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.


3 Replies to “Preparing to launch — guest blog by Susan Ketchen”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

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