Thursday, 8 January 2009

Are book launches a good idea?

An obituary notice I was sorry to read today reminded me of a lunch in London fifteen years or so back, and a discussion about whether book launches are worthwhile. The obituary was of Tony Mott, a publisher once of Penguin Books; he later moved to Transworld, where he was involved with publishing Bantam paperbacks prior to his retirement more than a decade ago.

My first four books were published in paperback in the UK by Bantam (the deals were done by the hardback publisher Piatkus, which didn’t have a paperback imprint at the time.) I had a female editor and she invited me down to London for lunch one day. At the last minute, however, she couldn’t make it, and I was greeted at the restaurant by an affable chap who introduced himself as Tony Mott. I’d never heard of Tony, but I think that in fact he was my editor’s boss, so I was quite honoured.

Certainly, it was a most agreeable lunch. It was immediately clear that Tony knew a lot about publishing. He was obviously a good person from whom to seek advice. What I remember most of all is when I asked Tony for his number one tip for authors. His response was immediate: ‘Don’t get excited about book launches. They don’t help to sell books.’

This had never even occurred to me, not least because at that time neither Piatkus nor Bantam had ever proposed a launch. Since moving to pastures new, though, I’ve had a number of launches. I mentioned one or two in my post about London bookshops yesterday, and 2008 was a bumper year, with no fewer than three launches, for Waterloo Sunset, Dancing for the Hangman, and the CWA anthology, M.O..

I think Tony was right that launches don’t make a major impact on sales, unless you are already a best-seller, and I suspect he’d grown weary of authors who have unrealistic expectations of them. But I’ve enjoyed both my own launches and those of a number of writer friends. Launching a book is a good excuse for a party. They might not be commercially beneficial, to any measurable extent, but they certainly can be great fun.

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