There is a lot an upcoming author can do to promote their books (guest blog posts, giveaways, paid advertising, etc), but I truly believe the most effective methods are the ones that instill a sense of excitement among your readers and get them talking. The best way to do that I've found? Throw a freakin party! Of course, it's not always easy to throw one in person. When your friends, family, and reader network are scattered all over the world, it's impossible to physically get everyone together in one location, and why should so many people get to miss out on the fun? Enter the Internet. Namely, Facebook (although these same methods could just as easily be applied to other social networks and forums like Google+/Hangouts and Twitter).
Being the member of a very tight and friendly network of horror and fantasy writers, I've been to several of these launch parties over the last few months and they are an absolute blast. It's not only a great way to generate enthusiasm about your book, but you meet a lot of new people (readers and writers alike) and in the world of small press and indie publishing, expanding your network and having as many people in your corner as possible is essential. The launch party I had for STRINGS is, I think, a great part of the reason why my opening day numbers were as good as they were. But that wasn't even the best part of the party. It gave me the chance to do something that I have wanted to be able to do for a long time, and that is to give back to the people who have given so much to me by either supporting me or my work. Since this trend really appears to be catching on with people, I'm going to make a list of tips to help writers ensure they are throwing the best and most successful virtual book launch party.
1. Build Buzz Early: Get people excited by scheduling your Facebook Event 2-3 weeks in advance. Over that time, you can post pictures of your cover, trailers, blogs you've written, and things you're giving away to tease it. If your book is an anthology with multiple contributors, use the Event page to talk about your other authors and their work and share any other news that is pertinent to the upcoming release.
2. Set a Firm Start and End Time: It might be the internet, but this is not supposed to be an all day event. Guests like firm schedules so they can plan to attend accordingly. Most launch parties take place over the course of a couple hours during a time of the day that isn't too busy, like from 1-3 or 2-5 or something like that. Since there are a lot of activities going on (I'll get to those in a second), you will want to devise a rough itinerary and schedule to keep things on track and get help, which brings me to my next tip.
3. Have Someone Else Host: I didn't understand how essential this was until my own party. There is a LOT going on at these things (if you're doing it right). The author should be able to spend time interacting with guests while the host stages the activities and helps keep track of who is winning what. I was so lucky to have two lovely ladies volunteer to help me. We kept a running chat window in the background so we knew what was going on and although it FELT chaotic and exhausting, the guests were all having so much fun, they didn't realize it, and that was exactly what we wanted to have happen.
4. Make a Budget: Yes, it's on the internet, but that doesn't mean you won't be spending money. Think of the amount you would spend on an in-person gathering paying for food and drinks and other party favors and apply that to your virtual gathering. You don't have to go crazy, but it's important to plan on spending a little. For my STRINGS launch I set a budget of $50 and I'm going to do the same for the COLT COLTRANE party. I'll go into what you can spend all that on below.
5. Don't Make it All About You: If you turn it into a platform for self-worship, people are not going to want to come. It may be your party, but like any celebration be it a wedding or a baby shower or a book party, this is not about you. It is about your guests, and guests like fun and variety. A virtual launch party is your chance to give back to your readers and your community of fellow creatives by giving away prizes and promoting things that aren't just your book. People will walk away not only remembering your book, but your generous spirit, and I can guarantee they will remember the latter even longer than the former. Yes, you DO want to give away your book. In fact, make that the grand prize if you want. A signed copy with a custom bookmark is always good (that's what I did for STRINGS and will be doing it for the Colt party too), but there is so much more you can do. Over the coming weeks leading up to your party, tap your network of fellow writers. Ask if you can give away a Kindle copy or a print copy of one of their books (you can easily gift them to winners through Amazon). Does your cover artist do other freelance work? Maybe he or she would like to give away a signed print of one of their pieces. Do know any crafters who can make a custom piece for you or donate something from their collection? At my STRINGS party, I gave away Kindle copies of several available Hobbes End Publishing titles as well as a Kindle copy of Sekhmet Press's new anthology, Wrapped in Red. I also gave away three $5 Amazon gift cards that people could use to purchase whatever they wanted (though I hear tell some of them purchased my book, which is always a bonus). For Colt Coltrane, I'm currently working on securing more titles from my network of authors/publishers as well as a deck of Story Forge Cards and a handmade origami lotus flower made by my wonderful crafty mother. My friend Stacy Overman Morrison is giving away a Kindle (which I really wanna win) at her release party for her women's fiction book Comfort of Fences! Whatever prizes you pick, this is what your party budget is for. Use it to lift other people up and build excitement.
6. Come Up with Fun Activities: It doesn't do a lot of good to get a bunch of prizes if you're not going to have any games for people to play so they can win them. The most popular ones I've seen so far are:
- Caption Contests -- Post a funny picture and have people caption it. The funniest one wins, or you can enter names into a random name drawing and award them. It's good to let the caption contests run for awhile so they can accumulate entries while you introduce the other activities.
- Trivia Questions -- This can be about your body of work or things related to it. Did you write a vampire book? Vampire trivia is a natural choice. First correct answer wins. You can add a twist to this by doing picture trivia. Show a freeze frame of a movie or an actor or character and have people guess who/what it is.
- The Sharing Game -- It's a good idea to save this one for your grand prize, but it's pretty easy. Have everyone share the purchase link to your book on their favorite social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest), and have them report back in the thread where they shared. They get entered into a drawing. You can add a twist where the folks who entered in more than one get an extra entry into the hat.
The sky is the limit on games, and you might be able to think up more that would work for this particular forum. I'm tinkering with an Exquisite Corpse or Taboo idea for the Colt Coltrane party. The way it's normally structured is you post the event and then the winner is announced in a separate post with the picture of what they won, congratulating them. Another good reason to have a host.
7. Post a Video Reading or Video Message: This is something I kind of failed at with my Strings party. I didn't plan ahead enough so I didn't get my reading video done the way I wanted to. But if you can record yourself reading a passage from your book or addressing your guests, it's a lot of fun. I recorded mine through Google +, but you can also use your phone camera or web cam. You can also use it for future promotional material.
8. Be Random: Yes, you want to keep to a schedule, but you also want to keep it fun. Don't forget to post random pictures and memes and links to keep people entertained. Of course, you might not have to do that yourself. If your guests are having fun, they will likely be doing the same.
And that's really the gist of the Facebook Launch Party! I warn you, they can be a little exhausting if you have a high participation rate, and after they are done you will feel like you have been to a real party, but that's what makes them special. You have to be on your game and get your typing fingers ready. But man, are they a blast. I had people still hanging out at my Strings party page days after it was over. It was easy to imagine a trashed party room with folks walking around, surveying the mess. The best part is, you don't have to clean any of it up.