Our readers are often curious about the process of writing and publishing books, and we’re happy to provide access to the experts. In this latest addition to our Publishing U series, Chris Goff, author of Dark Waters, describes a novel way to develop buzz around your newest book.
Chris Goff: We’ve all heard it said that launching a book is like giving birth to a baby, so it made perfect sense when two of my friends, Liesa Malik and Catherine Dilts, suggested we join together and throw a baby shower to launch our new books—hence the creation of the “book shower.”
Have you ever been to a book launch at a bookstore? They can be fun or they can be a big disappointment. It sort of depends on who comes. A book shower is a way to celebrate the “birth” of your book and get the word out. By joining forces with other authors, you not only increase the size of your audience, you guarantee there actually will be an audience. So let’s party!
Here are the basic steps to throwing your book shower:
- Find four authors with books coming out around the same time, preferably in similar genres. If you live in a populated area, this isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Most of us are members of the same writers’ group. Since we all send our new book covers and publishing dates to the organization for posting on the website, it was an easy browse to find four of us with books coming out, and we added Pat Coleman to our group. In a more isolated area, you may have to be creative—sending emails, expanding the time between publication, or mixing genres.
- Choose a location, date, and time. The key here is to pick a house (or area) large enough to handle the guest list and a date that works well. You’ll want to be somewhere centrally located and easy to get to that holds the number of guests you’re inviting. You also need a date and time that doesn’t conflict with an important football game, a holiday weekend, or some other audience-killer.
- Design an invitation. Three months prior to the event, send out your first round of invitations. The strategy we took was for every host to invite 10 people, which fit the location size. Then we asked beta readers, book club hosts, librarians, reporters, bookstore buyers, bookstore owners—anyone who loved books and could help us spread the word (specifying teens and adults only). The invitation shouldn’t mention anything about selling, reading, or signing books. (Here’s ours.) The party is designed as a way to thank the readers, friends, and fans that support you. NOTE: Send more invitations in your initial run than you have spaces, as it’s the rare party where everyone can come. Then follow up. RSVPs tend to trickle in and you want to be sure people are counted.
- Create a game. People play games at a baby shower, so we decided each of us would create a game to play at the party. It needed to fit the party theme (in this case, mystery) and not take more than 10 or 15 minutes to play. For a prize, each host created a winning basket that included: a copy of the host’s book, a prize or trinket tied to theme of their book, and a copy or ARC of the other hosts’ books. NOTE: That means each party host must be prepared to give away one copy and three ARCs of their book.
When it was time to start, each author stood up and said just a few words about their giveaway and their book—and then the games began!
A book shower is grassroots marketing at its best,
because in the end, it’s all about the buzz.
Liesa Malik, author of Sliced Vegetarian, had guests solve a mystery by looking at a “crime scene” in an old dollhouse. Guests had to figure out who the victim was, how the victim was killed, what the victim collected, what other hobbies the victim enjoyed, who the prime suspect was, and who the heck decorated the house.
Catherine Dilts, author of Stone Cold Case, had guests trying to cover themselves by earning patches of cloth to complete 1920s-style bathing suits. In her scenario, our guests were invited to Agatha Christie’s beach party for the launch of her 1920 book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Catherine quizzed guests on their reading habits, inserting some tricky Christie questions to insure a winner. “Do you read more than one book at a time? Have you given a book as a gift this year? How many pounds was Agatha Christie paid for her Styles book?” As if anyone knew!
Pat Coleman, author of Tea and Treachery, created a word search with key words from her mystery, and gave away a basket filled with tea and other tea-related items.
When it was my turn, I held a scavenger hunt for items such as: a picture of Yafo, Israel; a map of Israel; a sniper’s bullet; and Dead Sea salt, all things tied to my new international thriller, Dark Waters.
- Factor in the costs. Just like a baby shower, there are costs to throwing a book shower. The hosts need to provide food and beverages, and each guest needs to leave with a goody bag. We found pitching in $25 each covered the cost of paper plates, glasses, napkins, beverages, ice AND a cake. NOTE: Go with plain cake and be creative in decoration!
In addition to kicking in money, the hosts all brought something to share: finger sandwiches, fruit, cheese and crackers, muffins, and more. NOTE: Having each host declare what they’re bringing ensures that you end up with enough variety and not an overabundance of sweets.
- Stuff the Goody Bags. We’re talking SWAG—bookmarks, postcards, pens. We also added some candy, and then added the final touch: a “5 Great Ways to Help Your Local Author” brochure. We created it in black-and-white, populated it with clever clip art, and then printed it on lime green paper. The front had the title, and inside were five suggestions: Read Our Books, Spread the Word, Write a Review, Host a Book Club Meeting (or a Party), and Give Books to Friends and Family. Each heading was followed by a brief paragraph that explained or clarified the idea. Then, on the back, we added additional suggestions of the ways people could help, such as putting our book in auction baskets, connecting with us on social media, asking the library to order our books, etc. We also added our contact information and places that where reviews could be posted.
- Designate station hosts and collect names. Because not everyone will know everyone, you’ll initially want to place hosts strategically around the room. For example, we had one host act as greeter, steering guests into the main room where another host had them fill out a name tag. During the games we passed around a sign-up sheet, getting permission to add guests’ names to our mailing lists. By assigning roles, we made sure the important tasks were covered.
- Choreograph the party. Depending on the time allotted, it’s a good thing to plan out when you will do certain things. It’s a good idea to give time in the beginning for people to arrive, and to figure some people may duck out a little early. It’s smart to stagger the games slightly, and leave time at the end to say goodbyes. We chose to schedule it like this: 2:00 p.m. people arrive, 2:30 p.m. first game, 2:40 p.m. second game, 2:50 p.m. break to socialize, refill drinks, etc., 3:10 third game, 3:20 fourth game, 3:30 cut the cake and socialize until the party ends at 4:00 p.m. It worked pretty well!
In the end, in addition to being a lot of fun, the book shower accomplished its goals. As hosts we got to thank 10 of our own beta readers and contacts for their support over the years, and we got to introduce our work to 30 new readers—librarians, book-group hosts, and booksellers—who will continue to spread the word. A book shower is grassroots marketing at its best, because in the end, it’s all about the buzz.
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Chris Goff is an award-winning and best-selling author. Dark Waters, the first title in her new series of international thrillers, was published this month, and a follow-up, Red Sky, is due out next year. A Parliament of Owls, the sixth book in her Birdwatcher’s Mystery series, is slated for release in March 2016. Find her on the web at www.christinegoff.com and on Twitter at @christinegoff.