Choosing the Right Venue
Gah. What’s more stressful than publishing a book? If you answered promoting that book you’d be right-o. But never fear: we’ve got the deets on how to host a book launch party, and we don’t just stick to in-person spots.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped to highlight a few important elements of the remote world. One of these was that accessibility matters. Hosting an online event means that anyone is able to join, including those with accessibility issues and those who are immunocompromised. It also opens up your launch to anyone around the world, which can help bring your words to a much wider audience than a local launch event.
There are several different online spaces that can be perfect for a launch event. Skype offers the utility of easy access and free-to-use software. The issues with Skype include that it offers limited interactivity when used by large groups, and it requires a quality internet connection to ensure that the reading is not interrupted and doesn’t have too much of a lag.
Another option is Zoom, which offers easy usability and, after the past two years, most everyone is familiar with using it. Some issues with Zoom include a time limit if you use the free version and, again, a somewhat limited ability for guests to interact.
A third option is HopIn, which is also a video conference software. The big plus to HopIn is that it was designed with events in mind, making interactivity much easier. It also is able to support a much larger number of guests. The downsides are that, depending on your number of guests, it can get quite pricey. This is a better option if interaction is important to your launch and you have a larger budget for the event itself.
However, while accessibility and a wider audience are great, there are some hidden negatives to online events. One is that immediate book sales can be limited–as you won’t be able to directly sign books or chat with people at a bookselling table. Ways to overcome this include offering a Q&A at the end of your event, ensuring that links to buy your book are well highlighted and easily available, and to offer incentives if possible (such as a coupon code for anyone who attended the event).
Another downside is the possibility of online harassment. We’ve all heard of Zoombombing, and you may have even unfortunately witnessed this at events. Zoombombing is when someone logs into a publicly available video-event and shouts profanities or otherwise disrupts the event. Ways to avoid this include requiring a password to be entered when someone tries to join the event. Passwords should be sent in emails to people who have registered to attend the event, to ensure that they aren’t publicly displayed anywhere.
These combine the pluses of in-person events while still having the accessibility of an online event. For hybrid events, you will want to choose between live-streaming the event (through any of the video conferencing tools I discussed above) or offering a recording of the event after the fact (such as on your author YouTube page). If live-streaming, people can feel more a part of the event itself, but you do open your event up to the aforementioned challenges.
If recording the event, make sure that you have someone helping you to set up and run the equipment you are using, as doing it yourself can lead to distraction or stress.
One of the biggest downsides of hybrid events is that you will need to find a venue that has room for recording equipment, has plenty of electrical outlets, and also has a strong internet connection.
In-person events offer a great sense of community. They also allow you to directly interact with your readers, and your potential readers. While in-person events can cut down on your accessibility and reach, they offer you ways to build community directly in your own community.
One of the biggest issues with in-person, though, is that you will need to find the perfect event space.
Finding the right event space can take some work, but can also lead to some great moments of kismet. For example you might find a surprising venue to host the event, such as an art gallery. This can be a great symbiotic relationship, because the event brings new audience members in for the art gallery as well and offers beautiful art on the walls for people to admire as they mill about after the reading portion of your launch.
One of the first steps to finding your venue should be: are there event spaces or stores that you enjoy in your community? Local bookstores are great for launches, but you may also have an art gallery or coffee shop where you find particular kinship. Stores can be great event venues because they will often offer low, or even no, prices for you to hold the event there–since it will be bringing in potential customers.
However, there are some important considerations that may shape where you choose to hold your event.
- Is the site accessible? If upstairs, for example, is there an elevator so that guests with mobility issues can still enjoy the event?
- Is there access to a/v equipment, or can you bring your own? Having outlets is something easy to overlook but stressful on the day. Outlets mean that you can plug in a microphone, or plug in any recording equipment that you need.
- Can you move chairs around to create an open space? Even if you are expecting a small turnout, it’s essential to plan for at least 25% more people than you expect. This way you don’t have to worry about there not being enough chairs. Additionally, set chairs up to have a few inches in between and to have clear aisles. It can be disruptive for a late arrival to ask people to move so they can easily access a seat.
- Double-check that you can sell books in the space. Some places have very specific rules (this is often particularly true of bookstores–which may not allow books to be sold that aren’t part of their stock).
- If you are planning on having snacks (and who doesn’t want snacks), then ensure that the event space allows food and beverages. Many places may have specific rules involving alcohol, so it’s often best to avoid it as a beverage option.
If you are unsure of potential event spaces, some simple Googling can often point you in the right direction. Check if local hotels or restaurants offer event rooms, and ask anyone you know who has thrown an event if they had good experiences with their venues.
