Like a ship being committed to the water, The Ghosts of Eden was launched at the end of May. This being my first launch I had searched the internet for ‘How to run a book launch’. This netted a heartbreaking and worrying piece from an author whose launch was attended by just two others. Lesson: get firm commitments and offer cake. Apart from that sorry tale there was not much else out there, so here are a few tips for any other about-to-be-launched author.
1. Sign the books before the launch. It’s time consuming to sign the books at the event. I write my signature in my medical work well over one hundred times a day and each takes me half a millisecond as is just a brief spasm of my fingers, which the chemist recognises as so cryptic that it could only be a doctor’s signature. However this is not good enough for your book which should be signed with the artistry of a calligrapher. I’m working on it.
2. Rehearse everyone’s names. In the excitement and pressure of the evening you will forget their name when they ask you to write ‘My best wishes to my dearest friend ……’ on the page you’ve pre-signed. If they won’t help you as your pen hovers rather too long over the page you can ask ‘Do you spell your name with a Q?’ This is sufficiently puzzling for your friend to mouth their name to themselves to check. If you’re good at lip reading your problem is solved.
3. Your publisher will wax lyrical about you even if you are at that stage of your novel-writing career where your name appears on the cover of the book in the point size that loan companies use for their small print. The praise will embarrass you. You will just have to live with it.
4. You will be expected to give an entertaining speech. If you are like me, although you’re happy to spread out over a 100,000 words to public view in your novel, you would rather shred your manuscript than speak in public. You’re going to have to get used to it. Like learning the techniques of writing, it is possible to learn the skill of speaking. The alternative is to tell your publisher that you are a reclusive genius and your silence is part of your mystique. Be prepared to be told to find another publisher.
5. When you read out a short passage from your novel you don’t have to follow what is printed on the page. Choose a passage where the tension builds and skip passages that are not essential to the build up. The point of climax in your reading does not have to be one that’s a high point in the book - which might require an impractical reading of the preceding three chapters.
6. Prepare for the commonest question that you will be asked: ‘Is this autobiographical?’
Maybe your novel is. In which case you are likely to prove the saying that the greatest catastrophe to befall a family is to have a writer in its midst. I reply, ‘No, but I do miss those cattle herding days when I led raiding parties across the savannah.’
Despite your novel not being your ill-disguised life history, or a searing and amusing (to you) depiction of your friends, you will find having a novel published an exposing experience. Have a look at Libby Purves’ article in the Times where she points out that the characters and scenarios in a novel have emerged from the writer’s imagination; from somewhere not normally exposed to public view; a place in the depths of the writer’s head. Hence a feeling of nakedness as the book is finally open to public dissection. There is that worry, as Purves points out, that people will judge those depths as, in fact, rather shallow.
I think the Czech writer Milan Kindura has put rather well the relationship between the characters in a book and the author. He wrote that the characters in his novels were his own unrealised possibilities … Each character had crossed a border that he himself had circumvented …
7. It’s the occasion to publicly thank those who have helped smooth the path for you. Whilst pen on paper was you alone, a little thought will unveil to you an army of family, friends and industry professionals, without whom you would either be an emaciated skeletal figure by now or be messily binding your book yourself with glue and tape.
8. Enjoy it. You have no idea whether the ship you are launching is going to disappear on a downward trajectory when it hits the water or float across the globe in glory, but the launch marks the culmination of years of work. Your nearest and dearest will also be enjoying the occasion when they can finally draw a line under it all. Until the next one.
As it turned out about 140 attended the launch, many out of curiosity, I suspect, as to what happens at a book launch. Family and friends created an Africa-effect in the high-roofed venue with vibrant drapes and bird-of-paradise flowers and it was an aptly warm evening for the launch of a novel set in Africa. For more on the launch see the writer Rod Duncan’s blog.