it may be hard to incorporate a concert into a bookstore event, so I may have to rent out an art studio downtown. The illustrator lives in the same town I do, so I may borrow your idea about displaying original art. Because this book has an audio component, I’ll plan a couple of radio interviews–on a local jazz station and on local public radio–to help get the word out. I’ll also start contacting children’s booksellers NOW to plan signings elsewhere around the Bay Area. Anyway, I appreciate the interview with Christy as it will help me stay motivated and focused in the coming months!

  6. Matthew, I appreciate what you said about individually tailoring each book launch. This is giving me great ideas for my book coming out this summer! If you come to Minneapolis, the Wild Rumpus Bookstore has bands– They Might Be Giants just played there this past week! A Latin quintet would be perfect!And Christy– having the giclee prints available is an excellent idea!

  7. One of the books Matthew shared, suggested devoting some time each and every day for publicity. Contacting bookstores, brainstorming new sales venues, scheduling school, library, and conference appearances, creating curriculum materials, and overhauling my website will keep me busy for many, many days to come. Thanks, everyone, for the additional ideas you have for promotion.

  8. What a thorough and honest report. Thank you! One thing that really resonated with me, as a writer who is shy, is focusing on who the book is about. I, too, can feel more vocal when talking about someone I passionately feel should get more attention, whereas I feel less comfortable pointing to myself.

  9. I have gained a lot of insight into what it takes to plan a successful book launch. I know it takes being proactive, networking and being creatively open, to connecting with the community around you in order to make a book tremendously successful.
    I found the tips shared extremely helpful. It opened up a new avenue to pursue to further promote my existing and future books.

  10. Christy, thanks, congratulations, and best wishes! My comment is about * HOW TO MULTIPLY BOOK SALES * by the bookstore at book launches.

    1. Encourage buyers to buy extra copies. Help them think of who else “needs” one. Tell them briefly who the ideal readers are (age? interests? grades? classroom read-aloud to meet what curriculum standard? tied to what annual event?). They can get a head start on holiday shopping… any birthday or gift occasion coming up?

    2. Encourage absentees to buy books. Find out in advance how the bookstore wants payment: by check or by a phone call in advance, with a credit card number? Suggest this either at the end of your invitation or in response to those who let you know they can’t make it. Buyers might pick up their books from the store later, or you might deliver the books the next time you see the buyers, or they might be willing to reimburse you for the low cost of media mail.

    3. Buy a few leftover books (if there are any!). After you’re done signing stock to be left at the bookstore, if there are any unsigned copies left, consider buying a few merely to pass them on to others who will reimburse you. Then when you bump into people, let them know that you have leftover copies from a bookstore signing.

    By doing this, I have doubled book sales at bookstore appearances. One time, when I wasn’t in the mood for book returns, I bought all 18 leftover copies and sold them all within a few weeks. More sales are great, yet remember, every single copy counts!

  11. Thanks so much for the great interview on doing a book launch. I’m definitely going to try some of these ideas and share this post with my writer friends. Congratulations on the successful launch of The East-West House!

  12. Congrats on your new book Christy! Launches are super fun and such a great way to network and establish a following. If you keep a guestbook at the event it automatically helps your mailing list grow and hopefully leads to more book sales of all of your titles! Good luck~

  13. Christy, congratulations on such a wonderful launch. The thought and energy you put into the details shine through. What a great start for the book and what a celebration of you as the author. I love the idea of returning to your roots to share this with so many people.
    I also agree with Lauren and Matthew about the need to look at each book individually and think about what would be good connections. For my book Strong to the Hoop, The Milwaukee Bucks recently released a PSA featuring a girl reading the book, talking to Charlie Bell, and then launching a shot. It’s running on local TV stations and is a nice plug for the book.

  14. Great post, guys. Christy, amazing art, first of all!!
    Nice work on your release party. I totally agree about getting specific in your party so it matches the motif of your book. I did a wicked Jamaican style Bashment for the I AND I release, complete with caribbean cuisine and a well known dj who spins reggae music. It was so much fun and really felt like a community celebration after the months of isolation, as you mentioned above. It is humbling and just a blast! I wish I had read your post before doing mine. I would have had a pause for a quick reading and a talk, explaining some of my process and just some of my thoughts on it.
    One thing that turned out much better than I had planned it was having the original artwork hung in the space along with many of the sketches the art was based on, as well as photos of Jamaica I had taken earlier. It was a way folks could walk into a room and experience my entire process, which as you know, is much deeper than just what is easily visible.

    Also, great thinking getting the librarians involved in spreading the word. Like Greg said above, the librarians are such a force in this industry.

    Hope you have continued success, awards and sales and most of all, fun along the way. Peace.

