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.
3 Replies to “Preparing to launch — guest blog by Susan Ketchen”
Well contrary to Susan and Harold experiences with book launches, I actually looked forward to my book launch of West Coast Wrecks & Other Maritime Tales with a good deal of confidence. And perhaps with too much it ended up.
For one, I like to think I have no shortage of tasteful, better quality shirts in my closet. (Christmas presents over the years from mom and also courtesy of Paula’s family in Napa since my brother-in-law, Doug, happens to manage the fashionable outdoor store, REI, in San Francisco). I had just bought a new pair of black jeans and since we don’t happen to live out in Merville, like the Macys, my fingernails stay reasonably clean.
But still, what I do ensure is that I have had a haircut recently otherwise with my unruly, white locks I have a tendency to start looking like a deranged Albert Einstein.
Also, I credit my ability to stay relaxed when I know I have to appear before a group, to the fact that I’ve done a fair amount of slide shows and presentations over the years already. And for some bizarre reason, I’ve become a more social animal as I age and enjoy presenting before a group. (This been a surprise to Paula and she often reminds me that when we first got together way-back-when I was a somewhat quiet and retiring Fanny Bay recluse.)
So there it is the big day in Vancouver, my book launch at the Vancouver Maritime Museum…And, gad sakes! some 60+ people turn up and there all out there in front of me!! Man, this was impressive, so needless to say I was pumped and I think my Harbour Publishing publicist was even caught off guard. (It ended up she had misjudged the number who were going to show up and not purchased enough pastry items; which proved rather disappointing to those who were late to the table.)
And the PowerPoint itself went over exceedingly well. A good indicator of success was that there was a few comments and I fielded a number of questions for about 10 or 15 minutes afterwards. (The worst thing that can happen is that everyone sits there deadpan and bored looking when after one reaches the last slide. That’s a signal: back to the drawing board.)
So, as a result, I was brimming with an overwhelming sense of success and goodwill and slowly made my way over to the book signing table as the crowd lined up for their books. Then it happened; about seven copies along.
As I looked up at this big, middle aged guy, balding with a pony tail: I asked, “who should I make it out to?” And he answers, “Rick James!” I did a double take and replied, “No, that’s me, the author, I mean, your name to write to in the book.” “Rick James!” he then declared. “Don’t you remember me from the old days in Victoria? How could ya forget, I mean, we not only have the same name…” And continues in an overly loud voice, “Oh man! We even used to smoke dope together at Keith’s place on Burdett! back there in the early 70s!!”
Well, thank god, most of the folks around the table were old friends or colleagues from previous work opportunities, who, I hope, were already well aware of my somewhat unconventional past. Still, there were others I could tell that were caught somewhat off guard. You know strangers up until then, who I was dead certain I had managed to convince over the past hour’s presentation that I was to be looked upon as a respectable West Coast maritime historian and writer. God knows what they all thought after the interesting exchange at the signing table.
So there you go, one can be entirely prepared beforehand and exuding with confidence, but still something can turn around and bite you and bring one back down to reality. Yeah, well, there you go just another aging hippy from the Comox Valley that can maybe write a good story once and awhile.
Whatever the occasion, going to town requires thought as to dress, or could require thought if one was given to care. A quick run to the feed store or Central Builders is pretty straightforward. But for such an event as a book launch, especially if it is one’s own book launch may call for a bit additional consideration.
If it is a high-brow literary event, would I wear the tried and true tweed jacket with suede elbow patches, possibly over a sweater vest — how timeless is that combo? Or is it so dated to be pathetic. Or perhaps the po-mo look — lots of black, maybe even a fake piercing and a temp ‘tat.
My criteria are not driven by the whims and caprice of the Style Section of the Globe and Mail which we buy each Saturday, but rather by necessity. Something that doesn’t show dog hair is high on the list. There is enough black hair in the seat crevices and cranny’s of my truck to knit a new hound. Something that relates to the weather, usually waterproof, reinforces the gumboot archetype.
But really I don’t care. I take lessons from my Grandpa. His long legs were perpetually clad in blue denim overalls. Annually, upon Grandma’s urging, he bought a new pair, stiff as boards, which he initially saved for church. After a few months, they became his town and house pair. Eventually they were worn in the shop, on the tractors and in the calving barn doing the chores he loved. After a year or so on this duty, they were fit only for wipe rags. Grandma made quilt squares from any section that was not threadbare, grease stained or soiled by the wet but messy miracles of animals, but there were only few.
But it is not your clothes that are noticed at a book launch. It’s your fingernails. I gave a talk recently and was setting up to sell and sign books to the good folks in line, money in hand. I glanced down at my hands and saw the half-moon of cargo delineating each and every nail. Not only that but there was a stubborn smear of chainsaw oil giving the edge of my hand a delicate blush of purple, not unlike a fresh bruise. Various scratches. Enough grit in my fingertips to make cop prints and a dusting of Merville Silt, apparently a particular noxious element according to the Sears Carpet Cleaning Technician who does our rugs once a year.
So as the first pink-fingered, smooth handed lady passed me my book to sign, I almost felt the urge to make some glottal grunt to match what really mattered, my hands there on the page. Now her page. Soiled. She glanced down at the virginal page, at my stubborn grime and made a small silent “Oh” with her mouth. I felt her gaze, looked up, and gave a wan smile.
Don’t worry about the clothes, check your fingernails first.