Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Planning the Imperfect Un-Book Launch

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I will be assisting an old friend I’ve known since the Stone Ages (read: middle school) plan his first book launch for the winter of 2011. The concept of a book launch is still fresh in my mind because I just produced my fourth one in November 2010. And as a bookish dude, I try to attend at least five to ten book launches a year. But that doesn't mean I enjoy them. In fact, most of the ones I attend, that aren’t my own, I find to be extremely dull and uninteresting. Certainly anyone who has attended any one of my launches   from Hip Hop World in fall 2009 and Much Master T in 2002, to Fatherhood 4.0 a few months ago — saw and witnessed something different. My parties for avid readers almost always feature these motley multi-culti groupings of people, across generations, from rock and rap stars, to widely read daily reporters and even pro athletes. Hey, even I sometimes have no idea how some of these people got there…maybe it was the exclamation points (READ BELOW)!

To the Dalt-uninitiated, it’s the birth of the (djembe drum roll, please)…Un-Book Launch! Bored with the usual calendar of mind-numbingly boring and insular gabfests — masquerading as launches — that I’ve attended in the Megacity over the years, I’m often forced to tap into my own inherently hip hop sensibilities. I don’t want people tweeting, texting or sexting genitalia like (insert name of professional athlete here) at my event. And neither should you.

The first thing I’d recommend is for you to greatly reduce and/or altogether eliminate the Talking Heads syndrome. Maybe it’s inevitable that launches begin as snooze fests, stuck on life support, where all of these dull congratulatory speeches must take place, thanking all of these people, who guests attending (who aren’t related to the author and just came by for the possibility of an open bar) have no idea who you’re talking about. Just do the obligatory reading of a passage or two. Thank your mom, publisher, editor and publicist. In that order. Toss in a sponsor, where apropos. Then thank the Most High, if you're religious or spiritual. And then maybe your significant other or kids (if you have any). Anyone who has to put up with this crap of having you, the author, holed up in a room or basement for hours on end banging away at a computer. The rest of the evening should be spent schmoozing, boozing and trolling for dates (if you're single).

The second thing I’d suggest is to launch your book with bombast! You’ve spent an inordinate number of hours alone in a cold, dank cellar producing this tome. It’s now time to come out from underneath your rock and push some envelopes! Live outside the box! Use a lot of exclamation points! In your press releases! Your launch is a celebration of perseverance, and thus should be filled with pomp and pageantry, hype and hoopla. Forget fine wines, polite, whispered convo’s and tradition, it’s time to get effed up, like Damian (Abraham). Your telling me that after spending some time between one to five years cramped up in your writing quarters, in near isolation and alienated from the outside world, now that you’ve completed the noble task of getting your book done, you want to do an event where you can hear those same crickets chirping as the ones you heard when you were writing the damn thing?

Cash flow will always be a problem, especially as publishing business dinosaurs reluctantly embrace new media possibilities and newer, more diverse reading audiences…the ones that come to my warehouse parties that masquerade as book launches!

But if you have low to no dough to produce your event, use a 100 dollars or so out of your advance earnings to make your mark (many traditional publishing contracts still pay out the bulk of the money before the books ever hit the shelves in the form of an advance against royalties).

You say you need special guests or celebs on board to make your event buzzy enough to get reporters out and perhaps have your grill show up in the society pages? Get some special “hologram” guests zoomed in! In Japan, some of the best public events and concerts involve stars appearing who aren’t even there in physical form. It’s Long Pen-esque, but with a twist! Like, who needs real people in attendance to bump up launch attendance figures when you can use holograms to beam in special guests, people you adore. Don’t know what legalities might exist in this area as I plan for my next launch in 2012, but Dave Chappelle and Scarlett Johanson might just magically show up…the possibilities are endless, really.

While I can’t give away all of my trade secrets, or any for that matter, maybe you can invite some questionable left-wing pinko (or right-wing wacko) bashing mouthpiece who wears funny pink clown outfits that masquerade as suits, to come by your launch and say all kinds of controversial, offensive things that have little meaning! The bottom line is this. Get those audience numbers up.

With the advent of blogging, podcasting and social networks like Facebook and Twitter, today's writers can reach out to their readers directly and thus avoid 18-guest gatherings. While this may seem like something obvious, too many authors seem perfectly comfortable reading to 20 people, 10 of whom are their blood relatives. When viewed through my hip hop prism, this is a colossal failure. Empty venues and I (nor Kanye West or Drake) don’t mix. It’s like Mel Gibson and calm, rational thinking. An odd mix. I know, I know. Many gatekeepers in the Toronto literary community want the scene to remain stuffy, snooty, elitist and homogenous…kinda like that old aunt, stuck in its ways. But I’m a Brave New World pusher who believes we have to collectively kick some of these corny, outdated publishing patterns like a bad habit.

Dalton Higgins is a music programmer, pop culture critic, author, broadcaster and national magazine award-winning journalist. He is Canada’s foremost expert on hip hop culture. In addition to writing numerous articles for Canadian and US print and on-line magazines, he is the author of Hip Hop World (Groundwood Books/House of Anansi) and co-author of Hip Hop (Thomson Nelson) and Much Master T: A VJ’s Journey (ECW Press). As a broadcaster, Dalton has hosted his own TV show and has appeared as a pundit on every major Canadian network. You can visit Dalton at his blog. His most recent book is Fatherhood 4.0: iDad Applications Across Cultures (Insomniac Press).

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