In Pursuit of the Perfect Storm (Part 1):
Planning and Promoting a Book Launch and Signing
Guest Post by Karen Spafford-Fitz
I was thrilled when Orca released Vanish, my second middle-grade novel, in March 2013. As with my first book, I planned to hold a book launch and signing in Edmonton, where I have lived for 20 years. Upon realizing that many friends and family members living in eastern Ontario also wanted to help celebrate the release of my new book, we decided to launch Vanish in my hometown of Kingston as well.
In both instances, I was pleased with the strong turnout and the enjoyable launch days—especially when it can be challenge to pack a bookstore. I thought other authors might be interested in how I planned my book launches and signings
This “warts and all” account includes not just the steps that I found effective, but also those that possibly amounted to time-wasters. I offer them all in the hope that these strategies—or variations on them—might work beautifully for other authors.
To that end, here are some ideas for how to plan and execute a successful book launch:
Seek Out the Best Venue (three to four months before launch)
- I prefer working with independent bookstores as they are so supportive of local authors and are experts in connecting the right books to their ideal readers. I was delighted that Audreys Books in Edmonton and Novel Idea Bookstore in Kingston agreed to host my launches.
- As the launches approached, I updated the bookstores as best I could about the approximate number of guests. They then estimated the number of books we would require for the launch days.
- Since Vanish would likely spark renewed interest in my previous title, both stores brought in copies of Dog Walker, which also sold well.
- The bookstore owners were pleased with the number of people who visited their bookstores. They continue to take a personal interest in hand-selling my book.
Results: Highly effective
Choose a Strategic Launch Date (three to four months before launch)
- Mid-April was my preferred date for the Edmonton launch and I began inquiring before Christmas. Audreys especially has ongoing commitments with book clubs, Stroll of Poets, etc and I was glad we pulled out our calendars early.
- I chose Sunday afternoons for both launches as families sometimes have more downtime then. Timing the launch for the weekend was especially important for my Kingston launch as guests were travelling in from the Ottawa and Toronto areas—something they couldn’t have readily done on a weeknight.
- I was careful to avoid long weekends but realized belatedly that my Edmonton launch fell on the final day of the Masters’ Golf Tournament. I know of one person who did not attend for that reason. (Thankfully it was not my husband.)
Resluts: Highly effective
Prepare a Guest List and Send Invitations (six weeks before launch)
- I sought the advice of the marketing manager at Orca to determine which types of promotional materials would best support the launches. Orca created an e-vite that could be sent by email and a poster that could be printed and distributed.
- This was not the time to grow shy about whether to invite this person or that person! I widely emailed the e-vite that Orca prepared. I included out-of-town people whom I thought might order a book even if they couldn’t attend.
- I reached many people by email and replied personally as they responded with acceptances or declines. I did not use snail mail at all.
Results: Highly effective
Spread the Word via Social Media (four or five weeks before launch)
- I relied extensively on Facebook, posting the e-vite plus creating a Facebook event for both launches. I responded personally as people replied with acceptances or declines.
- Every week or 10 days, I reminded people about my launch. And because I wanted to avoid repetitions of “Please come to my book launch,” I looked for creative ways to do this. For example, I tied the reminders to food updates for my launch days or to wacky wardrobe choices I was presumably considering.
- I also posted the invitation in the various writing associations to which I belong. In some instances, you can to post with other writing groups and associations that you have “liked.”
Results: Highly effective
Gear the Book Talk Toward Connecting Guests to the Characters and Story
- I provided guests with some back-story on Vanish so the characters and storyline would hopefully resonate on a personal level with them.
- I chose readings that I hoped would encourage guests to want to hear more. My first reading was the opening chapter, which introduces my central characters and the basic situation (thereby avoiding the need for lengthy explanations to set the stage). My second reading was from a high-action scene where my protagonist realizes that a crisis is unfolding.
