I love book launches, my own and other people’s, and didn’t discover until my second novel that you can have as many of them as you like!
It’s a good while since publishers would lay on a big bash for a first-time author at their expense, inviting every respected critic for miles, but you never know. Mostly we authors arrange and pay for our own. What do you do?
- Find a location. Galleries and libraries work well. Any space will do where all your friends can gather, drink your wine, hear you talk about and read a bit of your book to whet appetites, and thank everybody who helped. Loud applause.
- Who do you invite? Everybody you know – in my experience your friends will love it, especially the ones who think they are in it. They will also be more than happy to take away a copy without paying for it as if their friendship entitles them to this. (Maybe it’s just my friends but I doubt it.) Explain to them gently that they are to buy your book, as many copies as they can carry. In exchange you will sign their copies mentioning their names, with the place and date to make it unique.
- Invite local media too, distribute flyers and put up posters. Not many strangers will come if they haven’t heard of you but you never know.
- Make sure your books arrive on time. You’d be amazed how often this doesn’t happen, even for well-established authors!
- If you’re like me, choose something a bit extra so that people will remember your launch in particular. Friends of mine who were trumpeters used to come and play a short fanfare before my readings. At the launch of my poetry collection Orion, professional actor Alice Barclay read the poems. It transfixed everybody far more than if I’d read them.
- I like to keep the momentum up by moving on to a cheap meal close by but that’s up to you.
- Spread happy photos around social media afterwards with pictures of your books in stock in shops. Done and dusted!
Back to what publishers do. Here are four more things following from Friday’s post to make a round dozen:
9/ ‘Brand building’
Time and again I’ve heard it said that publishers make very little money out of fiction until an author’s third book. That’s right, 3rd. Until readers get a feel for your name and style, for your regularity of output, for your ‘brand’, sales are unpredictable. Your publisher will try to find out about you and your life to depict you as a unique writer worth watching, to enhance their publicity efforts.
You remember how JK Rowling was a single mum writing in cafes with her buggy beside her? Cafes are excellent places to write and most of us do it some time or another. What her marketers were doing was painting a picture in our minds and hearts to lift Harry Potter beyond the book itself.
10/ Protection of your legal rights
Both your agent and publisher will do this – your legal rights are (usually) their legal rights and they want your work to make as much money for everyone as possible. They will ensure that nobody else passes off your ideas/style/concept as their own. Fan fiction is only a compliment as long as it does not steal your thunder and income.
Where your rights conflict with those of your agent and/or publisher, you can have a word with the Society of Authors or consult a media lawyer.
Aha! Now we’re talking. Publishers have access to networks of great big warehouses and lorries that should carry your books to places you have never thought of. They have lunch and drinks with bookshop owners in other continents. They do their utmost to make sure the boxes of your books will actually be opened in book shops and your books displayed, sometimes even paying for the privilege. (Some boxes of books lie unopened in the back store for months, such is the busyness of life.) They do deals to get your books into prominent places on tables and shelves and sometimes onto recommended lists.
Many bookshops will not take self-published books. Yes, lots of us read happily on a variety of electronic gadgets but the paper book trade is still the majority of sales. A traditional publisher gets you onto all the gadgets and into the bookshops too.
12/ Publicity copies
You will probably be allocated some publicity copies. These are not freebies for your grandparents. (Those are the ‘author copies’ described in your contract.) You will be expected to circulate your publicity copies among your contacts to spread the word and this includes pounding the streets looking for lovely bookshop managers who have time to listen to you. Waterstones are remarkably helpful and at the time of writing still have discretion to stock something they like, or which has local interest. Independent book shops are invaluable too. They will not all have time to read your book, even if they said they would. Bookshop staff are heavily overworked and underpaid. While your publisher is cultivating your brand, we authors do well to cultivate as many of these lovely people as possible.
The day might come when you’re sitting on public transport and see someone reading your book. Or someone crosses a room to say how much they liked it and when can they buy your next one. Until then, it is your publisher more than anyone who makes you feel that your writing, your hours of work, all your effort are worthwhile. Agents are invaluable but they can only hope to sell your book. All being well, your publisher will publish it and what a thrill that is.
Next week, who is your ideal publisher or agent?