When I decided to self-publish my first book, Odyssey of Love: A Memoir of Seeking and Finding, last fall, I thought without a doubt that the easing of pandemic restrictions would allow me to host a live launch event on my June birthday. I imagined a celebration with live music, fanciful decorations, and a buffet of Hungarian food and wine featured in my memoir. I’d read a few scenes from Odyssey, sign some books, and maybe even play a Liszt piano piece or two.
But early in 2021, as Covid-19 variants swept through Finland, where I live, it became clear I needed a new Plan A. At first, I was disappointed at having to reorganize plans, but in hindsight, the virtual launch I organized was the best birthday present I could have given myself. Here’s why:
Friends and family from around the U.S. and Europe were able to attend the event with a zoom link in the comfort of their homes without the added cost of purchasing roundtrip tickets to Helsinki. Over sixty people attended: childhood and college chums, former colleagues, fellow authors, and Hungarian friends I’d met during my time in Budapest. It was heartwarming to see so many dear ones come together to support my creative efforts. Unlike a live event, where guests would be moving around and mingling, I also had their undivided attention for one hour.
TOURING BOOK LOCATIONS
Since much of my memoir is based in Budapest, I offered viewers a taste of Hungary’s capital city. A local friend there, János, offered to visit and videotape locations from the book, including the Opera House, the Liszt Music Academy, and the Danube. Then, he talked about events that had transpired (like an unexpected marriage proposal!) at those very spots. For many of us who had been isolating for one and a half years and missed traveling, János’s tour was a real treat. (Here he is below, toasting us.)
In lieu of a live band, I asked a dozen of my talented musician friends and family members to contribute video clips. The result was nine varied and lively performances featuring singers from Palestine and Greece, a British guitarist, and an Estonian violinist. Even Alfred Hitchcock’s “grandson” made an appearance with his accordion.
INVOLVING CHARACTERS FROM THE BOOK
Several of my friends who appear as characters in Odyssey offered to introduce themselves to the other launch guests. One, Ágnes, shared our experiences as members of the Budapest Academic Choral Society and then sang a Hungarian folksong. Another, Gretchen, read an excerpt with me that included dialogue from an encounter years earlier at the Turkish eatery we often visited.
In addition to Budapest, we also “visited” Ephesus, Turkey, and a Greek island, both settings in the book. At the end of the event, the love song “I Will Be Here” was performed, and a slide show of my wedding day photos was presented. This was the perfect note to end on, as Odyssey is a happily-ever-after love story.
The entire cost of the event was 200 dollars: 140 for the zoom link and 60 for the special launch day banner (photo at top) I’d hired a designer to create. Of course, there may be cheaper online connection options, and you can forgo the banner or make one yourself. I was also fortunate to have two friends help with the technical aspects of the event, including making final edits. Overall, the virtual launch was much less expensive than hosting a live one, leaving more money for post-launch costs, such as marketing and promotion.
Although I didn’t get to organize my live dream launch event, I am still savoring the rush I got from the virtual one. To those authors who find themselves in a similar situation, don’t lose heart! You can turn it around as I did and organize an even more memorable “kick-ass” celebration, which is how mine was described by attendees afterward.
Draw your launch guests into your story with photos or videos of your book’s locations. Ask others to join you in reading excerpts from your book, especially if it’s a memoir and your characters are willing to go public. If you have written a non-fiction book on a specialized subject, enlist the support of an expert to speak to your guests. Download music from your book’s playlist to share, or if you have musician friends, ask them to perform pre-recorded songs that relate to your book’s theme. Last, but not least: buy yourself a bottle of your favorite wine or champagne and enjoy your moment. You’ve certainly earned it!