Making an Event of it

How I set up the Book Launch for my Novel.

One of the first lessons one learns as a writer upon releasing their debut novel is that no matter how much work they thought they’d already done to finish the book itself, only now was the work about to begin.

The simple truth is that the book market is super-saturated with a combination of traditionally published and self-published books. Not all of them are good, not all of them will succeed — most will fail — and the only certainty is that very few writers will ever get a huge, lucrative book deal. But that should never stop us giving it a damn good go!

Networking is the all part of the game…
You can’t sell your book on your own. Well, of course you can sell it on your own, but not at volume. What is needed is a constantly growing network of people all sharing interests in the same genre, target audience, topics and subject matter of your book. It’s important to know who your target market is, and to prepare to entertain their desires, and not just your own. It is tempting to want to be a game changer, but the truth of the matter is that in order to achieve that, you need to be at the very top of that game first.

Don’t be a Social Media Fool
Social media does not market your book. Sending a couple of tweets, or posting on Facebook that your book is available is simply not enough. Unless you really are a social media marketing guru, try to see it as a small part of your marketing plan rather than a solution. Don’t be tempted to be driven by the number of “Likes” you have or the promises that Facebook Ads give about the “Reach” you can achieve by paying them to place your ad.

The truth is that if you were to design a lovely, big poster and stick it up on a wall — please don’t, fly-posting is civil offence — you’d have to be prepared for the vast majority of people ignoring it. Out of about 100 people walking past, maybe 10 might cast your poster a quick glance, if your poster is truly excellent. Out of those 10, 2 or 3 might slow down or stop to read the tagline. And then out of those 2 or 3, one, maybe, possibly, might take down the details and look it up. Still no guarantee of sale, but you might get engagement. In fact, a 1% engagement rate would be a very, very good result.

So when you post that tweet to your followers who have hundreds or thousands of followers, you’ll be lucky if they even see it, let alone stop to read it, or even click on the link. In order to achieve big things from this kind of marketing you need to be looking at budgets with four, five or six figures in them.

But I can go viral, can’t I?
No. Morons, executions and kittens go viral. Not good books.

What Networking can be achieved to make an event work?
The first thing I would recommend is to hold an event that is focused on you, the author, first and foremost. Then it is focused on your book. Finally, it includes a lot more. I was really lucky with my event location because the pub invited me. They happened to see my Tweeting, and the fact that my book is set in Birmingham. Having had successful book launches already, they fancied another. So I was lucky on that front. But location is important. Try to find a venue that is free, or as damn close to it as possible. The advantage with pubs is that if you are able to attract an audience, they can bring bar revenue in for the evening. That’s a great bargaining chip.

The Event: When and Where?
Some thoughts to consider about the location and other factors:

  • The “culture” of the venue. Seriously, don’t try and launch your romance novel in a football-supporters local drinking hole;
  • The Experience of the venue. If it is a pub or club, do they have a website and a culture of hosting “events”?;
  • The Space available. You need a separate room that can shut the door on the hubbub of the place. It doesn’t need to be a massive function room — in fact, try not to have a room that is too large as this makes people feel uncomfortable. If you can do the event without the need of microphones, always choose that. Unless you are experienced with managing sound equipment, a badly set microphone is horrible to listen to and can destroy the atmosphere. The need for a technician can end up costing you.
  • The Date — Part 1: Either with the help of the venue, or on your own, check that your date does not clash with other things that could flatten attendance. I don’t mean obvious ones like “don’t do it on Christmas day,” but avoid major sports events, holidays, and always avoid going a week either side of Bonfire night. Similarly — double check lesser considered evenings like Diwali — again, fireworks going bang really distract audiences, and unless you are in a sound proofed room…well…
  • The Date — Part 2: Consider dates that might be GOOD to pair up with. For example, if your novel is themed around the war, see if you can catch a date near key war memorial dates — either local or national. Imagine the power of your book launch being on Holocaust Memorial day if your story is about the Holocaust or Anne Frank, and so on. Is your leading character Autistic? Do they have mental health issues? Does the story explore issues of sickness? Consider all of these and significant dates or months in the year to boost the market value of your event. I call this the “hashtag value” — what will be trending along side the event?
  • The Time and Day: Your event doesn’t have to be on a weekend, but you will greatly benefit if it is. Midweek events restrict your audience to those who either live very close, or those who don’t have jobs or young families. Be mindful of travel — you want your audience, if at all possible, to be able to have a drink or two in order to relax the atmosphere. But you don’t want to have to encourage drink driving to achieve it! If you can possibly wing a Friday or Saturday evening event, be mindful of the potential value of those evenings to venues. So make sure you can offer good ROI (return on investment).
  • Access Needs: As an extra consideration. Can people with mobility issues, vision, hearing or other disabilities, engage and be involved in your event? Of course, access is not your duty to organise — it is the venue manager — but just make sure when considering the venue that there are as few possible barriers. Why should you do this? Because I can guarantee that if, for example, someone in a wheelchair arrives and can’t get into the venue, they will remember it as your event and your book as much as they will remember the venue. You want people to leave your event and talk nothing but positively about it…so do everything you can to achieve that.
  • Connections to your work: if you can, in any way, make the venue and your audience enjoy a genuine connection between you, your work and the venue, then it makes the whole thing more…cosy. Cosy = happy. Happy = more likely to spend money!

Offering more than your book.
Obviously the main point of the event should be your book, meeting you, hearing you read, and so on. But if you can add extras, and make more of an evening of it, then you stand to attract a larger audience, and definitely give yourself so much more scope to advertise your event through other channels. As well as inviting friends and family, and obvious people like publishers, editors and so on, here are a few suggestions. They all depend totally on your work, and it would be near impossible to get them all. Please don’t read this as a checklist!

