Friday, May 22, 2009

Book Launches - what are they for?

A week of book launches lies ahead. Tomorrow I'll be going to the launch of Firebridge to Skyshore, Siobhan Logan's exquisite collection of poetry and prose, built around the aurora borealis - the Northern Lights. Then on Thursday I'll be going to the launch of Andrew Sharp's beautifully observed East African novel The Ghosts of Eden.

I know why a boat is launched. It is built on land and needs to get into the water. But a book?

Here, then, are a few reasons why you might want to go to the trouble and expense of organising a launch for a book:

1) The publishers have a budget for it and it seems like a waste of an opportunity to have friends round for a sumptuous buffet. Unfortunately, if you are mid-list or lower, there is unlikely to be much of a budget for this - if any. Jaffa cake anyone?

2) A chance to generate publicity. The local paper may not bother to send anyone round, but if you put in a press release afterwards they may just pick it up. Especially if you have done most of the writing for them. Be sure to invite someone who knows their way around a camera. A picture tells a thousand words. Of course, if you are a major name in literature , the papers would cover it anyway. But if you're mid-list or lower any publicity is to be grabbed with both hands.

3) A chance to make connections in the local literary world. Invite anyone and everyone. They may just start inviting you to give talks, appear in panel discussions etc. Public speaking is a helpful top-up to your (mid-list or below) earnings.

4) A chance to sell, sell, sell. This is particularly important if you are with a small publisher or are self published. With a big enough crowd you could sell 50 or 100 copies in one go. If the print run was only 1000, that is a great start.

5) You've worked hard to craft a beautiful book and would like to mark the occasion of its birth. Ultimately, I think this is the best reason to have a launch. It is a celebration. A moment to thank the people who have helped and loved ones who have put up with you during the darkest moments of the writing process.

Ironically, if you are a major name in literature and your book is going to attract publicity anyway, the publishers will spend money on promotion. There will be posters in the train station and a lavish book launch in London. As for the rest of us - we may as well enjoy a party.

So, three cheers to Andrew and Siobhan. It is a week to celebrate.

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