Monday, May 31, 2010

How to Throw an Awesome Book Launch

Hey Moonrat. Any tips for throwing your own book launch?

Uh, YEAH. I've seen some really excellent book launches in my time, so let me throw down a couple of ideas I've stolen from innovative authors.

1. Expect zero support from your publisher. I mean financial support as well as every other kind of support--a lot of publishers have a zero collaboration policy on book launches. Don't hold too much of a grudge--it's hard to justify spending marketing dollars on a party when they could be spent on retail co-op placement or ad initiatives. So just be pleasantly surprised if your publisher does send materials or people or money (hey! Sometimes it happens!), but be prepared to do it all on your own.

2. Put together an invite list.
Do this before you try to take any other steps, because knowing the names of the people (and how many) you expect is really key to securing a venue.

Don't fudge this--sit down and make an actual list. The reason I say this is because if you go the route of approaching a bookstore to host you, they might actually ask for a guest list to decide if they can break even on accommodating your party. But just practically speaking, knowing how many people might come will help you choose a good spot and make sure you have enough supplies. Pretend you're planning a wedding here--take it that seriously. Put the guests in tiers: Definitely will show up come hell or high water; Can probably count on him/her as long as s/he is in town; Might come; There's some chance s/he will show up. I do this pretty frequently, and always use Facebook and LinkedIn as well as my email address book to cross-reference who will be in the area. Remember to include local business people you've patronized--many of them will be tickled pink to see your project, and some of them may offer sponsorship (for example, donating door prizes) in exchange for the advertising opportunity (although I'd say don't ask people for this kind of thing unless you know them pretty well and are sure they won't take offense).

Then, prep yourself emotionally to only expect the "Definitely" people, but to be able to host the "Some chance" people if they happen to show up. Just like any party. Only take this one a little more seriously--the more the merrier at your book's big coming-out party. You want all the attention around launch time you can get, and your friends are a good place to start.

3. Venue: to bookstore or not to bookstore? There are advantages and disadvantages to both. A bookstore party is harder to score and more responsibility for you. You have to be careful of the property, the time frame, and the owner's interests, which include making money while they close down the store for you. On the other hand, if your party is a great success and lots of people buy books, you have an opportunity to create a beautiful relationship with your local bookstore.

Conversely, a non-bookstore venue is often easier because you don't have to worry about the above pressures. I've seen some very creative and successful venues: bowling alleys, hair salons, living rooms, back yards, clothing stores after-hours, liquor stores, ballrooms. In my opinion, the best venue is one you don't have to pay for. But other than that, there are really no rules to where you can throw a book party.

The downside about not having a bookstore party is you're going to have to arrange your own book copies and sales. Sometimes, your local bookstore will be able/willing to send a bookseller to staff and sell at your party, even if they can't afford to actually host the party. If you can't set that up (and it's often tricky, but it's worth a shot), you can always just order your own copies. (See below.)

4. Arrange food and beverages. Trust me--you can't have too much. And also trust me--if you've got stuff to nosh, you'll get a higher turnout commitment. What can I say? People like food. Heck, if you have a party with food, just tell me where and when and I'LL come.

If you're worried about cost, there are lots of ways to do this cheaply. One of my authors held a truly GORGEOUS book launch for herself--I thought the whole thing was catered and must have cost her thousands of dollars. I found out later that in fact several of her thrifty friends each pitched in potluck style. It was a seriously classy party for not very much money.

If you're doing the whole thing yourself, remember it's quantity, not quality. Piles of Doritos are just as munchable as fancy canapes. You don't need to spend lots of money; this party is about your book, so you're not going to be judged for what snacks you serve.

5. Creative add-ons make people happy! I've seen some authors have themes that relate to their books. For example, Alaya Johnson had an excellent 1920s-themed party for Moonshine, which is set during the 1920s. She was smart, though, in that she didn't make the theme a prerequisite of the party, just a fun add-on--you don't want to make your party work for the people attending.

If themes aren't for you, consider a raffle! Maybe guests can fill out a cue card with something cute related to the book, and you can draw a winner or two. Then you can advertise "door prizes" on your invite, which looks nice. If you're energetic, you might make gift bags or little giveaways. These don't have to be expensive, but something to take home is a nice thank-you to your guests for coming out. You can get things like tote bags for $3 or $5 a pop if you're feeling fancy, or you can make things like personalized bookmarks or pens for a lot less.

Obviously, none of these things are necessary to making a good party. Really the only necessary thing is food.

