Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why I'm not Having a Launch

In 2005 I had my first launch party and it was an event! I had gotten the idea from the book "Guerrilla Marketing"which talked about artists, authors, singers, etc, having these parties to kick off a new book or tour or album. I had never seen it done in Utah. So I started from scratch and went about planning an event. I had doorprizes, drawings, a grand prize drawing, food, perks, etc. The event cost me about $400 and I spent at least 75 hours coordinating prizes, working out details, putting up posters, printing fliers, etc. It was a lot of work, but it was so much fun!

I had family, friends, readers, and just curious bystanders stop in and see what was going on at the independent bookstore where I hosted it. People had a great time, I had a great time, and while it was a ton of work, it was a very positive experience. I realized that it was easier to promote an event than it was to say "buy my book please" and I found it much more comfortable than a regular book signing.

I have had 13 additional launch parties for the 13 books I have published since then. Over time I did away with the drawings and the doorprizes, mostly because it was so much work but also because people get funny about donating every six months :-) Other authors were doing the same things, organizing events, contests, etc to announce their books. We were all on the launch-party train together. When I started publishing the culinary mysteries, it was a no brainer to use the signature recipe as the treat at the launch party. I stand behind the fact that it was a GREAT idea, but here are some behind the scenes things that made it highly stressful:

*For "English Trifle" I drove to Salt Lake and bought 16 oz plastic cups with lids so I could premake 100 trifles. I spent two days preparing all the different parts I realized that the lids I'd bought were the wrong size. I spent four hours driving all over Ogden, trying to find lids (Yes, it would have been faster to go to Salt Lake) and I finally found them--McDonalds McCafe drinks use the same lid. I begged a manager to sell me a sleeve of lids, she called her district manager and they, blessedly, agreed to the sale. Cost me $20 but, still. No way could I transport 100 cups of trifle without lids.

*For "Devil's Food Cake" I had to make chocolate curls for the 10 cakes I made. I'd never made chocolate curls and ended up doing three attempts before one worked--each one was a jelly roll size of melted chocolate. We had 'chocolate chunk' cookies for months at my house trying to use up the mistakes. I had three left over cakes that I ended up giving away at the end of the night.

*My sister and I juiced--by hand--about 60 key limes for "Key Lime Pie" our fingers were numb by the time we finished.

*A good friend kept "Blackberry Crumble" warm in her oven a mile or so from the bookstore and drove back and forth with pans for me in order to make that one work.

AND then, the kicker that was the beginning of the end of launch parties for me.

For "Banana Split" I made actual banana splits. I bought a case of 500 'banana boat' plastic dishes and we covered the floor in plastic. Mid-point through the evening a couple approached me and asked me about my license. They went on to explain that in order to serve home made food I had to have a special license that could be obtained through the health department. I'd never heard of that and they graciously didn't write me up, but they coyly said they'd come to the next launch and check things out. I was not thrilled by this, but I understand it's their job.

Between books I looked into the license. It wasn't expensive, but I had to get a food handlers certificate and I had to file a document and go through all the hoops to get it. I talked to my publisher and they graciously offered to not only take care of the licensing issues but to make all the cupcakes for "Tres Leches Cupcakes." Without them doing this, I'm not sure I would have done that launch at all. The night went well, the cupcakes were delicious. The health department guys did not show up, thank goodness. And I was off the hook for a few more months. But then I published "Baked Alaska"

Have you ever made baked Alaska? I only have because I wrote a book with that title. The recipe isn't overly difficult, but it's persnickety and the ability to make enough baked Alaska for 100 people and keep it cold but not frozen for the event was not possible. So, I rearranged my expectations and did a five bookstore stop event in one day. I had some chocolates to hand out and got to see a lot of people. It was a good day, but exhausting. The prep was better, but still intensive.

Now I have two books coming out.

On the one hand, in regard to Rocky Road, you can't get a much better dessert for a crowd than fudge. I could make it in advance, some with nuts and some without, and do my traditional launch. BUT, what about the food licensing? And what about Shannon's Hope which came out at the same time? Beyond that, did I have time?

The last question is the one that really mattered. The fact is that my life is full of lots of great things but that makes every day intense. Every amount of time I spend marketing, writing a presentation, traveling to an event, answering emails, etc, is time that takes away from my writing. Every amount of time I spend on my writing takes me away from my home and family. As my kids are growing up and leaving home, I am feeling the panic of not having them there any more. It's been hard for me and made me that much more aware of all the time I'm away. I get anxious about the time I spend that isn't writing and isn't family. I have begun charging for events I'm invited to, I've limited the number of things I'll do in a month, and say no a lot. Part of me just hates this. For so many years I was scratching out opportunities. I needed the exposure, the experience, the chance to talk to people and meet readers. It was essential. Now that my series is doing well and I'm not having to work so hard to put myself out there, it feels ungracious to turn down opportunities. But I have to accept that things have changed for me--for the better--and I need to be willing to adapt my life to that. If I said yes, I could do well over a dozen events a month. I can't do that so I have had to draw limits.

And so, I sat down with myself and we had a chat about what to do regarding the launch parties I'd done in the past. We formulated the time that would go into the launch parties for both "Shannon's Hope" and "Rocky Road." We calculated the pros and cons, we admitted that attendance has been decreasing at the events, that many bookstores are limiting events, and we asked ourselves if this was how we wanted to spend our time in the first place. Keep in mind, I have another book due in two weeks. Keep in mind, that I have two daughters in college this year and last year I missed several weekends my oldest came home because I was committed to events. Keep in mind that at some point in the next few months I need to develop whatever idea will become my next book when I finish with Sadie. And so we suggested that we skip the launch. We thought about it, and then we decided that's what we would do.

I will miss seeing those true-blue fans who never miss a launch. I will miss hearing how much people have loved the series. I will miss having a party to celebrate the release. I will even miss the cooking which, overwhelming as it is to bake for 100 people, is something I love. But I feel like I've chosen the better part this time. AND I am doing a handful of signings over the next few months--I'm hoping my readers will come see me there. You can find details about those events HERE

I was also influenced by this blog written by Shannon Hale. When I finished reading her post I was able to take a deep breath and just be okay with putting some limitations in place. It was validating to hear her say the same thing. I do not want to live in the spaces left over from my career--I want my career and my family life to work together to create a good experience for me and my family. And so, this is what I've chosen this time around. Perhaps things will change in the future, but perhaps not. I have stopped imagining that life gets less busy as time goes on.

I appreciate everyone's support and I hope to see you at an event this fall. Happy reading!