A good book launch party should be about the guests as much as it should be about your personal achievement. Your guests are there in support of you, so make sure you greet them with food, drink, entertainment, free swag, and the chance to win prizes.
The preparations are a lot of work, but this step-by-step checklist should help reduce that feeling of floundering aimlessly as your launch day approaches. Start planning 3-4 months in advance, and don’t be afraid to accept help from those who offer.
Click the image to see the graphic, or click here to download the PDF. Read on to see my thoughts and recommendations for each list item.
1. Order copies of your book
Yes. This is step one. Can you imagine having launch day arrive only to realize your paperbacks are still with the UPS guy? Good lord.
Order lots. There’s no such thing as too many books. Some people will buy more than one copy.
2. Pick the date and time
Plan to send out invitations 6 weeks in advance. As for day of the week, I recommend having the party on a Thursday night (one that isn’t before a long weekend). Thursday is a good night for people to go out, but you won’t be competing with their weekend plans.
The party should be short and sweet, e.g. 7pm-9pm. Two hours seems just long enough to get all activities in, but not so long as to make guests feel aimless and awkward.
3. Book the venue
Many locations can be suitable for a launch party:
- Bookstore / library. Free for you, but attendance will likely be lower because it’s not a place that promises a rockin’ party with food, drink, and chatter.
- Coffee shop, restaurant, lounge, etc. This will cost you money and will likely come with a food and beverage minimum, but the cost is worth it. People will be excited to come hang out, eat food, and socialize in a venue like this. I had my launch party at a restaurant, and turnout was so good we filled the lounge area. Though it’ll stretch your budget a little, a restaurant is my recommended venue. Besides, your book launch is the moment you’ve been waiting for, so I say spend the money and go for it.
- Amenities room or community hall. This will cost less than a restaurant/lounge, but like the bookstore/library venue, this isn’t a place people consider a rockin’ place to go hang out. Make sure you advertise that you’ll be offering food and beverages, prizes, etc.
- Somewhere creative, perhaps fitting the theme of your book. If you live in a place where it doesn’t rain 364 days a year, you might consider having it outside in the summer. Me, I originally wanted to have the Ice Massacre launch at the Vancouver Aquarium. Alas, it costs approximately twelve bajillion dollars to rent a party room there. If you can find a reasonably priced, creative venue that aligns with the themes in your book, this could be a favourable option.
At this point, you’ll need to give the venue an estimate of the number of guests. This is tough when you haven’t invited anyone yet. Plan for one in every 4 or 5 people you invite. Likely you’ll be able to get back to the venue two weeks prior with a more accurate estimate.
4. Make a Facebook event
A Facebook event is the easiest way to invite a bunch of people and track their RSVPs. It encourages friends to invite other friends, and you can post updates directly to the event page. If you make the event public, strangers will be able to see it, too.
Once the event has been created, use a URL shortening service to make a custom shortlink for the event.
For reference, here was my Facebook event: bit.ly/mermaidparty
5. Invite your guests
Invite every single one of your friends and encourage them to invite their friends. Invite your family, coworkers, everyone you have on every social network, your editor, your strata council, your barista, and strangers in the street. Add it to local event calendars and newspaper calendars.
6. Promote the launch party
Make a graphic for the front page of your website, so it’s the first thing people see on landing. Update your social media headers. (I like using Canva for graphics.) Beg for RTs. Whatever you can come up with. You might consider paying a small amount to promote the Facebook event, or promoting a Tweet targeted at people who like books in your city.
Craft a press release and send it everywhere
Write an attention-grabbing press release, then send it to newspapers, TV, radio, HARO, PR Log, local clubs, TheCanadianPress.com, etc. You can also invite the media personally by sending letters to news anchors and other local public figures. Honestly, this didn’t actually work for me, but that’s not to say it won’t work for you. It’s worth the effort, on the chance that they do pick it up.
Put up flyers around the area and on community corkboards
You’re a writer, not a graphic designer, so for things like this you might want to use Fiverr. Then take a Saturday off 2-3 weeks before the party and put these everywhere. Example flyer:
7. Order swag
I used Six Cent Press for pins. They went over well and are quite cost effective. You could also do bookmarks. Everyone who comes in the door should get something.
8. Arrange food and drink, including cake
You must have food and drink available. I recommend offering a selection of appetizers and a free drink ticket to everyone who enters. Yes, wine/beer for adults. Alcohol makes people feel like they’re having fun. It’s science, or something.
“A party means good food, good music, and good company.”
– My mom
If you’ve chosen a restaurant as your venue, they’ll take care of the serving part for you. The staff at my venue were very helpful and my guests raved about the food. There was also a limited menu available if people wanted to purchase more food in addition to the appetizers. I’m not sure if anyone did this, but I think it’s important that the option was there.
