It’s no secret that writing a book is a massive undertaking. I’ve written and published five novels over a span of a dozen years, so I know that this is true. It takes most authors more than a year to complete a manuscript. Then, after their editor has read it and the author has incorporated their suggestions, it takes another year for the manuscript to wend its way through the publishing process. Add all that together, and a book has a longer gestation period than an elephant.
At the end of that cycle, when an author’s book is published at last, it’s cause for celebration. Planning a book launch party is a big part of the fun. Choosing a venue, ordering decorations and cookies and cupcakes, selecting giveaways and door prizes, and then finally, finally gathering together family and friends for a big blowout celebration puts a happy exclamation point on all of that hard work.
Sadly, holding a real-world book launch party at the present time isn’t an option in many places. So as the publication date for my new novel approached, I started thinking about moving my party online. But when I googled “online book launch party” looking for ideas, the results were overwhelming—so many platforms, so many ways to engage readers. I could make a prerecorded video to share on social media. I could hold a real-time party using Instagram Live, or YouTube Live, or Facebook Live. I could set up a Zoom webinar. I could invite my family, friends, and fans to a Twitter chat or a Reddit AMA (“ask me anything”—I googled). I had no idea where to start.
Then I realized that I’d already held an online book launch party once before, for my first novel, way back in 2008.
At the time, I was one of the cofounders of an online writers’ organization with hundreds of members in a dozen countries. I got the idea for an online party when I realized that no matter where I held a real-world book launch party, only a fraction of my writer friends would be able to attend.
My online party took more than a year to prepare. My daughter created a dedicated website, while I enlisted the help of the bestselling thriller authors who’d endorsed my novel, asking them to record a short video welcome. Douglas Preston sent a clip he recorded himself, while others—including Lee Child, David Morrell, and James Rollins—I filmed in person at the 2008 ThrillerFest conference in New York City.
The video clips were laid out in a grid pattern not unlike today’s videoconferencing call screens. In addition to the video welcomes, my daughter stitched together a clip in which several of my thriller author friends offered their opinion as to whether or not their characters would read my novel. Another friend, who is a medical doctor, recorded a clip highlighting the science behind my novel’s premise. Clicking on other squares led to book-themed door prizes and a guest book. And because a book launch party wouldn’t be complete without books, two independent booksellers made signed copies of my novel available.
The video endorsements from bestselling authors turned out to be a huge hit. Seeing and hearing bestselling authors talk about how much they enjoyed my novel was the equivalent of a 30-second commercial. As one commenter wrote in the guest book: “Swanky party! What a great concept. And with all these top names shilling for you who can resist? I’m picking up my copy today.”
My online book launch party lasted three days. During that time, the website saw more than 2,700 visitors, and more than 400 people left comments in the guest book, so the party was definitely an unqualified success. But would I do all of that again for my 2020 book launch? Thankfully, there’s no longer a need. Back in 2008, I never could have imagined a day when all authors would host their book launch parties online—or that all fans would have to do to join in on the fun is click on a videoconferencing link.
Karen Dionne is the bestselling author of 'The Marsh King’s Daughter' (Putnam). Her newest psychological suspense novel, 'The Wicked Sister,' was published by Putnam on August 4.