My Big, Phat Debut Book Launch

Naomi Hirahara

Every debut novel deserves a big, phat launch, and I’ll tell you why.

First of all, you’ve accomplished something you’ve never done before–so celebrate. Secondly, if you’ve been toiling away at the book for five, 10, or 15 years (moi), you’ve probably collected a lot of friends along the way who’ve been anticipating this very day. And a first only comes one time; it can never be repeated.

I have a certain philosophy about launches, resulting from two lightbulb moments. One came when I attended a talk by Walter Mosley at the L.A. Times Festival of Books. After a brief reading of new upcoming book, he went into self-proclaimed P.T. Barnum mode in front of the 500-plus crowd. He announced that he would bestow the galley (advanced reading copy) to someone and called out a random seat number. Everyone turned around to see the number on the back of his or her seat, a shriek, and then the awarding of the galley. Ah, I told myself. Walter Mosley is into fun. I had been a community journalist for a number of years, forced to go to hundreds of rubber chicken dinners that, for the most part, were not fun. I vowed at that point that I make my book events something that people wanted rather than felt obligated to go to.

The second lightbulb moment came when I was speaking to a Japanese editor at my newspaper who had worked at a daily in Hokkaido for decades. He explained to me that the circulation was plummeting at his former paper. To combat this trend, the management went into an aggressive sales campaign. All employees, including editors and reporters, were called upon to participate in a contest to obtain the most new subscriptions. Prizes included appliances, such as a washer and dryer. The campaign worked, and the paper established more stable financial footing.

This concept could never be effectively adopted at an American newspaper, in which the line is more clearly delineated between editorial and advertising/business. But somehow the idea of recruiting a volunteer sales staff stayed with me.

I’m preparing for the launch of my third mystery right now, but I’ll never forget the party for my first. SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI was released in the spring of 2004 and I was all about having fun. Fun for my circle includes food, conversation, surprises, and inter-generational activities. Since I had done some nonfiction books for a local museum in L.A., that venue was a natural choice. And since the museum had a bookstore, all the better. Wherever you may have your launch, you’ll want a bookstore involved. That way people will be familiar with the location and can easily go back for more books.

The BIG BACHI book launch was part of the museum’s calendar of events–the institution provided tables, chairs, table cloths, and drinks. I wanted people to talk to one another, so the museum put out round tables. Family (thank you, Mom) and wonderful friends brought in homemade food, potluck-style. We also purchased trays of sushi from a local grocery store.

Many of my friends have young children, so I needed to factor that into018_15 the mix. The answer came in the form of a family friend who’s a professional magician. He and another friend, a shakuhachi (Japanese flute) player, roamed the crowd before and after the program, so that no one felt bored or restless. A writing group I belonged to co-sponsored the reading and paid for some of the entertainment expenses. Although I’ve never applied myself, Sisters in Crime as well as Poets & Writers offer reading grants; they need ample lead and promotion time, so it’s never too early to start investigating those funding opportunities.

At the end, in Walter Mosley-like fashion, were door prizes. These included inexpensive and silly objects that were either mentioned in or related to my first book: a twenty-pound bag of rice, garden house, children’s garden gloves, and a deck of cards.


It was fun and it was phat. Close to 200 people attended and approximately 250 books sold. And I will never have a book event so elaborate again, but still try to always incorporate fun in every event I do.

Later, looking back at my debut launch, I realized that the party helped to recruit my volunteer sales staff to spread the word of mouth to their circle of acquaintances. ("What did you do this weekend?" "Oh, I went to this big, phat book party.") Most of us newbies aren’t going to start off with a touring or a large advertising budget, so you’ll be depending largely on the support and kindness of friends and relatives. Hopefully, with the second, third, and successive books, you’ll have widened your audience far beyond people you know. But some faithful members of that first volunteer workforce will stick by you with each book. You’ve expended a lot of time and creativity in producing that published work, savor the experience in releasing it to your readers.

If you are planning your first book launch, give us some details about your book, your circle of contacts, and what city you’ll be having your party. Maybe the collective minds at Murderati or I will have some ideas we can throw your way in a future blog entry! Use the comments feature or send us an e-mail.

