A tale of two launches

by M.J. Hearle

It’s a curious thing to find oneself in the spotlight after spending so much time trying to avoid it. Writers generally aren’t exhibitonists. We’re much more comfortable with our own company, then with large groups. That’s not to say, we’re antisocial or misanthropic, catch us in the right mood and we can be downright gregarious, but if you spend most of your time hanging out with make-believe people sometimes you lose the knack for interacting with real ones.

And so it was with more than a little trepidation, last Wednesday night I strolled up to Berkeleouw Books on Oxford St for the launch of Winter’s Shadow. Interestingly, this trepidation wasn’t entirely to do with having to be the main draw for the evening – unfortunately, there’s no avoiding this if it’s, you know, your book being launched – but, instead I was concerned people mightn’t come. Images of standing in an empty bookstore with only my publicist for company tormented me. Sure, it’s contradictory (So, what is it Hearle? You’re worried about being the centre of attention or not having enough attention? Make your mind up!) but what can I tell ya? I’m a contradictory guy.

Luckily (or unluckily depending on whichever neurotic mindset I happened to be in from minute to minute), people did come. Lots of people. So much so that I began to worry I’d undercatered (interesting sidenote for prospective writers: unless you’re a bestseller don’t expect your publisher to pay for your launch. All those drinks and nibblies will have to come out of your pocket). Before the launch my publicist had prepared me for selling about 20% of the books stocked for the night. This is apparently the average for a book launch. Berkeleouw ended up selling about 90% of the stock they’d ordered so I was pretty chuffed. However, I think this percentage is more of a testament to the generosity of my friends and family than anything else.

The jam-packed Sydney launch at Berkeleouw Books

The event was a very relaxed affair. Everyone stood around chatting and drinking, while my mum and godmother, Mary, shuffled about with platters of food, and my sister, Elise acted as bartender. After a blush-inducing introduction from my brilliant publisher (and the book’s most passionate supporter) Alex, I took to the podium and managed to deliver my hastily cobbled together speech without fumbling my words too much. Then the book signing commenced. What an incredibly surreal experience. There I was sitting at a table while a line formed of fifty of my friends and family all waiting to get their copy of Winter’s Shadow signed. Three things I learnt from this: firstly, it’s good to have a couple of witticisms prepared before commencing a signing so you don’t end up writing ‘Thanks for reading!’ a million times, two: practise your signature and handwriting beforehand and three: don’t expect to have time to drink, eat or in fact sustain a conversation with any one person longer than thirty seconds.

Another satisfied customer

By the end of the night I had writer’s cramp and a big smile on my face which lasted through till the next morning. Honestly, I woke up looking like Jack Nicholson in Batman.

So the Sydney launch was a big success but there was another launch to look forward to/dread on Friday night. This was the big launch – the launch arranged by my parents in my hometown of Port Macquarie. The local-boy-done-good launch. My dad promised it was going to be bigger than Ben Hur and sure enough almost 200 people filed in through the doors of the Tacking Point Surf Club which had been booked for the event. Not only that but we had a band! An incredibly talented Jazz band comprised of year 12 music students from the high school.

The jam-packed Port Macquarie launch

It was incredibly overwhelming to have so many people turn out on what was a very wintry old night to support the book. Roz, from the Book Warehouse in Settlement City set up a table near the door and she ended up selling nearly 150 copies which was fantastic.

Roz, from the Book Warehouse in Settlement City

Some of the standout moments from the night was meeting Michelle, a lovely lady who told me Winter’s Shadow (which had been passed onto her through my Aunt Wendy) had reignited her love of reading – a higher compliment I can’t imagine an author receiving. Also, I enjoyed meeting a couple of teenage girls who were very enthusiastic and wanted to know when the sequel was coming out (Soon, I promised them, soon.). I signed lots of books (even a few posters) had some entertaining conversations and caught up with a few old school buddies I hadn’t seen in ages. The next morning, I set off to the Book Warehouse for my first ever in-store signing. One of the employees, Belinda, had done an amazing job of creating a window display which you can see in the below photograph. I was a little worried about the signing itself, figuring I’m a new author and everybody in Port Macquarie who might be interested in buying the book had probably come to the launch the night before.

The fantastic Winter's Shadow window display

However, I was delighted to find a young fan already waiting at the bookstore with her mum. Apparently she’d read Winter’s Shadow earlier that week, heard about the signing and was excited to meet me. I was excited to meet her as she was the first fan I’d ever met face to face who wasn’t related to me or a family friend. Over the course of an hour, seven other interested readers came into the store to ask for my signature. Not a bad turnout for a rainy Saturday morning.

So the launches are done. I’m still doing publicity (I slipped in a few interviews with the Port Macquarie News and Focus magazine while I was home) but that will probably dwindle over the coming weeks. I’ve had strong sales so far, but it’s too early to tell whether or not interest in the book is snowballing, plateauing or (gulp!) declining. This is the crucial point where I hope word of mouth kicks in. If however nobody else buys the novel, if it slips into obscurity, then I’ll always have the memories of my two book launches. Two golden nights spent with my friends and family, two nights awash with love and support. And that aint a bad thing.

M. J.