Tuesday, 6 August 2013

How To Organise a Launch Party

We’re writers, not a wedding planners. So it comes as a surprise, even to us, that Triskele Books and Words with JAM have successfully launched eleven books in the last year. We’ve made a few mistakes and learnt some lessons after organising two real live parties, and here we pass on everything we've discovered - from perfect timing to pink fizz.

1. Location 
Triskele writers are based in three countries; Gilly, Jane and Kat are scattered around the UK, Liza and I live in France and Switzerland respectively. So London was the obvious choice – accessible to all. The 2012 venue was The English Restaurant, in Spitalfields. Between Tracy Emin’s gallery and Jeanette Winterson’s veg shop, it’s easy to find, has a separate function room for 50 people and superb food. The staff couldn’t have been more accommodating.

For 2013, we needed more space. Foyles Bookshop on Charing Cross Road has a third floor gallery which can cope with 120-180 guests. David Owen, Gallery manager, is extraordinarily helpful, and book launches are his speciality.

2. Timing 
Six months before you’re planning to publish, check the calendar, literary and general. Our first event coincided with the Queen’s Jubilee, and our second with Crimefest. This meant several guests were unable to attend. Could do better. Weekends are ideal for obvious reasons, and we’ve found that a Saturday afternoon gives people time to travel home or go for a less formal knees-up afterwards. Send out a Save the Date email three months ahead, including an ‘RSVP for a formal invitation’ request. That way you have a clearer idea of numbers and can start thinking about practicalities.

3. Guests 
Another advantage of a collaborative launch is the broad network. We each invited family and friends, along with other writers (traditionally published, self-published, unpublished), journalists, agents, book bloggers and various industry pros. The hit rate seems to be about 70%. Yet, even though there were five of us covering the room, we hardly seemed to spend more than a couple of minutes with people. Be prepared for constantly being distracted. It’s a good idea to state there will be a specific signing time – eg, half an hour before the event winds up – so you can spend more time talking (and drinking pink fizz).

4. The event 
Three hours seems to be the optimum time for such an event. An hour’s greeting and chatting, 45 minutes of ‘event’ and the rest of the time networking and trying to get to the buffet. An MC works well – someone who’s not you. We asked writer Lorraine Mace to play host at the first event, while our own Liza Perrat took control this June. If possible, it’s worth rehearsing, to get the logistics right, working with the microphone, and ensuring the music/background noise is not intrusive. Keep readings short. On our second occasion, which launched An Earthless Melting Pot, the anthology of Words with JAM competition winners, as well as four Triskele releases, we chose to ask only the winners to read. The Triskele authors participated in a brief Q&A, keeping the atmosphere lively, but informative.

5. Food and drink 
Overcatering. On both occasions, we ended up throwing food away. Lesson learnt: provide simple nibbles (crisps, nuts, breadsticks), keep the fizz flowing and just let people chat. Order wine, champagne etc on a returnable basis. That way, you’ll not run out, but unopened bottles will be refunded. Juice, water and soft drinks can be ordered the same way. We used Majestic’s service which includes a Party Planner. http://www.majestic.co.uk/Services/Parties If you’re launching alone, or with authors in a similar genre, you might consider thematically related comestibles. A horror author recently threw an excellent vodka-fuelled bash in a basement, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre flickering on one wall. A group of chicklit authors went with cupcakes and pink champagne on a sunny terrace, decorated with pastel balloons.

6. Books 
Order in plenty of time so you know copies will be there on the day. Print a large, clearly visible price list. Bribe a family member to act as salesperson. Provide a float and a record list of how many of which book has been sold. Bring something other than a chewed Bic for signing and take the time to practise first, especially if using a pseudonym. Invest in some book display stands and menu holders for pricelists, etc. http://www.stand-store.co.uk/acatalog/shop.html

7. Photographs 
The photos are vital to post-launch promotion, so grab the chance to get some pics with guests and books. Ensure you have dedicated posing time, ideally before the guests arrive, so you can focus and have a moment of calm. Give the photographer a list of shots you need and ask others to send their good ones. Amazingly, for a bunch of females, we forgot to discuss what we would be wearing. But through pure luck, our outfits happened to go well together on both occasions.

8. Promo materials 
We ordered generic posters and bookmarks, along with postcards for each book (cover on the front, blurb plus QR code on the back to facilitate ease of e-purchase). Don’t forget Blu-Tak. Book-sized paper bags for purchases, already primed with bookmarks and postcards are handy for people to carry their goodies away.

9. Cost 
Factor in the price of venue, catering, promotional materials, print and transportation of books. Do check which services add VAT (ahem). The cost of these two events has averaged at £1500. Not something we could have considered alone, but sharing the costs between us makes it less painful. Takings on the day are unlikely to cover the outlay, but the subsequent bump in sales, not to mention positive publicity, goodwill and the fun of an afternoon in the company of writers and booklovers makes it absolutely worthwhile.

10. Follow up 
Thank people for coming. Send those links you promised and pass on introductions. Set a Google Alert and find out who’s writing it up. Comment and say thanks. Write up your own version and share via social media. Then start planning all over again.
As for our next event? Something a little different and rather exciting. Watch this space ...

By JJ Marsh – author, reader, Triskelite, journalist, Nuancer, reviewer and blogger. Likes: pugs, Werner Herzog and anchovies. Dislikes: meat, chocolate and institutionalised sexism. Short story collection out now.


  1. ah, but what about an online launch party for the writers of e-books! Thoughts please?

  2. I know someone who might be able to cover online launch parties. Watch this space.

  3. I had my wedding here back in May last year and I felt like it was a flawless day for us! Plus all of us dressed up only added to the entire setting.
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