Is the traditional book launch event over?

Business is competitive and can be cutthroat. That’s how some get rich and others go bust; and book publishing is no different. Authors are having to do the hard graft to sell their wares, just as much as well-established publishers, and the ‘big book launch’ has always played a major role.
But is this often sparsely attended event nearing the end of its effective life? Does it need to strengthen its spine and turn over a new leaf?
Authors are an odd breed. Some are raconteurs and entertainers – Mark Billingham springs readily to mind – others are introspective vampires. Their personalities only emerge through their fingertips as they tap out villainous, gory, mysterious and complex plots through invented, angst-ridden characters. I heard crime fiction writer David Mark sum it up: “Writers are people who sit alone in a room listening to voices in their head – and then answer them.” Are these strange people the right ones to put in front of an audience?
Personally, I’d rather have a party and make the book just one of the guests. It would be like those people who dance on the table after a few sherbets. They are stars because everybody else has had a few drinks and eggs them on. It’s simple psychology: turn the music up and the books will dance off the shelves.
Entertainment is the key. Why would people who could simply nip into a bookshop and buy it tomorrow or even borrow it from the library, turn out on a cold, wet early evening to stand around (never enough seats) and drink cheap wine? Recently I went to the London launch of MP Wright’s Restless Coffins. Despite it requiring a train journey to London, it stood out. The usual tribe of agent, publisher, bloggers, and readers turned up, but what made it special was that the book had also been published in audio, and the famous actor who loaned his voice read to the assembled gathering. It was spell-binding and enthralling, and the hubbub of conversation when he’d finished smashed the literary world’s barriers of pretention. Nobody was dancing on tables, and it was very sober, but the atmosphere was great.
Author interviews work if the interviewer has: 1. Read the book; and 2. Is able to eke out something interesting about the writer. We, the readers, are not there to hear what we already know. We want to be entertained.
Then there’s the venue. Almost invariably it’s a book shop, and some are better than others. Scarthin Books’ Art Room in Derbyshire is a fabulously friendly, intimate venue, but generally chain bookshops’ skill is in displaying books, and their staffs’ knowledge is not event management. Bookshops are necessarily confined by book displays: they aren’t geared to fun and celebration. I also question if looking after the collection and retention of sodden coats and dripping umbrellas, and serving lukewarm wine (before the talking starts, not during or afterwards) is their forte and duty.
My next book launch (Vinyl Junkie) will be in a pub; a venue mentioned frequently in the actual book, and which serves good beer, wine and whiskies as well as proper pub grub. Maybe we could take this a stage further. If the murder is in a hotel, let’s meet in the hotel; if it’s on a train platform, launch the book at a heritage railway station. There are hundreds of venues ripe for a successful, emotional, relevant and exciting book launch event, and any self-respecting bookshop will set up a desk there.
What I do feel is vital is publicity. Manufacturers used to think that if they made the right products they would sell themselves: not unless you tell people, chum. Talks on radio, appearances on TV (unlikely, I know), reviews and interviews in the newspapers, quirkiness through social media, and making sure that influential bloggers get their ‘fix’ of a new book, can never be underrated. It is here where publishers and agents can earn their corn, and where authors can band together in support to help each other.
Are traditional book launches over? I believe that the answer is yes, but it will take time. They’re not dead and gone; they just need to evolve into a more modern world. If some people are obviously going to buy our books they don’t need to be told ‘buy our books’, they need a reason.
I believe we should be entertaining readers of all books, even readers of very few books, encourage those who don’t normally read. Crime fiction is escapism; so let the buyer of the book know that they can escape and be entertained.

One thought on “Is the traditional book launch event over?”

  1. Many authors think their publisher will do all necessary publicity for them. Not true. Notice how many big authors and celebs frequent The One Show sofa plugging their new book. Writing a book is easy compared to getting people to buy it. And that’s down to you, the author. I have six books on Amazon, and had only one book launch party, for ‘Who’d be a Copper?’ about my thirty years in Notts police. I sent out over 300 personal invites. Around 65 actually turned up on the day (which I was chuffed about ) & I sold two boxes of books. It was a good day, held at a friend’s suggestion in a room at Nottingham’s Galleries of Justice. I had posters made, & there was wine, tea, coffee, nibbles, & with room hire it all cost about £300. I applied a full on marketing strategy for that book, and it was #1 in its category for 12 months. The biggest fear is no one will turn up. Hence I haven’t done any more. But they are great events and I’ve been to quite a few, big ones and little ones. It’s not really about selling books on the day but generating publicity. We have to do something…. the celeb authors get their free twenty minutes on the Chris Evans breakfast show (9 million listeners) but sadly we don’t have that luxury. #notalevelplayingfield

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