In the book world, the arrival of fall usually means the arrival of a whole host of new books to look forward to. And with new books comes book launches, tours, and celebrations—and sometimes it can feel like too much to grasp altogether.
In honour of a new season of books being upon us, I have a two-part series to share on book launch time: one on being an author launching during this time, and one on being an audience member.
These posts won’t be about logistics, but rather about the “soft” parts of it all. The first time launching any book is a learning experience. Learning how to book venues, how to market events, and how to actually get people to show up. There’s so much to get bogged down by—really this post is to remind yourself that it’s all ultimately. okay
You can’t hit every city on your book tour (and that’s okay)
I know the impulse too well. A cross-country, or even a cross-province, book tour feels like the thing you need to do to get your book and your name out there. One day in one city, hopping off to another the next. And then, three cities in, exhaustion hits.
The thing about writers is that, unlike musicians, we’re usually slotting in these events between our day jobs or whatever else we have going on. We’re putting our own money into touring or hoping grants pan out.
You don’t have to launch in every city on your book tour. There’s time to get to cities in the months and years after your book comes out. Those first few months don’t have to hold everything.
Sometimes your events will be empty (and that’s okay)
There are a lot of awful feelings out there, and one of those is showing up to an event to launch your book, and having an empty audience. It happens all the time, and it happens no matter how famous a writer is.
I try to take empty events in stride, and remind myself that it’s not about whether people think I’m a good enough writer. There have been so many book launches that I want to go to. But as much as I want to, I can’t always make it, and sometimes the reason is as small as needing a night in.
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As a writer, showing up with a good performance and positive attitude can make a huge difference on the people who are present, though. It can mean the difference between a stranger in the audience picking up your book or not.
Sometimes you won’t sell any books (and that’s okay)
It’s difficult to show up with a box of books and leave with it full, especially if you’ve hauled that box across the province or country.
It can sting, even more so if your co-readers seem to be selling their books and no one appears to care about yours. I know as a reader, there’s only so much I can spend on books. I have to pick and choose, no matter how much I might want to support an author.
Perception is a funny thing too, and doesn’t reflect whether someone has read your book or not. Someone might already have a copy. They might have borrowed your book from a friend. They might have requested it from their local library. I’ve done all of these things when I show up to a book launch without purchasing a copy of the featured writer’s book. If I’m reading in the same city again, I know there’s a very low likelihood of selling lots of copies of my book at a reading.
Sometimes hosts or readers will have to drop out (and that’s okay)
With all the event logistics to handle, getting last-minute messages from a host or reader saying they’re not able to make it can add to stress. I’ve been on both sides of that situation.
First and foremost, it’s important to just ask, “are you doing okay?” If you’re planning an event and have invited the readers and host, you’re probably friends or some kind of acquaintances. Showing compassion should always be at the forefront—the event will go on however it needs to go on.
This post covers some of the bad-case scenarios of book launch season. All writers deal with some of these when it comes to events. I hope, laid out like this, these situations that feel awful in the moment aren’t career-ruining in the long run.
See you next month with a post on navigating the book launch world as an audience member!
The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Manahil Bandukwala is a multidisciplinary artist and writer. She is the author of Women Wide Awake (Mawenzi House, 2023) and Monument (Brick Books, 2022; shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award), and numerous chapbooks. In 2023, she was selected as a Writer's Trust Rising Star. See her work at manahilbandukwala.com.