6. Uh, make sure there are copies of your book at the party. If you scored a bookstore venue, the store owner will have to work this out with your publishing company. Your guest list will DEFINITELY come in handy then. You really, really want to guess about the right number of copies. Over-ordering will be a great trauma for your kind host, but under-ordering will cause both you and them to lose business. In my humble opinion, it's always better to over-order slightly. Sometimes the host, if they are generous, will invite you to sign the remaining stock. So be nice to the host.

But yeah, if someone else is providing the books, follow up. A lot. I mean, be nice about it. But don't underestimate the ability of other people to be disorganized. It would be really sad if you had a party with no books.

If you're at a non-bookstore venue and aren't partnering with a bookstore to sell your book, you have some extra bonus options. I would recommend buying copies for yourself and selling them for cash. As a courtesy to your guests, you might sell them at a discount if you got the copies at an author discount (an advantage over working with a bookstore, who will probably charge cover price). Now here's the most unorthodox suggestion I'm going to make in this post. If you're buying the copies yourself, do so from a retailer who will give you a bulk discount (I have no preference among accounts, but there are certain retailers that pretty much always give discounts, such as Powells and Amazon). If you buy copies from an account like this instead of from your publisher, the books you buy will a) count toward your national sales numbers, which is always a good thing, and b) pay you royalties. And yeah, a lot of times you can get a discount from these accounts that's almost as high as your contractual author discount. So, as Michael Scott would say, it's a win-win-win situation.

7. Remember to thank everyone profusely all the time.
Just in general, when you're an author, make this your policy in all things. But especially be gracious at your book launch. Be unflappable! Expect the least from your guests/customers, and appreciate everything as much as possible. It's easy to let your nerves get the best of you, but just be nice no matter what. (Those who have been around these parts for a while might remember my story of watching an author event go down the tubes because the author let their nerves make them snappish.)

There are my thoughts! Hope they help.

**ETA** Authors! If you have good/bad/ugly book launch stories to share, please do!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Saturday morning publishing song

This made me laugh so hard I almost peed my pjs. This despite how, well, familiar poor Mr. Hall's plight is.

For bonus video-watching points, see if you can catch a glimpse of Dana Cameron, the fabulous Janet Reid's excellent client.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

rejection rejection of the day

An editor friend got a letter in the mail. It was a rejection letter she had sent to an author, and was annotated thusly:


[Note, typed, from my friend to the author:]


We have already* considered and turned down your submission. Unfortunately, I just don't think that your writing is a good fit for us. I wish you the best of luck.


[Note, handwritten beneath it, from the author to my friend:]

Why didn't you guys tell me that you're a red bunch of communists! Who needs you here in the USA? I certainly don't! Go to Hell, the Red Hell!



*The same manuscript was already considered and rejected three months earlier

Aww. So sweet.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How much does an agent cost?

I got a note:

Hi Moonrat,
I have a book deal with a lovely indie publisher. I don't have an agent. *cowers and hides under table* I know you despise us little agentless authors *ducks further under table*, but I am a full-time school student, and I don't have the money to pay for an agent, either. I write because I love to write, I wasn't writing for the sake of getting published, but I was lucky and pleasantly surprised at the offer. Have you any suggestions (seeing as you also work in a small indie press) about publicity and selling your book? Also, what do independent publishers offer in terms of marketing strategies? *timidly peeks unagented head over desk* I'd much appreciate if you'd take the time to reply! Thank you!

My dear, several notes:

1) I do not despise anyone, with the possible exception of Charles Dickens, who was just a real jerk to his poor first wife. But you might call that more of a personal grudge.

2) Agents do not cost money--you don't pay them anything at all up front. If an agent has told you they charge a fee, they are not a legitimate agent. You might find more information about heinous people on Preditors & Check 'em out. But REAL agents take a percentage of your earnings (15% in most cases) AFTER that agent has secured you a book deal (and sometimes other deals too). So, my friend, whichever agents were telling you to pay them for their services should be knuckled off your list in a great hurry.

3) Re: publicity and marketing: I shall save those ideas for tomorrow, as I just REALLY wanted EVERYONE to know that REAL AGENTS DO NOT COST MONEY UP FRONT (or at all, until there are earnings to be had).

Monday, May 17, 2010

I woke up this morning

at 7:17 am. My alarm was set to go off at 7:30. But I woke myself up out of a very deep sleep (I mean, if the amount of drool on the pillow is some kind of sliding scale indication of how deep the sleep was). I was also in the middle of a very involved dream--a vivid dream, one that I remember all the details to (except, of course, how it ends, since I woke up--how frustrating!! I wonder what happened to that girl in my dream!).