- I wanted my book talk to last approximately 20 minutes (it was slightly longer)—long enough to make the event feel worthwhile for guests, but not so long they grew tired of listening. In that time, I acknowledged the bookstore, Orca, my immediate family, and the guests in general; shared some back-story; and did two readings, which were approximately eight minutes in total.
Results: Highly effective
Distribute Posters to Schools, Libraries and Small Businesses
- Orca made posters to advertise the launches and I took them to schools, libraries, and various small businesses (eg. vet clinic, bakeries, small, local supermarkets).
- I received particularly warm responses at the schools, whose responses included posting my invitation in visible places (parent drop-off spots, in libraries, by the front office), sharing it at staff meetings or morning announcements, and scanning it to the school’s website.
- I drew in some people this way, especially at schools where teachers and students knew me personally from school visits.
Results: Moderately effective
Prepare Promotional Emails for Area Schools
- Because Vanish is written for 10- to 14-year-old readers, I targeted both elementary and junior high schools within Edmonton Public School Board.
- My email included a book synopsis and link to Vanish on Orca’s website, along with the e-vite to my launch. I also mentioned my past work within EPSB in the hopes that this might recall some previous teaching connections.
- The only schools that replied back to me were those where someone in the front office or the principal knew me. Did the others simply hit the ‘delete’ key? Perhaps.
Results: Minimally effective
Submit Invitations to Online Community Postings
- I relied on this step for my “away” launch in Kingston, posting the e-vite on an online guide in nearby Napanee. Because I am a Queen’s University graduate, I was also permitted to post on Queen’s Community Events page.
Results: Somewhat effective
Engage with your Audience:
This leads me to the final factor, which I feel was most significant in creating a successful book launch and signing. (Warning: This last factor is not splashy or sexy and can take years to accomplish. But the good news is that many people can put it into practice immediately.)
Talk to students. Engage with others. Tell people what you do.
- In large part, the people who supported me at my launches are those whom I have come to know personally and professionally over the years.
- My guests were primarily from the following groups: friends from my current and former communities; my daughters’ friends; my writing colleagues; my husband’s colleagues; friends from the dog park; students from my writing workshops plus friends they brought with them; family members; my grade 13 English teacher; my grade ten history teacher; and my high-school friends who gathered from the surrounding areas and treated my launch as a mini high-school reunion. I am grateful to all of them.
Results: HIGHEST EFFECTIVENESS
So did I create the ideal conditions for a successful book launch and signing? Did I find that “perfect storm” that I referenced in the title?
Yes and no….
Check back tomorrow for part 2 of Karen’s blog post, “In Pursuit of the Perfect Storm.” Tomorrow, Karen will reflect on the success of her launches and what she’ll focus on next time.
I’d like to thank Anna Olswanger from Liza Dawson Associates for sharing her time and expertise with us this month. Your first page is the first thing anyone sees of your story, so the more we can hone the beginning, the better off we will be in writing a successful book. I know we can all learn from these sessions. Even if it is not your first page, you can make note of the thoughts of an editor or agent after they have critiqued the page.
Here are the four first pages picked this month and Anna’s thoughts:
Hope Grietzer The Carousel Keeper Middle Grade Novel
A parade of green swells rose and sank in the murky water beneath the boat. The deck of the ferry dipped again, and for a moment Sadie felt weightless.
“Just ten more minutes,” she thought, gripping the rail as the ferry climbed the crest of the next swell. A gusty wind tugged at her baseball cap like a passing pickpocket, and Sadie’s hand flew up to protect her cap. She squeezed her eyes shut.
“Bit choppy today,” a voice said.
The steward approached, the ends of his white jacket flapping in the breeze like seagull
wings. Red hair hugged his head, and his ears stuck out like pot handles.
“Anything I can do for you, Miss?”
“Can you send me back to Ohio?” Sadie forced a small grin.
“I would, except I promised your uncle I’d deliver you to the island safe and sound.” He
glanced around the crowded ferry. “Follow me.”
