I’ve lost count of the number of poetry book launches I’ve been to, and I’ve enjoyed most of them, but as a launcher and a launchee, I thought I’d set down a few notes for those new to the experience.
- Discuss it with your publisher beforehand. You need to know how long you’ve got to read, and your publisher, being more experienced than you, will have an idea of which poems in the collection will best appeal to an audience.
- Only read from the publication you’re launching. To read anything else (“Here are a few new poems”) is incredibly rude to your publisher. The publisher has more at stake in the launch than you do. He or she has taken the risk and put up the money, and he or she hopes to sell copies to an appreciative audience. It’s not about your poetic ego, you’re part of a sales team, whether you like that or not. At a launch, as distinct from a reading – where you’ve got more freedom – concentrate on the publication you hope to sell and don’t read anything else.
- Flash the cover of the book to the audience. I know sometimes it’s easier to read from print-outs if the type face is small, or if you’re not yet familiar with the printed text, but at least show the book off. It’s a physical object connecting author to reader. Show it off.
- Rehearse your reading beforehand, so you know where in the book the poems are. It’s irritating for an audience to see you faff around and keep going back to the contents page. Make a list in sequence with the page numbers on it.
- Don’t make a performance out of changing your specs. The audience don’t want a commentary – they’ve got glasses of their own. Just put your reading glasses on without fuss, and get on with it.
- The main reason for a rehearsal is to make sure you know the poems well, know how long it takes to read them, and how they fit in a sensible way into your set. Go for highs and lows in your reading.
- Don’t take too long in introductions. Say only what it is essential to say, and no more. I’ve yawned through umpteen readings where poets ramble on for longer than it takes them to read the poem. Just get on with it.
- Keep your thankyou’s brief, but sincere. Rehearse them too. Don’t leave out anyone important to the book, and don’t put in anyone who isn’t important to it.
- When signing copies, ask the buyer what they’d like you to put on the book. Make sure you spell their name correctly if that’s what they want you to inscribe. If they don’t specify, I usually score through my printed name, sign it, and put the place and date of the signing.
- Enjoy the occasion. You’ve worked hard for this day, you should be proud of your achievement, and sharing it should give you, and your audience, a great deal of pleasure.