(5 Ways to Plan a Success-Guaranteed Book Launch Event)
I am no marketing genius, and though I’ve written fifty books, I still have much to learn about author and book publicity. But I nonetheless had a great time launching my book, The Bard and the Bible: A Shakespeare Devotional, a book of daily reflections drawn from a quote from Shakespeare and a verse from the King James Version of the Bible (which were both created in the same period, country, and city). I felt like I finally did some things right (quite uncharacteristic of me), and learned a few things, such as the following:
Go where people are
I’ve done so many book signings, and while some went better than others, they were more stressful than successful. I hated having to call in favors and twist arms to get people to come to the book signing. Yuck. But for the launch of The Bard and the Bible, I thought, Why try to get people to come to me when I could go to them? What that meant for a book that draws from the works of Shakespeare was getting permission to schedule my launch events at free “Shakespeare in the Park” performances near my home (with permission from the theater company and venues, of course). Since hundreds of people attend these free performances, I had a ready-made crowd of people who presumably were already interested in my subject.
Of course, it wouldn’t have worked as well if my book were about quilting or zombies. In such cases, of course, it would make sense to plan a book launch at, say, a craft fair or Comic-Con. It takes off so much pressure, instead of trying to attract people (or force them) to come to your event, to simply go to where your “tribe” is already gathered.
Strike a theme
Once I knew my book launch would be held at a performance or two of Shakespeare’s plays, I shopped around for a costume so I could dress as the Bard. I even grew a mustache and beard after Shakespeare’s style, much to my wife’s chagrin.
Costumes aren’t the only way to strike a theme, of course. Posters and banners can be affordably printed these days. If your book is a historical novel, set your theme to fit that period. If you’re launching a cookbook, set up a tasting. If it involves an airplane, make available a paper-airplane-folding station. Think in terms of what will grab people’s attention and draw them to your table, booth, or display (free candy works, too).
Spread the word
Knowing I would have a ready-made crowd at my book launch events took off a lot of pressure, but I still planned my publicity efforts a couple months in advance and used email, website, social media, and affordable paid advertising to let as many people as possible know about the events. I also coordinated with staff at the venues that were hosting the events, who very kindly included my participation in their mailings and other publicity for the events—without charge. I asked specific friends in the area to help me spread the word by sharing and retweeting my announcements, and took care to thank them for their efforts.
These days, of course, you have to be careful not to overload people’s Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds with blurbs about your book launch, but today there are more ways than ever to spread the word economically and effectively.
Hedge your bets
When I first consulted the “Shakespeare in the Park” schedule for my book launch, I had many performances to choose from. I also knew that Friday and Saturday evening shows are better attended than others, but nearly all of the venues are outdoors, which means they are “weather permitting” venues. I did not want my book launch to be rained out. However, I noticed that the Friday after my book’s official release date was in a favorite venue of mine, a beautiful vineyard setting about thirty minutes from my home—and an indoor matinee was being offered the next day! Plus, the Friday performance was Macbeth, while the Saturday offering was Romeo and Juliet. I figured even if Friday’s performance was cancelled, scheduling an indoor venue for the next day was one way to hedge my bets, so to speak. And since they were two different plays in separate parts of the city, I hoped that there would be little—if any—overlap in the crowds (and I was right). Another way I hedged my bets was to enlist my wife and daughter to man the book table so I could be free to wander, hand out printed materials, and engage people’s curiosity (or pity).
Your circumstances will certainly be different. But you can still hedge your bets by thinking through, “What happens in case of rain? Sickness? Traffic? Lost shipments?” and so on.
Give stuff away
One reason book signings can be such a drag is that most people entering a bookstore don’t already know you, but they know you’re hoping to sell them something. But one way to defuse that dynamic at a book launch event is to make it clear you’re giving away stuff—at least some stuff. On the table at my book launch I placed a placard stating, “THESE ITEMS FREE—prithee, help thyself.” On that end of the table was Shakespeare-related merchandise (bookmarks, postcards, etc.) . . . and varieties of Smarties candy (because Shakespeare was a “smartie,” of course, and because chocolate candy melts in August heat). I also made sure my hosts and the director of the play received free copies of the book because, well, one thing could lead to another. I also handed out several hundred full-color cards with the book cover on one side and “fun facts”—along with the book’s landing page web address (www.bardandbible.com) on the other side.
One of my regrets is that I didn’t give away more stuff—and that I didn’t advertise a drawing in exchange for email signups. Next time.
There is, of course, much more I could say, and my efforts were far from perfect. But they did make “much ado” about The Bard and the Bible, so all’s well that ends well.
Really helpful, creative ideas!
Thank you for this practical example of what authors need to be doing to actively promote and tell people about their book–whether it is brand new or has been out in the market for a while. Like PT Barnum said, “Without promotion, something terrible happens. Nothing.”
Straight Talk From the Editor
Thank you, Terry. I’m honored by your comment.
