A Debut Author’s Book Launch Musings
Mary Beth Hines
I recently received my author’s copies of Winter at a Summer House, my debut poetry collection. Seeing the books stacked in the box, pulling that first one out and running a finger over the cover—beautiful artwork created by my sister with input from her wife and our brother—well, it took my breath away. As I held the book in my hands, I was, for a moment, speechless. Though my name was imprinted on the cover, it hardly seemed my creation. Each poem had arrived as a gift, and I felt overcome with gratitude.
I wasn’t prepared for this emotional reaction. I am a pragmatic person. For the prior five years I’d been a diligent, methodical creative writing student. For thirty-plus years before that, I’d been a conscientious public servant and a keenly focused, ever-self-improving wife and mother, and sometimes caretaking daughter. As a professional manager throughout most of my adult life, I’d relied heavily on my left-brain. Yet these poems, and this book, when taken as a whole, appeared as almost pure right brain, spawned by the kind of person—a creative—that I’d often aspired, but been unable to permit myself, to be.
Of course, ironically, now that the book is out, I have to fire up the old left-brain again. If Winter at a Summer House is going to spread joy and to console as intended; if it’s going to create beauty; to be known and loved; then it needs introductions. It needs advocates. Most independent publishers, and even many traditional ones, enlist authors as partners to market their work. I’m grateful that my publisher, Kelsay Books, made that clear up-front by asking for a marketing plan along with the manuscript. Though I found it daunting initially, now that I’m in the midst of it, I find launching the book is a rewarding creative project in-and-of-itself.
Though still early in the journey, I’ve learned a lot, and have experienced some unanticipated pleasures. First, as expected, launching a book is a social endeavor, and I find myself beyond grateful to the people in my life—my family, friends, colleagues, publishers, and readers—for their support, inspiration, and generosity. As I reconnect with old friends, many tell me they’re delighted to see our neighborhoods, escapades, and loved ones resurrected and recast with feeling and in beauty. I’m also connecting with new people—readers, friends of friends, other writers—who tell me they have seen themselves and found their friends and loved ones, their special places, their life journeys reflected in the book. This is food for my creative spirit.
I’ve learned that networking is both important and gratifying. Passionate advocates for the arts exist in my local community and online. For years, I didn’t fully realize the extent to which these existed and thrived around me. When I began writing creatively, I took workshops, and put my head down to read and write, to learn and hone my craft. Aside from submitting to journals, and sharing publications on social media, I hardly looked up. When I finally did, upon learning the book would be published, I was heartened at the network I found I’d become a part of. My workshop leaders had become friends and were cheerleaders for the book. Writing colleagues who’d provided inspiration, camaraderie, and thoughtful critique also became champions. Some readers requested that their local bookstores and libraries stock the book. Friends offered to host parties. Several journal editors who’d published some of the poems posted reviews, shared quotes, or publicized it via social media. My women’s writing collective hosted a book launch party. I’ve been invited to participate as a featured poet in events. This all happened organically. And now that I’ve gained insight into how this networked world works, I’m in a better position to participate and to introduce it to other newcomers.
Fortunately for debut authors, resources abound to assist with book launch strategies and tactics. For example, Jeannine Hall Gailey’s book, PR FOR POETS: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing provided a quick, clear orientation that I found invaluable. Later, I took an informative, practical online class with Erika Dreifus through the International Women’s Writing Guild. My writing mentors, Tom Daley, Kelly DuMar, and Katia Kapovich, all authors themselves, provided essential guidance. At the end of the day, I prioritized five activities:
1) a website (a free, simple, DIY GoogleSite)
2) a launch event (hosted by the Charles River Writers, my amazing women’s writing group)
3) reviews (Poetic Book Tour; requests to journals)
4) email communications (combined with some social media)
5) readings and events (to be held over the course of the year)
I’ll be assessing and adjusting plans as I go along. A year from now I expect I’ll have the advice of my own to share!
In closing, and perhaps most important, I am sure that loving, and believing in, Winter at a Summer House, is helping me to publicize it enthusiastically. Many of the poems make me laugh; some make me cry, and all transport me to new places and cause me to look closely at old worlds with new eyes. I want to share that with others. As a child, I believed writers were magicians. All these years later, I understand I was right. And now I want to be one of those wizards—resurrecting loved ones; wringing art from grief; commiserating across time and space with the bruised optimist that lives inside all of us. Winter At a Summer House represents my first, small step toward that heady goal.
About the Poet:
Mary Beth Hines is an award-winning poet who earned a bachelor of arts in English from The College of the Holy Cross and studied at Durham University in England for a year. Her poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction appear in dozens of literary journals and anthologies nationally and abroad. Winter at a Summer House is her first poetry collection. It can be purchased online at Kelsay Books, through bookstores, or on Amazon. Visit her online at www.marybethhines.com.