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At the beginning of my recent launch party, while people were still milling and drinking wine, a friend asked me to sign a book right then in case he had to leave before my talk was done. He was prepared, with an open book and a pen. I put down my glass, signed, and marvelled. That was the best signing pen I had ever handled. This is it:

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I asked if I could “borrow” it for the evening. I want to give it back to him, but I think he knew even as he surrendered it that that may never happen (our paths don’t cross as much as we would both like). It was rude of me, I know, but I had to have it for the rest of the books. I’ve just ordered 12 more from the link above.

Thanks, Alan!

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Thank you, Heffers! What a wonderful shop, and a wonderful evening.

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It’s important to me to mark the occasion of  a new book. It’s too easy for the day itself to be nothing remarkable. Suddenly the book is there in the shops, and available online, and hopefully there are reviews popping up. But at home, the day is just as usual. Today my books came out in the UK, and I did laundry. That’s why I’m so glad I had a party earlier this week.

Launch parties have more value than just the evening itself. The process of inviting people is an opportunity to share what’s going on–the pre-release reviews, the excitement–without sounding braggy. You’re offering something (a party!), after all, not just announcing. Sharing an invitation is a lot more tactful than sharing buy links. I do go ahead and share good news and, yes, even reviews and buy links with my non-local friends, but with the party I feel more free.

The party has value after as well, even with those who weren’t able to come. “How did it go?” and “I’m so happy for you!” start lovely conversations that wouldn’t have existed without the party itself.

All that said, the organizing/inviting process is also stressful. I find it helps to send an early invitation 6-8 weeks in advance, then a reminder invitation about 2 weeks in advance. Some people are planners and need lead time; others won’t be able to consider RSVPing until much closer to the date. My preference would be to assume that few will come and then be happily surprised by big numbers, but that could leave the shop unprepared. So, I had to be brutally realistic in my expectations, risking feeling foolish if the numbers were way off. A week before, I was still chasing up RSVPs and feeling frustrated, but it turns out that many of the delayed replies were from friends trying to overcome schedule clashes, which was very kind of them. On the day itself, it turned out pretty much as I had guessed from the start: about 100 adults and 30 kids, which rocks by any standard (especially on a Tuesday night!). I’m very grateful to all who came to share the day.

Also grateful to delightful author Helen Moss, who kindly came to do a talk for the children while I talked to the adults. For my last book party, getting babysitters was a problem for guests. This way, the kids were themselves welcome guests.

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I loved talking about the books, and getting laughs and other reactions in all the right places.

I loved being introduced by my publisher and by my favorite bookseller.

I loved seeing all those books! I signed so many that I got a blister on my finger.

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Thanks, everyone. It was a good day.

Again, a little late, but I would be remiss to not mention my February London visit. This was my chance to visit my publisher on their own turf, and also to catch up with my old department head from college.

Allison & Busby has beautiful premises, and wonderful people. They made me feel very welcome.

As for lunch with my college department head, she hasn’t changed. Still a grande dame.

It was a good day.

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Edited to add: Allison & Busby was (were?) absolutely wonderful at the London Book Fair in April. They supported their authors beautifully, in my case with a big poster, and giveaway booklets containing the first chapters of The Whole World and The Start of Everything (both in one; you flip it over to get the other story). Thanks, A&B!

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I’m a little late commenting on my January New York trip. At the time, I posted pics to Facebook, and just enjoyed the event without other comment.

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It was a great trip. New York has figured in many stages of my life, so visiting there stirs up memories from all over my past: It was “the city” nearest my childhood and teenage home, and so the site of family visits and later fun with friends; though my college years were in Pittsburgh, many of my college friends ended up in New York to act (and I got to see some of them this trip); for grad school, I lived back at home again, interned at the Met, and did part of my thesis at the Brooklyn Museum. I got my first writing job in New York twenty years ago thanks to a party at the Plaza Hotel (and I got to meet up with that editor this trip, too–thanks, Mark Danna!). It’s the city where my sister lives, where my agent lives, and where I published my first book. New York is one of the places I feel at home.

The event with author Jenny Milchman and agents Donald Maass and Janet Reid went great. That Barnes and Noble has a lovely dedicated event space, and even a “green room” for speakers to wait in. Jenny and I snapped pics of each other like giggly teenagers.

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It was wonderful to see old friends there, and it was wonderful to see so many strangers (always a treat when a lot of strangers come to a book event!). My agent brought a good camera and took this nice shot of the talk itself:

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Another agent from my agency wrote a little about the event, pretty accurately in my opinion. Here is a relevant quote:

I recently attended a panel given by two agents and two authors—one of the agents, full disclosure, was my boss, and one of the authors is one of our clients. Over the course of the hour they each spoke about writing and the publishing process—from the point of view of the author and the agent—and about what makes a good book. Don Maass, my boss, spoke about what he thinks makes a book “work” where other books with similar themes might not. Janet Reid, uber-agent, talked about books keeping her from going into the office because she has to find out what happened. Jenny Milchman, whose debut novel Cover of Snow just came out, talked about writing eight books before this one found a home with a Big Six publisher. Emily Winslow, whose second novel Start of Everything was just published, talked about finding freedom as a writer, releasing herself from fear through her early days writing poetry. At the end of all this discussion I was energized to get back to work, but it was time for questions from the audience—and the very first question was on how important social media is to an agent or publisher.

Talk about putting the cart before the horse! And the questions that followed—do I need to pay someone to write a proposal for a nonfiction project? What about autobiography?—were equally off the mark. It is not constructive for an author to think about their twitter feed more than their writing. It is not constructive for an aspiring writer to think about how they’re going to get published before they’ve even finished the book. I venture to guess that an author who is worrying aloud about their social media presence has a deeper fear, that there is something missing from their work that is keeping it from finding a home. I advise them to work on that first. Aspiring writers should aspire to write, and the business of writing is a bit of a long game. But if an aspiring writer with talent then works hard, works long, and is constructive about their craft, then I think they’ll have pretty good luck.

After, I went out for shakes with friends. New York is just getting more full of memories.

From “Envoy” by Billy Collins, a message to his just-published book:

"stay out as late as you like,
don't bother to call or write,
and talk to as many strangers as you can."