Organising a launch event to celebrate your book’s publication can seem daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. Clink Street author Laura Gascoigne shares the secrets she used to make the launch party for her novel The Horse’s Arse a success.
After the painstaking process of readying a manuscript for publication, planning a book launch feels like a party. Anyone capable of organising a piss-up in a brewery - not that dissimilar - should have no problem. But of course a lot depends on your budget. A decent book launch calls for a critical mass of people – a couple of dozen simply doesn’t cut it – and a mass of people don’t just consume a lot of booze, they need quite a lot of space to do it in.
Because my novel, The Horse’s Arse, is set in the art world I decided to hold the launch in a gallery. I could have squeezed the guests into my house, but that would have meant a) me spending days tidying it up beforehand and b) them schlepping all the way out to north London. I also figured that it would look more professional if it took place on neutral territory. For me the Mall Galleries were just the ticket: apart from the central location off Trafalgar Square, the gallery setting meant that guests who wanted to get away from the scrum could wander off on their own and look at pictures.
A cheaper option, to avoid doing it at home, is to borrow the house of a generous friend. I was happy to pay a hire fee for the venue because it’s about 20 years since I had a proper party and I felt like doing it in style. Plus the gallery provided catering staff and affordable booze on sale or return, helpful when it comes to estimating numbers – not easy when two- thirds of your guest list don’t reply and half of those come, while of the third who do accept half fail to show up. I invited 150 people, about 80 came and between them they bought around 50 books.
Once the venue is decided, who do you ask? Because I’m an arts journalist I have a lot of professional contacts with a natural interest in the novel’s subject matter. I didn’t ask them all, just the ones who are personal friends, as I didn’t want it to become a business do. As it turned out, the mix of work contacts, friends and family – with a leavening of artists – made for a very jolly occasion.
As with any party, after you’ve made the financial and emotional investment the big worry is that no one will come. Will they cross town for an event that only lasts a couple of hours and only serves wine? (My budget didn’t stretch to canapés.) But a book launch is no ordinary event, it’s a special occasion, and people will turn out for an occasion. Like a baby shower it’s a welcome to a new arrival, and that gives the whole event a feel-good factor. I was too busy signing books to have much time to talk to my guests, but they all seemed to be getting on like a house on fire and a hard core had to be evicted at the end. One of them narrowly escaped being locked in.
Part of the point, of course, is to shift books and here again it helps to look professional. Get hold of a proper cash box, stock up on the right change and find a way of taking card payments. Appoint someone to take the money – my cashier was my husband – and make sure they’re liberally supplied with drink. Also ensure that you have plenty of books and a nice pen to sign them with for posterity. To speak or not to speak, that is the question. Some people expect speeches, but I decided not to make one as I felt it was unnecessarily formal in front of people I knew pretty well. In front of strangers, yes, I would have done it, as strangers are curious to get to know an author. I didn’t do a reading either, as I wasn’t sure I’d get the voices of my characters right. That was my decision, but if you’ve got the gift of the gab and you’re a brilliant mimic, then go for it.
First things last: what to put on the invitation. An image of the book cover, obviously, with the date,
time, venue, RSVP deadline and address below. Along the top it’s customary to name the author and publisher as hosts, as in ‘Laura Gascoigne and Clink Street Publishing invite you to mark the publication of,’ leading into the title on the cover. Along the bottom it’s worth including a couple of lines in smaller print mentioning the book, the author, the publisher and, in brackets, the RRP, for the benefit of those who can’t come and might want to order it.
Was it all worth it? Absolutely. It’s hard enough to get any new book noticed, and a book by a previously unpublished author needs all the help it can get. PG Wodehouse famously compared expecting results from a first novel to dropping a petal into the Grand Canyon and listening for the echo. At a well-lubricated book launch, it should land with a splash.
Currently living in Hampstead, North London, Laura Gascoigne has worked as an arts journalist for over twenty years, editing Artists & Illustrators before going freelance. Laura was born in Cairo in 1950, the daughter of a bookseller and an Italian teacher, and grew up in Brussels and Cambridge before studying Classics at Oxford University. The Horse’s Arse by Laura Gascoigne (published by Clink Street Publishing, 4th April, 2017 is available to purchase from Amazon and to order from all good bookstores.