Preparing to launch — guest blog by Susan Ketchen

For the nor­mally re­clus­ive au­thor, one of the es­sen­tial com­pon­ents of new book pro­mo­tion is — un­for­tu­nately — The Launch. Even if a form­al af­fair — at a gal­lery, with of­fer­ings of wine, fancy fin­ger-food from an exot­ic cater­er and nap­kins that look like works of art — is avoided, the ven­ue is but one of many many de­cisions which must be made.

The date should be close to the is­su­ing of the book, but not so close that you’re in heart fail­ure for days be­fore, wor­ry­ing about wheth­er you’ll have stock on hand. You also have to de­cide how and when to ad­vert­ise the event, who to in­vite, how many chairs, how much stand­ing room, who will sell the books, and oh yes, what you’re go­ing to say dur­ing your presentation.

But for me, the first and most daunt­ing ques­tion, every time (and I’ve launched three books) is al­ways and im­me­di­ately: What am I go­ing to wear? Perhaps for most people this is not a dif­fi­cult prob­lem to solve. But I live on a small farm, and spend days on end see­ing no one oth­er than people on neigh­bour­ing farms and some­times the Hydro meter reader.

On the few oc­ca­sions I go to town for gro­cer­ies or chick­en feed, my stand­ard of dress aims not for style but for clean­li­ness. I have no idea what is cur­rently fash­ion­able. Reading the Style sec­tion of the Globe and Mail is ab­so­lutely no help — I’m sure they are ca­ter­ing to people on an­oth­er plan­et, the one called “Toronto.”

For one launch, I threw my­self on the mercy of the clerk in a fash­ion store. I told her I needed to stretch be­yond my usu­al com­fort levels, but in ret­ro­spect I think she was bored and look­ing for someone to play a prac­tic­al joke on. I still can’t bear to look at pho­tos of that launch. I wish I’d tucked in my shirt the way I wanted to and not left it dangling the way I was told I must.

For an­oth­er event, I had my en­semble well planned in ad­vance, some­thing light and airy, to min­im­ize sweat (us farm folks sweat) un­der the hot lights in a small room. On the day of the event, it snowed. This was March, on Vancouver Island, where of­ten a whole winter can pass by with no snow at all. Back to the draw­ing board.

And then there’s the shoe prob­lem. In my closets I have rid­ing boots, rub­ber boots, hik­ing boots and run­ners. When I try on clothes in fash­ion stores, the clerks are known to say, “You won’t be wear­ing those shoes, will you?” They will be look­ing askance at my (new­est) run­ners, which are in­ex­plic­ably dirti­er in town than they were when I left the farm. There is of­ten a piece of hay stuck to the laces, be­cause on the way out the drive­way I had to stop and re­spond to a plaint­ive ex­pres­sion from a horse who thought he was hungry.

It oc­curs to me, re-read­ing this ri­dicu­lous state of af­fairs, that per­haps fret­ting about cloth­ing is a form of pro­cras­tin­a­tion, as I avoid think­ing about what surely is the main point of the event: What am I go­ing to talk about?

Well, I could go on about that too, and I would, but the thought of it is mak­ing my palms sweat, which is not good for the keyboard.

Paula’s note: I also suf­fer from out­fit anxi­ety be­fore a book launch. I won­der if this is some­thing only fe­male au­thors go through?

As for Susan’s book, Grows that Way, I was read­ing it in bed one night and kept laugh­ing out loud and wak­ing my part­ner up. I’m long past be­ing a young adult but the ori­gin­al plot, feisty char­ac­ters and fresh writ­ing kept me read­ing – and stifling chuckles — un­til the wee hours of the morn­ing. You can find out more about Susan at www​.susanketchen​.ca.


What every writer needs

Every writer craves a pub­lish­er, an ed­it­or and most of all, time to write. An ocean full of story ideas, hefty roy­alty cheques and some re­cog­ni­tion doesn’t hurt either.

But you know what writers need most? Downtime. That’s right, big chunks of do noth­ing time when frag­ments of ideas can bounce around the cra­ni­um and pos­sibly morph into some­thing brilliant.

At some point every writer sits in front of their com­puter strain­ing for the right word, phrase or sen­tence. But let’s say they for­get all that and take a hike with the dog or stand in the shower for a long time let­ting hot wa­ter sluice over their limbs. That’s of­ten when an “aha!” mo­ment and the an­swer to the prob­lem appears.

But how of­ten do any of us give ourselves any real down­time? There’s al­ways an email to an­swer, an er­rand to run or a dead­line to meet. And in today’s high tech world, even a walk in the woods doesn’t guar­an­tee un­in­ter­rup­ted downtime.

Scott Belsky, au­thor of Making Ideas Happen and CEO of Behance, dis­cusses this in “What Happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking & Sacred Space.” According to Belsky, every­one, es­pe­cially cre­at­ive folks, should sched­ule reg­u­lar downtime.

One thing Belsky sug­gests is es­tab­lish­ing a ritu­al for un­plug­ging. Yes, I know it sounds blas­phem­ous but this means mak­ing a point of turn­ing off your com­puter, cell phone, Blackberry and maybe your land­line too.

Downtime on a Sunday af­ter­noon. And, no, I did­n’t chop any wood first.

Sundays are my down­time days. I get up when I want, eat when I want, take a nap if I want, read and putter with no par­tic­u­lar goal in mind. And, even though I don’t com­pletely un­plug, I try not to have the com­puter on for long.

Once a year or so, Rick and I head to Tofino for a totally un­plugged hol­i­day. The beach cab­in we stay at does­n’t have a phone or Internet con­nec­tion and there’s no TV, ra­dio or even a clock.

It’s hard to de­scribe how lib­er­at­ing that is. And the re­lax­a­tion goes way be­yond an ocean view and strolls on the beach. The sense of let­ting go – the re­lief of not hav­ing to check or re­spond to any­thing or any­body — is enormous.

And, what’s really in­ter­est­ing is the cre­at­ive en­ergy I feel after a do noth­ing day or an es­cape to Long Beach. Plot prob­lems seem to dis­solve, a good re­source comes to mind or a pos­sible way to end a chapter presents it­self. Not every time, of course, but enough to know that down­time is an im­port­ant part of be­ing a writer.

Downtime. It’s im­port­ant and I need more of it in my life. So, I’ve just made a big do noth­ing date with my­self for the week­end. Who knows, it might be the best cre­at­ive ses­sion I’ve had in a long time.