Sadie eased away from the rail. The mischievous deck sank before her sneaker could reach it, and then rose so that her foot smacked it hard.
“Feels like I’m walking on the moon,” she thought, hobbling after the steward.
The man paused and gestured toward a vacant seat. “The ride should be smoother here.”
A mother with a squirmy toddler shifted to make room as Sadie sank onto the bench. Across the aisle, a wiry man in a brown suit coat gave Sadie and the child a nervous glance and tugged his briefcase closer. Sadie gave him her best smile but he scowled back, his thick eyebrows drawing together like a blackbird’s wings.
Sadie wished her brother Jamie was here. He had a knack for making friends. But Sadie
traveled alone, sailing toward Summer Island while her parents flew to Brazil. They broke the
news to her last week.
The Carousel Keeper
I would keep reading beyond the first page to find out what life will be like for Sadie on Summer Island. (Will she find a friend? Will she see the steward again? What is her uncle like?)
I do think some minor details are distracting: the image of red hair hugging the steward’s head, for example. What is the point of that detail, or of the detail of his ears sticking out? It feels as though the author may be trying to fill up space. The deck being “mischievous” feels like overwriting, and what is it like to walk on the moon? The reader has been experiencing the choppiness of the ride, so would walking on the moon be “choppy?”
Is there a significance to the bird imagery? The stewards’s white jacket flaps like seagull wings. The man in the brown suit has eyebrows that draw together like a blackbird’s wings. Make it clear if an image is part of a theme. Otherwise, the details seem arbitrary.
The hint of Jamie at the end is nice.
Annina Luck Wildermuth
Ned Bunting, Ghost Spotter & the Ghost with the Hooded Cloak Middle Grade (ages 8 – 12)
Ned was two hours into his watch, crouched behind the old elm at Walnut Hollow graveyard, when he spotted his first ghost of the night. Of course, he’d seen all kinds of ghosts the week before when he was still in training with his older brother Tom, but this was different. He was alone now.
As his luck would have it though, he could already see that this one was a poor excuse for a ghost. All its potentially distinguishing marks were obscured by a voluminous hooded cloak.
The horse it rode was equally undistinguished, poking its way among the graves, slow as molasses.
How am I supposed to identify this ghost? wondered Ned, starting to worry. As Walnut Hollow’s new ghost spotter, he was supposed to identify and log in all the ghosts who came through the town and make sure that they were obeying the local haunting laws.
He fumbled now to produce Ghosts of the Thirteen Colonies & Their Classification from inside his vest. Satisfied that the horse and rider were making slow progress at best, he thumbed the book’s worn pages, his lantern flickering beside him. Ghosts were portrayed in great detail with identifiable characteristics. There was General Whitelsby, the angry, old red-coat in his unmistakable British uniform and Abigail, the Quaker in her fancy white neck ruff. The mad horseman from Sleepy Hollow always carried his head under his arm. Ned’s eyes darted to the graveyard, and he groaned inwardly. Nothing.
And then the wind whipped up, blowing through the tree’s branches and whistling its way between the gravestones. It twirled around the ghost and lifted its cloak into the air to reveal a small, cross girl in the frilliest dress Ned had ever seen. She looked straight at him and wailed: “How am I ever going to accomplish my mission, now that I’ve been so rudely unmasked?”
Ned Bunting, Ghost Spotter
This first page ends on a nice note of suspense, so I would want to read further, but the first sentence is too long and clunky. Try to clean it up, since that is an editor’s first impression of your manuscript.
It’s not clear why you have the detail that this ghost was a poor excuse. Tom is logging in ghosts and making sure they obey the local haunting laws, so his luck is not that this ghost is a poor excuse, but that it has no distinguishing marks.
The use of a book implies that this is a contemporary story. Is that what you intend, or is the story set in the past? If it’s set in the past, then shouldn’t the book be manuscript pages with handwritten notes?
