How to plan a book event: launch checklist

Jacana staff

The things that authors dream of: being published; seeing their book piled up high in the window displays of every book shop; achieving fame and glory through an extensive author tour (just like in the movies); wonderful media coverage and glittering reviews; and a very well-attended book launch at which an enormous amount of copies are sold to a diverse crowd and everyone raves about the writing.  

The reality is different. It is difficult to get published, no matter what route you choose. Distribution is very tricky in our small South African market. It is very likely that fewer people will buy, read and enjoy your book than you hope, nevermind review or give it media coverage. And book launches don't sell books. Most people will come for the free food and drinks. Nor will the event be well-attended by a diverse crowd unless you have an invitation list to rival that of Kenny Kunene. Gasp!

Publishing houses have been trying to move away from the convention of book launches for a while, because the costs of these sorts of events far outweigh the return, both in terms of sales (20 - 50 copies at most, even with a publisher's reach) and publicity (radio, TV and print media have a far better result). But this is difficult for authors to swallow - you've spent all of this time and effort in getting the thing to print. Don't you deserve to celebrate the significant achievement and 'birth' of your book?

You do, and that's why, if you must have one, we suggest treating a launch event as if it were a celebration, rather than a sales or publicity exercise. Invite your nearest and dearest for a little party. Don't trouble yourself with sticking to any book launch conventions, unless you want to. If you can't get reviewers or the media to attend, don't sweat it. Please don't blow the budget on food and drinks, or a fancy venue. Just celebrate your wonderful accomplishment, and judge the success of your event by how much you enjoyed it.

Like any other event, there will be practicalities to plan for, and that's why we've drafted this handy book launch checklist for you:

o Date and time set
oVenue confirmed (can the venue invite their mailing list too?)
oInvitations and list of invitees drafted - don't forget media/reviewers/'influencers'
oInvitations sent two weeks prior, and if an open event, details added to social media or online events calendars like Evensi
oRSVPs gathered - use numbers to confirm catering and refreshments quantities you require, as well as seating required at the venue
oFood and drink attracts people, so make sure that catering and refreshments are provided for - as well as basics like tables, table cloths, glasses, crockery and serviettes
oEvent format decided on (e.g.: talk by author, keynote address, panel discussion, author in conversation, workshop/demo), and required set up relayed to venue
oOrder of events planned, and book sent to those who are involved in the event
oTalking points/speech written down
oMC organised, if required
o'Incentives' incorporated (prizes, party favours, discounted books...?) 
oBook flyer/bookmarks/postcards/business cards related to your book to hand out to anyone hesitant to buy - includes details of how you can be contacted or where the book can be purchased later
    AND/OR a sign-up sheet if you'd like to gather email addresses of attendees for your mailing list
oBook stock available
oBookseller/family member/friend on board to sell copies for you at the launch (make sure to cater for debit/credit card payments - facilities like Snapscan work well if you don't have access to a speedpoint machine)
oBest outfit on, smile on face for photos and ready to have fun
oPen in hand for book signings

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