Guest Post: Greg Leitich Smith on How to Plan a Book Launch

By Greg Leitich Smith for GregLSBlog &

It’s perfectly valid to treat the publication of a book as any other day. However, my wife, author Cynthia Leitich Smith, and I have had a policy since we started in children’s-YA writing of celebrating each success, however small. As Bradley Sanguini says, “Life merits celebration.”

And the hatching of a new book is a big deal.

Also, a book launch is in some ways a marketing tool — it gets people talking about and buying your book. And hopefully excited about reading it. 

There are several ways this could be accomplished, of course, including a bookstore signing, a signing or event at another facility, or a party at your home.

For Chronal Engine (Clarion, 2012), we coordinated a public party and signing at BookPeople and a private reception at our house. We split the event so we could offer an opportunity open to the public but also celebrate with members of the immediate children’s-YA literature community per se (I will talk about a launch party/reception in a subsequent post).

So, here are some thoughts, in no particular order, about a bookstore launch. 

The Bookstore Event

Before your book comes out or the manuscript even sells to a publisher

Bookseller and author Madeline Smoot directs traffic

Get to know your local bookstore and the booksellers. Don’t be stalker-ish. Just shop regularly at the store. Keep in mind that it needs to make business sense to open the facility and provide supporting staff for your event (for free). Frequenting the store will develop goodwill toward that end. What’s more, bookstores are terrific destinations, and, really, you should be reading and keeping up with the market anyway. (If your budget is such that all of your books must come from the library, that’s okay. Make a smaller purchase–like a bookmark–and/or help raise awareness of the store’s programming.)

Regularly attend other book launches and book-related events at the local bookstore. You will learn, have fun, and enjoy being a part of the scene. Besides, you don’t want to be one of those types who doesn’t support others but expects their support in return.

Be a part of a community of writers. In addition to its being 
uplifting, these are the folks who are most

likely to share in the excitement.  And, unlike other friends and family, they will get it get it.

Deinosuchus and Greg.

Planning the launch

Book your facility.  Many venues schedule events months in advance, including bookstores. (Try not to take it personally if, for whatever reason, the store can’t accommodate you.)

Decide what you want to do. Do you want a genteel wine-and-cheese party or a more raucous hootinanny? In either case, make sure the bookstore (or whatever facility you work with) is up for it.

Do you want to do an event by yourself or a joint event?  When Cynthia’s Holler Loudly (Dutton, 2010) came out, she co-hosted an event with authors Bethany Hegedus and Brian Yansky.

Try picking a theme related to the book for both the decorations and refreshments. 

Obviously, in the case of Chronal Engine, the theme was dinosaurs, so I had dinosaur footprints on the floor, dinosaur-shaped cookies, cupcakes with dinosaur pictures. When Jeff Crosby‘s Wiener Wolf (Hyperion, 2011) came out, he served mini hot dogs from Frank’s, invited in the dachshund-owner community, and featured relatives dressed up as Granny and the wolf.

Decide on the refreshments: In addition to the goodies pictured above, I chose kid’s party triangle tea sandwiches (peanut butter and jelly, ham and cheese, etc) and a lot of water and soft drinks in 8 oz. cans. The cookies were prepared by children’s author Anne Bustard and the sandwiches and cupcakes came from Central Market.

Anne Bustard’s dino-cookies (they went fast)
Dino cupcakes
Triangle finger sandwiches

If you choose an outside facility, make sure your bookseller can actually sell books there.

(Cynthia Levinson held her launch for We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March (Peachtree, 2012) at the Carver Museum, and BookPeople sent staff to handle the sales).

In addition to food and drink, figure out whether you will need to have tablecloths, napkins, cups and plates. For my launch, BookPeople graciously provided all of these.

Varsha Bajaj, Shana Burg, Sean Petrie Margo Rabb
Jennifer Ziegler, Gene Brenek, Bethany Hegedus
Betty X. Davis, Cynthia Levinson

Know the facility. My local bookstore has excellent WiFi in the coffee shop, but seems to have a WiFi “dark spot” with a slow connection in the most optimal location for presentations to large crowds. Consequently, for events there, authors will not necessarily have access to the Internet. This can be a problem if you want to show your trailer via YouTube, if you want to Skype, etc. So, it’s key to make other arrangements.

Pack backups. Your bookstore will likely have its own projector, but you will probably need to bring your own laptop or tablet computer. If so, make sure you also bring necessary cords or Bluetooth connectors or wireless remotes, etc. If your presentation is dependent on it, you don’t want to find out only minutes before that a vital technological component is not available.

