How pivoting book launch plans for my memoir, Blush, in 2020 and turning the celebration into a virtual book launch party turned out to be even better than I’d hoped. Here’s what we did, why we still hosted a party, and lots of pictures showing how it turned out. Fellow writers launching a book during Covid-19, you can do this! Here's one way to host a virtual book launch party.
I had a lot of book launch party ideas as I geared up to release Blush: How I Barely Survived 17, my memoir about surviving colon cancer as a teenager. It was a dreamy plan that my husband and I came up with on a cold January night in 2020.
“What are your ideas for launching your book in fall?” he asked.
It didn’t take me long to answer: I want to host a big dinner party for those who were a part of the book.
This meant inviting my family to dinner, along with friends from all stages of my life. I began saving right away and I even picked the date: August 28, 2020. It was perfect: The promises in Romans 8:28 made it a full-circle story.
Dinner party plans for book launch
I had a perfect venue picked out, in fact a friend who owned the Yellow Rock Barn was generously letting me use his space. Another friend, Maddelena, was helping me plan and design the event. She ordered dozens of tablecloths and balloons in blush colors. She even found a funky blush-colored couch for $10 at the thrift store. I purcahsed a backdrop that matched my book cover. I had a lot of ideas for personalized centerpieces and how to engage all of my guests.
We sampled a menu from Matthew's Catering, a local caterer, who could also offer food to match our theme. We contacted Dang's Gardening, my favorite florist in Kansas City. I printed and mailed out invitations for the book launch. Everything was locking into place and each day, I came up with even more book launch party ideas.
And then, March 2020 hit. Covid-19 changed all of our plans.
All summer long, I went back and forth about changing the book launch party. Some weeks, I planned to keep it. Others, I thought maybe we should cancel. My book was going to be published no matter what, and the date was August 28, 2020. How we would launch it with a party was the big question.
We planned to have the in-person event and take a lot of precautions, but then my husband got Covid-19 in early August, and we made a hard decision: change of plans.
Lamenting and then Creating a Virtual Book Launch
I had to pause before diving into a whole new set of book launch party ideas. Grief hit me hard once the decision was made. The situation didn't look anything like what I’d originally dreamed up for launching my book, and I had to let that dream go. The loss of warm hugs and high fives was tough, there'd be no fun social media posts behind a Blush backdrop any longer. I had to say goodbye to dreams of an in-person book signing.
But, after lamenting for a few days, I came up with a new party plan.
At the beginning of Covid-19, I’d helped my clients at the Humanitarian Disaster Institute create a couple of online summits for thousands of people in a matter of four weeks. I figured if I acted quickly, we could easily turn the in-person book launch party into a virtual book launch party pretty seamlessly.
Making Online Book Launch Party Plans
Working with the event planner, we walked through key elements of the in-person event and figured out how to make them virtual. A lot of our original ideas for launching a book could be kept, we just had to get creative.
In every way, from the food to the decor and evening flow, we figured out how to transform the experience. Once again, the book launch party ideas were coming — we just had to make them virtual.
Virtual Launch Party Ideas
There was quite a bit of work to do before the evening of August 28 rolled around. I wanted the event to stay personal, intimate and full of life. For a successful event, I determined I needed these things:
- A way for everyone to log on and it remain a private event (not broadcast on Facebook to keep the intimate feel)
- Everyone to eat dinner together and celebrate with cake!
- To give everyone in attendance a signed copy of the book
- To tell stories and introduce the guests to one another
- To premiere videos with the book trailer
- A socially distanced gathering with my parents—I needed a few people to be with me!
Here’s how we made this happen:
Using Zoom for the online, private gathering
To “gather” the guests, we turned to Zoom. I had a pro account through my business, and it was the best way to gather around 150 people. When we changed the plan, we made sure everyone knew we'd use Zoom so they could download it ahead of time.
As it turned out, because we made the book launch party virtual, more people were able to participate and guests logged on from all over the U.S. I emailed everyone the link to Zoom a few hours before we started.
Eat dinner together - with cake!
I was determined for my book launch to be a party. So, we had to have food.
Because we’d chosen a local caterer, they were able to be flexible and nimble. During our taste testing, they’d mentioned that they’d been delivering individually wrapped meals to offices and events. We asked if they’d be willing to continue to cater the event for us, but instead of working an in-person gathering, could they box up the meals and deliver them to local addresses. They said YES!
I had also lined up a big order of cupcakes from Ella, a dear tween girl who’s grown up before my eyes. She agreed to still bake the cupcakes and she even wrapped them up individually for me. Matthew's Catering aggreed to deliver the cupcakes along with their food.
I sent out a survey using Google Forms to confirm everyone's addresses and dinner preferencess. For the local guests, they could choose between meat or veggie lasagna from the caterer and cupcakes, or a pizza gift card. For those who wanted the caterer's meal, we passed along their preferences and the catering team delivered hot meals and cupcakes to their doors (around 24 stops total!) as the party began.
For the out-of-town guests, I sent pizza gift cards and asked them to order dinner (and desert!).
The plan worked! As we logged on to Zoom, we had food in front of us and virtually ate dinner together.
