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.

The LAUREL EVERYWHERE Virtual Launch Party

There was a time back in March of 2020 when we imagined an in-person book launch for Laurel Everywhere. Unfortunately, COVID-19 had other plans, and we pivoted to a virtual event and a virtual reading tour. Though in-person book events have a magical quality to them, my team and I worked extremely hard to bring that magic online.

On Tuesday, November 10, at 6:30 p.m. PST, Ooligan Press hosted Erin Moynihan, author of Laurel Everywhere, on Zoom for the virtual launch of her book. We invited editors and designers from the press to join Moynihan in conversation about the publishing process, and we dove into topics like developmental editing and cover design.

Moynihan also took over the Ooligan Instagram on Friday, November 6, to introduce her book and offer a space for anyone to ask questions about her writing process, character development, and what she’s currently working on. She also answered some of these questions during the Zoom launch party.

One of the highlights of the event was the launch party book giveaway. We hosted the giveaway on our Instagram page, and anyone could enter by liking the informational post and tagging two friends. The winner had to attend the book launch, and received a signed copy of Laurel Everywhere for free! In addition to the giveaway, anyone who preordered the book up to a week after the launch received a signed bookplate to go along with their copy of the book.

While my team and I were brainstorming ways to bring joy and excitement to this virtual event, we came up with a couple of great ideas that I hope captured the attention of our wonderful audience. We researched different mock-tail and tea recipes that correlated with the personality and description of each sibling in the Summers family. We curated a playlist on Spotify and YouTube to help readers empathize with Laurel, and it’s mostly made up of cathartic songs that you can listen to for a good cry when you need it. We sent out a virtual care package to attendees with links to the playlist, drink recipes, even a couple paint-by-number pages so that they can participate in a self-care routine as they read Laurel Everywhere.

We promoted the event through our social media and we also reached out to others in the literary community to boost the event on their own social media pages. We reached out to the booksellers in our community as well as reviewers and other Portland authors to spread the word about the event. We also reached out to these community members to plan our virtual reading tour, and all the events of the launch party were hugely successful.

We had an incredible turnout for this event, and attendees thoroughly enjoyed listening to Erin talk about her writing process for the book. It was also wonderful to listen to her talk with Ooligan editors and designers about how the book came together, and it gave the audience a look into what it’s really like to publish a book. All in all, the publication of Laurel Everywhere was a joyful and memorable experience, even though it was all done remotely. It’s not impossible to recreate some of that in-person book launch magic, but it does take a little more work.