I’d also add “manage your expectations” when doing book signings. If you go into an event thinking you’ll sell X number of books, then you’re setting yourself up for anxiety, stress and most likely disappointment. If you go into a signing thinking, “I can’t wait to meet new people and talk about writing/books,” then you’re bound to have a great time and count whatever sales happen a success–and you’re more able to think clearly afterwards about what went well and what needs improvement for the next time. Overall, I think the key is to focus on what you can give to those who you meet, rather than what they can do/buy from you.
Yes, Sarah, you’re absolutely right. The best book launch event is one that doesn’t depend on a certain level of sales or attendance for “success.” Find ways to have fun and make a favorable impression whoever comes–or doesn’t.
Brilliant! Definitely “much ado about something” and a very creative way to market your book.
Thank you, Esther.
Great thoughts, Bob, and what a cool idea for a book.
May I add a couple of other suggestions?
1) Bring plenty to drink (unless your launch is in a biker bar, in which case the guys, if they like your book, will keep you supplied). Dehydration’s onset can be quick, and brings a headache that can ruin the experience.
2) Breath mints.
3) As you pointed out, bringing a friend or spouse is good, if only because comfort breaks can’t be avoided.
4) Don’t get drawn into a long conversation with one individual; there’s always one who sincerely wants to talk your arm off and whisper in the hole. That kind of thing pushes others away.
Finally, in regard to costume…great idea, BUT if you’ve written a military-themed book don’t wear a uniform (or uniform-like civvies) unless you’ve earned the right. It’ll look wrong because, frankly, it IS wrong; that haberdashery is bought in blood.
It does make me wonder if Anna Sewell came in costume for the release of ‘Black Beauty’; she would, of course, have been the front end of the eponymous horse, which would have let some loyal friend boast ever after of having been a horse’s a** in the service of literature.
“Breath mints.” I don’t think I like the implication, Andrew.
What a great venue for your book! Rodeos for western romance, creative anachronism groups for medieval. Too bad the US doesn’t have Roman reenactments like the UK does. At least New Mexico doesn’t. I already sewed the tunica and palla for genre night at the last ACFW conference. I could wear it to launch my next book in May.
Gothic mansions for vampire novels? Emergency Rooms for medical thrillers? Distant planets for sci-fi? The mind reels.
Emergency rooms are a great idea! You can wait 8 hours to see the doctor if you’re not visibly bleeding. Surely someone would be bored enough to buy almost any book.
So many great suggestions! I’m bookmarking this post for future use. Thank you, Bob!
This is wonderful! Lovely ideas and I love your “Bard costume”! 🙂
Helpful information. Thanks, Bob.
Great suggestions, thank you. I know I, for one, would never pass up a table offering free candy.
The best freebie I ever got at a display table was a 6-inch floating foam alligator. My kids loved it in the bathtub for years. Much better than candy. There must be some way I could adapt that idea to promote my books.
Kathy Sheldon Davis
I’ll be looking for a Bard-like fellow at the OCW conference in August. What better way to draw a crowd to Your Best Book Now coaching class, right?
I have an autographed copy of that devotional, thrilled to know the author and to be able to relate the daily readings to the collection of Shakespeare’s works on my bookshelf.
These are great suggestions and quite original from other posts I have read on the subject. You have inspired me. I am already considering which local venues and events might hold my tribe.
Thanks for giving us an insider’s view and for all the ideas. What prompted me to buy your bard book was your first blog post here. I searched for you on Amazon to see what you’d written, and as soon as I saw Shakespeare in the title, I thought of my husband, who’s a big fan, and bought it for him for Christmas. He tells me the daily readings are very good, so I’ll have to wait until he’s done for my turn. In the meantime, I’m soaking up your blog posts.
I’m glad you included a picture. The display is attractive and appealing. Dressing the part by entering into the theme looks like it would be a good conversation starter and put the potential customer at ease. Like Rebekah M., I’m bookmarking this one too.
Sarah Jane Robinson
I smiled all the way through this post. First off, what a fantastic book idea! Second, thank you so much for providing such useful and highly creative suggestions. You have given me plenty of food for thought. Wishing you continued success in all your marketing efforts, and am adding The Bard and the Bible to my ‘Want to Read’ list.
All the best,
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
What great ideas, Bob! Thanks so much for sharing! You have me thinking now about by books on being Suddenly Single….give away a free divorce? Nope, that would be too expensive. Show up at a funeral? Well, that’s a little on the tacky side…Offer a free coffin? Perhaps I have taken this give-away thing a bit too far, but you do have me thinking more about potential marketing ideas. Thanks for opening my eyes!
Good stuff Bob. Got my finger on the like button.
I love this – thanks for sharing such a creative way for authors to find new readers. Alas, the days stretch long, until we next will meet. See you at Ridgecrest in a few weeks?
Thanks, awesome insight. I’m launching a book this September and will use much of what you suggested.