Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Some Lessons Learnt From A Friend's Book Launch

Buy the book: Email tirelomakgeledisa@gmail.com
A book launch is a delicate thing.  Once the book is ready, you book a venue, do a heavy load of marketing and promotion for the event, get some good reviews lined up, organise snacks and drinks and then you hope that people who are influential in the book world and some of the author's fans actually show up on the day.

And when the work is by a debut author, it's even harder to imagine that there will be crowds attending the event, especially when the publisher is a tiny independent and the author is not a well-known person to start with.

The weekend launch of my friend Tirelo Ole Makgeledisa's book, "Voices of Jesus and Ancestors"   published through indie publisher Iphupho Publishing blasted through all that conventional wisdom.

The launch was held at Skoobs, Theatre of Books at Montecasino in Fourways, Johannesburg.  That's right - that Montecasino where it's always dark and you can eat and drink and watch theatrical shows and gamble away all your money on slots and time just flies by unnoticed.They have a bookshop too. I didn't know that, until Ole's launch.

So how did she get the launch so right? Keep in mind that some of these things don't and won't work for everyone, or they are counter to how we do our own processes:

1. The invitation was enticing

It told you everything you needed to know to attend the event.

Notice the mention of how much the book costs. So you can buy the book while you're there :)

 2. The venue was just right

Skoobs is lovely. And fits right in with that Montecasino vibe. The bookshop is fairly large, on two levels I think, with aisle after aisle packed with books.And Deborah (the owner I think) is very keen on locally published books, including self-published and books by indie publishers. They seemed to be very busy, so whatever mojo she's using must be working.

A warm welcome from Deborah

Ole's book launch also brought in a large crowd of family, friends, colleagues (current and former) and well-wishers. And they didn't just sit there, listening to the speeches (I was one of the speakers). The guests tweeted the event, took pictures with the author and posted them on their social media platforms, basically saying to their own friends, "don't you just wish you were here with us?"

The debut author signs autographs
This was a group that was inclined to celebrate and just needed an excuse, which is great when you're launching a product. The master of ceremonies also encouraged everyone to buy a copy of the book (pay for it downstairs) and then come up to the reserved area for Ole to autograph. It was fun. It was lighthearted. We celebrated Ole and her achievement. Most importantly,books were sold

3. The book touches a raw nerve in South African society

So a lot of people were inclined to attend the event because they wanted to be part of the conversation. In her book, Ole tells the story of how she grew up caught between African traditions and Christianity. She speaks about how she hears voices... and started having visions at the age of eight.

She kept that secret for many years, because she knows that in our society, when you hear voices you're either deemed crazy or  possessed by evil spirits. Ignorant, too steeped in superstitions are also some of the labels.So traditional practice became a dirty little secret we all keep. We know people who do it. Some very "respectable" people even consult with them under the cover of darkness. Ole said she was done with being ashamed.

4. She built an audience for the book before she even wrote it

More than 80 people attended the event, I think

Ole started to publicly talk about the book long before she wrote it.Friends, family and colleagues heard so much about the story they wondered when she'd ever write the book.

 "That book was long overdue!" Kgosi said. As I sat here writing this post, I tried to work a good descriptor for Kgosi. What is Kgosi's relationship with Ole and me and the other people who attended the event? I couldn't find an appropriate word. Yes he's a friend. The brother of a close friend. A mutual friend with so many people.

There was a lot of "oh, I didn't realise you two knew each other!" And that was the nature of things there.. so many people who are connected with Ole and with each other building a huge network.

This network was built over a lifetime through university and various jobs and social situations and relationships. Some of the people have a keen interest in books. Others were just interested in her book, or in this particular subject matter.

The people who attended the launch were just the tip of the iceberg. There were many more people who were interested in the book and event but couldn't make it.

5. Ole posted story snippets on Facebook, building a following

Once she started posting her story snippets online, more people joined her on Facebook page. "I suggested that she stop giving the story away and write the damn book," Itumeleng, another friend, said. [the French is his for emphasis, LOL].

6. She gave updates on the publishing process

Her followers knew the book was coming and when she didn't mention it, someone would ask about it. So people knew to set aside time for the launch. It also helped to build up a lot of goodwill for the project.

7. She has the support of some key people

Of course there was a huge fallout from her social network over the fact that she was writing an autobiography. Her memories may not be complimentary afterall. She didn't name names.

Some people from her church were also uncomfortable with the subject matter. To them, hearing voices translates to demons and possession and the need to get closer to God. Friends, especially the modern, educated kind, were uneasy about a public admission that she hears voices. "She's lost her mind," another mutual friend said.

To me felt like too much nakedness in public. I worry that there will be a backlash because she touches on a lot of sensitive topics and discloses many things about her family and upbringing that I would not choose to disclose if it was my family. But then, it's not my story, is it? It's hers and I'm glad for her that she is able to tell it. Which is why I supported her.

Ole works in broadcasting (director, TV News) so she knows a lot of people in the media who can help her spread the word. An interview with a major radio station was arranged right there at the event, broadening the people she can reach. I'm blogging about it, and I expect several people will also do the same.

The way forward

She still has to deal with the challenge of getting a hard copy of the book into people's hands.  There is also a documentary in the works. Of course there is! As a director, that is the medium she's most comfortable with.

I learnt a lot from her process and will be taking some of those lessons into my own work. I hope some of what I'm sharing is also useful to you.

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