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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

February 2011

A Virtual Launch Party

I've been asked by several people to reflect a bit on the virtual launch party I held for the release of my new Civil War novel, Beyond All Price. For those of you I am meeting for the first time, I am a retired history professor, now fulfilling a lifelong dream to become a novelist.  Because I wanted to have my book available by the beginning of the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Civil War, I decided to self-publish the book.
 
Like most self-published and print-on-demand authors, I have complete responsibility for promoting and marketing the book.  If I didn't call attention to it, no one else was going to.  I also happen to be a firm believer in the future of the e-book, so it seemed particularly appropriate to have an e-party.  It was also cheaper, of course, and a bit less congratulatory, to use the internet for the book's introduction, rather than just holding a small party for the folks I knew. Here's how I went about it.
My publishing imprint is Katzenhaus Books, and the company website was already up and running at Vistaprint.  I wanted the launch to be connected to that site somehow, but at the same time separate and special. The answer was a second site, opened for just a four-month period, that could be linked to the company materials when needed.  I started planning the party in July 2010, just as soon as I had finished approving the final proofs for both the paperback and the Kindle editions.  The party itself was set for September 15-17.
 
The party website had  many pages, starting with a welcome page that set a festive tone with balloons and confetti.  The book itself had its own page, with pictures of the cover, the cover blurb, an excerpt, and links to the company website, including the ordering information. Next came a fun page--what's a party without a few games? There were some bad jokes, a mystery puzzle, and a cartoon cat video, among other oddities.  Refreshments were easy.  Visitors found a revolving buffet table with pictures of the food on offer and  the recipes if they were really hungry.  All the items on the buffet were dishes from the novel. Door prizes and give-aways had their own page, which also included an opt-in box, so that I could begin to create a dedicated e-mail list. 
 
The real key to the success of the party, however, came from my invited guests -- seven authors and seven internet experts who wrote about writing.  I interviewed the authors about their books and their similarities to my own work; the bloggers wrote articles about their own specialties -- everything from creating a website to the value of visiting their settings, proofreading, punctuation, and the future of the publishing industry.  Each one had a page that was featured for an 8-hour period during the launch.  There the guests could post their own picture, pictures of their books, list their internet addresses, and invite followers.  All these materials were accessible for the entire launch period and for a month afterward through list of guest links.
 
I cannot begin to praise my guests enough.  They not only took the time to write their articles; they also publicized the launch for me on their own blogs, websites, and social networks. When a well-known author twittered a note saying "I'll be appearing at this book launch at this time at this URL,"  their fans and readers came to visit, and learned about my book along the way.  Their help was invaluable!
 
Questions remain, however. Was it successful?  Would I do it again?  What would I change? Well, for starters, I found out the party lasted too long.  I thought I was cutting back from the only other online launch party I had seen -- one that ran for an entire 7-day period.  Mine started on Wednesday with a respectable number of visitors. The visits peaked around noon on Thursday, and limped through Friday, falling off to near nothing by Friday evening.  I should have stopped Thursday night. The fun and games page was not particularly popular. People who took the time to visit the site wanted to know about my book or what my guests had to say.  They didn't come to be entertained by other means. The opt-in box was badly placed.  It should have been at the front of the site, not buried in the back.  On the plus sign, people loved the recipes from the book and reacted well to most of my guests.Who doesn't love food?
 
Sales were slow but steady through the first two days.  I didn't sell as many copies as I would have liked, but those who ordered the book were new customers, most of whom I would not have met if it had not been for the launch party.  And sales continued at the same pace for several weeks after the actual launch. I also gained new Twitter followers and Facebook friends. I'm glad I did it, and when my next book comes out, I'll probably do it again.  Honestly?  I had a blast!