Totes with signed books
Another dream for my book launch party was to sign and give each family a copy of the book. I realized that pivoting to a virtual book launch didn’t mean everything had to be done virtually.
I ordered some black tote bags with the Bluch logo, and I put a signed copy of the book into each one. Maddelena bagged up the candy we’d already purchased. Inside of each tote, we dropped a book, bags of candy and red “toasting” glasses for the adults. The kids got activity packs that included bookmarks, colored pencils, erasers and a custom-made word search with themes found in Blush the book.
The tween and teen girls got a few extra goodies like colorful scrunchies and post its, I wanted to makes sure they felt special and seen since my book targets that age group.
The catering company delivered the totes to our local guests along with their meals. We put tags on each tote letting the drivers know which tote went to which house, how many cupcakes to leave, and their dinner order.
I mailed the totes to those who lived out of town and they arrived before Friday night.
Tell stories and introduce guests to each other
The purpose of the book launch party was to celebrate LIFE, share stories and connect. As we brainstormed book launch party ideas, we came up with three ways to do this:
To help the party feel “intimate,” I sent everyone into breakouts for about 10 minutes once we kicked off to get to know one another. Some of the guests were already acquainted, and others had never met. To break the ice, we told them to ask one another this question in their virtual breakout rooms:
If Blush became a movie, who would you want to play you?
Emmy-style introductions and questions
I also wanted to ask a few people questions, people like my cousin, parents and childhood best friends who were mentioned in the book. I pre-wrote the questions for each of them and then put those questions inside of sealed envelopes and dropped them into certain guests’ totes.
During the party, Mike introduced those who had envelopes in their totes. Then, they'd open the envelope and ask the question. It was a fun way to get different people talking and share multiple sides to the story.
Toasts to Blush
My brother and sister-in-law closed out the evening by asking Mike and me a few questions. We told people to either text them to my brother or drop them in the chat. After this, my brother led us into a time of toasting. Everyone got out their red toasting glasses and we spent time saying “cheers” to the book. I was touched by all of the kind words and joy the book was bringing.
Book launch videos
I knew I wanted to make a few videos to serve as book trailers, and since the book launch party went virtual, it made them very easy to show.
In order for the evening to flow smoothly and not feel choppy, my friend Jordan, who produces both in-person and online events, stepped in to run the technology.
With him managing muting microphones, playing background music and switching back and forth between the videos, it was as smooth as a television production. Curious about the videos we showed? Here's the first book trailer video and here's the second book video!
A socially distanced backyard gathering
Part of what helped me bounce back from the grief of not throwing a big dinner party was the idea of hosting something smaller in my backyard. I knew I wanted my parents to be with me because I’d planned to give them special gifts. I had custom mosaic crosses made from a local artist in Blush colors to represent our brokeness getting pieces back together. This was one of my favorite book launch party ideas, I wanted to give special gifts to those who played such a big role in my book (and really, my life!).
Backyard book launch party design
Maddelena adjusted our grand vision for an indoor event, scaled it back, and made it happen outside. We had twinkle lights, beautiful table decor, centerpieces and personalized wine glasses. We kept our flower plans and Zabeth from Dang's Gardening did not disappoint. The big sunflowers surrounded by pops of pink and and red stemming her late-summer blooms brought fresh colors into the event.
My best friend from college, Amber, drove up and made a beautiful, big cake.
Instead of using it for a photobooth like we'd originally planned, we put the couch Maddelena found in the backyard with a branded Blush backdrop behind it. With a card table in front of it containing laptops, monitors, cameras and cords, we created a "set."
The entire backyard setup gave me flashbacks to when I’d gone backstage during a few TV show productions and watched multiple things happening at once. Between the in-person experience and the virtual experience, there was a lot going on, but I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
Wouldn’t Change a Thing about the party
This book launch party was A LOT to pull off, but at the same time, it was thrilling. Because I’m a communications strategist and I do these types of things for a living, I dove into the weeds and gave it everything I had.
The logistics made my head spin on some days, and there was a lot of pre-party work to do (in some ways this was like planning a wedding!), but in the end, it was all worth it. We lauched Blush the book in the most special way possible.
My hope for my book launch party was for every person to feel seen and loved. I wanted to celebrate the accomplishment of writing a book with those who'd been part of the story and make space for gratitude.
Based on the comments at the end of the night, our mission was accomplished. People kept saying they had a blast. I couldn’t stop smiling and my heart was filled with love. The Romans 8:28 promise on 8/28 ended up being incredible... even if it was during 2020!
Are you planning a virtual book launch party?
If you're thinking about planning a virtual book launch party, take heart! You can do it! This event became incredibly personal to me, just like the memoir writing process, and yours can too! Your event can be as big or little as you want.
You need to be willing to pivot and think differently if you're launching a book virtually, it won't work like most other book parties you've seen. But, in my experience, a virtual book launch can be just as good, maybe even better, than a traditional book launch.
Your budget and timeline will drive what you do. Don't be afraid to ask for help, especially from your tech-savvy friends and those who like to design events. There are lots of tools out there!
Launching a book during Covid-19 is not for the faint of heart, but get creative and take courage. After all, the hard part is over (your book is written). You deserve to celebrate.
*Special thanks to my mom for taking most of these pictures!