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Many authors have never even heard of a "virtual launch" party. Surprising, but true. Quite a few readers are in the dark on them too, so I thought why not share this little marketing gem? A virtual launch party is an online event where you promote your book. It's like a regular launch party (which might be held at a library, bookstore or bar/restaurant-type of place), but you get to do it from the comfort of your home, in your pajamas, or naked. Whatever floats your boat. Readers get to learn more about you and your book, and you don't have to go outside. Awesome, right? You also reach readers all over the world, instead of just those living near you. The Internet is truly amazing. Anyway, I've compiled a few keys to launch party success, which I’ve learned from virtual launches I've hosted and attended.
Not enough or too much promotion is a common mistake authors make when throwing a virtual launch party. I’ve made it too, so I’m speaking from experience. When planning a launch party on Facebook (or your blog) you have to remember to promote it, but not so much you start annoying people. How do you find the right balance?
The key is to use friends and other authors to help you promote without becoming annoying. Share on your blog, and the Facebook and Twitter, but keep it to once a day, or once every few days. The other people you’ve enlisted will share as well, which can create a lot of buzz without the annoyance. And remember to start sharing the event at least two weeks in advance, as well as the prizes you’ll be giving away.
Build your event page early on, and add a list of featured authors, their books, links, and a little information about the event. Share your book’s blurb, and maybe an excerpt or two, and don’t forget to link to where readers can buy the book. Some readers won’t wait until launch day to check it out, and we love those readers. Finally, pop in every few days from the time you create the page to the event day to post something, which keeps the page fresh and reminds attendees that it’s getting closer. Ask a question. Maybe do an early bird giveaway in the week leading up to the event. This builds hype without pestering anyone.
Readers love books. That’s obvious. However, readers like more than just your book. When throwing a virtual launch party, authors sometimes forget to make the prizes interesting. Reach out to other authors, doesn’t matter what genre they write in, and ask if you can give away their books as part of your launch party. Sometimes they’ll offer to provide the books, while other times you’ll have to do it.
This helps you in several ways. First, it draws readers who might never have heard of you, to the event and to your books, because odds are said authors will say a little something on social media about their books being available for giveaways at your launch party. Second it’s good karma. Purchasing another author’s books to give to your guests as a prize gives that author a sale, a new reader, and makes them more likely to remember you in the future, perhaps for a launch of their own.
Give away gift cards too. More often than not, I’ve found readers will buy my books with these, as well as a few others (depending on the amount). In addition to books and gift cards, find a few nifty items related to your book to give away. Mugs, flasks, bookmarks, jewelry, clothing, whatever you want. Make it relate to your book by having something custom made with the cover or a quote from your book (great promotional tools, by the way), or have it relate to the theme of the novel. For example, if your book features Greek mythology, a necklace with a charm relating to one of the gods would be interesting. If your book is about murder and mayhem, perhaps something featuring skulls or some kind of bloody image on a t-shirt would impress your readers. You know them best, so it’s on you to decide.
Shits and Giggles
Parties are supposed to be fun. Don’t just give stuff away or talk about your book. That’s boring. Engage your guests. Encourage them to be silly or to laugh, or to discuss whatever by making each prize the result of a game of some sort. Leave enough wiggle room in your planning to let the party move in whatever direction the guests want to take it. (Terrifying, but so much fun. I promise.)
I like to use would you rather games, as well as trivia relating to the book or genre. Caption this games, where you invite guests to post a caption to an image you’ve posted are also very popular. I’ve also been reading about virtual book readings, which seems interesting. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think readers might enjoy “seeing” their favorite indie author at the party (in a video of course). Another popular feature is a Q&A with the author(s). You could do this via video or just in the event page discussion. I haven’t tried this one either, but it’s on my list.
My point is you can make your virtual launch memorable by making it fun. Maybe your book is serious. That’s okay. It’s still possible to make the hoopla surrounding it entertaining for your readers.
You can’t be half-in and half-out of a launch party. So, make sure you can be present at all times during the event, or enlist another author to co-host with you, so one of you can reply and comment to keep discussion moving the entire time.
Too many authors seem to think they can just pop in and out every hour or something, and comment occasionally. No. Readers need to feel your presence at all times. Questions must be answered promptly and comments replied to as quickly as possible. If there’s a lull in activity, you need to know it’s happened, so you can light things up again.
This is YOUR book and it’s YOUR party. Don’t end up a loser by treating it so carelessly.
Virtual parties work best when your guests can “attend” throughout the duration when it’s convenient for them. So, weekends are usually best. However, if you do one on a week day, I’ve found it’s best to run the event in the evening hours.
As for how long, well that depends on you. How long can you keep things interesting? How many prizes do you have to give away? Typically giving something away hourly is sufficient, but if you have lots of goodies, you might do two or three an hour. Add up your prizes and determine how much time you'll need to give it away. I’ve done two-day launch parties and a few that lasted a couple of hours. Each had some benefits and drawbacks. Both generated sales, so it depends on your schedule I suppose. Just note that longer parties allow more readers to attend, because time zones are tricky. Shorter parties are better for your sanity. My advice? In my experience, launch parties should be a minimum of 2 to 3 hours, and a maximum of 8 hours.
Launch parties work best when you tie everything together with a theme. Yes, your book could be the theme, but yawn. Everyone does that. Be creative, because that’s what authors do! Think about the book, the genre, and the target audience, and find something aside from the book to tie your games and prizes too.
For example, my book Dirty Truths is about secrets and lies. The games and prizes (mostly) were inspired by these things. We played Two Truths and a Lie, Would You Rather, and a few other games that featured dark secrets and truths. The guests loved it and I didn’t have to do much to encourage participation.
Be realistic in what you hope to achieve with a virtual book launch. A launch party should be a celebration of your book’s release, but it’s little more than a marketing tool that will be used with other tools. You won’t sell a shit ton of books (usually), but the goal is not to become a bestseller overnight, though that would be awesome. I’ve had parties that I thought were flops, because few people attended, and yet, they resulted in a very pleasing amount of book sales. On the other hand, I’ve hosted parties that seemed more successful, and had lots of guests, but only resulted in a handful of sales.
I was happy with both results, because the goal of a launch party is to generate buzz and connect with readers. If you’ve achieved that, then you’re a success.
Finally, no matter what you do, have fun with it. Just because it’s “work” doesn’t mean it should feel that way. This is your party, your celebration, your little pat on the back to yourself for achieving something awesome. Enjoy it, and your readers will too.