  15. Christy, My head was spinning when I finished reading about all the ways you devised to make your launch successful. “I’d need a year to do all that!” was my first coherent thought ,but then I had this happy realization– “It’s like throwing a party without having to clean the house or pen up the cats!” And that made the whole concept more feasible. Planning and making party decorations and favors instead of de-furring the living room furniture? I’ll buy that! Thanks for all the helpful suggestions, and I can’t wait to read “The East-West House!”

  16. Thank you for your inspiring post, Christy. I like your comment, “Launching a book is about sharing.” It sometimes seems downright scary to bring a book out into the world, not knowing how people will react to it, but the idea that we are simply sharing our stories is a good perspective. I will refer back to your ideas as I launch “Yasmin’s Hammer” in 2010. And I look forward to reading your book.

  17. What a great event, Christy! I’m so glad you shared your process with us. As Matthew and John both said, what works for an event like this is tailoring the event to the book itself.

    I second the advice given about taking a BIG task and breaking it into small bites. Otherwise, planning a big event like this can be overwhelming! Day by day, step by step, that’s how we turn big plans into reality.

  18. Christy, wonderful art and I’m intrigued by your book’s title and want to read it! As you so aptly pointed out, a book launch takes planning and work, but is well worth it. In my first book, The Blue Roses, I use gardening as a metaphor for life and decided to play with that. Instead of bookmarks, I bought tiny envelopes and packed a few easy growing seeds (radishes or beans) as giveaways for my young readers so they like my protagonists, Rosalie & Papa, could experience the mystery inside a seed. My husband made mini-stickers of the cover (gorgeous art by Amy Cordova) which I attached and voila! an instant hit!
    Thanks everyone else for all your great ideas.

  19. Great ideas for your book launch. I see a book launch as a two-stage rocket. The first stage is always the hardest. That’s when the book is about to come out and you need a lot of thrust to get it up and going. So, giving book talks, visiting libraries and schools, making connections with entities that might have a special interest in the book are all important activities. They also take a lot of preparation and energy.

    The second stage of a book launch is keeping it up in space (or, specifically, in print). This is the stage I enjoy the most, and I accomplish it by going to a lot of schools, libraries, and regional conferences. As a storyteller and musician with a performance background, I excel at this stage. The key for me is advertising in regional school assembly directories (which are distributed online and in print), regularly presenting at regional literacy conferences, with one or more of my books as the workshop theme. used to wait around and hope to be an invited speaker, but no more: I apply for a workshop slot and invariably it leads to a school or library visit.

    And, ultimately, this is my belief: every event leads to another. So be generous with your time and energy, because every event you do–paid or unpaid–will lead you to the next opportunity.

  20. Christy, your words are wise and encouraging and best of all accessible – and accessibility is what you want your event to be all about. Creating an environment(theme)around your book launch is exactly the right idea for a memorable experience. We also let newspapers know – our local weekly as well as our dailies – a couple of weeks in advance so that they can either run an article or at least press release if they have the time and inclination. Make a big deal of your new book – it’s a big deal!

    Running some form of contest associated witht he book at the launch event itself makes your crowd feel a part of the excitement, and as if they have an unexpected surprise they might be able to look forward to. It also gives you a chance to express your appreciation for your loyal following, who deserve to feel we give back to them time and again.

    You may very well also have a local cable news program (for example in NJ as well as on Long Island, Westchester and surrounding areas, and Connecticut, we have a cable only, local news outlet called News 12. We will send a press release or bring materials by to the News 12 New Jersey office whenever we have something new, and while we have no expectation that they will jump on it, we have been asked for interviews several times!

    We also like to involve “authorities” whenever possible to give legitimacy to our title, even if it is a work of fiction…for example in the back of Mommy’s Having a Watermelon, we included watermelon growing tips which we received from, and creditted to, the National Watermelon Promotion Board (I’m not kidding).

    Finally, once thing I think it behooves us all to remember is that promotion and marketing is a shared responsibility. Likea child, the life of your book begins when it reaches the warehouse and it must be nurtured by its creator!

    Thank you again Christy for some great and inspiring ideas, and good luck and much love to you! The book is fabulous and you should be very, very proud!


  21. I realise I’ve found this very late (thank you Verla Kay!) but it was JUST what I needed. Thank you for such a detailed and specific answer to an important question!

  22. I am searching for ideas for my book launch. I always wanted to be a published author and I am from Trinidad and Tobago, so doing a book launch in a small community is daunting

    However, Christy’s information was pertinent and useful……

  23. Hello, I really enjoyed reading about some of the book launching parties. I’m a first time author and i’m planning on doing a party next month. My party will not be held at a book store, it will be at a hotel. I’m still trying to see what all i need to do at this party. I have a few ideas that i will be doing, as i begin to really think about this i need to really step it up so this party will be very memoriable.Thanks for giving me ideas on how to publicize my party. I will be reporting back to you letting you know how it went. Lorraine Moore

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