On the morning before my book launch party, I looked at the 100 chairs set up in the main sanctuary of my synagogue and gulped. “Are you nuts?” I thought. “Why didn’t you reserve the seminar room, where 25 people would become an SRO crowd?”
I was thinking bigger and bolder with the publication of my fifth book, The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith. Since my memoir was about my unexpected detour from secularism to Jewish orthodoxy, and to me was in a sense about coming home, it was important to me to have my book launch at a place that felt like my spiritual home. That was my synagogue.
Still, it took some chutzpah to reserve the entire sanctuary, a space that is packed with 300 people on the holidays, and could have been divided neatly with a pocket wall into a smaller space. This would have considerably lowered my risk giving a talk to an empty space, with my voice echoing into the void.
But this book was about finding faith, and I had faith that “If I booked it, they would come.”
And they did! I had the chairs artfully arranged so that, with the addition of two book signing tables and two refreshment tables, the room looked fully furnished. People started streaming in 15 minutes before showtime, and I was happy that I didn’t know all of them.
In a twist on the old adage, woman planned, but God didn’t laugh; He listened.
For those of you with a book launch party in sight, these are the things I did that I found most valuable.
1. Choosing a venue where I felt so at home in every way, and where I had name recognition, was the right move. I didn’t want to have to ingratiate myself with an unknown manager of the few remaining indie bookstores. I had done that before, and had poor results. I was also confident I could fill a space bigger than a friend’s living room.
2. I chose a woman who is a dynamic speaker in her own right and well known in the congregation to introduce me before my talk, and to do a Q and A with me afterward, with audience participation. We met weeks before the event to discuss my goals and to give her an advanced copy, so she’d be prepped.
3. I had a full-color flyer designed that did double duty being shared on social media as well as displayed in the synagogue lobby. I asked a writer whose review of my book was going to run in a local paper to add the date and location of the book launch at the end of her column. I also wrote an author interview focused on the book which I arranged to have run in an online community news outlet geared for the Jewish population. The synagogue’s Facebook page created an event for my book party and the many online RSVPs added to my confidence.
4. People are always busy, so I also sent emails and called all my friends to remind them that, short of having a loved one rushed to the ER that night, I expected to see them there.
5. I timed my talk to be no more than 25 minutes, and spent many hours planning it and rehearsing it. Having it semi-memorized, but totally confident in my narrative flow, allowed me to be spontaneous yet stay on message. I also edited down segments of my memoir that I wanted to read so that none were longer than about three minutes each. I also chose segments with choice humor, and was gratified by audience laughter.
6. While I really didn’t need the gold bags with the rope handles that I bought for book purchases, I felt good offering them, and now am well stocked with bags for the next five years. (They only came by the case.)
7. I also didn’t need two enormous fruit trays, but I’m a Jewish mother and am genetically incapable of planning an event without excess food. I also served coffee, quality teas, Perrier, and cookies, of course.
8. Perhaps it was the spiritual karma of the synagogue, but I was remarkably relaxed and happy the entire evening. I expressed my appreciation for being part of the community, and for everyone coming. This sincere personal connection I had added to the spirit of the event.
9. I knew that I would not make any financial profit from the evening. I paid to rent the space and for table linens, refreshments and flowers. I sold about 40 books, but many attendees had already bought the book online and read it. It was, I admit, a great feeling to have a line of people waiting for me to sign their books.
My party was meant to be a feel-good event, both the culmination of the publication process as well as an ongoing part of the (endless) promotional cycle. From those standpoints, I could not have been more pleased.
— Judy Gruen
Judy Gruen’s memoir, The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith, was published in September 2017 by She Writes Press. She has also written for the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, L.A. Times, Jewish Journal, Aish.com and many other media outlets. Her website is www.judygruen.com.