Ask Tania: How do I throw an amazing kids' book launch?

Monday, 15 August 2016


Dear Tania,
I'm launching my first children's book soon and wondered if you had any advice to help me? I've never done this before! What's usually expected? And weekday or weekend? How do I throw an amazing book launch?
Thank you!

Katherine

Hi Katherine,

Congratulations on your first kids' book--how wonderful! I would love to help you with some advice for a fabulous launch, and so, below, you will find a full chapter from my Fantastical Flying Creator e-course (more here). I hope you find it helpful ... and I hope you have a wonderful launch!

Tania

The Kids' Book Launch (from The Fantastical Flying Creator)

Your first book launch is a true Life Moment. It's one of the most exciting things you’ll ever do, and will be packed with supporters. The more books you launch, like anything in life, really, the more the shine wears off, but I must admit they’re still a lot of fun and I still do launches for most of my books.

Your publisher is unlikely to throw you a launch unless you’re Jeff Kinney, but don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.

You can absolutely have more than one launch, and you can host them locally or interstate. If you have family or friends to stay with, it makes things even cheaper.

To attract guests, you should offer something to your audience—a giveaway, bookmarks, cake, goodie bags, balloons and activities for kids … any of these things will attract people, especially cake. People will come for cake.


The Date + Time

The date is a really important factor to consider, as is the day and time. These things depend on your audience.

For kids, you have Saturday or Sunday to choose from and this can be hit and miss, depending on what else is going on. I’ve found Saturday afternoons or Sunday late mornings best, as these times take sporting and family and sleeping-in commitments into account. 10.30 or 11 in the morning and 2 or 3 in the afternoon tend to be my sweet spots for maximum guests but this could shift, depending on where you are.

You could also host a launch during school holidays but again, this is hit and miss. You’ll either be flocked with families looking for something to do, or you’ll have no one because they’ve all gone on a beach holiday.

Be really thorough when researching your date. I made a massive mistake in booking my Tottie and Dot book launch for the morning of Father’s Day and it crippled my attendance numbers. I can’t believe I didn’t notice this mistake, and my bookstore hosts didn’t either. Live and learn.

The Venue

Bookstores are probably your best bet for venues because they’re generally situated in easy-to-reach places, with parking. If you're supplying your own books, they will take a percentage cut on sales {usually 40—45 per cent, do negotiate, especially if you're self-publishing} but this is worth it because they totally take care of sales. With my launches, I now ask the store to get the books in and take care of all sales, without any direct royalties going to me {though they do filter to me eventually, of course}.

Most stores also help with marketing... advertising in store and sending invitations to their client base. It’s a lovely way to ‘pay back’ our book retailers, too; getting new demographics in store.

You shouldn’t have to pay to host your event in a place that makes money from your books. Sometimes booksellers will charge guests a few dollars to cover wine and nibbles for adult events, and that’s perfectly okay. Most guests are happy to pay. Alternatively, you could provide the wine and cheese, napkins and plastic glasses.

Another option is to ask your local library to host your launch. Some won’t but many love it as it gets new people into their space. Libraries won’t take commission on sales, but you will need to bring along your own books and ask someone to handle the sales for you. The library may offer someone, or a friend or family member could do it.

Some schools also love hosting launches—and they operate pretty much the same as libraries. You might like to donate some of your books to schools and libraries as a thank you.

Clubs, shops, caf├ęs or restaurants are also options you could explore. Ask them openly about what they would require/expect, and how you can strike a deal on costs.

Community halls and centres can be hired, and parks or other outdoor areas can be used, but you would need to check with the local council about hosting groups of people, and also about their rules for selling items onsite.

Another option is launching at an actual event, like a local market. This would work particularly well with kids’ books. When Genevieve from Gnome Knoll at Canberra’s Floriade contacted me about launching Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo: A journey around Canberra at her Knoll, I jumped at the chance! Image below, and you can see the spectacular day here.

Your last option is to host it at a private venue. Maybe your own home or at the mansion of a generous and wealthy friend! Naturally, this would only work if you knew all the guests well, and it could limit your guest list.

The Guest List + Invitation 

Essentially, you need to invite your target market to your launch because they will buy the book. Yes, invite family and friends and neighbours, but be sure to attract your target market, too.