When Ned’s eyes dart to the graveyard, he groans. If he’s groaning because he still can’t identity this ghost, then make it clear that he is looking at the ghost, not at the graveyard (in general) to eliminate any confusion.
The last paragraph is perfect.
Liliana Erasmus - Song Of The Sentinel - paranormal middle-grade.
What is father doing here? I told him to stay out of it. This isn’t his battle to fight. His glorious days of vigilance are over. Gone. It’s my turn now. Why doesn’t he get it? He is dead. I am not. And he knows I’m here, I can feel his light shifting closer. His presence. My lantern blows out.
“Go. Away,” I urge him in silence.
I don’t even turn around to look into his empty eyes, or at that ridiculous horse that carries him around, for what? To attract all the hungry creatures in the neighborhood and make my life more miserable than it already is? I have to keep position and here he comes, shimmering behind me like a lighthouse signaling, Look here! You see ‘m? Now suck his life out!
They’re coming. I’m not sure how many this time. Three? Four?
“Father, for God’s sake, leave! Let it be.”
Once again, he backs off, his light dimming and I know he’s further away, but never for long, never too far from danger… from me.
The September wind has fallen, the trees stand breathless, moonlit tombs lie in repose and I still get that paralyzing chill down my spine. The buzzing in my ears is getting louder, it’s growing until it becomes a constant whistle in my head, ticking me off. If I jump now, they’ll know what to do with me. I’m on my own. They are with one, five… eleven, damn! I have to wait for them to stick their tongues into the earth before making any sound. One of them is not sniffing the graves. It’s holding back for some reason, tilting its snout in the air, tail high and stiff, while that foul smell of decay reaches my nose, making me gag. I swallow the sourness without blinking. The furry carcass is staring right at me.
Song of the Sentinel
I would probably keep reading this manuscript, but this page is confusing. Here are my concerns:
The narrator speaks in both vernacular and formal language: “stay out of it” and “doesn’t he get it” don’t work with “His glorious days of vigilance are over.”
It also doesn’t make sense for the narrator to say, “he knows I’m here” when it’s the narrator who can feel the father’s presence.
The phrase “my life more miserable than it already is” is vague. The reader needs a hint of what has been going on. Miserable in what way?
Who says “Look here! You see ‘m? Now suck his life out!’ The reader can’t tell.
Who says “They’re coming. I’m not sure how many this time. Three? Four?” Again, the reader can’t tell who is speaking.
What does it mean for tombs to “lie in repose?” It sounds as though the author is trying too hard here to be literary.
What does it mean that the narrator “still” gets that paralyzing chill down his or her spine? Has this happened in the past?
“Ticking me off” sounds too slangy, and too trite.
What does it means to swallow the sourness “without blinking?” What does sight have to do with taste in this instance?
I like the images in the last paragraph, and I especially like the suspenseful last sentence. I would continue reading, but the author should clear up all the confusion on this first page so that an editor will feel that the author is in control of her craft.
Meg Eastman Thompson, THE TRUTH ABOUT JUSTICE. MG/YA novel
Restless as a yellow-jacket at a barbecue, I bounded down the sidewalk to fetch the bread and milk for supper as Mother had ordered, heading for the Piggly Wiggly. I was lonely, missing Effie more than ever. Wondering where she and her family had hidden. Not wanting to believe they’d never come back.
When Missy and I had promised Effie we’d stand by each other no matter what, we’d taken our vows seriously. It hadn’t mattered back then that Effie was colored. We three were true friends. As I passed Liberty High and turned left toward the grocery store, there was not a friend in sight. Most everybody had been sent away, what with the coloreds asking to come to our school.
My next-door neighbor and sometime friend, Missy Pridemoor, and nearly everyone else, was having fun at church camp. I had begged to go, but Daddy insisted I was too old to be a camper. When I’d protested, he made it clear that, three years away from college, I was too young to make my own decisions. As usual Mother stuck by him.
