A Tale of Two Book Launches

Written by Susan Sundwall

By Susan Sundwall

A few years ago, I realized a lifetime dream with the launch of my first mystery novel. I took the traditional route and partnered with a beloved local bookstore, one of the last in our area. Everything was handled by the owners and I was beyond pleased when almost sixty of my books sold. I even had to retrieve the stash from my trunk. Not too shabby for a new author.

What the store owners did for me included ordering the books, sending out invitations, writing up press releases, a window display, refreshments, and they backed this up with their own good reputation. The result was a packed store, enthusiastic readers and a line out the door.

Since I was writing a series, I was sure my second book launch would be taken care of in the same professional manner. But the beloved book store closed for good before it was published and I had to assume responsibility for the second launch. DIY was emblazoned on my forehead and, boy, did I learn to appreciate all the details of such an endeavor. Here’s what happened.

There were six things I had to do immediately:

  1. Find a location
  2. Send out invites for the event
  3. Contact local media
  4. Order and pay for my books
  5. Figure out how to take credit cards
  6. Stock up on Tums

Next I sat down with a calculator. The upfront costs were scary. The book order to my publisher was over a thousand dollars. I rented space at the local Elks Lodge. Stamps, copy paper, and envelopes for invites were over fifty dollars. I researched free credit card readers, chose Square and learned how to use it. I’d been oblivious to all this the first time. And yet, you might be surprised to learn that, even with costs incurred, I still made more per book on my own and realized the money immediately. Here’s the math.

I paid about ten dollars per book from the publisher. By ordering 120 books I avoided shipping costs, saving me seventy dollars. I charged sixteen dollars per book, not including sales tax. This gave me six dollars per book. From the first launch, after the bookstore’s cut, I made roughly a dollar per book and didn’t see any money until I got my first royalty check several months later. After expenses, the second time around, I was still ahead of the game.

I only sold half as many books at my second launch and fewer people attended. Because that launch was held on a beautiful summer Saturday there were vacations, craft fairs, farmers markets, sporting events and more against me. The first launch was in November and more than half of the 120 people I invited showed up. I learned that a chilly launch day, with holiday shopping on everyone’s mind, beats a sunny summer launch day hands down.

The upshot is, I’d do it again – both ways. The first launch in an established and popular bookstore validated me as an author. I couldn’t stop smiling and my ego got a tremendous boost. Here, I was presented to the public and many of those readers returned eagerly for the second.

But having control and making more money at the second launch made DIY well worth it. I had the help of friends and family who believed in me. A few pitched in and ordered a laminated poster of the cover of my book, The Super Bar Incident, to have at the front door. My son paid for a beautiful cake that looked remarkably like the energy bar depicted there. My daughters-in-law helped make several book bundles, one of each title and tied with red ribbon, that we offered at a discount. Yes, I have remaining inventory, but to every person who laments not making the second launch I smile sweetly and say, “I have books in my trunk.” I’ve made many subsequent sales that way.

I’m truly grateful to have had each experience and if you’re contemplating one versus the other for your own book, perhaps my tale of two launches will help you decide.


Bio: Susan Sundwall is a freelance writer and mystery author. Her books, The Red Shoelace Killer and The Super Bar Incident, both Minnie Markwood mysteries, are available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She is currently working on her third mystery in the series, The White Pizza Caper. Visit her at www.sundwallsays.blogspot.com