On August 12th, I traveled into NYC to attend the DIY MFA Book Launch as part of the 2016 Writer’s Digest Conference. Having never attended a book launch, I was surprisingly unsure of what to expect – what my etiquette should be as an attendee and what would even happen AT the launch. Here’s what I learned last Friday.
What happens at a book launch: Arriving at the launch, there’s a large stack of freshly printed DIY MFA books sitting ready to go for people to purchase. A table is set up for signings, a podium with a microphone stares down several rows of chairs already filling with writers and readers alike.
The author is introduced by an agent, the publisher, someone in connection with their book. After some applause, the author introduces their work, talks about their journey to writing and producing the work, and thanks influential people in their life. Generally, they do this without falling into the Bill Clinton trap of recounting every detail of your life in real time. And then, the author reads, in this case only for twenty minutes or so.
After the author reads, some people in the audience may be allowed to ask questions before the author is whisked away to the table to begin signing books (see below for my copy!!) and meeting fans and giving out a little bit of free swag (buttons, stickers, those kinds of things). All in all, it was a pretty low-key and fun event!
Things I learned as an attendee:
- People are friendly – I’m very introverted, and for the first half hour, I just tried to stay out of everyone’s way. I was clearly young for the crowd of the conference, and also one of the only people not officially attending WDC 16. However, in line for the signing I ended up having a nice chat with Joel Knopf and I had several other nice conversations with authors as I was leaving. It turns out everyone just wants to talk about writing at writing conferences (big surprise) and how much they love the author of the book launch (surprise #2). I’m really looking forward to attending more conferences now!
- Don’t be afraid of the author – I mean, it could just be Gabriela Pereira’s the only nice author out there, but probably not. I was really nervous getting my book signed but it turns out she was just as nervous meeting all her readers and giving the reading (she even apologized that her hands were shaking when trying to sign the book)! Authors are people who just want others to like their books and like them too. It helped for me to come up with what I wanted to say the day before (particularly which compliment I was actually going to say out of the 6,000 I have stored up).
- Business cards are effective blister block in a pinch – When walking through the hot city in tall boots and ankle socks, one might get blisters. Luckily, the thick card stock of a business card is flexible enough to bend around your heel and, given the heat, was also willing to stay in place when tucked into the sock. Business cards also work for trading information with people you might be interested in getting to know better… hey, to each their own.
Things of note for a host:
- Sound could easily be a problem – people are loud and don’t necessarily stop talking just because the author has gotten up to speak. Try to pick a venue where the acoustics work in your favor and where you will definitely have access to a sound system of some kind – otherwise you might as well give up hope of being heard over the crowd.
- Practice that reading – Nothing seems to be more nerve-wracking than reading words aloud in front of other people. Practice, practice, practice! Practice so that you don’t speed through it, stumble over your words, or mumble. The more you practice, the less likely you are to make mistakes, and the more likely you are to be loud and slow enough. You’ll develop a good cadence and tone for the section you’re reading and you’ll get cozy with it so that, even when you make that one mistake on reading day, it’s easy to pick up where you left off.
- Take care when choosing the venue – obviously, having your book about craft launch in the middle of a writer’s conference is genius. For the rest of us, important considerations could be: accessibility (is it close to any major transportation routes like subways or trains?), availability (are there any other big events going on for your readers that weekend?), and even time of day depending on the season (the city boils people alive in the summer so an evening, where it’s beginning to cool, might better entice readers out of their air-conditioned homes and to your launch)
Have any of you ever been to a book launch – or hosted one? What are your words of advice for newbie attendees and hosts?