  • Guest Speakers: Does your book address any social issues or themes that you can invite an expert or fellow creative to do a short talk on? [I had someone come to do a talk on Parental Alienation, as it is a theme in my novel.]
  • Collaborators: Have you worked with any other creatives or artists in your work? What about your cover design? Invite the designer to come along and show a portfolio of the other books or artwork they have done. [I had two of the three photographers whose work appeared on my book cover come along to the event. They exhibited their work and chatted to the audience in breaks.]
  • Live Music: Can you get a live band or musician — especially one that doesn’t need much/any technical stuff — to come along and play a short set? They could be playing as audience arrive, during breaks, and even give them their own slot. [I had a connection with an old friend who was planning to come up anyway — he has his own band, so they played an acoustic set for 30 mins, free of charge.] Please don’t ask musicians you don’t know personally to play for free…they need an income just like the venue, and you as an author, so make sure it “pays” them in some way. Invite them to bring their albums to sell, and so on. If you don’t know them personally, expect to have to cover their costs as a minimum.
  • Fellow Writers/Creatives: If you know of other local writers with approaching events, make a point to invite them and bring their advertising with them to encourage the audience to go. If at all possible, and if they haven’t sorted a venue, go out of your way to try and get them to book the same venue. Networking is all about making friends who can achieve mutual benefits. Audiences also love networks because a sense of “belonging” to something is a strong seller [I had one of the local theatre managers — someone I have worked with — who came along to the event. They have a nice venue, too…but bigger…might they want my next book event?].
  • Local Councillors, Venue Mangers, Officials: This might sound like an odd one, and the vast majority will ignore you, but just think of the value of you sending a personal invite to the managers of local libraries. A few minutes online will find you the councillor in charge of culture in the local town or city — what if you catch a night when they can pop along? If you don’t ask, you will never get. This might seem outlandish — but just think of the value if one day you want to apply for funding and you need a voice of influence to use as a reference…? *wink wink* [I didn’t have this at my book event, but I have done this with plays in the past. Senior detectives came to see one of my plays, and I had a great chat with them.].
  • Using Multimedia: Even if all you have is a PowerPoint presentation with a single slide on it — if you can project your book, its image, title and author, together with quote from your best reviews…do it. The best way to make an audience feel special is to confirm for them that they are coming to see something special. Having 1 or 2 well designed slides makes you look professional and prepared. But steer clear of silly fonts, childish animations, and so on.

Like I said, it is not a checklist, and it is by no means is it exhaustive. However, I will share with you another section:

What I got wrong.

  • Live Band — I should have put my band on earlier. They were so good, the audience loved them. There was a technical problem that stopped me having background music as the audience arrived…I should have asked the guys to just do a quiet little jam session.
  • Timing and Pricing — Although you don’t have to wait to launch your book on sale until AFTER the event, I think the gap between my book going on sale and my launch event was a little too long. It also meant that I had people there who had already bought and read the book — which is great — but it made me avoid dropping the price down for a “book launch special price.” It didn’t actually affect any of my sales, but it is something I feel I must think about more carefully next time.
  • “Get Out” — this is a term used in theatre. It’s the time after the last show when everything is stripped down — set, lighting, sound, and so on. Normally the crew will do this with the stage managers. However, those who do the get out can’t be in the bar to mingle with the audience after the main event is over. That quiet chit chat is important. I had to tidy up myself, so I missed a few people I wanted to chin-wag with. It’s not a big issue at all, just something I have reflected on for next time.

Inviting the Press
It might be tempting to invite all the local and national press to your event, but this isn’t necessarily essential, or even automatically your choice. If your event is at a venue you really must at least have the conversation with the venue manager. Remember that your event will reflect on the venue’s reputation, so it is a courtesy to have this conversation. They might well just say it is up to you — which is great. They might even have some good contacts that you can make use of.

If you do invite the press, treat them to a teeny bit more hospitality to maximise on return. For example, reserve them a good, clear seat; furnish them with a free copy if you can; plan a slot of time to have a chat with them. Don’t go overboard — buttering them up too much can turn them into slippery buggers!

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to not invite them. Dealing with journalists is a skill in itself: you are a writer, and author, but that does not make you automatically a good media and PR expert. So if you feel less confident, or if you want to just focus on your audience and your book, then don’t invite them. Your product will be the same and won’t change, so you can always engage with them at an earlier or later date.

It’s all about you…
Your readers are coming to your event to meet you. Not your book. They can buy your book any time — but your event is a precious opportunity for them to meet and hear the voice behind the book. Never underestimate the power of the subconscious on how we interact with art, creativity and writing. Regardless of how confident you are at events, you must present your book with complete confidence. Don’t apologise or talk yourself down. “It’s only my debut…” does not engender sympathy, it bruises confidence. “I’m not a good public speaker...” might be true, but don’t tell them that.

Treat your audience as your guests. Give them your best; present your book with confidence; tell them they are going to love it; tell them that you love it, and that you are proud of it; don’t shy away from showing them good reviews. All of these things will gently nudge your reader to remember the launch fondly, and that will colour the way they interact with your work. Unless your book is truly awful — and then you’re buggered either way!

More on this later…
I’ll follow this blog with one on the artistry of presentation…so, watch this space.

So, there’s a few notes on setting up an event, who to invite, things to consider and so on. Of course there are many more aspects, and I could go onto far more detail on technical issues having worked in theatre and events for many years. If you want to talk further with me, by all means catch me on Facebook, Twitter or via my website.

My debut novel To Die For can be bought in paperback from my website and these reviews can be found on

Please consider donating to my fundraising campaign for Barnardos in support of my next book. Find out more from my Just Giving Page.

“Drafting my 2nd novel for NaNoWriMo for Barnardo’s because every child’s story should be heard.”