MORE SPAM: From Elaine Yamaguchi of Woodland, California: ". . . there is just nothing better than Spam fried rice with a nice fried egg on top. The yolk should still be runny. Mmmmm." She also included a step-by-step recipe, which will be posted at a later date. See the website on how to submit your entry to the inaugural Mas Arai Spam Contest!

NEXT WEDNESDAY’S L.A. MIX: It’s all about the L.A. Times Festival of Books, baby!

Photos by Dean Hayasaka

14 thoughts on “My Big, Phat Debut Book Launch

  1. JT Ellison

    I wish I had known you then — that sounds like a great party. It’s so good for us to remember the fun parts of this business. Easy to get lost in the daily grind and forget the rewards at the end of the proverbial manuscript.Thanks for the ideas.

  2. Cornelia Read

    That does sound like a truly outstanding party, Naomi, and you’ve given me great ideas to ponder as I’m coming up on my own debut launch–thank you so much!

    Now I’m sitting here trying to figure out some way to connect a big phat twenty-pound bag of rice with my book, thematically. What a cool door prize!

  3. Naomi


    Doing events with Lee Child, receiving rave reviews for the debut novel–you are off to a magnificent start and the book isn’t even out the door yet!

    Door prizes for you: I’m thinking dog tags and gloves. And about the rice–it’s kind of an inside joke. Whenever there’s a community picnic, a 20-pound bag of rice will inevitably pop up as a prize. We need our rice.

  4. Naomi

    Nope, that’s what will be on the menu for the launch for Book #3, SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN, in May! I’m also going to be giving away cans of Spam. I did GASA-GASA GIRL T-shirts last year–very cute, but time and labor intensive, not to mention expensive. I won’t be doing those again.

  5. Brett Battles

    Great post, Naomi. I will definitely be picking your brain (and those of your fellow Murderati gang) toward the end of the year (at the moment, pub date is scheduled for next January.) Looking forward to your comments on the Book Festival also. Hopefully I’ll see you there.

  6. Naomi


    Mid to late January might not be bad for a book launch. People are recovering from the holidays and usually don’t have much planned. You might start looking into different book events that happen in early spring in L.A. The Cerritos Library’s Murder on the Menu is a fantastic event. Any library that is made out of titanium is an institution to be reckoned with. If you haven’t already, you might want to join Sisters in Crime L.A. They’ve reinstated their Speakers Bureau and its chair is setting up some great events with libraries. At any rate, put my name on your mailing list.

  7. Brett Battles

    Thanks, Naomi. Great ideas. And not to fear, you are definitely on my mailing list. I’ll probably be picking your brain over the next several months…(feel free to tell me to stop at any time…hahaha)

  8. Cornelia Read

    Thank you, Naomi! I’ve been thinking about dogtags, too, but Lee’s given them out to people for one of his books I think… Gloves, though…. hmmm!! I still like the big bag o’ rice, since that’s the kind of door prize I’d love to win myself. Bit tough to tote around on tour, but still….

  9. M_eHart

    Naomi … are you going to only give away classic Spam, or some of the many variations? Our daughter had a canned meat collection for a while, including special can Hawiian Spam and generic white label “potted meat food product…”

  10. Naomi


    Do you know where I can get some Hawaii Spam (Collector’s Edition)? I think Hormel has stopped making them. I have one Hawaii Spam can and plan to reproduce the label and put it around regular cans of Spam. (It has a nifty Spam musubi image on the back.) Hormel has turkey Spam, spicy Spam, etc., but I think I’ll stick to regular ole Spam–whatever I can get from Costco.

    BTW, what is your daughter doing with a canned ham collection?! What happened to collecting shells and stuffed animals?

  11. Elaine

    Hey Naomi! I recommend you check out places like Grocery Outlet. I have collected many Spam Varietals there, including the Spam Snack Pack, complete with crackers and a can of “spam salad.”

  12. Naomi

    Okay, what’s this about “collecting” canned meat products? I’m going to have to go to ebay to check this out. And is there anything from the vegetable family in that Spam salad?

  13. Elaine

    Naomi! Why you not try asking a friend in the Islands for da kine Spam? Mo bettah you ask me, yeah? I can get numbha one son on Maui to check it out.


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