by Gouri Dange and others
(PS: for the vast majority of interested, interesting and graceful attendees at book launches, what you will read below is for your amusement, and not aimed at you at all.)
At the recent launch party at the Serpentine Gallery in London's Hyde Park for Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom, someone snatched the novelist's glasses from his face and ran off – leaving behind a ransom note asking for $100,000 for their return.
This piece of news finally made me reach for my keyboard and type out a long overdue list - of things that attendees at a book launch are well-advised not to do. No doubt, making off with the writer’s glasses straight from his nose would head the list, but there are other torts and misdemeanours that people would do well not to indulge in.
This list is not just a compilation from my own experiences, but of the experiences of several writers and writer-friends.
First, when we send you the invitation, don’t immediately mail back querulously questioning a) the venue that we have chosen/ are stuck with b) the date that we have arrived at after much intricate planning c) the choice of personality who has agreed to read from and release the book. Of course it could have been at a better place, better time, better season, with a celeb who you particularly like... and we’re sorry for disappointing you on all scores, but we don’t conjure up book launches by twirling a tinsel wand, we put them together after mental, physical, social and financial contortions of the most fantastic kind. So shut up and tell us in time if you’re coming or not, is all that is expected of you.
We writers, forced to be our own marketers and PR persons, are constantly trying to find the fine line between sending you the invite well in advance so that you can plan to come, but not sending it so early that you will forget about it. So whatever day we choose to send you the invite, do not expect us to continue playing secretary to you. Do have the grace to mark the day on your own, in your own calendar/similar device, and don’t expect us to remind you closer to the time. Some of you tend to snap at us when we do remind you. We can’t seem to get it right on this score, so be a little kind and less imperious.
Another constant see-saw that we are trying to work is this: We writers-in-launch-mode realise that your Blackberry gags at attachments, so our anxiously designed elaborate e-invitations end up irritating you. This is why we put the gist – place, date, time – in the body copy of the text. Surely that is considerate enough? So desist from writing to us in an offhand way from your wretched devices instructing us to put it all on SMS format for you so that you can send it to your friends. We understand the good intention, but it’s a pain, and why don’t you do it for us if you really love us? As for jpeg, pdf, corel and other such formats, we would love to pander to your every whim about what format you would like the invitation in, but deal with it, whatever format we send you.
If you really do intend coming for the event, stop groaning about traffic and distances, and plan how you will get there. Keep the address with you – either on your phone or scribbled on your palm (the body part or the device), or on paper or in your head. Do not, and this bears repetition, do not call the writer an hour before (sometimes half hour, or 5 minutes, even) the event itself, and ask for directions. And really, this is just not the time to provide a fresh insight into how the venue and day is all wrong and that parking is such a bitch in your city, and all that jazz. We writers do not personally arrange for your city roads to be such a bitch on any given evening.
Once you have made it to the venue, we really do not want to hear about what a hard time you had getting there, how you had to ditch your car somewhere and hoof it, how you went to the wrong store, and how the cabbie didn’t give you change. On any other day we would have some mindspace for this – today, we don’t.
Once the event begins, it would be nice if you would switch off your phone, and also not keep a fake engaged look on your face while you jab at your phone keys. Really, we don’t want just your bodies there, we want your minds, such as they are, present and participating.
Do not bring your own book that you just published to our book launch and hawk it. It’s plain lousy manners. As for working the crowd with your business card, please...I mean really. Some of you also tend to ask questions in the interactive part of the reading/launch, that are only a verbal vehicle to tell people who you are and how you’re so good at what you do. Stop. Just stop. Go do it somewhere else.
Remember, it’s about the book. So questions about finances, advances, and other intricacies of the book business can perhaps be asked of us on our email ids, but certainly not at the book launch. You are more than welcome to ask and tell about what you liked or didn’t like about the book. But asking after the health of my wealth? No.
When it is time to buy your copy and get it signed from the writer, do not leak out of the door empty-handed. Maybe you don’t want to wait in line for a signed copy and that’s fine. But do buy a copy. Well this isn’t a hard and fast rule...but it would be nice if you’d buy one.
If you do come up to our table for a signed copy, do not use this time to catch up on your/our offspring, parents, pets. This is not the time. And this is certainly not the time to tell us about how you had to make elaborate parking/babysitting/office arrangements to be there. Present the book, have it signed, say nice things, and let the queue move.
At launches where there are things like salmon or oysters on toast served, kindly do not eat the tidbit and leave the toast behind. (This is a well-documented occurrence.) This causes the waiters to walk about with just the dry toast pieces on a platter, and less canny guests end up having to eat those; they then become moody and sulky and tend to leave without buying any books.
Do not walk up to us writers after the launch and ask things like “But where’s the media? No media?” This may come as a shock to you, but a) journos don’t show up for most launches – their story is usually that ‘evenings are hellish at the office’ b) you may have not read them, but we do have reviews and interviews out there; it’s just that you may not see a real live journalist at our readings/launches c) it really is more important for a book to have actual readers present than the media, whatever anyone tells you.
Lastly, if you did not attend our reading/launch, do not appear on gmail chat or SMS two days after the event saying ‘How did your thing go? It was when?’ The answer doesn’t really matter to you, and we both know it. Our fingers can tap out only that many things in one lifetime, and telling you ‘the launch was awesome’ or ‘missed you there’ or some such thing is a waste of taps, which we want to save for our actual writing.