I have no idea what startled me awake. But I do know it was some kind of miniature miracle (what do they call those? Stroke of good luck, maybe?) because if I hadn't woken up until my alarm went off, I probably would have finished the dream and exited REM and snoozed and woken up normally and that would have been the beginning of my day and the end, forever, of whatever happened inside my head last night (I'm a very clean dreamer--I never remember anything I dream, ever, unless I'm woken up in the middle of it). But my dream last night was SO UTTERLY AWESOME that instead of snoozing I waddled over to my computer and started setting down an outline based on the dream. It's the PERFECT story (well, sort of--I'm going to have to seriously edit my dream main character, since she was really credulous and unquestioning, like my dream main characters always are for some reason).

Alas now I have to go to work. But I wanted to share that I got hit by the muse. I thought if anyone could sympathize it would be you guys :)

Friday, May 14, 2010

various & assorted tasties

Here's my roundup of interesting links I came across this week (as always, much Twitter crossover).

Writers' Coalition has announced an official Write Your @$$ Off Day, June 12th! You might recall we had an unofficial one back here. Anyone else wanna play? I think I'm in!

Author Alaya Johnson talks on John Scalzi's blog about her new book, Moonshine, and how vampires are actually a metaphor for historically oppressed minorities.

Sarah Weinman shared one author's take on the 10 most harmful novels for aspiring writers. (I add Twilight to the list--what do you guys think?)

Twilight sales have waaaay dropped suddenly (my guess is everyone just owns everything already, so there's nothing left to buy). But the point is, does this mean the door is open for the next phenomenon?

You thought English speakers took Harry Potter fan fic seriously--check out the level people take fan fic to in China!

Our comrade INTERN anagrams the names of the big publishing houses. This is awesome.

The Rejectionist points us to this excellent list of horrifying rejections, some of them quite nasty--and all of them sent to people who went on to become extremely famous.

Tomorrow is an editing day. My weekend work partner is coming over and we're going to kick butt. But in between butt kickings, we will be making these.

Happy weekend!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Drowning in the Title Pool

I got a note:

Hi Moonrat,

I'm almost done with rewrites on a novel, getting ready to send it to agents. I noticed recently on Publishers Marketplace that another book (same genre) with the same working title just sold to a big house. I know titles are fluid and by the time it gets to print, the title on the PM book might have changed. Or if I sell my book, the title could change. My question is: should I come up with a new working title before sending it out, if only to avoid confusion from agents/editors who may have considered the PM book? ("Didn't I just see this?") I'm reluctant to do it, because it fits so well with the book, but I don't want someone to pass, thinking they've looked at it already.


Great question! A variation of this titling issue happens to a lot of people--you know, having the perfect title for your book and then realizing there are a host of outside circumstances working against your using that perfect title.

Honestly, as an editor, I remember stuff like that (if I've seen a book by the same title, I know instantly, even if the first submission was a project that went no further than my desk). I don't think I find repeat titles offputting per se, but I definitely remember. This is relevant in your case because since it's the same genre you might be submitting to the same editors.

That said, I got a book into production that had the same title (same genre, slightly similar plots) as another book at a much, much larger company. We had both announced our deals in PW, and just missed each other through neglect. At the last minute, the big house called me and tried to bully me into changing my title--but we were already close to press, and so we won (they had to change). There is no moral to this story, really; it only proves that it could come about that no one ever notices your title match.

But I think to be safe it would be a good exercise for you to think of a second-choice title and submit under that. Just in case someone is anal (and editors, as a career discipline, often are). Besides, as you point out yourself, retitling is something that often happens for marketing reasons, so if you've already spent some time thinking of second- and third-choice titles before you submit, you'll be prepared to have a great conversation about your options later.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

things the rally monkey says

[We're watching 27 Dresses, as YT is a romcom fan.]

RM: Can they make a sequel called 28 Dresses, where Kevin Doyle realizes he's a cross-dresser?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Is What It Is Ism (Or Why You Must Be Your Own Evil Drill Sergeant)

Here is a conversation that is, in some variation, overheard in publishing houses everyday:

Publisher: How's the edit on that John/Jane Smith book?

Editor: Well, John/Jane has sent back his/her responses to my edits. I mean, we did a ton of work--it's much better than the first draft. But s/he didn't really go as far with the second plot line/character development/cultural details as I was hoping.

Publisher: That's a shame.

Editor: It really is a shame. I just... I had really high hopes for this book, but I'm not sure I can get the author to really get it up to 100% of what it could be. I can take the time to do another round of edits, but then we might miss our to-production date.

Publisher: Nah, let's just push it forward. It is what it is.

