To Launch or Not To Launch: A Second Opinion

Regular readers of this blog and those who subjected themselves to all 110,000 words of Self-Printed (edition 2.0, coming at the end of this month!) will know that although I really enjoyed my Real Life launch for Mousetrapped, having it made no business sense. Since I also had it during the volcanic ash cloud debacle and left ordering my stock until the last minute, it also made the days leading up to it some of the most stressful of my entire life. But there’s no denying that it satisfies what is probably the main reason we’re all doing this crazy self-publishing thing—having a launch does make you feel like a “real author”. Sometimes that—and the publicity having a launch can bring—make the cost worth it. But how do you decide whether or not a launch is for you?

Alison Wells recently had a Real Life launch for her novel, Housewife with a Half-Life, so I asked her to share her thoughts (and her pics!) on the day. Welcome (back!), Alison…

Why I’m glad I did a bookshop launch

Followers of Catherine Ryan Howard’s ebook adventure and readers of Self-Printed will know that Catherine enjoyed the book launch for her first book Mousetrapped but all in all felt that she wouldn’t go that route again.

When invited to hold a bookshop launch for my debut self-published book Housewife with a Half-Life in a local store, I thought about the pros and cons. I’m here to say why, on balance, that while there are many arguments against a bookshop launch for the self-publisher, I’m glad that I went ahead.

First, the facts in black and white:

Having a bookshop launch is exhausting.

These are some of the tasks that need to be done ahead of time:

Organise books: While CreateSpace, the POD company I used, have many distribution channels, the Irish ones are not included in this. So it was necessary to send off (and pay for) a consignment of books upfront and then organise to get them to the bookshop.

Arrange publicity: I created a press release and emailed as many of the local papers, radio stations etc as I could. I also sent a copy of the book out to selected media people. I invited people through text, email and social media. This was a big job. I also organised a speaker, some refreshments etc.

These activities were all done in tandem with an online launch and blog tour marketing and publicity were all encompassing.

Having a bookshop launch is not lucrative.

The margins on self-published paperbacks are very tight but once the bookseller has taken their percentage of the recommended retail price (anything from 40 to 50 percent) then the profit margin on your book from any sales on launch day will be very slim even if you get lots and lots of people to come. I also ordered invites and postcards which cost quite a bit.

Publicity does not always work.

I did not get the local paparazzi arriving or a write up in any of the papers (that I know of). Perhaps they had other things to go to on a Friday evening. I was so exhausted in the followup that I haven’t yet got around to sending them a picture of the launch.

Why on earth do you think a bookshop launch was a good idea then?

Leverage

The fact that I had been asked to have the launch in the first place by a well-known local chain (Hughes & Hughes in Dublin) allowed me to approach other bookshops and I was later able to stock my book in another local shop. The prestige of having a launch in a well-known shop also added credentials to my self-published venture, especially since this was my debut launch.

Some publicity

I have since been asked to go on a radio show. My book also received a mention in the beach reads of a National Newspaper following a launch invite. Hughes & Hughes books also did a lot of promotion pre-launch including a write up on their own website, Dundrum shopping centre website and public information boards.

‘Exposure’

By having an actual real world event and a paperback that I could carry around with me it was easier to explain to real world people that I had a book out. Many people who knew me did not know I was a writer but coming up to the launch it was obvious the word had got around and I was congratulated on the street. Being a mother of young children, the strength of the network of women (many book club members) in my local town became obvious. Many of these people came to the launch or purchased the book subsequently. Although the self-publisher is often looking to breakthrough in the online world, I think that the word of mouth factor is also important and I was able to utilise that in a large real world network. The launch was a fantastic event, my guest speaker (Irish bestselling author Colette Caddle) was wonderful and having a wide variety of people there to celebrate my first steps as a published writer was a great boost for the future. I also sold (and signed) about forty books that I may not have otherwise have sold. I was able to build relationships with booksellers and become known as a writer.

