Friday, October 8, 2010

Book Launches - some Novel Ideas

Carolyn Howard Johnson has long been a boon to the writing community. With her stable of books that showed us how to attack all aspects of writing with being "frugal" in mind, she's shared a great deal that has helped many writers along the way. 

Today I asked Carolyn to provide an article about book launch tips. I'm sure you'll find some ideas here that spark and motivate you - I sure did!

Whether you're launching a mystery or a romance, planning a party for an urban thriller or a how-to book, these tips will help you think outside the box. 

Because of this, I'm now planning to buy a bunch of green marbles to give out at my book launch for Healey's Cave, and maybe seek out some garden conventions to do some talks or book signings. You never know! And I wouldn't have thought about it unless I'd read her article. 


                                                                                                           - Aaron Paul Lazar

Target Your Audience and Get Paid for Your Book Launch

Copyright Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques and The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won't

Book launches are the stuff dreams are made of.

I've had many and know by now that—like weddings—they can drain even an ample promotion budget. Still, they can be an excellent promotion device and the most fun part of writing a book next to writing it, so I'd never, ever suggest an author pass over a launch opportunity; I would suggest the launch should be designed to fit the situation and that an author can throw a good party and still be frugal.

Here are some general book launch situations that an author might find him or herself in:

Your book covers a niche that absolutely none of your friends, relatives, business associates, or former readers are interested in. If that is the case you must know that your book has an audience or you wouldn't have written it. That is the audience you invite—that particular category of people. Your launch becomes limited only to them. They are your target and this approach lets you choose the venue, the theme, the decorations and food—everything—that will make a hit with them. It's targeted marketing at its best.

This is the group I found myself in with the release of A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques ( ). Oh, it would have been different had I published it a few years ago when I was still in retailing, but I'm afraid I've let my contacts dwindle and retailing has changed drastically in this market downturn eliminating many of my old retailing friends. In fact, that market downturn coupled with my continued love of the industry are my reasons for writing it.

This is my sixth book in nearly as many genres but this particular situation found me figuring out a new model for a launch. Because I was worried about the book's financial success (not what it can give to a reader or its quality—I have confidence in those things or I wouldn't have published it!), I am going to need to build a new audience. That means I need to stay on a budget. A tight budget.

I asked myself, what is the best way to do be Frugal, and it came to me as I was sitting by the fire in January, watching embers dwindle to mere sparks. Let someone pay me to do a launch.

Now, I'm lucky. I have already spoken widely in many venues and have rave endorsements to prove it. If you haven't, you can still use part of this idea as a model.

This is what I did. I got a speaking job at a national tradeshow of retailers and I used this book (plus past retailing experience) as an entrée. Yes, a paying job. I am not only going to speak, the show people are going to plop me onto the middle of their tradeshow floor to sign my book. They're also running an interview in the show's daily newspaper and ads in their directory because it's a great service for their buyers.

I'll also be able to sell A Retailer's Guide at the back of the room at the two seminars I will be doing. So, except for the cost of the books, this launch not only will cost me nothing but it is a win-win. It's a new model for retail shows (at least everyone thinks it is in spite of the fact there is nothing new in the world) and so the entire idea is getting lots of publicity for the show as well as for me.

But what if you think there is no equivalent to a tradeshow for your book or that you haven't the speaking credentials to do this. Well, think again. This is what you do:

1. Put on your thinking cap. There are all kinds of trade shows, trade magazines, publishers, etc. etc in this nation and this world. Reference librarians have magic thinking caps of their own. Ask one at your local library to help you. Think foundations, charities, grants, unions, business organizations, social organizations, national fraternities and more.

There has to be some angle in your book that is a match for some entity within these 50 states or beyond that would welcome something fresh and new for their audience. They need a value-added entity that will set them apart from their competitors. That something fresh and new to value-added is you.

2. Sell yourself. Use a great query letter and media kit that presents WOW! ways that business entity can benefit from what you offer. You may include a speech, workshop, or seminar in that pitch if you think it will strengthen your bid—or not.

3. Sell the way you can sell your appearance. You have been building a platform (that part of your experience that convinces editors, publishers, and agents of your following and your ability to promote), so now you'll tell this contact about your skills and credibility.

4. Once you've got this new model going, prove your value. Not only do what you said you would do for them, do more. An example is this article. It's another win-win-win! situation. I get to help authors with a new model for a launch; Marv Wilson gets to help his blog visitors by using my article. The National Stationery Show ® (  gets some more publicity (there may be some retailers in Marv's group who need to know about that tradeshow and there may be some who aren't retailers willing to pass the information on about the Stationery Show and about my book!). 

The National Stationery Show benefits because they are providing unparalleled buyer education directly to their attendees and those attendees will go back to their hometowns, tell other retailers about the fantastic education program offered by this tradeshow that included perquisites for their attendees above and beyond the usual tradeshow experience.

You have now published so many books your friends, and relatives are all jaded by your publishing success. For them your launches now resemble the same-ish formal wedding your sister-in-law invited you to for all six of her marriages. In this case your launch should be directed at its target audience. Only you know who that audience is, but it is probably the loyal fans who have purchased your other books in a series or a specific genre (provided this one offers something new and exciting). For them you'll need to do something different. Launches are, after all, more about the guests and the author.

This is your first book; it interests a broad range or people and you want to give a bash for everyone. In a case like this, everyone you know will want to celebrate with you and you should give them a chance to do so.

