The Book Launch formula

Last year I wrote a book. The publisher asked me if I wanted to have the now-customary “book launch”. I said no, because to me they are a completely unnecessary marketing innovation. They don’t really boost sales because — pardon me for saying this — most of the people who attend book launches are not the types who read. They merely come to be seen. Only around a fifth of those who attend buy the book. That at best comes to around 50–75 copies. The rest simply gobble the sandwiches and samosas and sip the tea. A few even leave before the event has started but not before they have been seen by the author. People sliding off without buying is perfectly rational because who is going to remember, anyway?

A few people even leave before the event has started but not before they have been seen by the author. People sliding off without buying is perfectly rational because who is going to remember, anyway?

The economics of these launches is interesting. In Delhi’s centre of intellect, the India International Centre, it costs around ₹30,000 to invite 200 people for the pre-launch tea. Sometimes, if you are a celebrity author, the publisher may throw in a post-launch celebratory cocktail. This costs around ₹60,000. And if you are a real celebrity, with knobs and bells, there is even a small dinner for about 50 people where scotch and fried prawns are served — as mere starters. Many people calculate that paying ₹500 for a book in return for free, unlimited scotch is good value for money, especially as the book can be sold for half price the next day or gifted to someone you owe a gift.

In the last seven years, I have been to just three such launches because the books were written by very good friends. Later, I asked each of them, two of whom are very shy and retiring sort of men, why they had agreed to the “launch”. They said the publisher had harassed them to have one. My publisher left me alone after I, like Julius Caesar, said no three times.

Most speakers, after saying how wonderful the book is, speak largely about what they think about the world rather than what the author has to say.

Much also depends on the advance paid to the author. The higher it is, the more is the need to market the book so that the advance can be recovered. The launch is thus calibrated according to the advance: the costlier the post-launch feeding, the higher must have been the advance. The venue, too, is a dead giveaway. A five-star hotel launch probably means a huge advance has been paid. A college auditorium launch, on the other hand, means not only that no advance has been paid it is the poor author who is paying for the tea and (glucose) biscuits.

Then there are the so-called heavyweight speakers who are invited to talk about the book. Here I must share a dreadful secret. One of them told me once that he had not actually read the book and had winged it after hastily glancing through the text on the jacket flap matter. I wonder how common this is. Very, I think because most speakers, after saying how wonderful the book is, speak largely about what they think about the world rather than what the author has to say.

There is another problem: As a speaker, or even as an attendee, can you tell the gathering that it is a rotten book? Wouldn’t that be like telling a bridegroom on his wedding day that he looks a perfect idiot?

Meanwhile, publishers and authors have lost sight of a vital aspect of book promotion: the well-written review. However, authors value such reviews far more than the bukbuk at launches. Besides, in today’s digital world, reviews have become invaluable because you can buy the book almost at once after reading the review.

Klik, klik, klik.

Bought.

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