Book promotion: Celebrity book launch vs low key event

In the era of information overload, when anyone wants to be heard what’s the best strategy? Shout. The louder, the better. Would you agree? Hold on to your answer till you finish reading the post.

Almost anyone in a profession that needs a big audience seems to feel screaming is the best way to get their message across. Actors, politicians, businessmen and of course, authors. And I don’t mean ‘shouting’ in the literal sense. There are ways to scream and get attention without putting your vocal chords in danger.

One example – huge billboards featuring celebrities, in-your-face images or tag lines that shock more than soothe. In the publishing world this shouting manifests itself in the form of extravagant book launches. Often, the first time you hear about a book is not through good old word-of-mouth channels from a trustworthy friend or colleague, but through the Page 3 updates that get flashed in the newspapers and magazines after the mega event has been concluded.

Is the book launch successful in meeting the objectives? Let’s take them one by one.

Gaining attention

Yup, if you shout, people will look in your direction. Bigger question – does it get the right attention? For some books, it does. For most, I’m not too sure.

If it’s a celebrity launch, fans (not readers) are flocking to the event to rub shoulders with the star. For the major part, the poor author ends up in a corner while people rush to the celebrity for autographs rather than the new author.

Selling books

Most folks who attend the event are folks who directly know the author (family, friends). They might buy the book at the event, get it signed by the author and taking pics for pasting on websites, facebook and other social media.

Ripple effect

Does the buzz caused by the book launch extend beyond the event? To some extent it does, specially when your invitee list includes reporters from the press, bloggers and the Twitterati. In most cases, these aren’t the folks attending the event.

Turning the book into a bestseller

Again the jury is out on this one. But one thing’s for sure, you are making it tougher for your publisher to recoup their investment in your novel. Let’s spend a little more time understanding this point.

Think about it. Before the book launch, the primary number in the publisher’s mind while calculating (warning: financial terminology ahead) the breakeven point is your book advance. Which means, for the publishing company to really make any profit, you need to sell more copies than they assumed when you signed the publishing agreement.

When they start pumping in more money into your book promotion, the break-even point for them starts drifting further away. In regular English, you need to sell more books to help them recoup their promotional expenses first and then get back all the other calculations they had done earlier.

Btw, I don’t think it’s a lost game for authors yet. There are still a good number of them who know what a book launch can do for them. A few hours back, I attended a short and simple book launch at Landmark by Saaz Aggarwal (and hosted by hamaar sakhi Rashmi Bansal) which had none of the extravagance that characterises the big budget book launches. The whole event got wrapped up in under an hour (about 45 minutes to be precise). The audience was small, but interested. The focus was on the author and her book. After the event, there was scope for everyone to interact one-on-one with the author and the host. All in all, well executed, I thought. Good luck to you, Saaz.

I came back with the happy feeling – there is hope for the discerning and level-headed author.

Lesson for the day: The rocket (i.e. the book launch) can only try to get your satellite (i.e book) into orbit. But if that can’t happen, the satellite comes crashing down faster than it went up.
(Not too tough to deduce that you are reading an engineer-turned-author’s blog, eh?)

10 Comments

  1. Dr. Urwashi Parmar says:

    Suggest a way to promote a book other than mentioned above. If u know any.

  2. Sameer says:

    I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach. The big-budget celebrity launch might work well for mass-market books that need a big splash to get the attention of as big an audience as possible.

    For others, a more targetted approach might work better.

    For my book, there was no launch at all, the entire promotion was online + word-of-mouth and it went into a reprint within a few months of being released. But in the ‘real world’ bookstores, the book still struggles to get visibility compared to the mass market books that capture all the prime spots in the store.

    So I don’t think my approach was the optimal way either.

    Some buzz is definitely needed. The challenge is to draw the line between promotion and hype.

  3. P Chakravorty says:

    Hi Sameer,

    Can you throw some more light on how to arrange for a low budget book launch function? What is the cost factor, agenda, etc.? Whom to contact and what is a better approach to publisize a book on style and beauty?

    Thanks n regards,
    PC

  4. Sameer says:

    PC,
    If you have been published by a traditional, mainstream publisher, it’s best to get them to manage the launch as they are pros at this. Just share your preferences with them and see if they can accomodate it.

    The cost will be directly proportional to the scale (number of invitees), location (bookstore chain, or hotel or basic hall), post-event activities (snacks, dinner etc) and the other frills and fancies you choose to have.

    As your book is about style and beauty, all the stuff I’ve mentioned in the main article may need to be tweaked a little.

    A glamourous launch will suit a glamour book.

  5. Ritu Chaudhry says:

    I couldn’t agree more about the basic thrust of the article. There are plenty of times when an A list celeb at a book launch causes more damage than help. A recent example of this, and no names, was when a biography was launched and a movie star was invited. Not only did the author get totally sidelined, the book also became an after-thought and notable people from the same industry as the subject of the biography left the launch feeling dissatisfied. Now the latter were the people whose word-of-the-mouth recommendations would have added at least 5-7,000 more copies to the total sales figure. The press coverage was brilliant [because of the aforementioned celeb] but it was only about the celeb and thus the marketing strategy struck me as horrid.

    To me, it makes more sense to invite an eclectic mix – media, social media, die-hard supporters [friends and family], opinion leaders of the target audience – and woo them properly. And depending on the genre in which one writes, if a celeb is needed, then it works better if it is a celeb from the same industry. Someone whose endorsement matters to those you hope will buy your book.

  6. Rohit Trilokekar says:

    Hi. Just read your post on the whole celeb-book launch thing. Thanks. Comforted me a bit. My book is slated to launch on August 25th. I contacted an old friend from school twice who is now a big celebrity, and guess what? No response. Your whole ‘letting the book be the focus’ really seemed to make sense to me thanks. (But I still want a celebrity) … now should I really bother? I don’t want to pay for one. Who will do it for me? Please help.

  7. Sameer says:

    Rohit,

    The only celebrities who would do it for free are those who you know closely. And as you’ve seen from your own experience, even that can be a challenge.

    The other option is to request other well-connected friends to get someone. But remember that there’s no free lunch in the business. The guy who helps you out will extract his pound of flesh sooner or later. Are you prepared for that?

    In the comment just above yourse, Ritu has made some excellent suggestions on people you could invite.

  8. Dr Kunda Silimkhan says:

    I have gone through publishing and self publishing hassles.

    This site will save the trouble for all the new authors who are starting now.
    Wonderful!

  9. B C Karmakar says:

    To
    Mr Sameer Kamat
    14 April 2015
    Sub: To edit the manuscript
    Dear Sir,
    Good evening

    It gives me immense pleasure as I introduce myself, Mr. B C Karmakar to you. Having spent my tenure with IAF, I have traveled vastly in India and have picked up habit of writing by interacting with people, sharing their experiences and reading articles. I have continuously penned my thoughts and evolved as an avid reader with compassion to write. Over the years I have written a few romantic novels and short stories in English.

    I have written a book and would like to publish from an institute through editor but the manuscript required to be edited.

    The manuscript content 18 Chapters, 156 pages & 62,000 words.

    I would like to submit my complete manuscript to you for editing and publishing the book from an institute.

    I take this opportunity to thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me your best valuable time in this matter.

    I am looking forward for your reply.

    Best regards

    B C Karmakar
    (M) 9717943421

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