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!