REPLAY 2011: To Launch or Not To Launch?

Between now and the end of the year I’m going to be using Tuesdays and Thursdays to replay some popular posts from 2011, in case some of the people who’ve discovered my blog in the meantime missed it first time round. Think of it as a “year in review” kind of thing. This was first posted back in February and addresses the question of whether or not real world activities, such as a book launch, have any place in self-publishing, which is best done when confined to online. 

We’re coming up on the year anniversary of me taking the self-publishing plunge with Mousetrapped and now with the benefit of almost twelve months worth of hindsight I can see clearly what I did right, what I did wrong and what I did really, really wrong. (That’s selling books through my website, if you were wondering, and Createspace’s shipping charges is why.) But one of the things I’m still on the fence about is my bookstore launch/glorified signing.

As a self-publishing author, should you have a launch?

Initially I wasn’t going to have a launch at all. I’d wanted to be a writer ever since I found out real, live people were behind the books I loved and so that first book launch, be it a signing or a party, was a Very Big Deal. I wanted to “save” it and not “waste” it on my self-published book which, don’t forget, was nothing much of anything at the time. I wanted my first book launch to be a glittery affair, one that had an agent and an editor on the guest list, complimentary wine and the wearing of an expensive designer dress. (And to be skinny for it, but that’s another story…!) I wanted it to be for a novel someone else had published, not a travel memoir about working in Walt Disney World, NASA and the Ebola virus that I had produced myself.

I took a baby step, and informed my mother we would be having a Florida-themed party in our house to celebrate the book’s release. There would be American flag bunting, tropical themed cupcakes and shortbread cut with a Space Shuttle-shaped cutter. (And it would have been so cool.) But we wouldn’t be able to invite anyone but friends and family, and that would nix any publicity opportunities; you can’t invite your local newspaper’s social diarist to a party you’re having in your house, unless you’re Michael Flatley and your house is Castlehyde. So we decided instead on a bookstore.

I was terrified at the thought of approaching my local independent bookstore, Douglas Bookshop, and asking if first, they’d stock a few copies of Mousetrapped and second, let me have my launch there, but they couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating. And so around lunchtime one Saturday last May, Mousetrapped had its launch-style signing in a brick-and-mortar bookshop. It was great fun, but self-publishing is a business, and with that in mind, was the launch worth having? Did it make financial sense? Did it result in sales, or a loss of profit?

The Arguments For
  • It felt good. I really enjoyed the day and it made me feel like a proper author.
  • It gave my self-publishing operation a sense of professionalism. My books were in a bookstore, I had a well-attended launch and I managed to get some publicity for it.
  • The event got great newspaper coverage locally. There was one piece in my local paper, Cork’s Evening Echo, a couple of days before the launch, another afterwards and then a two-page of photos taking at the launch. It also led to an hour-long radio interview on county radio shortly afterwards.

The Arguments Against
  • It didn’t result in any extra sales, and practically all copies on the day were sold to family and friends, i.e. people who would have bought copies anyway.
  • I made less money from the sales I did make, because instead of selling them to my family and friends directly, I sold them to the bookshop who then sold them to the attendees. The difference in the profit for me was about 30% of the list price.
  • It cost money in other ways. I had to print posters, invites and postcards and order in the stock so I could sell it on (incurring shipping charges).
What Should YOU Do?

I don’t think you should automatically have a launch or signing for your self-published book, but then I don’t think there’s anything self-publishing related that you should do automatically, without any thought. Every single book is different and needs to be treated as such. I think you need to ask yourself, What will I get out of doing this? and when you find the answer ask, Is that what I want?

If all you want is to feel like a proper author for a couple of hours, then go ahead and have whatever sort of launch/party/signing your heart desires. Buy a new outfit, hire a photographer and arrange nibbles. Invite all your friends. It’ll be great fun, but be prepared for it to cost you money.

If what you want is publicity, stick with a signing or “appearance” where maybe you give a little book-related talk and then scribble your name in a few copies. Get in no more stock than you think you can sell and avoid any glossy and expensive extras, such as posters or even invites. Send an e-mail to every editor, radio show producer, social diarist, etc. that you can find and get your mug in the paper, preferably with a hand holding your book up just below it. Take plenty of pictures to put on your website or blog afterwards, and maybe even rope a special guest, such as another writer or a local celebrity connected with your book or your book’s subject matter, into attending and saying a few words.

If it’s sales you after, you’re going to need to do a lot of work. Start with everything above. Then calculate all your costs and work out how many books you’re going to need to sell to recoup that money. Then, get out and sell them. This means hand-selling them at the launch, forbidding anyone you know from buying a copy beforehand (so they buy it on the night instead) and getting as many people you don’t know to attend as people you do. It won’t be easy but it’ll all be worth it if it works.

Good luck!

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