You can send invitations by hard copy or email. Hard copy are really memorable and rare {do this if you want to stand out!}. Make sure you add any catchwords that might attract guests, like ‘balloons + goodie bags’ for kids and ‘wine and nibbles’ for adults.
Create a blog post featuring your invitation {make it really visual, as above} and use this to spruik the event online—on Twitter, Facebook and within your literary groups.

Create a Facebook event invitation, too. You can selectively invite all the Facebook friends you have within 100km of the venue!

Start blogging about the event well in advance. It will build the excitement, and consider writing an event press release which you can send to your local media (see The Press Release).

Another idea is to send notice to schools, clubs, your local writer’s centre, any associations affiliated with your type of book, subject matter or intended audience.

Don’t forget to have your launch host spread the word, too, especially if they are a bookstore. It’s in their interests to attract as many guests as possible.

Sponsors
While living in Beijing, I launched my first picture book, Riley and the Sleeping Dragon: A journey around Beijing, with a slew of ‘sponsors’. These people provided food, champagne, prizes and all manner of wonderful things. In return, I featured their logo on all my launch promotion and had their business collateral on display at the launch. I also had the backing of several expat language magazines with huge audiences, so that did help in terms of exposure for the sponsors.

When I came home to Australia, this sponsorship deal didn’t work so well because it seems every man and his dog and cat and budgie are hitting up Dan Murphy’s for event booze.

I did manage to score some sponsorship from small businesses, including some brilliant cakes made by pARTy Cakes in Canberra {left} for my Riley and the Curious Koala: A journey around Sydney launch. Liz made me cry with her stunning cupcakes and cake tier—it was so utterly gorgeous. In return, I plugged her business like crazy.

So, while it is possible to secure sponsorship, it does take a little bit of work and tenacity, and you do need to make the effort to ensure your sponsor is well recompensed.

Other than caterers, local food producers and wine merchants, you could perhaps strike a deal with local photographers or videographers, entertainment for kids, music for adults. You could also look for items for goodie bags and prize giveaways but remember, all of this needs to relate strongly to your book and its themes.

Another thing you can do is to affiliate with organisations or charities you support. For example, for Riley and the Curious Koala, I had The Koala Foundation on board. They provided some sensational stickers and tattoos for my goodie bags and I featured their collateral and a donation tin at the launch.

Lastly, there's nothing like a good old contradeal. I support my colleagues at their launches {say, by taking photos} and they do the same for me in return. This works so well and is a lot less pressure!

Timeframes

For most launches, the event should run for no more than 60 – 90 minutes. An hour all-up is ideal for kids. A reading should go for no more than 20 minutes and leave around 20 minutes for signing {though I’m hoping you’ll need a lot longer}. For my Riley and the Dancing Lion launch {below}, I had extra entertainment provided by a sponsor--Kelly Sports. This was after the reading and signing, in a space outside the bookstore, and it went a little over time. In this case, no one complained!


Schedule

Give an arrival time and an actual launch start time on your invitation, and get started right on time if you can. Kid
s are not good at waiting around.

Give a short introduction, have your launch person speak, if that's what you're doing, say a few quick thank yous, then outline what will happen, including food and prizes, and the all-important book signing. Remind guests not to forget to collect their goodie bags on the way out, and that there will be some fun activities for the kids while you sign books.

The book reading is next. Make it quick. No need to linger.

Ask if anyone has a question.

Have a prize giveaway if you want to, and make it quick. Try not to give away the book; choose something else. I use raffle tickets for this, which are handed to people as they arrive {kids--your own or some friends--are great at handing out tickets). You could also do a lucky door prize.

Food and activities should now commence while you sign books. Parents will be happy to peruse your books and queue for signing if the kids are happily occupied.

Denote a clear end time on your invitation. Be sure to finish by the end of the hour.

Activities for Kids
You can have these on hand as kids arrive, but ensure there’s going to be enough for them to get stuck into during the book signing, too.

Make it something non-messy. The last thing you want is Clag glue all over the floor and on the venue’s books. I suggest colouring pages, word searches, paper folding and making masks and headbands and hats out of cardboard and staples or sticky tape. Use pencils instead of crayons and textas. Other options are little activity books featuring your characters, singing songs and doing actions, line-em-up games or memory cards.

A great option for kids’ launches is to have an illustrator demo or other entertainment. Kieron Pratt (the Riley the Little Aviator books) would often do live drawings and they were SO popular. You could also have someone affiliated with the book come along—perhaps the RSPCA could visit with animals if your book is about lizards or frogs.

