You dreamt of Carrie Bradshaw’s book launch party (with the little shoe cakes!) and now it’s time for one of your very own. How can you make it happen on a shoestring budget? Read on.
1.) Don’t hold your book launch party at a bookstore. It may have been your dream to do this as a kid. Ignore that urge. Many shops book up months in advance and can only be bothered with New York Times bestselling authors, or are in townships with weird fire codes that prevent too many folks gathering in one place. In short, it may be tough to get in.
Also, books are a bookstore’s main business. So you will be sharing your profits with them. This is not usually a bad thing, but if you are trying to keep costs for your party down, it doesn’t help. If your book sells for $10, you may be only getting $6 of that at a bookstore, and $6 might be more than what you paid for your book from your publisher!
Lastly, most bookstores do not allow food or drinks, which can make for a rather dry party. Celebrate your launch elsewhere and then go back to the bookstore later to take a selfie with your book on the shelf.
2.) Instead, think unique venue. Here is a list of great spots for book launches you may not have thought of: pinball arcade, art gallery, bowling alley,
concert hall (on an off night), your backyard, or a restaurant/bar/or coffee shop (preferably with a back room or semi-private area). Why? These places are not in the business of book sales. They may not care if you sell books in their venue, as long as you ask beforehand. You are driving traffic to their business. Someone who comes to a coffee shop might buy coffee! Someone who goes to an art gallery might buy some art!
Also, they may just be happy to have some entertainment at their shop and won’t charge you a fee. This is key. Go to the venue, ask to speak with the manager, or arrange a time later to meet with the events coordinator/manager and talk about your event. Bring a poster or an event plan if you can. Make sure you sound legit. The place might be thrilled to have you perform there and may even want to reserve a section for your crew or make a special cocktail just for your guests to purchase at the event.
Be flexible with your venue and work with them on times. Just like with weddings, it pays to look at other times than Saturday night. How does Thursday night or Sunday afternoon work for you? Also, be sure to check the literary calendar in your area to see that your event isn’t conflicting with that Li-Young Lee reading down the road.
3.) Bring in another performer and an emcee. Notice I said “performer,” not another writer. This is your launch party, and you can let the focus on your writing! However, a guitarist to play background music while you sign books? Yes! A mime, a juggler, your friend who tells (actually funny) jokes? Bring them on! Give them billing on the program, too. This person will draw interest to your event from other genres of art as well. Also, ask a friend to emcee the event. This is so much better than you emceeing. They can introduce you and might even praise your book a bit! It will feel official, like a launch should be. Bonus points? Ask someone who works for your publisher to do it. You’ll feel like a big shot. To compensate the performer and emcee, buy them beers or coffee and profusely thank them.
4.) Use paper invites and publicity. Getting an invitation in the mail makes a splash that no Facebook invite can match. Of course, make the FB event, invite everyone who might be in town, and publicize online. However, use FB to get addresses, and then send postcards in the mail to 50 folks you really want to attend—these might be friends, but also a local alt weekly lit reporter, a mover and shaker in your local literary community, or someone who you’ve published with but never met. Postcards with an event photo, time, and date can be made pretty cheaply at Staples or Office Depot (and even cheaper online at places like Vistaprint). And, this is a little secret, but sometimes schools or banks will let you print or copy these for free—just ask!
While you’re at it, have a few larger scale posters made. In addition to the postcards you send out, plaster some postcards/signs on community boards in the neighborhood where the party is being held. Spend the afternoon talking to salespeople and members of the community and chat up your party. Go with a few friends and make it fun! Invite folks you see. Drop some business cards. Ask if the event venue itself will display one or more of the large-scale posters. In other words, create that buzz.
5.) Hold a raffle and/or giveaway. Spending money on prizes may seem counterintuitive, but raffles and giveaways are great incentive for folks to buy your book at the launch party! Forget door prizes—do a giveaway once someone buys a copy at the party. They might receive a ticket for a free coffee, pastry, soft drink, gelato, etc. Try to keep your giveaways at $3 cash value or under (or whatever feels comfortable), to remain profitable on a book sale. You can work out the ticket system with the venue staff in advance—start a tab and each ticket’s value is charged to that, etc. Remember—it works because you are only paying out if you sell books!
A raffle might be even easier. Anyone who buys a book at the event gets a raffle ticket (or gets to put their name in a hat). Conduct the raffle after the reading has concluded. Have the emcee draw for at least five prizes so attendees have a good shot at winning, and make sure one of those prizes is good and sparkly—like a $25 gift card to the venue (a nice nod to the place you are holding the party). Gather your raffle prizes in advance. Other good raffle prizes? That extra (unread) copy of David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day you have hanging around, a broadside, a copy of books of yours, a collage, etc. Your publisher might even donate a few of their other books for you to raffle off! Everyone loves winning.
Let’s do a cost recap:
Venue and General Food Cost: $0
Postcards, Posters, Stamps: $20-30
Performer and Emcee Food and Drink: $10-20
Raffle or Giveaway Prizes: $40-50
= $70-$100 for the party, not including gas money and profuse thank yous.
So, if you make $9 per book in net profit, you need only sell 11 books to recoup the costs of this party. That’s a reasonable goal, and I think YOU can hit it. Shout out to my husband Scott Semple, who has a marketing background and is in hospitality management, for so many of these ideas. Launch on, authors!
Sandra Marchetti is the author of Confluence, a debut full-length poetry collection forthcoming from Sundress Publications, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry from George Mason University. Eating Dog Press also published an illustrated edition of her essays and poetry, A Detail in the Landscape, and her first volume, The Canopy, won Midwest Writing Center’s Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest. Her work appears in The Journal, Subtropics, The Hollins Critic, Sugar House Review, Mid-American Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, Green Mountains Review, South Dakota Review, Phoebe, and elsewhere. She currently works as a writing teacher and freelance creative manuscript editor in her hometown of Chicago.