This past weekend I celebrated two important milestones: my birthday and the launch of my new picture book. I love birthdays, even though the numbers are getting uncomfortably high. Books signings and launches? Hmmmm. I’m still new enough on the block that I get really excited — and then paralyzed by fear — at the thought of these events. The thought of an empty bookstore is my most gruesome professional fear beyond (1) developing a terminal case writer’s block, and (2) earning bad reviews from places I respect.
Luckily, I was spared this time. In fact, I had a great launch that left me feeling grateful for the many blessings I’ve received as a writer. So, by way of sharing helping writers who are getting started, here’s what I learned.
Pick a sensible launch spot: Richmond has many big box and fantastic independent bookstores. I chose the magical bbgb tales for kids. It’s a tiny bookstore with a huge heart, loyal customers, and the kind of personal attention that I need to feel comfortable. Jill, Janessa, Diane, and Juliana love kids, love good books for kids, and they have a creative spirit that I admire. The shop was just the right size for me since I’m a mid-list author right now who needs a cozy spot to fill. You can see the detail they put into my welcome signs, the window display, and the refreshments.
Plan early: I started my conversation with bbgb about three months out. We decided that 2 hours was plenty for young readers. We also needed to clear the day and time (which was tricky in June when there are graduations, etc) — and make sure the launch didn’t conflict with the original publication date. Because my real pub date is June 15, I had to get special permission from Candlewick to host the party early.
Channel your inner Martha Stewart: You’ll need a theme, a soundtrack and refreshments — even if you hated doing these things for your own kids’ birthday parties. Because Tía Isa Wants a Car is a summer book with Latino themes, the folks at bbgb had lemonade on hand, and our local Cuban restaurant, KubaKuba sent trays of empanadas, cheeses, and sandwiches. (Yum!) It was great to see folks sampling Cuban food and loving it. My friend, Gigi, also saved the day by making me an i-pod playlist of Latin music that gave the shop a party atmosphere.
Have a traditional media and a social media plan: This is no longer optional, so do not fight it. My initial conversation with bbgb included finding out which media outlets they would reach with their press releases – but that was just the beginning. Penelope Carrington of 804, an online magazine for our local Richmond Times Dispatch, shot a segment about Tía Isa Wants a Car, which ran about a week ahead of the event. My own social media was also key. My publicist, Laura Rivas, connected me with several excellent blogs that matched the kind of writing I do. I had the chance to do Q & A’s to talk about the book. LatinBaby Blog and Powerful Latinas were great about this prior to the event. (Thank you, Aurelia Flores for the tweets). Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and fellow bloggers to tweet.
Don’t keep it a secret: Invite your friends, family, and book lovers. I sent a PINGG invitation (truly easy to use) a month before the event. I used my Facebook account and my small-but-increasingly potent Twitter circle to spread the word within two-weeks of the event.
Have things for your readers to do: Plan to read, of course. But if your audience is composed of little ones, you’ll need more. Consider having activities for them. In our case, bbgb set up tables outside. They provided outlines of a car and plenty of art supplies. The directions read: Color your car. Where do you want your car to go?
Offer fun giveaways: I ordered buttons made from a small section of the cover. They are extremely cool, even if I do say so myself — and they aren’t gross advertisements. I used Affordable Buttons. Again, you’ll need permission from the publisher to use any part of the cover image. (Thank you, Candlewick!)
Promote your other books and well as your next events and projects: Every writer has books in progress, upcoming appearances, or other cool things they’re doing. Make sure your favorite fans know what you’re doing. I recently discovered booktour.com through my friend, Ellen Brown. Booktour is a free and fantastic place to list all your appearances, and it automatically updates your Amazon author page. (If you don’t have one yet, it’s time.) I printed up cards for my upcoming Girls of Summer project, and made some paddle fans with the same info to help folks outside keep cool. (One mistake, the card stock was too thin.)
Enlist a volunteer to be your Name Guard: No one should come to you without a sticky note or index card where they’ve written their names clearly. Sounds silly? Not only does it avoid misspellings, but it saves you from the horror of forgetting a friend’s name. Let me tell you, it happens. There is a lot going on. Folks from all parts of your life are there. It’s easy to forget someone’s name and feel lousy about it for the rest of the day.
Practice your blurb ahead of time: The pressure of saying the right thing can leave you speechless and awkward! You will get choked up trying to write something meaningful for the special folks; I can’t help you with that. Still, I found it helpful to have one consistent phrase that went into most books. For this launch, mine was Vroom! I personalized as needed.
Say gracias: Your mother was right. Everyone appreciates being appreciated. Definitely send a hand-written thank-you card to everyone who helped with the launch and mention them on your social media sites. Beyond that, pause before you go to sleep that night.Remind yourself how lucky you are to be able to write for children and to be surrounded for two quick hours by the people who care about you the most. If not for their support, where would you be?