February is an "F" word

 I think it's time we did something about February!  It's already the shortest month, thanks to Julius Caesar, who revised the calendar for us.  His astronomers Failed to reconcile a 365¼ -day solar cycle with a 291/2-day lunar one, so they ended up with one month shorter than the others.  I'm grateful they made it February rather than wasting two of the lovely days of June.  Personally, I would have been even happier if they had made it only 20 days long.   After all, what does February have going for it?  The days are getting a bit longer, but when the sky is gray and ugly all day long, it's hard to get excited about the sun rising a minute earlier than the day before.  The glitter and fun of the holidays is over.  All we have  left are the unpaid bills, Freezing temperatures and the unexplainable extra Five pounds on the scales.

February seems to have its own "F" word – "Fat." Magazines on every news counter are telling us to "Lose Ten Pounds by Tomorrow" and "Walk Off Your Belly Fat."  Makes you want to get  up in the morning, doesn't it?   And the weather  -- if it's going to snow in Memphis, it'll snow in February. Now, if we had those Flakes back in November, we'd all have been singing "Over the river and through the woods."  If they came in December, we'd be crooning about "Frosty the Snowman" and "Sleighrides." But February snow?  "I'm Dreaming of a White Groundhog" just doesn't cut it. 

And speaking of groundhogs, have you thought about the Freaky-ness of February holidays?  We start the month by waiting for a glimpse of a bleery-eyed and Fuzzy rodent, hoping he'll tell us that winter is over.  Actually February 2 used to be celebrated in pagan Europe as a cross-quarter day, halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox.  Christians made it into Candlemas Day, 40 days after the birth of Jesus and a time for the blessing of the year's supply of candles. Punxsutawney Phil, of course, is a purely American invention: he made his first official weather Forecast on February 2, 1887.  Where did we get that idea?  I haven't a clue.  

Then there's Valentine's Day – a time for sweethearts everywhere, right?  Well, maybe not.  The real St. Valentine was a Christian priest in 269 A.D., in the reign of Claudius II.  Legend tells us that he was thrown into prison for his beliefs, and while he was there,  he made Friends with his jailor's daughter.  When he was taken out to be executed, he left her a Farewell note, signed, "Your Valentine."  The day just happened to be February 14, the Roman Festival of Lupercalia, in which Roman girls drew names out of a box to see who their  lover would be in the coming year.  So the two ideas--lovers and friendly farewell notes—gradually grew into our current celebration of hearts and flowers.  The next time someone asks you to "Be My Valentine," however, you might want to remember what happened to the first Valentine!  

In mid-month we have Lincoln's Birthday and Washington's Birthday.  A few years ago, there was an attempt to reduce those two holidays to one by creating a Presidents' Day.  Now we have three days, none of which seems to be celebrated with any enthusiasm.  After all, what do you do for a dead president?  You could bake a cherry pie, I suppose, since it's also National Cherry Month.  Or you could honor Lincoln by celebrating Black History Month and  International Friendship Month.  Still, these holidays don't really get the blood racing.  

Then there's Mardi Gras, which can fall can on any Tuesday between February 3 and March 9.  This year it doesn't happen until March 8, but during most years, it's just another one of those February holidays. In the medieval world, Mardi Gras was the last day of Carnivale, a period of silliness that began back on January 6 and extended up to the first day of Lent.  It was a time when everyone ignored the ordinary rules of society and the prohibitions of religion for a short while.  But Mardi Gras also carried a stern warning that the season for repentance was at hand.  All meat, oil, and eggs had to be consumed before midnight, since Lent brought with it 40 days of Fasting.  In French Mardi Gras means "Fat Tuesday," and there's that "F" word again.  

Maybe we just ought to give in and celebrate everything that comes along in February, in the Fervent hope that it will make the month go Faster.  Here are a few other opportunities for Frivolity.  This Friday will be "Create a Vacuum Day,' which also happens to be "Thank a Mailman Day."  The second Monday in February is "Clean Out Your Computer Day." The 15th  is "National Gumdrop Day," and the 16th is "Do A Grouch a Favor Day."  The whole month has been designated "Responsible Pet Owners Day," with a special nod on the 23rd for "International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day." Hope you'll find something to make the month special for you.