When I was little, she’d always say, “Amelia Justice Queen, your Daddy knows what’s best for you.” But it was 1963 now and I was changing, along with everything else in our country. Even Mother was starting to speak up. When she told Daddy that camp was nothing but a non-stop revival meeting, it got me thinking. I didn’t need to be saved. Nor did I want to waste the end of my summer vacation listening to some preacher baying like an auctioneer. I stopped complaining. At fifteen, going on sixteen, I was smart enough to pick my battles.
Besides, I wanted to enjoy my last days of freedom. I skipped along. Released from their impossible overprotectiveness, which had only grown worse since stopping integration was once again on the school board agenda, I was determined to make the best of my trip to the store.
The Piggly Wiggly’s deep freeze was heavenly. I lingered by the ice cream treats.
The Truth About Justice
Although I think this manuscript has potential because of the voice and content, I found the first page so full of exposition (and some of it confusing), that I don’t think I’d continue reading. Look at the first sentence and how long it is—the first page feels a bit like this (stuffed with information).
I don’t understand who the narrator is and what she wants: In the first paragraph, she is lonely for Effie; in the second paragraph, she seems to be missing her friends in general; in the third paragraph, she wants to go to camp; in the fourth paragraph, she decides she doesn’t want to go camp; and in the fifth paragraph, she seems just to want to enjoy her freedom. All of these motivations feel like too much for one page. The narrator has to have one overriding motivation that will take her (and the reader) through that first page—and on through the book.
It’s also confusing that in the third paragraph, the mother sticks by the father, but in the next paragraph she tells the father that the camp is nothing but a non-stop revival meeting.
And, finally, a fifteen-year-old protagonist is a bit too old for a novel that has the feel, at least in this opening page, of a middle grade novel (the narrator skips). If the author could lower the age and focus the narrator’s motivation, she should have a first page that an agent or editor would want to keep reading.
Thank you everyone for participating. Happy revising.
Filed under: Advice
Tagged: Anna Olswanger
, First Page Critique
, Free Fall Friday
, Liza Dawson Associates Literary Agency
For all you Jerry Spinelli and STARGIRL fans, don’t miss out seeing STARGIRL on stage.
April 20—May 12, 2013
By Y York
Adapted from the novel by Jerry Spinelli
Directed by Samantha Bellomo
When an eccentric homeschooler arrives at Mica Area High School, hallways buzz with texts, whispers fill the air, and 11th grader Leo Borlock’s life is changed forever. Based on the critically-acclaimed young adult novel by Jerry Spinelli, the author of everyone’s favorite Maniac Magee, Stargirl celebrates first love, non-conformity, and the similarities that connect us all. Best appreciated by ages 12 and up.
Join the actors after every performance to discuss the making of the production.
Meet Author Jerry Spinelli!
Jerry is the author of more than 30 books including Stargirl, Crash, Loser, Milkweed, Knots in My Yo-Yo String, and has recently released a new novel, Hokey Pokey. In 1991 he received the Newbery Medal for Maniac Magee and was awarded the Newbery Honor in 1998 for Wringer.
Join us for book signings with Jerry Spinelli before these performances of Stargirl:
May 11 at 1pm
There are 5 shows still available from Thursday May 9th – May 12th and Jerry Spinelli will be signing books at 1 pm, before the 2 pm Saturday matinee.
Mother’s Day: The theatre is having a buffet brunch or prix fixe dinner with a performance of Stargirl on Sunday, May 12th! Experience their award-winning gardens and the charming, historic setting of the 18th-century farmhouse. What a nice way to celebrate Mom’s Day. Reserve your table and tickets now!
Calling all Star-people! Only today to work on this:
Enter to win tickets to a performance of Stargirl at People’s Light and Theater, along with a chance to meet Stargirl and receive a copy of the book, signed by Jerry Spinelli!
Simply send us a 250-word essay or link to a 2-min video describing to us the person you are, just like Stargirl does in her “The Person I Am” speech.
