How to Launch a Book

Launching a ship requires a goodly crowd and a large bottle of champagne. Exactly the same principles apply to book launches, though without all the sea-water.  

Daunt Books, Hampstead Heath

I’ll skip the question of whether you “need” a physical launch. I didn’t have a launch for any of my non-fiction books, unless you count one publisher’s lavish effort with a bowl of peanuts and about three people.  

Here’s what I learned from the launch of my novel Hampstead Fever earlier this week.

1 My best tip: share the launch with another author. But no sailing under flags of convenience.  You must like the other author and their book.

I shared Wednesday evening at Daunt Books, Hampstead Heath, with my fellow author Christine Webber. It was her second novel and my second novel, and we’d both had around 12 non-fiction books published already. While Who’d Have Thought It? isn’t much like Hampstead Fever, it’s in the same genre and both make good summer reads.  

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2 Invite people because you like them, not just because they’re “useful”. The second type has a disconcerting habit of finding something more interesting to do on the night. Besides, you’re celebrating your achievements, so you should enjoy the proceedings.

3 Don’t be ill.  I got this terribly wrong last week. On the plus side, some people thought it was a clever marketing ploy.  “So,” said one waggish author friend. “I suppose you’ve got Hampstead Fever?”

4 Have plenty of food and drink. Especially drink.  If you can, have someone to serve people wearing white gloves. Class.

Fron L to R: me, Orna Roass, Jane Davis

From left to right: me, Orna Ross and Jane Davis

5 Take a pen. Of course you’ve already practised your authorial signature and worked out what to write by way of dedications, but something to write with does come in useful.

6 Get someone to take photos. Even better, ask several people, just in case. Make sure they capture the really important shots, eg with your family.

Christine with some friends

Christine Webber with some of her friends

7 Say a few words about yourself and your book.  You might mention the drawers full of unpublished masterpieces, or explain why you write instead of doing something easier, like transplant surgery. Thank key people, but remember it’s not an Oscar acceptance speech. Five to seven minutes will do, especially if more than one person speaks. Christine and I didn’t do readings, but many authors do. At a recent multiple launch, authors from the Triskele collective had others read excerpts aloud, to great effect.

7 Consider getting someone to introduce you and/or field questions from the audience. Someone might want to know how you write (“Is it true that you do your best writing in a rainy orchard with nothing on?”) or whether that scene is based on real life. On second thoughts, skip the questions.

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8 Consider merchandise (bookmarks, pencils and other trifles) or a draw for a book-related prize.  You could also have a slide-show or a book trailer running. The sky’s the limit, really, but it can become tacky, look desperate, or interfere with sheer enjoyment of the event.  

Concentrate on essentials like chilled fizz and plenty of copies of your book, and you’ll have a great send-off for your new title.

Pippa and Bethany of Daunt Books

Pippa and Bethany of Daunt Books

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Getting an Author Photo

Soon after emerging from the editing cave, blinking in the light, came two realizations: I would need to do some publicity, and I needed a new author photo.

It’s like that advert about changing your mattress regularly every eight years, when it dawns on you that the last time was a bit longer ago than you imagined.

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No, the FotoMat won’t do (not that kind of FotoMat, anyway). It’s strictly for driving licences, passports, and the FBI wanted list.

Neither will a selfie taken holding one of your own books and grinning maniacally. And definitely not the charming efforts taken with best mates in a giggly stupor.

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My husband declined to volunteer his skills. I didn’t need high-res images of thumbs. I needed a professional. Enter the brilliant Mat Smith Photography

Two hours with Mat and his assistant Anna taught me a lot. I have yet to study the results, but this I know:

1 There is such a thing as too much sunlight. Who the hell wears sunnies in an author photo?

FreeImages.com/Michell Botetano

2 Have lots of outfits to change into, but don’t use your entire wardrobe. Every single garment you choose for the photoshoot has to earn its keep.  No massive flowers, busy patterns, or shouty diagonal stripes. Consider the image you want to project (friendly, intellectual, offbeat?). Think too about the outfit in its own right. Or, as Mat and Anna would have it, “What does it SAY?” This is the best question I’ve ever heard about clothes, and I plan to take it with me every time I go shopping.

3 Avoid too many props. You don’t need to wear a stethoscope to convince people you’re a medic.

Hewlett Packard Rapaport Sprague stethoscope

4 Smile. It’s your natural face-lift. I base this advice on the fact that I look decades older if I keep a straight face. 

FreeImages.com/hamidreza ahmadi

5 Look into the camera rather than the distant horizon. It will make you look interested rather than aloof. Yes, this applies even if you have one dropping eyelid (most people do).

6 If you pose in the street, people will wonder whether you’re a celeb. It’s neat to have some publicity material to hand them, even if it’s from your last book.

One Night at the Jacaranda