Extra cordage

Be aware, of course, that even the best of plans might not work out. When I launched Chronal Engine, I brought along an extra extension cord for my computer as well as an extra-long VGA cable (I didn’t have a wireless/remote mouse for my computer, and I’ve found that ones for the projector are a bit iffy). I also had masking tape to secure the cords against people tripping on them. That way, I figured, I could stand at the lectern and operate my slides myself.

In addition, I had prepared a Prezi presentation using the laptop (not cloud-based) version, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get Internet access.

The Adapter of Doom

Then when I hooked up my laptop, I discovered that the power cord adapter wasn’t working. Fortunately, Cynthia has the same model computer, and I was able to dash back to the house and grab her adapter. But if that hadn’t happened, I would’ve been prepared either to quickly prepare and present a traditional Powerpoint or just have “winged” it.

In this regard, you should also plan on getting to the facility sufficiently early that you discover such glitches while there is still time to fix them.

Know your audience. At the Chronal Engine launch, I knew there would be a lot of people in the children’s-YA literature community, including writers and illustrators, teachers and librarians, book bloggers, professors of library science and education, plus friends and avid readers from outside that community as well as a good number of real live, actual children and teens.

The presentation should be such that all parties are engaged. Try an interactive component that will involve young readers in

the audience. You don’t necessarily want people to just sit passively.

Interior illustration by Blake Henry

Prepare your presentation. Ideally, it should be relatively short, engaging, and visually interesting. With mine, I was able to show pictures of dinosaurs and pictures from the book itself. If you do an overhead presentation, do not simply read your slides.

Practice your presentation. You should know what’s going on without having to consult your slides or hem and haw.

Ask for help. There is probably no way you can do it all yourself. For the Chronal Engine launch, friends were gracious enough to lend coolers; take photos; help with carrying refreshments and coolers out to the store; pick up the refreshments from Central Market; and bring stuff back to the house afterwards.  

Get the word out. Publicizing the event can take many forms and when your signing is at a bookstore, the booksellers can help out, too (either on the store website or sending notices to the literary section of the local newspaper, etc.).

If you blog and are adept at social media, use those. Perhaps take out a Facebook ad.

Post on local writer e-lists. Ask folks at your local SCBWI chapter and other writer organizations (e.g., Writers League of Texas) to announce the event. Send out invitations, either by traditional mail or using, say, Paperless Post or Evite.

Emphasize that it’s a party. You’re asking folks to come celebrate, not asking them to purchase. (Some librarians, for example, may have already put in their order elsewhere.) But having at least a ballpark RSVP count helps when you’re trying to figure out how much food and drinks you’ll need.


Lindsey Lane, Jerri Romine, and Meredith Davis

At the signing itself, welcome and engage the folks who are coming. Perhaps offer postcards, bookmarks and/or other swag to give away. Decide how you’re going to sign (e.g., are you going to have a special catchphrase or stickers, stamps, etc.).

If your books sell out and there aren’t enough for everyone, this is a good problem to have. Talk to the bookseller and see if the additional customers can go ahead and order copies. Swing by when those books come in to autograph. Whatever you do, don’t complain. Trying to anticipate the number of books needed is, put mildly, challenging.

Say thank you to everyone, especially those who helped out in some way.

And have fun.  Because life merits celebration.

Cynsational Notes

Greg’s report on the author presentation at BookPeople and Cynthia’s report on the reception that immediately followed. See also Author Interview: Greg Leitich Smith on Dinosaurs, Time Travel, Heritage and Chronal Engine.

7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Greg Leitich Smith on How to Plan a Book Launch

  1. Wow, this looks like it's an amazing presentation! Wish I could attend. It sounds like you are amazingly thorough and have great advice. This is a terrific post for a book launch! Best wishes!!

  2. This is quite an extensive post! I keep telling myself that I need to scout out the small, local bookstores.

    However, one of my favorite locations might be too small for a launch. On the other hand, I wonder if the county library would be able to accept first-time authors, since Eoin Colfer hosted an event there.

  3. Wish you could've been there, too, Wrighty! He definitely had fun with the event.

    ChihuahuaO, you might be able to have your local bookseller do the sale at the library or have the librarians handle it as a fund-raiser.

    Candilynn, I'll pass on your cheers to Greg. Thansk!

    Joanne, congratulations and good luck with your launch!

  4. I'm having my first book launch on Saturday, 14th and was starting to panic. This post was reassuring. I'm taking to heart the advice to celebrate!

    Thanks for your useful site.

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