This has been a big year of bookish firsts for me. With my first picture book Tulip and Brutus out in the world, I’ve had a deluge of new experiences, from the first time holding the book in my hands, to first bookshop sightings, school visits, author interviews and more. It’s been a wild ride (crammed into the last two months or so) and a lot of fun, but one of the biggest ‘firsts’ was holding a book launch. Err, make that two. The first was at Sydney’s Berkelouw Books (Leichhardt) in their upstairs event space, the second in Melbourne at Ford Street Publishing HQ.
For other first-timers, or even old-timers unsure about the whole launch thing, here are a few tips I’ve learnt along the way:
Have a ‘launcher’ or two
Not keen on the spotlight falling entirely on you? I was always going to be on board with the idea of having other (far more entertaining) people doing the heavy crowd-pleasing lifting. This is where book launchers come in – peeps who do some kind of speech with a bonus little something to make the event memorable. Being one third of a podcasting trio, I felt asking my One More Page podcast co-hosts Kate and Nat to launch my first book was a no-brainer. Kicking things off at the Sydney launch, they wore giant bug costumes, were extremely funny and brought the house down with their unique rendition of ‘I Got You Bug’. It was the best. And all I had to do (for that bit anyway) was sit back and enjoy the show. Perfect!!
At my Melbourne launch, I continued the podcast host theme with Julie and Pamela from Middle Grade Mavens as the launchers. Complete with bug antennae, they did a fun ‘would you rather’ type game then a bookish Q&A with illustrator Andrew Plant and I, and did a fabulous job. I loved the collaborative feel of having other people involved in my launch, and there’s definitely the feelgood factor of other people having your back! As for who you could ask to launch your book – I’ve seen friends have their publisher as their launcher, another author friend, or a writing teacher or mentor. It could be anyone you feel a connection with in the bookish world.
It’s all in the timing. Or not?!
There’ll never be the perfect date or time that suits all of your family and friends. For my Sydney launch, I evaded the school holidays (when by book’s release date fell) due to some people being away, and held it the weekend after the holidays ended. This seemed to make sense, however it just meant there were a different batch of peeps unable to attend. What I’ve learnt from this is not to overthink the date and time. There’ll never be a one-time-fits-all solution, so just take a gamble and hope most of your BFFs can make it! Just for detail’s sake, my Sydney launch was on a Sunday morning, while the Melbourne launch was on a Saturday afternoon. Both seemed to work!
Spread the word (like, really spread it)
For both launches, I whipped up a pretty simple invite on Canva (free) with all the essential info, book cover pic and using colours matching the book. I posted these all over social media, mostly Facebook and Instagram, and also mentioned the events on One More Page and via the pod’s social media accounts too. It ended up being shared by all kinds of people online and even popped up in Pass It On newsletter (without me instigating!). Basically, it was a free for all. I recommend this approach – if I’d kept it a bit more invite only, I’m sure I would’ve forgotten someone anyway, and this way you have a few surprise guests, like friends bringing friends you haven’t seen for a while, or someone deciding to bring their mum. Fun!
Food glorious (theme-ish) food
People young and old LOVE food at book launches. I mean, *really* love food. I had what I thought was an excessive amount of food at both launches and it was absolutely demolished. Theme-ish food is always fun – I didn’t get anything specially made (although I do love a book cover cupcake), as my book featured ladybugs and stinkbugs, and it seemed like an easy enough thing to whip up at home. Think cookies with icing eyes and blue smartie dots for the stinkbugs, and cupcakes featuring little fondant ladybugs miraculously for sale in the baking section at Woollies. Yay! I made a whole lot, then my Mum oddly enough made THE EXACT same kind of ladybug cupcakes without me knowing, plus Oreo ladybug cookies so there was like, double of everything! Then I duplicated the same things for the Melbourne launch (I made them once I got there as I stayed at a friend’s). In addition to that, Ford Street put on a whole lot of other food and even wine and bubbles. Hooray!
Gimmicks and giveaways
This might be my biggest tip of all. Get your gimmick on! Think about what else you could do to shine the spotlight off yourself and onto OTHER THINGS! If that’s how your brain works. My most gimmicky and fun thing (besides the hilarity of my launchers and their shenanigans) was a bug eating game. As my picture book features bug characters, and edible bugs are a thing, I held a game with a spinning wheel (at the Sydney launch) where kids could come up and spin, game-show style, to win a chocolate bug or a real cricket to eat.
I couldn’t lug the wheel to Melbourne, but still ran the same game – the kids just drew a piece of paper out of a box to reveal which bug type they’d won. At both launches, I held a lucky draw prize, the prize being a basket full of buggish things I’d put together (activity books, stickers, lollies, bug toys etc.). And I made some activity sheets for kids to take home – a Tulip and Brutus find-a-word and a maze. I had T&B bookmarks to give away too, supplied by Ford Street. And at the Melbourne launch they also provided another prize for the winner of a T&B themed art contest. I loved the feeling of giving away things – I highly recommend this as a way to engage with everyone there. And who doesn’t love a prize?!
Oh, and one more thing, I have since had a couple of people asking me curiously about the cost factor. Neither launch costed me much at all! The venues were free (bookshops don’t charge money for holding your event there. It’s a huge and instant customer base for them!), and Ford Street hosted my launch in Melbourne, so that was a free venue too. For food, I went homemade, and except for a few fondant bits and pieces the ingredients were mostly lurking in my cupboard anyway. (Or in the case of Melbourne, in my friend Cat’s cupboard, hehe). Invites and publicity were all free, as it was all online only and self-generated.
The only other costs were buying the crickets for the game (I borrowed the spinning wheel), and buying a few inexpensive things for the lucky draw prizes. As for going to Melbourne, I used frequent flyer points and stayed at a friend’s place (who also played chauffeur all weekend, which I’m ridiculously grateful for). So moneywise, it wasn’t actually much of an outlay, bar edible crickets and prizes!
The whole book launch idea all seemed so intimidating to me at first, but in the end I’m glad I launched with a bang. It definitely made my book debut feel more memorable, generated some buzz online, and was a really great way to connect with the bookish community and bring friends together. I hope this gives you a dose of confidence if you’re weighing up whether to have a book launch, particularly for your first book. Afterwards, you may even have a publisher request a phone meeting to discuss your book launch tips, as your pics online make you look like some kind of book launch expert even though you’ve been winging it the entire time. True story!