Conclusions

You won’t make money out of a book launch, you may even lose money if you don’t watch your costs. However if you look at a book launch as a profile builder and marketing tool then you can see it as an investment for the future and its value will be harder to quantify. For many first time self-publishers breaking even after editing, design and launch costs might seem a failure but if you have raised your profile and forged relationships it might be an investment worth making.

Thanks, Alison and great pics! So what you do you think—to launch or not to launch?

Alison Wells is a psychology and communications graduate and Irish writer of flash fiction, short stories and novels. Her short stories have appeared in many zines and anthologies including National Flash Fiction Day’s  Jawbreakers. Her comedy novel as A.B. Wells Housewife with a Half-Life is available in Hughes & Hughes and Dubray Books, Bray in Ireland, Amazon Paperback  and Kindle US/IRL  and for Kindle UK. Her new short story collection, Stories to make you go ‘ah’, is available now from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.ukShe blogs at www.writing.ie in Random Acts of Optimism and at www.alisonwells.wordpress.com.

18 thoughts on “To Launch or Not To Launch: A Second Opinion

  1. Lauren Clark says:

    I agree with Alison…book launches and book signings are a HUGE amount of work!!! However, at my last book signing, I made a lot of great connections just chatting with people about what they like to read (not about my book, unless they asked).

    I also held a raffle/giveaway and had people check a box on the entry form if they wanted to be added to my very infrequent newsletter. While I only sold 9 books in 2 hours, I did add almost 20 people to my newsletter, and was able to snap a few photos of my books in the store window (fun!)

    • alisonwells says:

      That’s very interesting about the newsletter Lauren. I think there’s so many ways that events can work for us and not always in the ways we first imagine.

  2. Marcia says:

    I think the positives and negatives balance out. I guess it depends, also, on where you live. I’m in a tiny college town right now. I wouldn’t expect to get many visitors and there is only one small indie bookstore…no chain stores. The opportunity for connections here wouldn’t be so good. Launching in my hometown, a mid-size city, would work better as far as connecting with people and selling a few books. I guess it boils down to a personal decision. I like that you presented both sides of the issue. Thanks!

    • alisonwells says:

      One big plus for both the bookshop and for me as an author was the local people could bring to the store including neighbours, friends but also a large circle of colleagues and friends from Twitter. Being close to a city there was a greater pool of people to draw on. As you say, it depends on circumstance. There are all sorts of events where you can sell books face to face as well as bookshop launches.

  3. Angela Orlowski-Peart says:

    I think the most important thing for an author is to build lasting relationships with the readers. Bookstore signing might not sound like a lucrative venue, but if we treat our publication and marketing efforts as business, then investing into a start-up company makes sense. No successful business can take off without up front monetary and time investment.

    • alisonwells says:

      Hi Angela, that’s exactly the way I think we need to look at things. Some upfront investment is required, even if we don’t see the immediate payback. This is especially true if it’s our first book.

  4. Sumiko Saulson says:

    How timely this is for me: I have my first book reading/singing event for my first book, Solitude (Apocalyptic Sci-Fi/Psychological Horror) (which has now been out an entire YEAR) at a book shop on October 30th. The shop owner had a novel (pun intended) notion that having a horror author read on the night before Halloween would be cute and somehow appropriate. I decided to just roll with that, so now I am giving away bookmarks and pencils for the kids (there might be candy) and having a costume contest where people can win a t-shirt and a book, because why not? However: of course it will cost me money to print t-shirts, give away a book, and give out goody bags. Mostly, I hope this will be fun and increase neighborhood exposure. I’m reading with another writer (dark fantasy/sci-fi) that night. Wish me luck.

    Rather than having a live launch for my short story collection “Things That Go Bump In My Head” I decided to time it for the same day, so it will have a virtual launch and appear in bookstores on the same day as this first reading. I’m an author who mostly sells paperbacks locally, so this makes some sense for me: I need local exposure.

