How not to run a book launch
It’s one of life’s great mysteries why, when many publishers are cutting back on book launches on the grounds that they don’t cover their own costs, invitations to these events continue to pile up behind the fridge magnets along with the power bills and the snap of the kids burying Grandad in sand at Waimarama beach last summer. We wonder if more and more authors – particularly first-timers – are now organising their own celebrations. So in the social lull before the season opens again early next year, we offer a few tips on how not to launch your magnum opus.
First, your venue. Be careful to choose one with zilch parking that’s hard to find and impossible to get to. The venue itself should be either vast or cramped, icy or overheated. There should be no loos, no chairs, and absolutely nothing to lean against. Uncarpeted is best: that way when the speeches go on (and on), guests will be reluctant to slump to the floor.
Catering should be cheap and cheerful. Offer your guests Chateau Cardboard in two colours, and, for the designated drivers among them, reconstituted fruit juice. Remember that paper cups or plastic “glasses” need no washing up. And friends are always glad to bring a plate. You might suggest bowls of chippies or nuts into which guests can repeatedly plunge their hands. Placing these bowls on low tables will make it easier for little Henry and his mates to play with the contents. Unidentifiable khaki dips with highly breakable dippers always go down well, as do vol-au-vents too crumbly to bite and too big to swallow in one go.
And now the speeches (but not too soon). The order of service should be exhaustive and exhausting. Begin with the venue owner or manager. Follow up with the publisher, then any patron or supporter willing to discourse at length on your life, loves and oeuvre. Next, your launcher, at even greater length, who should promote themselves and their achievements at the expense of you and your book. Finally – your moment of glory. However long the preceding speeches may have been, do not stint yourself now. You won’t want to risk offence, so even a short list of those to thank must include your publisher, editor, agent, mother, partner, ex, children, shrink, best friends, extended family, support group, creative writing teacher, literary hero, role model, and, if religious, God.
This is the moment for your children (or friends’ children) to burst into song, self-accompanied on the tambourine and guitar. Respond with a song or waiata of your own. Follow up quickly with multiple hugging and, if possible, tears.
You will have already carefully considered what to read. and have rejected the two-poem or short extract options, particularly if they’re funny. This is your chance to showcase your seriousness and sensitivity to a captive audience. Do not forgo such a precious opportunity. If you’re publishing poetry, go for volume and opacity (as Byron said of Coleridge, “obscurity’s a welcome guest.”). If it’s prose, choose an extended piece in which very little happens and it’s less than clear whom it is happening to.
See you there.
Harry Ricketts and Jane Westaway