Of course, you’ll need a cake, because every party needs cake. You can get your book cover printed on a rectangular ice cream cake, or you can get themed cupcakes, or whatever you want, really. I had sea-themed cupcakes. And they were delicious.
9. Make posters / banners
First, you’ll need a giant banner with your book cover on it.
I just want to take a second to brag about this brilliant idea I had. I was ordering a 24″ x 36″ book banner through Staples, and had the option to add a Foam Core mount. This essentially means the poster is made thick and solid. So I decided to print my full cover horizontally. When I got it, I used a knife to make slits down the back of the foam core along the spine, and bent the poster along the spine so it became a giant book. Brilliant, right?! It looked great.
Second, print a few pages to stick up that encourage people to use the event hashtag. Example:
10. Buy raffle prizes
Gadgets, signed jerseys, live fish, gift cards, candy, mugs …
If you can find people to donate prizes to your cause, all the better for your budget.
11. Buy decorations
If you want your party to have a theme, buy a few decorations. I had seashells, fishing nets, etc. I also dressed up as a mermaid, and had some tails made and convinced my cousins to pose as “real mermaid guests”. I do recommend trying to arrange some kind of entertainment / photo op, because this went over well.
12. Buy any other supplies you might need
- Fresh signing pens.
- Raffle tickets. Get these at a party store.
- Fishbowl, for drawing the raffle tickets.
- Change / small bills and a change box, for when people buy a copy of your book and only have a $50 on them.
13. Arrange a microphone
Unless you have a karaoke machine, you’ll have to rent a mic so people can hear you. You might be able to arrange this with the venue. (Make sure they know how to use it though. I had a moment of panic when I got there and the mic was complicated as heck and nobody there knew how to use it.)
14. Get 1-day special event insurance
Cover yo’ ass. Get special event insurance. For me this was under $200, and worth the comfort that if someone showed up drunk and did something stupid, I wouldn’t get sued.
In general, having proper legal coverage is important for an author. We sign a lot of documents throughout our writing and publishing careers, and fine print is dark magic. It’s wise to have a lawyer look these things over. This can be very affordable if you use something like LegalShield.
15. Enlist help
Recruit a few close friends to help you on launch day. You’ll need someone to:
- Sell books (you’ll be too busy).
- Greet people at the door and give each guest a raffle ticket, swag, and drink ticket.
- Take photos.
- Assist with set-up and take-down.
16. Prepare a speech and practice it
Yes, we are all authors here, and we all hate public speaking. But at the very least, your speech should thank everyone who needs to be thanked. You might also want to tell a short anecdote or share a bit about your writing process. Talk about what you’d find interesting if you were listening to an author.
Then you’ll do a reading. In my opinion, you should plan to talk for 5-10 minutes and read for 5-10 minutes. Anything longer and people start to lose focus, but anything shorter seems anticlimactic.
17. Schedule social media updates for launch day
You’ll be way too busy to do this on the day of, so use tools to schedule your tweets, blog posts, website updates, and other social media updates beforehand.
I recommend taking a minute to make a nice graphic for the launch announcement, because this is a big deal and you want people to notice it.
18. Final confirmations
Leading up to launch day, confirm anything that needs confirming. Cake arrangements. Number of guests for the venue. You’ll likely have your own supplementary checklist at this point.
19. Launch day things
One last time, let people know that the launch is happening today.
- Post to the Facebook event to share your excitement and remind people what time to show up.
- Submit your event as a ‘tip’ to news outlets. Usually they will have a Tips page on their website, but you can also do this via Twitter.
Here’s what you’ll need to bring:
- Your books.
- Decorations / costume(s).
- Raffle prizes.
- Supplies you bought in step 12.
- A speaker and music (optional, depending on venue).
- Microphone for your speech.
- Posters / banner from step 9.
- Swag (pins/bookmarks).
Now get pumped up! This is your big day! I remember being incredibly excited and incredibly nervous. Part of the nervousness was because I was dressed like Lady Gaga. But I channeled that inner pop star, dammit, and I had fun.
20. During the event: sample schedule
Here’s an example schedule.
- Around 6pm, arrive at the venue to set up, hopefully with a couple of helpers. Set up a table where people can purchase books, and identify the place you’ll stand to make your speech.
- 7pm Guests start arriving. Give people raffle tickets, drink tickets, and swag as they come in.
- Depending on how fashionably late people are, somewhere in the range of 7:30pm-8pm you can make your speech and do your reading.
- Twenty minutes later, do the raffle draw.
- Between and before and after all of that, sign books and talk to everyone and thank them for coming.
- Your scheduled social media updates should fly out automatically during all of this.
- 9pm Thank your guests as they leave, hug them for being such a wonderful part of your life, and call it a night.
- At the end of the night after everyone’s gone home, use a service like Tweetdraw to pick a random winner who used the hashtag. Contact them and deliver their prize.
- Sleep like a rockstar. You did it!
Have you hosted a book launch party? What advice can you share?