    If most of my sales were eBook, I am not sure I would try. It’s a neighborhood bookstore so their is the added joy of getting to know my neighbors better.

    • alisonwells says:

      Hi Sumiko. I would love to hear how you get on with your launch, it sounds really fun and I think will generate both goodwill and a great atmosphere that will associate with you and your book. I hope you have a wonderful time at your launch and reading.

      • Sumiko Saulson says:

        Thanks! I’ll let you know how it goes. Right now I am doing all the warm up stuff with monthly contests… which, this month is “horror haikus”. Sometimes I wonder if I am going to regret being so campy in my Public Relations. Heh. Probably not.

  5. mwheelaghan says:

    A great post. I agree I think a launch is well worth it, not only do you sell some books (usually!) that you would not have otherwise sold, you are developing a relationship with both the bookshop and your readers, which is essential for future sales. Plus, you don’t know where it can lead – when I launched my book someone from the library came to hear me speak – she attends all new writers’ launches. She liked what she heard and invited me to have an event at our main library. Nearly two years later I’m bringing out my second book out and launching it in the same very helpful bookshop – but I also have five events lined up in the local libraries and have various further events in the pipeline. Also, don’t forget not all bookshops support self-published/Indie published writers, so if you are lucky to have a bookshop support your launch, I’d jump at the chance every time 🙂

    • alisonwells says:

      This is a really positive response. There are a lot of follow up opportunities that can come of a real launch. Your extra events sound just great in keeping your book in the public eye. Good luck with it all.

  6. Charmain Z. Brackett says:

    I launched my first book, The Key of Elyon, on July 5, 2012. It was published on June 1. My story is different from most. A local business has a special after business hours’ event each month. The business owner approached me to do the book signing as an added attraction to her regular event. She’d heard that I was writing a book via Facebook. My brother, who designed my cover, is a well-known local artist so he attended the event as well generating even more interest. She already did monthly advertising for the event so I didn’t have to buy ads.She included my brother and me in her ads.
    I write for the local newspaper, and I was included in a story about first-time book authors. The story ran the Sunday before the launch, and there was a blurb about the signing. Also, our arts’ council has a weekly radio broadcast focusing on arts’ related events in the community. I was interviewed on that show about a week before the event.
    Yes, I did have to order books upfront; however, when it came to publishing my book, I am the publisher. I bought my own ISBN and bar code and found my own people to do the editing and design work. As a result, I have a better profit margin, and I get to keep more of the profits when I do events like this. I just buy them at cost from the printer and sell them at retail price. The store took a small cut, but it wasn’t huge. And as luck would have it, the warehouse the books ship from is in a city only about two hours from my house. The merchandise gets produced, shipped and to my door quickly.
    There was a steady stream of customers who usually attend the monthly event, and many of them bought the book. Plus, I had friends who waited to buy the book until the launch party. People like meeting an author and getting a signed book. It’s special to readers.
    I felt the book launch was successful, and I definitely plan to do it again.

    • alisonwells says:

      Hi Charmain. The buildup you had for your launch and the surrounding support and publicity are a great example of how a launch can really work. Your printing and shipping options are great too. Thanks for sharing how well your launch worked for you.

  7. Sharon says:

    This post really got me thinking. I WAS leaning toward not doing anything, a little bit out of laziness, a lot out of shyness (what on earth would I DO for such an event), and the rest out of a sense that my little hometown is just not that important in the bigger picture of the great Amazon empire.

    Once my mind set shifted – maybe it would be a cool thing to do – this little flood of ideas rushed in…maybe visit mom in Seattle and do book signing at the new age shops there …and what about my brother in San Francisco….my friend in NY…. Nice to break out of ennui about this. Thanks!
    Sharon Rose Summers

  8. theanxiouschild says:

    Great! I really enjoy reading this creative blog and the comments! I also got some really good information. I am planning to order the backpacking adventures book and will visit again soon! Vivian

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