Saturday 1 August 2015

Cleo rides again or How to have a historical launch party by Mary Hoffman

You remember that our May guest was Lucy Coats? She talked about the masses of research she had done for her latest YA novel, Cleo (published by Orchard). Well, last month the book was thoroughly launched at the Thames-side apartment of a friend, which is rapidly becoming the go-to venue for all History Girls and their guests.

The first rule of any launch party: get a book cake made!

On the left, the fabulous cover of Cleo designed by Thy Bui. On the right, the equally fabulous cake made by a friend of Lucy's (this one was hand-painted but there are sites you can find in the Internet which will make you a cake topper based on a photograph).

The room was dressed with appropriate detail:
As was the author:
The inventive canapés were labelled things like "Bastet balls" and "Sobek Surprises" and the prosecco flowed. You can name the most ordinary nibbles acording to your book's theme - they don't have to be as spectacular as these actually were. Even a Twiglet will sound more exciting as a "Devil Stick" if your novel happens to be about the persucution of witches.

So, what to do if you don't have a friend with a fabulous apartment? Candy Gourlay recently wrote about book launches (and she has attended a couple by the Thames) and makes it clear that you cut your party coat according to your cloth. Those readers of this who aren't writers might be surprised to discover that we have been organising these things ourselves. "Isn't that what publishers' publicity departments do?" I hear you ask.

The fact is that publisher launches are increasingly rare and if you want a splash, you must part with some cash. Many bookshops, especially the independents will be having to host your party without charging room hire as long as you organise the food, drink and glasses. And your editor will graciously come and say a few words, relieved that you haven't thrown an author wobbly and deminded cocktails at the Ritz.

And if you've written a historical novel, so much the better, as these lend themselves best of all to a little room-dressing and indeed dressing up.

Nothing says Ancient Egypt like a few gingerbread pyramids on a tray of soft brown sugar sand! And a quick trawl of the Internet will bring you some essential items, like a pink plastic flamingo:

And if you are shy and averse to dressing up, you can usually count on some young people to do it for you. What you can't avoid is the "author reading" unless you have an actor friend to do it for you. Your public (i.e. all the happy friends at your party) will expect it.

And who are these people? You will invite some journalists and reviewers in a spirit of hope for some attention to your book but you will be lucky if one or two show up. Bloggers are usually happy to come so choose some who write about your genre or books for the age group your title is for. But paper the room with your nearest and dearest, family and close friends, who will be genuinely happy for your book and listen with rapt attention to the reading.

But beware of cultural differences when checking your RSVP list: I recently discovered it's customary to bring a "Plus One" to parties even when that hasn't been specified on the invitation - a complete no-no in the UK.

If your launch isn't in a bookshop, see if you can get an independent bookseller to come along with copies for sale. It spreads the word and people are very amenable to buying books when mellow with wine and charmed by your set dressing ideas.

Above all, enjoy yourself! You've written and published a full-length book, something that thousands of people dream of doing and very few achieve. Let your hair down - maybe twist it up into an elegant style or wear a hat or a wig, like the amazing Sarah McIntyre. (try the About or Events pages to see what I mean!)

My next launch will be of Shakespeare's Ghost and I'm definitely willing to dress up. But I need a beautiful young man and a baldy with a beard to be the bard. Any offers?

1 comment:

Sue Bursztynski said...

Sounds wonderful! What a lovely person, to host launches!

If you're a children's writer, you can also have your launch at your local school. Most schools with libraries are happy to host them - I know I am. It gives us the excuse to call in the local papers(promotion for us as well as the author) and have a more or less free visit by the author, something important to a disadvantaged school like mine. ;-) For the first school based launch of one of my own books I managed to persuade the publishers to donate $50, which was plenty for the wonderful teacher librarian to buy sweets, chips and cordial for the kids attending. They also gave us a few copies of the book which were given to the winners of a trivia quiz on the theme of the book, which was space and astronauts. And the newspapers came in to cover the event.

I did once organise a launch of my children's history of crime through Sisters In Crime, which was very successful as an event, but not really worth it in the end. I had to pay quite a lot of money for all the champers, because my local branch meets at a pub, which meant my publisher, who has a very good wine cellar and is happy to supply the booze, couldn't bring any. The bookseller on the night did sell all the copies of the book.

My lovely publisher now does launches "at home" since his little publishing company now has its own office.

My very first book was launched in my flat, as a party for family and a very few friends. It was on the theme of monsters and the decorations and music were appropriate. It was fun!