Do Launch Parties Work?

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Launch parties seem to be everywhere nowadays: at bookstores and libraries, at conventions and on Facebook. Costs range from minimal to pricy, and the effort of planning, promoting and hosting a party is one more thing that takes a writer away from writing. So, are they worth it?

I’ve held and attended a lot of launch parties. On the whole, I’d say that they help to sell books, especially to people who might not have otherwise purchased that particular book. The party atmosphere lends itself to making an impulse purchase amid the food, decorations and festive atmosphere. There’s also a touch of guilt involved; after all, the author is your host, and it would be nice to buy a book to thank him/her. But I think that the real incentive to purchase comes from the ability for readers to feel like they’ve gotten to know the author through the personal interaction and readings at the party.

Launch parties should be festive, but they don’t have to be expensive. At conventions, parties hosted in the con suite or as a room party usually entail refreshments and party goods that can be purchased for less than one hundred dollars, depending on the food served and the number of guests. If the party is held somewhere that requires purchasing food through the hotel, that price rises dramatically.  This is one reason several authors will go together in order to reduce the cost per host. Parties held in private hotel rooms usually feature food brought onto the premises by the host.

Chips, dip and soda are the basics, with cookies, cupcakes, a full sheet cake (often with the book covers as art), veggie tray and cubed cheese and meat with crackers are often popular choices. Alcohol is not required, and may not be permitted depending on the setting. Themed parties may serve a food from a particular region or connected in some way to the book. If you’re driving to the location, and you want to make a real splash, crockpots make it possible to serve up previously fried and sauced chicken wings, meatballs, chili, queso dip, and other more substantial foods. Don’t forget to include plates, cups, napkins, forks and decorations, as well as bookmarks and other promotional materials and have plenty of your book on hand to sell.

Remember that the goal of a launch party is to raise the visibility of your book and hopefully sell copies right at the event. It’s a good idea to plan on doing several short readings, and to be prepared to talk about the book, its setting and characters and other Q&A topics with attendees. Trivia contests for chocolate candy prizes like Hershey’s Kisses keep things lively. If you do a book giveaway, try to do the drawing for books other than the one launching, because you want people to buy that new instead of waiting to see if they’ve won it as a prize.  Make sure you have free swag like bookmarks and postcards on hand, because not everyone will buy right then, and you want them to remember your book for when they are ready to purchase.

Most authors supply their own books for sale, but realize that means you’re not only hosting, you’re also minding the cash box, making change and tallying up sales. An increasing number of states have gotten a lot stricter about making sure that anyone selling–at the vendor room tables or in-room–has purchased a state sales license in order to recoup sales tax. While those licenses are usually around fifty dollars, that can put a big dent into your profit if you only sell a few books, and the paperwork is a pain. On the other hand, you really don’t want to be on the wrong side of the IRS.

One way around the hassle of selling your own book at the party is to recruit the convention bookseller to help. That may entail working out a way for the bookseller to take your books on consignment, or if they’re willing, having them order your book from the wholesaler.  Working with a bookseller not only simplifies the process and frees you to focus on greeting your guests, but it also builds a valuable relationship with the bookstore, and generates royalties for you on your non-consignment sales.

In addition to the visibility of the party itself, a launch party may show up in the convention program if it’s set up through official channels. As with official readings and signings, a party is one more reason for people to notice you and your book from seeing it in the program. Posters or signage that you put up to invite con goers also increase your visibility, even for people who don’t make it to the party.

Facebook launch parties are usually a one-day Facebook event, promoted in advance. An author typically lines up a number of their author friends and invites each person to be the featured guest of a half an hour of the party. The hope is that the host and all of the guests will draw their own readers to the party, benefitting both the host and all the other guests. During the party, the authors answer questions, do giveaways and host contests, interact with attendees and with each other and just have fun. It pays to invite author guests you know well and with whom you can banter, just to keep the energy level high. Post lots of photos–these can be of your books, yourself, your pet, what you’re eating or drinking (like virtual party noshes) and fun memes. Don’t view it as a time to make a lot of direct sales, but do keep bringing attention back to your book.

One of the coolest things about Facebook launch parties is that they remain viewable after the interactive portion of the party is over, unless you take them down. So while your author guests may no longer be answering new questions, all of the posts from the live party remain searchable and people who could not attend can still catch up on the highlights. You can see my two most recent Facebook launch parties here:  Iron & Blood party and  Deadly Curiosities party.

The biggest caveat for launch parties is to keep a sense of scale for your costs. It’s always fun to throw a party, but do the math and figure out how many copies you have to sell to pay for the shindig. Yes, you hope to win new readers for life, but don’t throw a more lavish party–in real life or online with ads–than you can hope to recoup. Remember–good friends, and the best readers–are just as happy to hang out over chips and soda as over expensive nibbles. Focus on the content of the party more than trying to impress people with the noshes.

Bring your book posters and signs, and either set up the banner stands or tape them to the walls with blue tape. Have lots of bookmarks. Plan several short readings–about 5-7 min each to keep people focused. Talk about the books as well, sharing some tidbits about what was going on with you when you wrote the book, background of the characters, little extras people might not notice on their own, as well as your inspirations and influences. The guests who are most likely to become your readers and fans just want to spend some quality time with you and have some fun, so don’t get so wrapped up in the preparation that you forget to be a good host and enjoy your own party!

And if you want to see how a launch party at a convention goes in real life, join us at Congregate this coming weekend! John Hartness, Darin Kennedy, Matt Saunders, Chris Kennedy and I are all doing a joint launch party with food and fun and books!

Here’s my Congregate schedule:

 

Dead is Dead 1pm Friday
Weird Wild West (m) 4pm Friday
Defining Rogues 5pm Friday
Kickstarting Things 6pm Friday
Privilege: The Prince and the Pauper (m) 8pm Friday
Reading 9pm Friday
Dr. Who through a Woman’s Eyes 10pm Friday
Signing 10am Saturday
Live Action Slush Pile 2pm Saturday
Book Launch 4:30pm Saturday
Broad Universe Reading 8pm Saturday
Signing 10am Sunday
Absinthe and Airships 11am Sunday
Beyond Spandex Studs (m) 1pm Sunday

 

If you want to see more of the fal-der-a I do for a launch, check out my homepage, www.AscendantKingdoms.com and see what’s going on right now!

Speaking of launches….Iron & Blood, our new Steampunk book, is now in stores and online! So if you like airships, mad scientists, Gatling guns, carriage chases and clockwork zombies in an alternative history Pittsburgh of 1898, please take a look! I&B final cover

Shadow Garden, the first Deadly Curiosities Adventure of Season 2 is also now on Kindle, Kobo and Nook! And the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures short stories finished up Season 2 with two recent stories, so summer is a great time to get caught up! Shadow Garden

Watch for a slew of other new books launching right about now by John Hartness (In the Still of the Knight), Lou Anders (Nightborn), Chris Kennedy (The Search for Gram), Clay and Susan Griffith (The Undying Legion).

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