Steven Wingate is the author of the novel Of Fathers and Fire, which is in UNP’s Flyover Fiction Series, and an associate professor of creative writing at South Dakota State University.
Anatomy of a Book Launch
Before I actually started publishing books, I had a naïve fantasy about what book launches were like. On my publication date I’d start a grand tour through America’s greatest cities, waking up every morning to write in my posh hotel room. Then then I’d walk the streets of whatever city I was in until my reading that night, after which I’d impress critics and fellow writers with my wit at cocktail parties where I dressed impeccably.
By the time my first book came out in 2008, that kind of book launch was a relic. Now, as we’ve sunk deeper into the Information Age, it’s almost a fossil. A publication date is merely an abstract number that the book industry and readers can pin to a title, and “launch” is a vague concept with fuzzy borders. The book launch for my novel Of Fathers and Fire—part of the Flyover Fiction series at the University of Nebraska Press—started as soon as I had a contract for it. My author bio immediately changed and I strategically approached publishing venues that I hadn’t felt comfortable approaching without first being able to call myself a novelist. This launch will continue for months after the actual pub date as I try to work my way onto the writers’ conference and MFA residency circuits. In some ways, I’ll be “launching” this book until I have another book—ideally in the Flyover Fiction series, since it reflects my geography so well—to start launching in its place.
The weeks immediately surrounding a book’s pub date are the busiest, to be sure, but they don’t simply happen at once. What occurs during this time frame is the result of much effort in the
previous months from publicists and authors alike. Here is a look at a few weeks in the life of the University of Nebraska press author in the middle of a long book launch.
Wednesday, March 27
Fly to Portland for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference, America’s largest gathering of writers and editors. Spend three days working my way through a throng of over 12,000 people telling all my writer friends and former editors about my new book and handing out 4 x 6 cards announcing the book like candy at a parade. Fly home to South Dakota on Saturday intending to rest up for the week ahead. Instead compile a long list of people I met at AWP who I need to contact about covering my book via reviews, interviews, guest blogs, etc.
Monday, April 1
My official pub date! Celebrate by driving to Sioux Falls for a television spot on KELOL and Living. Come home, write the AWP follow-up emails, and be sure to include the interviews I did with Midwestern Gothic and Fiction Writers Review—both of which were arranged and written many weeks before.
Wednesday, April 3
Drive down to Lincoln, Nebraska for a delightful first public reading at Francie & Finch Bookshop.
Thursday, April 4
Visit the PBS/NPR affiliate NET Nebraska for a conversation with Pat Leach for a forthcoming radio edition of All About Books. Head back to South Dakota and write more emails.
Monday, April 8
Stop by my home state’s NPR affiliate, South Dakota Public Broadcasting in Sioux Falls, for a radio interview with Lori Walsh. Visit with the manager of the Barnes & Noble in town to sign some books and talk about possible future events. Visit Zandbroz Variety to read and sign, then drive south toward Colorado.
Tuesday, April 9
Continue driving to Colorado thinking about all the people I still need to email—including friends I haven’t even told about my book yet—and strategizing for the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association’s Spring Conference in Golden tomorrow.
Wednesday, April 10
Go to the MPIBA event, pitch my book to a conference room full of booksellers, sign a bunch of books. After the event, make a list of who I met there and gauge how open they might be to a bookstore event, guest blog, etc.
Thursday, April 11
Start the drive back home to Brookings for my local launch reading on Friday night as part of the Great Plains Writers’ Conference . . . Oh no, wait, I can’t do that. There’s a blizzard across western Nebraska and a bomb cyclone is about to dump two feet of snow in my part of South Dakota. The whole conference is cancelled. Arrange for a new reading date twelve days later and email absolutely everybody and their brother about it.
Saturday, April 13
Get home, unpack, and continue the detail work of rescheduling my hometown rerading. Transcribe the dozens of ideas I had during the drive home from the MPIBA conference. Dream of the day when I can stop writing emails and just make a fire in the backyard and do nothing for a while. Get ready for the reading and keep telling people about the book until I can’t anymore.
Tuesday April 23
Do my hometown reading. Have a great time with my friends.
Is the launch finally over? No, I don’t think so. Some lucky authors, I suppose, still get the grand book tours I used to dream of when I was naïve. Unless you’re one of them, you need to be savvy and hope that your press is as savvy as mine is. It’s a hard world out there in the “attention economy,” and everybody’s struggling for the same airtime. But that’s a struggle any author needs to learn to love, because if you’re not going to fight for your book—for this creature you’ve spent years making from nothing—then what will you fight for?