Create something that will look great in your launch photos. Face masks are perfect because they look sensational when all kids are wearing them, and you can take photos and not worry about putting their faces online! I’ve printed off really simple koala masks made of grey card, and wombat ear headbands made from brown card. You can find such templates online. All the kids need to do is cut and staple.

You could also ask kids to dress up in theme. I did this for my Australian Story launch {below} and the best-dressed kids won prizes. It was sensational.

Decorations

You can go all out with kids’ launches and make them look incredible. For my first few launches, I invested in helium balloons. They may cost a dollar per child but they are all you need decoration-wise and kids ADORE them. Along with food and goodie bags, they’re crowd-pullers, you'd better believe it.

Being a little launch jaded {!}, I don’t do helium any more but I always have balloons—most often on sticks or just in goodie bags. They’re always popular. For balloons on sticks, I stick the stems into upended sieve-like crates. Or you can just poke them through upended cardboard boxes like we did at Floriade, below.

For my An Aussie Year launches in Brisbane and Canberra, illustrator Tina and I made really simple speech bubbles from firm paper and pieces of dowel from Bunnings. Kids used these in photographs and they looked absolutely gorgeous.

Other options are simple paper chains or tissue paper pompoms that you can buy or make yourself. I tie the colours in to my book cover.

Another great idea is to print characters from the book onto paper and cut them into triangles. Sew these together with a sewing machine to make quick and easy {and gorgeous!} bunting.

It’s ideal to use colour-themed items {such a simple concept, but so effective}, including tablecloths, and bring along any affiliated objects like a wombat toy or a tin plane.

Food

You can have a lot of fun with the food at kids’ launches but don’t do too much—it won’t get eaten and kids prefer goodie bags, anyway.

Consider the venue—don’t feature food that could damage carpet or stock. Go for items that can be popped straight into the mouth or aren’t ‘messy’. At most of my launches, I’ve just had a lolly bar, providing paper bags for the kids to snaffle their treats.


At my Riley and the Grumpy Wombat launch, I had the cutest wombat cookies {above left} made from purchased Marie biscuits and fondant which I tinted, rolled and cut out. I glued this to the biscuit with icing then piped on eyes and mouth and a lolly nose. We also had chocolate crackles and {nut-free} rocky road pops stuck into apples. So easy.

One of my favourite things were the poppers with straws {above right}—far less spillage. I simply designed and printed out ‘labels’ onto paper and glued them to the front of regular juice boxes.

ENSURE ALL FOOD ITEMS ARE NUT-FREE at children’s launches. Announce this in your intro. You might also like to include dairy and egg free options. The best are lollies or little jelly cups {make them small and firm!}.

Think thematically and use appropriate colour. For my Riley and the Curious Koala launch {below}, I had a lolly bar which looked expensive and cost barely anything. I added little signs saying Sydney Opera Houses, Gum Leaves, Mini Koalas, Gumnut Berries, Wombats {these were store bought lamingtons with lollies pushed in for legs, noses and ears}.


I recommend offering water for all guests, rather than soft drink or juice, and tea and coffee for adults if you can.

Prizes + Goodie Bags

Prizes are always an attendance drawcard {as are helium balloons}, so think about having something, but make it short and sweet.

Goodie bags are a HUGE hit with kids and don’t have to cost much. For my Tottie and Dot launch {below}, I had a lemon drop tree {I borrowed a decorative tree from a friend and hung little cello bags full of lemon drops on it; a lemon drop tree features in the story}. The kids also had a little paper cup filled with marshmallows and a straw, with a marshmallow tea recipe, also featured in the story.


When you make your goodie bags, think thematically: small toys, pencils, balloons, bookmarks, wrapped lollies, notepads, stickers, tattoos and sponsored items. The $2 Shop is your friend. Most publishers won’t pay for launches, so keep all receipts and claim them as tax deductions {you do need deductions as you earn}.

Photographs

These are so important for documenting your event but also for post-event promotion—and for your blog! Everyone loves to check out a launch.

Have someone take photos and brief them really well on what you want. I suggest asking them to take lots of people shots but also lots of product shots and all the finer details, like my wonderful photographer Nicole Godwin did with the lolly and goodie bag photos, above. If you are asking a non-pro friend to take photos and are pedantic like me, try to take some yourself before the event starts.