Essays and videos can be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org and MUST be received by Monday, May 6th. Winners will be contacted directly so please be sure to include your name, age, and contact information (email and home phone).
(Note: If any of the pictures in this post or other posts are squished, refresh your screen and it will correct.)
Hope you live close enough to take advantage of this.
Filed under: Author
, Young Adult Novel
Tagged: book signing
, Jerry Spinelli
, Malvern PA
, Stargirl play
, The People's Light Theatre
It seems more and more picture books and middle grade books are being picked up and brought to stages around the country. We all dream of seeing our books on the big screen, but more and more production companies are looking at children’s books to bring to the stage. I thought you might like to know that if you live in the New York area you can see Eileen’s Spinelli’s picture book “Wanda’s Monster” played out on stage. It sounds like a lot of fun and runs through May 12 at Theater 3, 311 West 43rd Street, NYC (646) 250-1178, www.makingbookssing.org .
Here is a an article that appeared in Theater Review on April 25th.
Feared Fiend to Gentle Friend
Wanda’s Monster,’ With Laurie Berkner’s Tunes, at Theater 3
By LAUREL GRAEBER
Anyone familiar with cable television knows that plenty of adults believe in monsters. But the parents of Wanda, the heroine of the new family musical “Wanda’s Monster,” must not be fans of series like “Finding Bigfoot.” Wanda can’t convince them or her brother that a creature lives in her closet.
Audiences at Theater 3, however, know he’s there. Looking more like a Honker from “Sesame Street” than like Nessie or Sasquatch, this fuzzy beast enters from the aisles. Like the children around him, he’s been enjoying the show’s opening, set at a rock club run by Wanda’s grandmother. Granny, you see, is Joan Jett.
Well, not really Joan Jett, though she does wear black leather and ride motorcycles. Mostly Granny evokes Laurie Berkner, a wholesome singer-songwriter who’s bigger than Justin Bieber, if you happen to be 4 or 5. Making Books Sing, which turns children’s books into musicals, commissioned Ms. Berkner to write the score and lyrics for “Wanda’s Monster,” based on Eileen Spinelli’s 2002 picture book. Ms. Berkner, who doesn’t perform in the show, has filled it with catchy, folk-flavored pop, arranged by the production’s music director, Kristen Lee Rosenfeld. The upbeat melodies include one of Ms. Berkner’s longstanding hits, “Monster Boogie,” which fans are invited to dance to.
Barbara Zinn Krieger, founder of Making Books Sing, wrote the script, one of whose most inspired touches is turning Granny, who wears sweat pants and sensible shoes in Nancy Hayashi’s book illustrations, into this kick-out-the-jams rocker. Vibrantly played by Jamie Kolnick, Granny alone takes Wanda’s side, acknowledging the Monster’s existence but persuading her granddaughter (Laura Hankin, a grown-up who makes a convincing 5-year-old) that monsters are really shy, gentle, misunderstood souls.
In this hourlong adaptation, briskly directed by Adrienne Kapstein, the Monster is not only sweet but also sublimely silly. Winningly portrayed by James Ortiz in a role greatly expanded from the book, he eats the flowers Wanda slips into the closet for him and attaches her artwork to the wall with his spit. While the hulking, horned Mr. Ortiz may frighten a few little theatergoers at first, most, like Wanda, will want to hug him at the conclusion. This charming musical brings home a point worth considering at any age: embrace what you fear, and you just may find a friend.
“Wanda’s Monster” runs through May 12 at Theater 3, 311 West 43rd Street, Clinton; (646) 250-1178, www.makingbookssing.org.
Congratulations, Eileen! It must be exciting to see your book come to life.
Everyone, please let me know if you get to see this show. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Filed under: Author
, children writing
, Picture Book
Tagged: Eileen Spinelli
, NYC Stage Show
, Picture book to NY stage
, Wanda's Monster