Make it an event to remember
So many books are being published now that most of us will wait in vain for a bookstore owner or an established reading program to invite us to come out and strut our stuff. The good news is that we don’t have to wait for anyone to invite us. For very little money, we can put on an event any old time we want to – to celebrate the publication of a new book, or just to celebrate being writers.
If you are new to writing, most of your guests will likely be family and friends who have not been to readings and book launches before. They will come to the event out of curiosity in part, but primarily to share your excitement and toast your achievement. Your number one goal as host should be to make sure that when they get there, they have a fantastic time. (In fact, if that is not your goal, forget about doing it at all. This event is all about you, but it is also not all about you, if you get my drift.) With some planning and some thinking, you can make those who attend your event eager to attend the next book-launch or reading: thereby doing a service to writers everywhere.
The first thing you need is a venue. You can hold your event anywhere. Last summer, I was well into the planning of a picnic-style book launch in a ravine park when a few well-wishers insisted that I think about the weather possibilities and hold it inside instead. (I still like the idea of an outside reading. I think I’ll do it at some point.)
What we did instead proved to be a great alternative. We held the launch at a small art gallery in Toronto which was very reasonable to rent for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon (it’s called the Secret Handshake Gallery on Mutual Street, and it is managed by the noted Toronto poet and artist David Bateman).
It had a kitchen, which was handy for preparing tea and coffee, washing fruit, and arranging plates of crackers, cookies and dips. The same kinds of facilities would also be available in apartment-building party rooms, someone’s living room, the basement of a church, a community hall, etc. You don’t actually need a kitchen — think a room in a library, or the back room of a pub.
The next thing you need is a date and time. Give yourself plenty of lead time: you need to order books that will be available for sale, and you need to promote the event.
Begin the promotion three weeks or so ahead. Don’t rely on Facebook and Twitter: these sites are not too effective in attracting actual people to an actual event – although you will get lots of back-patting there, which always feels good. Check out where established reading series publicize readings in your area and submit a notice there (Open Book Toronto and Open Book Ontario are good examples from this region). You should also post notices on writers-organization events lists and in other arts publications. Your local newspaper or neighbourhood journal may also list your reading for free. If you are going to be reading at an art gallery or library, they probably have their own promotional methods – handouts and on-line items – and they will likely add your appearance to their list even though you are hosting it yourself, in the hope that you will bring people out to see other exhibitions or events they have on offer. And don’t forget that great “old-fashioned” method for spreading news: the email.
You need some kind of refreshments. These can be very modest: tea, coffee, juice, cookies, bottled water. Or you can get fancier and add wine, cheese, grapes, beer, tacos and dip, steak tartare and oysters – whatever you want, depending on your budget, your audience, the venue and the time of day. It’s true that people who’ve had a drink are much more likely to love your reading and buy a book than are the (tee)totally sober, but you have to figure out whether the potential payoff is worth it. Remember that you’ll need to sell several books to pay for even one half-decent bottle of wine: for economic reasons if none other, you may have to convince your guests to buy your books by giving an excellent reading rather than by lubricating them.
You might want to introduce a theme at your gathering that is in keeping with the subject of your book. When I launched The Whole Clove Diet, I invited people to bring Nanaimo bars – a sweet delicacy which figures largely in one of the novel’s comic scenes – in exchange for a free copy of the novel. Not only food, but decor, costume and music can be customized to suit the subject of your book.
You need books to sell (and autograph). This may sound obvious but I cannot tell you how many readings I have been to (including my own most recent one) where fate hung in the balance until the very day of the reading: would the books appear on a delivery truck in time for the event or not? Don’t give yourself a panic attack: order the books well in advance. (Of course, this problem will not occur if you are dealing only in e-books, but I am not sure that you can hold a viable book launch if you only have an e-book. I could be very wrong about that. Perhaps I just haven’t thought it through properly. Reader input on this subject is welcome.)
You also need a book sales table, and someone to sell the books for you (that’s what friends are for). You will need to provide a float. If your book is $15, have some $5s on hand to give as change for the inevitable $20s you will receive. You might also want to prepare a handout featuring the title of your book and a sales link or order form as a takeaway for those who didn’t bring enough money – or in case you run out of books to sell.☺
You need an itinerary. Plan to read for half to three-quarters of an hour maximum, and figure out what time you intend to start. I don’t recommend starting right at the time that the event begins. It’s a party: not just a reading, so let people mix and mingle for half an hour or an hour before you read. (This also gives the latecomers a chance to arrive.) Think ahead about whether you want music playing in the background while people socialize. If so, you’ll have to organize that in advance as well. (It’s pretty simple to bring a laptop computer with a playlist on it and a couple of speakers, but someone has to do it.)
You need someone to introduce you. This person will need to get people’s attention when it’s time for you to read, invite them to be seated, turn off the music, etc. During the introduction, this person should point out where your books are available for sale and announce how much they cost. When it comes to your introduction, you might want to write it out yourself and email it to your introducer ahead of time, just to make sure that all the points you want covered are covered. If the person who is introducing you might be insulted by your writing your own blurb for him or her to read, you could send a list of points to cover. Or else you could hope for the best, and fill in any oversights yourself when it is time to read.
Even if only one or two people show up, carry on. Poor turnouts happen to lots of writers, even those who are invited to read by established reading programs and bookstore owners. No matter how few there are, you should read anyway. Those people came all the way across town/around the world/down the street to hear you, and you want to blow them out of the water. Also, reading to a very few people will be good practice for when you become as famous as Margaret Atwood and you have people lined up down the block to hear you read.
(I encourage you not to read like Margaret Atwood does, however. She can get away with a deadpan delivery, but most people cannot. Further to this bit of gratuitous advice, in my next blog post I am going to talk about how to give a good reading. Too many writers don’t and there is nothing worse than a boring or inept reading. The only comparable experience in my life was a philosophy class I took at university where the lectures were delivered at 8 a.m. by a prof who leaned against the blackboard with his eyes closed, and spoke like Margaret Atwood reads. He seemed to still be half asleep – his half met my three-quarters and no knowledge was transferred.)
You need a photographer. (This is also what friends are for.)
You need people to help you clean up afterwards. These same people should take you for a drink after all the cleanup is done so that you can celebrate the celebration. For if you have done it properly, it is only when your well planned, well delivered, fun event is over that you will actually be able to start enjoying it yourself.
Note to my FaceBook friends: I’m taking a break from Facebook, which has lately been turning into more of an addiction than a pleasurable diversion. If you think some of our mutual Facebook friends would be interested in this post, please post the link as I can’t do that at the moment. Thanks. – Mary