Getting a sense of the type of event spaces that work for launches often means exploring around and noting down any features that are important for you. For example, if you want to go big in New York City, a classic choice for any book lover is the event space at the New York Public Library. Haymarket House, in Chicago, offers a charming event space with a long history. For an accessible and customizable event space in Philadelphia, be sure to check out Open Space. If you’re going for an elegant party vibe, and want the option of catering, places like Marigold Event Space in San Francisco offer a more complete experience. If you’re going for the feel of a party with friends, then the Loft at 8th Avenue in Portland is a great choice for an event space with offered catering and plenty of conversational seating.
While choosing the style event you will be holding is a big first step, there’s more to decide.
Should your event have a theme? Themes can be fun ways to help with planning as it creates a unified idea for each decision: from other readers who use similar themes in their writing to filling up swag bags for your guests.
For instance, if your book is about the future, you might choose to go with a theme that plays on that idea. This could include snacks shaped like Magic 8-Balls and swag bags featuring different fortune-telling objects: a Tarot card designed for the book, fortune cookies, and even fortune-telling fish toys.
While themes can be a fun way to celebrate, a theme can be limiting if your book covers a lot of different topics/ ideas.
Fun With Friends
One consideration is also whether you want to invite other writers you admire to share your stage. This is a fun way to build a sense of community, to help promote other writers, and to give you some relief if you’re shy of the spotlight! Some things to consider: do your ideal readers have their own books coming out soon? Are they with the same press as you? If so you can save costs by doing a dual event launch or you can double-up on exposure and do a reading-slot-swap so you read at each other’s events.
One important factor: know the people you’re reading with. If they write in a style that you’re uncomfortable with or that doesn’t fit your vibe (ie: if they write with a lot of profanity and you’re planning a family friendly event), then it might be best to avoid co-reading with them.
Getting the Word Out
Now that you’ve planned the basics, it’s essential to start planning publicity for the event itself. There are many ways to bring an audience to you, but they often take some advance warning. If you are active on social media, create an event and invite people to it. This will give you a general sense of how many people might be interested and will also help them remember to save the date.
Create an email list with people who you want to invite and ensure that you send an invite out at least a month before your event. Send a reminder both a week before and on the day of the event, as well.
Invites should include key info in the subject line, such as You’re Invited to My Book Launch, which can be more personalized if your email list is primarily composed of people you know well. In the invitation itself include a short blurb about your books (or any early praise that it has gotten!). Any invites you send should also be clear about the venue (including accessibility at the venue), the date and time, whether you have any co-readers, and whether there will be food (yes, the promise of food definitely helps bring people). Having an RSVP option is a great idea, as well, since it will help you plan food and space if you have a rough idea of how many people will be attending. Consider a service such as Constant Contact or Canva to make your invitations look extra professional and inviting.
If you have a newsletter, promote your event in it! Newsletters are one of the best ways to build an audience and keep them engaged, so it’s the perfect way to spread the word.
Another aspect of getting the word out? Pitching, pitching, pitching. Come up with a list of local media contacts (local radio that covers local events, the arts editor of your local newspapers, even local TV). Once you have a media list, write up a simple email invitation that includes info on your book (such as a press kit, if you have one) and send it to your created media list. Keep in mind: always be polite and personal, when you can. For example, if a reporter recently covered a book you loved, let them know that you read their piece. Additionally, make sure that your subject line is informative and engaging, such as “Come See the Future: You’re Invited to the Book Launch of [Your Book’s Title], 12/1/2022.”
Don’t Forget Snacks!
Food and swag are two things you can consider as you get a little closer to the event itself. If you love to cook and bake, you can cut down on some costs by making your own treats. But that’s not for everyone, so if you have a favorite local bakery, inquire about a custom cake that looks like your book. Or if you want a slightly less messy option, choose cupcakes in colors that align with your themes or featuring something symbolic from your book (a flower, a bird, etc).
Snacks and finger foods are usually the best options. If you’re planning on having food out at the beginning of the reading, avoid choices that are loud (such as pretzels or chips) as that may distract people while you are speaking.
Plan enough food for double the amount of people that you are expecting, that way people will feel free to snag a second cupcake. Additionally, make sure you have plenty of napkins, plastic cups, and paper plates. And remember, if you are bringing food or beverages to an event, then you need to ensure that you leave the event space clean. Keeping great relationships with venues is important, plus it’s just essential to be kind.
Finally, everyone loves a swag bag and it’s a great way to ensure that they remember to pick a copy of your book. Fun swag ideas include things like candy with labels designed to showcase your book’s cover (you can order these or even DIY it with a printer and some chocolate bars that have their labels removed but protective foil left on), stickers, bookmarks, or even tiny notebooks or post-its printed with your book’s cover or a favorite quote from the text. When creating swag bags, always make sure to include something that makes you easily findable online–such as a business card printed with your website and social media info.
However you plan your event, remember that it’s your chance to celebrate your book! Planning ahead will make it less stressful on the day, but sometimes stuff still happens. So plan to have fun and not stress when it does.
Have you hosted an event recently? Share your favorite tips with us or tag #telltellpoetry on social to join the convo.