You'll still want to select a fun theme based on the subject of your book, pick a venue that suits it, and on and on. I'm The Frugal Book Promoter ( ), so I must tell you to get a handle on expenses early or this could turn out to be as expensive as some of the most lavish weddings. If you don't care, have at it. Otherwise, plan a budget.

For my first book, a women's historical novel set in Utah in the 1950s, I decided I had some money to spend but I asked the Gene Autrey Museum of Western History in Griffith Park in Los Angeles if they'd let me use their theater. Because the book is based on the true stories of five generations of hardy Utah pioneers, they miraculously said, "Yes." I didn't pay for the venue but their bookstore sold the book and reaped the profit from that. Again, win-win.

I even chose little favors for attendees, something I don't usually recommend unless the author can find something both reasonably priced and suitable for the launch theme. I found thimbles with a picture of the state of Utah on them and bought them by the gross from a wholesaler. I put my aging (and needle-handy) mother to work making little felt pouches for them, my husband to work making little tags with a quotation from the book theme and hand-punching holes in the tags to tie onto the pouches. Yep. Frugal—but also different and suitable for the history-related party.

I did spend some on trays of mini sandwiches and other finger foods from Whole Foods. Not cheap, but certainly not an expensive caterer. I did tons of promotion and, because it was in a public place, many people I didn't know showed up. We had a guest book and my good friends—with very little arm twisting—volunteered to help guests sign the guest book for future mailing lists, serve the punch, and act as ushers. As I recall, the cost came to about $500. I'll never forget it.

The launch I recently did for Frugal and Focused Tweeting for Retailers ( cost me nothing. In fact, the launch was profitable. I presented two seminars at the National Stationery Show at the Javits Center in New York. Trade shows like this are a bit like Book Expo America.  I found a wonderful sponsor for the book (Gift Shop magazine). The Stationery show offered me a spot on the trade show floor for a signing and publicized both the signing and the presentations. Again, everyone won. For the retailers attending the show, a book signing was an innovation. The National Stationery Show lead the industry in an innovation like that. We all learned from one another; we learned more about the possibilities of inter-industry networking. 

Don't you dare believe that no public place will want you. Charitable organizations, schools, and some businesses will be happy to trade for the publicity you'll give them and the profit they'll make on your book. If not, have it at home. My next launch (for a book of short stories called Harkening) was at my friend's home. She is herself an author (obviously sympathetic!)  and her sweet hospitality included inviting all her personal friends.

Another very low-cost kind of launch is to use the Web. Include a Twitter contest, blog tours, Facebook event and offer freebies. The Web is almost always one of the most frugal choices for any kind of promotion.

All my books have had a launch of sorts including my chapbooks of poetry and each was well worth the time and cost. Yours is, too. Choose wisely, and go for it!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson puts nearly three decades of retail experience plus oodles more in the fields of journalism, public relations, publishing, and marketing into this first in her new Survive and Thrive series of books. She consults in the three Ps: publishing, promotion, and publicity and is the author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and award-winning books of fiction and poetry.

Howard-Johnson founded and operated stores ranging from home décor to gifts to antiques and other collectibles. She owned and operated the souvenir shop at the world renowned Santa Anita Race Track. She has served on the boards of directors of the malls where her stores were located, of the boards of cooperative catalogs her stores utilized, and periodicals like Gift Beat. She also served on the California Gift Show board of directors. She puts this world of experience in retailing to work for you with this series of Survive and Thrive books and in private consultation sessions.

Howard-Johnson was named Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment by members of the California Legislature. The American Business Women’s Association (ABWA) Impact Council also named her Woman of the Year and Pasadena Weekly honored her for literary activism. Her Web site is A Retailer's Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions is also available as a Kindle book (


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Hi, Carolyn, you always have great idea--and I've borrowed a few along the way.

Lately, I've been doing launches at a nearby used bookstore. The owner is happy because new people have found the store and she actually serves the refreshments.

Hope to run into you again sometime soon.


Marta Stephens said...

It's always such a pleasure to welcome you back to MB4, Carolyn! Great information here as in your book, "The Frugal Book Promoter."

I refer to it often. :)

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

What fun to be here today. I'm a little late but I'm going to tweet about ths post and about this blog--a neat resource for writers for sure.

Thank you Marta and Mystery Queen Meredith!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Blogging writers' resources at Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites pick

The Old Silly said...

Excellent article, Carolyn. But then, I've come to expect nothing less from HoJo! (wink)

And hey - thanks for the shout out, too. :) I'll be using some of these ideas for the promotion of my new novel, Beware the Devil's Hug, for sure!

Marvin D Wilson

Unknown said...

Thanks for the great tips.

I'm gathering info for my first BIG BOOK LAUNCH! "Sh, Sh, Sh Will the Baby Sleep" will be coming out soon from Guardian Angel Publishing!

Darcía Helle said...

Carolyn, great information as always! You continually inspire me with new ideas for marketing and promotion. Thanks for sharing!

Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn, these are great tips. My book won't be coming out until late 2011 or very early 2012 (from 4RV Publishing), but I'll save this for future use.

Dallas said...

Terrific post, Carolyn!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Carolyn, just back from my long weekend on Honeoye Lake, and happy to see you drew some new readers to the blog! Great article (of course, I already knew that!) and hope you'll come back again soon.