Ensure you’re photographed while reading the book, and ensure the cover can be seen. Ask the photographer to take multiple shots when you’re speaking or reading—otherwise every shot will have your eyes closed or your mouth hanging open like a drongo. Literally ask them to take shots non-stop because only one in ten will be useable while you’re speaking.

Have some shots taken with family, friends, kids and other authors.

Get crowd shots but be sure to announce you will be using these photos online and if anyone has any issues with this, please let your photographer know. This is especially important with children. Ensure they know the photos will only be used for personal promotional purposes, nothing else.

Take ‘social pages’ shots to send to magazines and newspapers—these shots are always close up, with people standing in a line, looking at the photographer. Ask them to note down their full names, and check the spelling. The photographer can match the right people to each shot by taking note of the photo’s number sequence in the camera’s display window, or take notes on what people are wearing.

Ensure your camera is on correct setting!! I have had not one but TWO disasters because the camera was on a low light setting. I prefer NO flash be used, as it can be unflattering. Natural light photos can be achieved by using the correct setting and by editing photos afterwards, but only do this if you have a photographer who knows what they're doing. Ask other friends and family to take back-up photos.

General Launch Tips
  • Ask for help. Bookstores are great at lending a helping hand, but also have friends, family, kids and colleagues help you out on the day.
  • Make sure there’s easy access to a bathroom, especially if kids are involved.
  • Ensure there will be a signing table; there’s nothing worse than having to ask someone to lean over so you can use their back.
  • Make sure you take the time to sign a personal message in each book; also be wary of chatting too long while people are waiting in line to have a book signed.
  • Have lots of book displays; consider having your past books for sale, too.
  • If you have sponsors, set up a table to display their business collateral.
  • Place your own business cards, bookmarks, any handouts, teachers’ notes, business cards or website blurb on your signing table, or consider placing them in goodie bags.
  • Have someone rally and rescue you—it’s easy to get caught up chatting at events, which can delay things considerably. Have someone on hand to ‘rescue’ you so things run on time.
  • It’s an obvious thing, but I’ve spent entire events without a single sip of anything, let alone a nibble. Make sure someone keeps you hydrated because you won’t have time to source anything yourself. I usually have a bottle of water with me at all times.
  • Consider a small gift for your host—this isn’t really necessary if they’re making money from you {bookstores} but it can be nice if you’re building a relationship or if they’ve gone out of their way for you.

See all the questions so far

2 comments:

Penny Morrison said...

Hi Tania,

This is a great article about running a launch--so much information which obviously comes from experience.

What type of prize would you suggest, if not a book? I have advertised 'There will be a prize for the best pirate outfit'.

Another question: How do you decide who to ask to launch the book? I can think of many people to ask, but I'm not sure who is most appropriate. For example, one of the presenters from writing workshops who are book experts who've cheered me on through the journey or the editor who accepted the book, began work on it and was then retrenched. Or the editor who finished the job. Or the person hosting the launch, such as the librarian or preschool teacher. Have you got any guiding principles for me?

Last question: How have you decided who to give free copies to? I'll give to my parents, brother, sister, my kids but wondering whether to extend to my husband's many siblings, the editor who was retrenched, the preschool who's hosting one of the launches etc.

Thanks!
Penny

Tania McCartney said...

Hi, Pen!

Prizes--totally up to you--it could be anything from toys to food, though with the latter, I suggest something that won't potentially cause anaphylactic shock! Something that relates to your book's theme would be ideal. You could also give away a school visit. A prize for best outfit is fabulous.

Again, a launcher (you don't HAVE to have one) is totally up to you. It should really be someone you know or have met, someone you have worked with or preferably has a vested interest in the book, so a publisher or editor is a good one. Perhaps you met someone at a Pirate Corporation recently whom you admire, and would want to ask them--the list is endless. Ideally, you would have a relationship with them - if only for upping your chances of having them say yes. Having said that, if your heart is set on it, you could ask Shaun Tan--he won't necessarily say yes but what do they say? You can only ask!

If you are traditionally published, you won't get more than 10 author copies, so you'd probably only give copies to close family and a friend or two. If you're self-publishing... personally, I would only give a copy to my kids, perhaps a good friend or someone else who may have been alongside me during the making of the book, a mentor or someone you dedicated the book to. I wouldn't be handing out copies willy-nilly and most certainly not to extended family. Your copies are precious and expensive to produce--there's no way they should expect copies--they should be absolutely happy to BUY a copy!

Giving one to a launch host school is a lovely idea.

Good luck!

Tx

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