~ ~ ~

What's your reaction to that phrase, "is what it is"? Does it go blithely buy you as an everyday-ism? Does it strike terror in your heart? Or a little bit of both?

The first time I heard the expression "It is what it is" I was an editorial assistant. I admit my first response was, "Oo, what a cool phrase!" I think subconsciously I had already realized that sentence would be an out-clause, the secret to writing off any editorial changes I would be too exhausted with a book to make. But of course, it's also an ugly sentence--it means we're giving up and moving on. And you know what? At some point it is said about just about every project.

The point I want to make today is about vigilance of craft. Creativity is exhausting. When you're working on a novel, there comes a point during writing, or rewriting, or editing, or re-editing, or hearing back the nitpicky bits from your crit group or agent or editor for the eight millionth time, when you just say "Ug, can I be done with this? I'll fix it later, or someone else can, if they really have a problem with it."

But the thing is, you can't count on anyone to fix anything later. When your editor sends you edits, you may be so sick to death of staring at your manuscript that you do the bare minimum to address the comments and then send that sucker right back. But then your editor may also have run out of steam, will have some version of the above conversation with her publisher, and everyone will move forward with the book as it is--in a permutation that will get slightly worse reviews than it might have received if we'd all pushed it a little harder, will therefore sell slightly fewer copies than it might have, etc.

We ALL run out of steam--writers, editors, proofreaders, marketers, publicists. The best professionals in any sector of the industry are the ones who fight it out a couple more rounds before throwing up their hands. Since you can't guarantee that anyone else who will be working on your book at any other stage will have the time, energy, and bandwidth to give it their all to the bitter end, you, the author, would do yourself a favor by not being the lazy one.

I'm writing this post today because earlier this week I was visiting a friend at her office and overheard one of her colleagues give an "Is what it is" speech. It made me realize these occurrences aren't rare--they're pretty universal. So the moral of this story is, fight the good fight, at every stage of the game. Write, re-write, re-re-write, and edit, then edit again, then re-edit again before you even THINK about submitting to agents. Then do it all over again. And over again.

In the words of Jason Nesmith, "Never give up! Never surrender!"

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Cinco de Mayo cultural disconnect

So we ALL know Cinco de Mayo. I raise a mole enchilada to Mexico's victory over French forces in 1862.

However, apparently yesterday, May 4th, is a different kind of holiday for different people. I think of the May 4th Movement in China, where students fomented a revolution.

I have learned from certain people that others celebrate Star Wars Day--as in, May the 4th be with you.

Who would you guess wins on Google (in terms of top-ranking searches), Star Wars fans, or all of China?

Anyway. Mole enchilada!

Monday, May 03, 2010

cool things I found while catching up on my Google reader

(If you follow me on Twitter, you might have already seen some of these)

Got sucked into any good books lately? A couple visuals to make your day.
(via The Undomestic)

NYT on the (re)new(ed) movement to document rare and endangered languages. Lingistic enthusiasts, you'll love this--who knew there may be as many as 800 languages spoken in New York, including languages that are no longer spoken anywhere else in the world? (via Ellen W)

The 100 best Arabic books (in English), according to the Arab Writers Union. I'm 0 for 100. Clearly this is a language whose translations I need to explore more. (via Lit Saloon)

Booklist's Bill Ott talks about the mysteries he recommends to people who say they hate mysteries. I personally recommend Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon, especially to fans of sci fi and/or literary fiction. What would your answer(s) be? (I'm particularly interested in the genre bias here--there are great mysteries in every genre.)

Finally, my dad sent me this website: Demotivators. What can I say. Mission accomplished.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

a beautiful weekend for good news!

The lovely Bernita Harris has signed a deal with Harlequin's Carina Press for her urban fantasy, Dark and Disorderly, a Lillie St. Clair adventure. Congratulations, Bernita! And let me know the second it's up for pre-order on Amazon :)

Saturday, May 01, 2010

procrastinatory Villanelle

How sad to be stuck inside today
A desk-bound bun-wearing red-lining recluse
Saturday editing this lovely morn in May

for once, the weather's going my way!
blossoms unfurling, sunlight diffuse
How sad to be stuck inside today

my cold winter edits are inspired, I'd say
but with sun shining outside, I feel obtuse
Saturday editing this lovely morn in May

in Central Park's green grass I'd lay
and frolic amongst squirrels, fawns, and moose
How sad to be stuck inside today

my aching eyeballs tear away
o! how they suffer such wretched abuse
Saturday editing this lovely morn in May

That's what I've written this Villanelle to say
Might my time be put to better use?
How sad to be stuck inside today
Saturday editing this lovely morn in May