A white, wooden chair with a pink party balloon tied to it.

What We’ve Learned from a Year of Hosting Virtual Book Launch Events

In an October 2020 survey of nearly four hundred marketing professionals, the event tech company Bizzabo concluded that more than 80 percent of event marketers saw an increase in audience reach as a result of the sudden shift from in-person to virtual platforms. Ooligan Press has hosted four virtual launch events since the outbreak of COVID-19. First was for The Names We Take by Trace Kerr; it was originally planned to be held in person, so the team had to pivot to a livestream. Second was Laurel Everywhere by Erin Moyinhan and the choice to go virtual was made from the start. Third and fourth were Faultland by Suzy Vitello—hosted by the press—and Finding the Vein by Jennifer Hanlon Wilde, held by Waucoma Bookstore in Hood River, OR. Both were created using Eventbrite. We have two more still ahead this year, so keep an eye out for info and dates on our platforms!
I reached out to graduating project managers Grace Hansen, Cole Bowman, and Bailey Potter who oversaw the successful launch events for Laurel Everywhere, Faultland, and Finding the Vein, respectively. I asked each of them about advice for planning future virtual events. Within a few hours, I had struck gold. Synthesized below are their replies and some guidance to get started when it is time to plan a celebration of your new book.

Know the Author

Cole pointed out that the author’s comfort is “the biggest barometer of whether or not the event will be successful” because attendees reflect the energy from the author, and “if they’re visibly nervous or clam up, it can really dampen the audience’s experience.” For all three launches, the moderators and guests were chosen to intentionally match authors with people they shared histories with. Talk to your author about their comfort level with speaking and reading live, their past public speaking experiences, and their expectations for the event.
Keeping the author at the forefront of planning should lead to conversations about the best possible ways to celebrate their achievements. Grace explained that this led to her team’s decision to have a roundtable discussion with the author and a small panel of people. They wanted those in attendance “to have more to hold on to than just the contents of a book they hadn’t read yet,” and it turned out to be a great structure; the “audience of book lovers [got] to track the entire publishing process from our author’s idea to actual publication,” said Grace. It was a prudent way to respectfully regard the heavy themes of the book.

Find a Meaningful Location

Once you have a relationship built with the author, encourage them to begin cultivating one with their local community venues. Then when it’s time, Bailey suggests they “pop the question!” Outreach efforts, Bailey added, “certainly led to many bookstores selling our book,” but “the author’s relationship with her local bookstore” is what paved the way to a successful launch.
The managers agree that finding a location three to five months before the launch event is important. Grace recalls reaching out to local bookstores only to find that “their calendars were all booked up or they weren’t doing events at all.”

Plan for Success

Commit to using a webinar format as opposed to a meeting format. They are more official and organized, Bailey noted, and they can be a bit of a built-in backup plan should the venue fall through.
Set the author up by providing them a list of questions from the moderator and an agenda for the event. Cole suggested allowing the author to choose whether or not to read from the book. “What this did,” they said, “was ensure that [the author] knew what to expect of the event itself and she felt like she was in control of at least part of it.” Being transparent about and flexible with the structure is an important part of successful communication.
Consider a few last recommendations from the managers: Decide if you’re planning a hybrid event or a totally virtual one. Create a separate link for an afterparty. Find ways to engage the audience with a giveaway, signed books, a “care package,” playlists, recipes, or anything that matches the theme of the book.

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