In Pursuit of the Perfect Storm

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In Pursuit of the Perfect Storm (Part 1):

Planning and Promoting a Book Launch and Signing
Guest Post by Karen Spafford-Fitz

karen-vanishI was thrilled when Orca released Vanish, my second middle-grade novel, in March 2013. As with my first book, I planned to hold a book launch and signing in Edmonton, where I have lived for 20 years. Upon realizing that many friends and family members living in eastern Ontario also wanted to help celebrate the release of my new book, we decided to launch Vanish in my hometown of Kingston as well.

In both instances, I was pleased with the strong turnout and the enjoyable launch days—especially when it can be challenge to pack a bookstore. I thought other authors might be interested in how I planned my book launches and signings

This “warts and all” account includes not just the steps that I found effective, but also those that possibly amounted to time-wasters. I offer them all in the hope that these strategies—or variations on them—might work beautifully for other authors.

To that end, here are some ideas for how to plan and execute a successful book launch:

 Seek Out the Best Venue (three to four months before launch)

  • karen-kingstonlaunchI prefer working with independent bookstores as they are so supportive of local authors and are experts in connecting the right books to their ideal readers. I was delighted that Audreys Books in Edmonton and Novel Idea Bookstore in Kingston agreed to host my launches.
  • As the launches approached, I updated the bookstores as best I could about the approximate number of guests. They then estimated the number of books we would require for the launch days.
  • Since Vanish would likely spark renewed interest in my previous title, both stores brought in copies of Dog Walker, which also sold well.
  • The bookstore owners were pleased with the number of people who visited their bookstores. They continue to take a personal interest in hand-selling my book.

Results: Highly effective

Choose a Strategic Launch Date (three to four months before launch)

  • Mid-April was my preferred date for the Edmonton launch and I began inquiring before Christmas. Audreys especially has ongoing commitments with book clubs, Stroll of Poets, etc and I was glad we pulled out our calendars early.
  • I chose Sunday afternoons for both launches as families sometimes have more downtime then. Timing the launch for the weekend was especially important for my Kingston launch as guests were travelling in from the Ottawa and Toronto areas—something they couldn’t have readily done on a weeknight.
  • I was careful to avoid long weekends but realized belatedly that my Edmonton launch fell on the final day of the Masters’ Golf Tournament. I know of one person who did not attend for that reason. (Thankfully it was not my husband.)

Resluts: Highly effective

Prepare a Guest List and Send Invitations (six weeks before launch)

  • karen-eviteI sought the advice of the marketing manager at Orca to determine which types of promotional materials would best support the launches. Orca created an e-vite that could be sent by email and a poster that could be printed and distributed.
  • This was not the time to grow shy about whether to invite this person or that person! I widely emailed the e-vite that Orca prepared. I included out-of-town people whom I thought might order a book even if they couldn’t attend.
  • I reached many people by email and replied personally as they responded with acceptances or declines. I did not use snail mail at all.

Results: Highly effective

Spread the Word via Social Media (four or five weeks before launch)

  • I relied extensively on Facebook, posting the e-vite plus creating a Facebook event for both launches. I responded personally as people replied with acceptances or declines.
  • Every week or 10 days, I reminded people about my launch. And because I wanted to avoid repetitions of “Please come to my book launch,” I looked for creative ways to do this. For example, I tied the reminders to food updates for my launch days or to wacky wardrobe choices I was presumably considering.
  • I also posted the invitation in the various writing associations to which I belong. In some instances, you can to post with other writing groups and associations that you have “liked.”

Results: Highly effective

Gear the Book Talk Toward Connecting Guests to the Characters and Story

  • karen-edmontonlaunchI provided guests with some back-story on Vanish so the characters and storyline would hopefully resonate on a personal level with them.
  • I chose readings that I hoped would encourage guests to want to hear more. My first reading was the opening chapter, which introduces my central characters and the basic situation (thereby avoiding the need for lengthy explanations to set the stage). My second reading was from a high-action scene where my protagonist realizes that a crisis is unfolding.
  • I wanted my book talk to last approximately 20 minutes (it was slightly longer)—long enough to make the event feel worthwhile for guests, but not so long they grew tired of listening. In that time, I acknowledged the bookstore, Orca, my immediate family, and the guests in general; shared some back-story; and did two readings, which were approximately eight minutes in total.

Results: Highly effective

Distribute Posters to Schools, Libraries and Small Businesses

  • Orca made posters to advertise the launches and I took them to schools, libraries, and various small businesses (eg. vet clinic, bakeries, small, local supermarkets).
  • I received particularly warm responses at the schools, whose responses included posting my invitation in visible places (parent drop-off spots, in libraries, by the front office), sharing it at staff meetings or morning announcements, and scanning it to the school’s website.
  • I drew in some people this way, especially at schools where teachers and students knew me personally from school visits.

Results: Moderately effective

Prepare Promotional Emails for Area Schools

  • Because Vanish is written for 10- to 14-year-old readers, I targeted both elementary and junior high schools within Edmonton Public School Board.
  • My email included a book synopsis and link to Vanish on Orca’s website, along with the e-vite to my launch. I also mentioned my past work within EPSB in the hopes that this might recall some previous teaching connections.
  • The only schools that replied back to me were those where someone in the front office or the principal knew me. Did the others simply hit the ‘delete’ key? Perhaps.

Results: Minimally effective

Submit Invitations to Online Community Postings

  • I relied on this step for my “away” launch in Kingston, posting the e-vite on an online guide in nearby Napanee. Because I am a Queen’s University graduate, I was also permitted to post on Queen’s Community Events page.

Results: Somewhat effective

Engage with your Audience:

This leads me to the final factor, which I feel was most significant in creating a successful book launch and signing. (Warning: This last factor is not splashy or sexy and can take years to accomplish. But the good news is that many people can put it into practice immediately.)

Talk to students. Engage with others. Tell people what you do.

  • In large part, the people who supported me at my launches are those whom I have come to know personally and professionally over the years.
  • My guests were primarily from the following groups: friends from my current and former communities; my daughters’ friends; my writing colleagues; my husband’s colleagues; friends from the dog park; students from my writing workshops plus friends they brought with them; family members; my grade 13 English teacher; my grade ten history teacher; and my high-school friends who gathered from the surrounding areas and treated my launch as a mini high-school reunion. I am grateful to all of them.

Results:  HIGHEST EFFECTIVENESS

Conclusion:

So did I create the ideal conditions for a successful book launch and signing? Did I find that “perfect storm” that I referenced in the title?

Yes and no….

Check back next Monday (July 8) for part 2 of Karen’s blog post, “In Pursuit of the Perfect Storm.” In part 2, Karen will reflect on the success of her launches and what she’ll focus on next time.

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