During the past two weeks, I’ve been to three readings at bookstores. These events couldn’t have been more different from each other, but each was enjoyable and worthwhile and provided examples about how to handle my own upcoming debut launch just two weeks from now for my novel, Gina in the Floating World.
The first author, Stephanie Gayle (Idyll Hands), has become an old hand at book launches after producing three books in three years. By now, she has a following for her mystery series featuring a gay police chief, who moved from the city to run the department in a small Connecticut town. The day after Labor Day, her enthusiastic supporters filled a respectable number of seats in Porter Square Books. Dressed in a becoming floral dress, Stephanie, prepared as always (note—I have been to all three of her launches), made us laugh and made us think, as she discussed what she learned from her research about police procedurals. In her last launch, she had amusing t-shirt giveaways. Not this time. There was no expensive after-party. Not for a third book.
Two weeks later, the second author, Cheryl Suchors (48 Peaks, Hiking and Healing in the White Mountains), pulled out all the stops for her debut launch of her memoir, also at Porter Square Books. You have only one first time, right? Her guests filled up all the available chairs, spilling out into the aisles. After being introduced, Cheryl’s first word was “Wow.” Who wouldn’t be overwhelmed by all that love? But Cheryl radiating joy delivered a pitch perfect presentation, and even looked right at the audience rather than down at her book while “reading” passages from her memoir. “Wow,” I thought to myself. After the Q and A, the long line for having books signed formed. Cheryl showed up to applause at her after-party across the street at Christopher’s an hour later, her many guests having settled in to drink, chow down on the nibbles provided, and chat. Her husband and daughter were there to offer support and cheers. Cheryl is about to embark on an extensive tour.
This past Saturday, the third author, Louise Miller (The Late Bloomers'Club) gave a reading at Belmont Books two months after the publication of her book. What could be more appropriate than for Louise, a pastry chef herself, to have a cake-baking contest in honor of her cozy novel, set in Vermont and featuring cake-baking? Louise seemed completely at ease as she discussed her novel, read two passages, and took a few questions from the audience of about fifty people, including quite a few children. Then Louise and two other experienced cake-judgers sampled and rated the 20 competing cakes of all shapes, colors and sizes according to appearance, taste, and texture. (“Is it a ‘good bake,’ using the words of the popular “The Great British Baking Show?”) After a staff member removed each cake from the judging table, the audience members could sample the wares. I chatted with a contestant, whom I knew, right before Louise announced her as the winner!
Here are my takeaways:
There is only one first time. Go all out—your friends want to honor this special moment in your life.
Dress for the occasion.
For fiction, provide a short summary of what it’s about.
Select several passages, showcasing different aspects of the book without giving anything away, but keep each to five minutes or less. (Don’t be afraid to change words here and there for clarity, add dialogue tags, delete phrases or sentences that may not be as clear when spoken as they are on the written page.)
Don’t just read—talk about one of more aspects of your book that you believe will appeal to your audience—themes, your writing journey, characters. Create a narrative thread to your presentation. Don’t just wing it!
Make people laugh, even if your book is dark (maybe especially if your book is dark).
Reveal some of yourself.
Practice, practice, practice! (It’s okay to have notes.)
Watch out for distracting physical habits when presenting. (Apparently, mine is swaying.)
Connect visually with your audience.
Stick your landing! End on an interesting note; don’t just fade away.
Save your longer thank-yous for the end, but ix-nay on the endless list of names a la the Oscars.
Repeat audience questions and then keep answers to the point.
For book signings, have one of your allies hand people post-its to write down the name of the person to whom the dedication will be made.
If it’s not your launch, shake things up a bit and offer something different to entice people to come (like the cake-baking contest)
Try to have fun.