Much of this advice also applies to book signing events.
I was a basket case leading up to the release of my book. My stress level reached 2.5 on the wedding-day jitters scale, equal to 3.2 oh-god-it’s-the-math-final-exam-and-I-never-showed-up-to-class nightmares.
Publishing a novel was terrifying for me. I was confident that it would succeed, but there was still that nagging doubt that I was deluding myself. What if my beta readers lied to me? What if I’m not just the hack fraud I know myself to be? What if I’m a talentless hack fraud? Added to the usual anxieties of an event like this–What if no one shows up? What if I forget to zip my fly again?–it was enough to keep me up at night.
My wife was a big help; she prepared great snacks and was kind enough to handle the kids (it was important to me that they be there). I combated my anxiety by taking control of what I could and trying to forget about the rest. Here are a few things I did to get ready for the event. I’m talking about an in-person launch, not a virtual/online launch, which I didn’t pull off nearly as well. But my meat-space book launch was phenomenal.
When and Where: Choose the Right Venue
I decided there were two ways to handle a book launch party: (1) a private event, where I beg all my friends and family to show up, or (2) a public event, where I beg all my friends and family to show up, but I also have the opportunity to sell books to the public. If I were traditionally published, I might have gone with option 1. But I need all the exposure I can get, so I went with a public event.
You want a place with plenty of foot traffic, and where people are thinking about buying stuff. My grandfather-in-law Ken Wampler has a gallery at the Sunset Galleries, which is an old mall that’s been converted into studio and gallery spaces. It’s well known around town because of the Art Walk, a free event held the first Friday of every month. Ken was generous enough to let me set up shop in his gallery, and I sold books to familiar and unfamiliar faces all night. Many of the galleries have snacks for people, and the cupcakes my wife made also brought in folks.
It was a successful venue choice for me because it’s a recognizable location and there would be a crowd even if no one I invited showed up. Which brings me to the next thing.
Getting People to Show Up
Everyone who cares about you needs to know about your book launch.You want to get the word out through social media to the point where you’re worried you might be annoying. You know when your Facebook friends keep talking about their wedding or the imminent birth of their child? This is that important, and you shouldn’t feel bad for being excited, because it’s no one’s job to be excited for you. Whatever you’ve got, make it an invitation to your launch. Twitter, your mailing list, everything.
The most successful ways I reached out to people was in person and through Facebook, and I think I pulled it off without being annoying. If I talked to someone in the couple of months leading up to the launch, you can bet I mentioned it. As for Facebook, I invited everyone on my fan page and everyone on my friends list. Was it a bit spammy? Maybe. But this was a major milestone for me, and if people can’t be bothered to know about it, do I really need them as a friend?
I also sent out press releases, which actually netted me an interview with a local radio station, Mix 94.1, which was cross-posted to its sister stations. I’ll go into detail on press releases another day, as it was worth the time I put into it.
All of this effort meant that I had a huge group of encouragers and supporters show up for my launch, in spite the terrible storm we had that night. If you have enough people planning to come, you’ll survive missing the folks that couldn’t make it but wish they could.
There were many people who showed up because they’d heard about it from someone else. It would be worth your time to make a list of people that would tell others to come, and make sure they know the details whether they can come themselves or not. It could be worth making flyers just to pass on to these type of people.
THINGS I COULD HAVE DONE BETTER: If I’d had time, I could have posted flyers at local libraries and coffee shops. I was just too slammed for time to do it properly. And as I said, I didn’t really do any kind of virtual launch party, and I should have. I also didn’t post on community event bulletin boards or Craigslist, although I did post on my local subreddit.
The Pen is Mightier: Getting Ready to Sign
My penmanship brought my elementary teachers to tears. Realizing a major component of my authorial first impression would be how I signed my book, I needed to take drastic measures.
I bought a reasonably-priced fancy pen–TWSBI Diamond 580 Clear Fountain Pen, 1.5 mm stub nib–and a bottle of J. Herbin olive-colored ink. You can also get very cheap, usable Chinese fountain pens from eBay if that’s your thing. I practiced my signature like a middle-school kid. Armed with a list of my favorite quotes, I was ready to inscribe me some books. Quite a few folks complimented the presentation, which is the most narcissistic thing I’ll say today.
When you sign a book for someone, talk to them. This is your chance to gather information for when you eventually steal their identity. Ask who you want it made out to. Be sure how to ask how to spell their name, even if it seems obvious. If it’s a couple and it seems appropriate, ask if you should make it out to both of them.
Being Seen: Signage and Such
Make sure people know what you’re doing. Have as huge a stack of your books as you can get. I had a large canvas version of my book cover, which attracted a lot of attention. I made a cool sign using old frames and chalkboard paint, but it broke as I loaded it into the car! Maybe I’ll post it once I get it fixed.
You can also get a retractable display by googling or shopping locally. It’s basically an upside down projector screen, with the screen being the sign. They look first rate, are very affordable, and you can print different signs to reuse them. I’ll probably get a couple down the line.
You’ll also want to have your business cards available. Little stands for cards, prices, and a hashtag are available at office supply or craft stores. I also printed up several of the masks from my book cover and put them on sticks for photos. It looked cool, but not many people took advantage of it.
You need a way to keep track of sales. I had a tally mark system that fell apart as soon as things got hectic, but I was able to track my numbers by the number of books I had left and the amount of money I took in. I had a receipt book, but no one wanted a receipt.
Make sure to have prices visible, and make them round numbers if you don’t want as much hassle with change. I rounded to the the nearest $5, so I only needed $5 bills for change. Make sure you have something to keep your money in–it would be real easy for it to walk off.
You need a way to take debit or credit cards. The most popular way is to use Square or Paypal on your smart phone. They provide a free card scanner that plugs into the headphone jack. Make sure you can get a signal where you’re at, or get access to the Wi-Fi.
Are You Selling Digital Copies in Person?
I’ll go more in depth on this with another post (Here it is! – future Ryan), but I sold digital copies at my launch. I printed up postcards with the cover on one side and contact info on the other, which gave me something to sign (I used a silver Sharpie). People that purchased the digital book put their email on a list and had the option to opt into my mailing list. I later emailed them the mobi and epub files and instruction on how to install them on most devices.
I no longer sell digital files directly, because I’ve become part of the Kindle Select program.
Take a Deep Breath and Have Fun!
Once you’re there and set up, most of the stress is no longer applicable. Relax, spend time with friends and family, and meet some new people that might become your biggest fan. Encourage folks to post to social media and leave honest reviews when they’re finished. You’re usually working alone in the dark, so have a good time being an author in public.