"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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
. 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.
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!
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!
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.