15 May, 2016

"The Faraday Cage": Behind the scenes of a launch party

A Steampunk anthology.
Hallo, folks!

I know: I'm late. Camp NaNoWriMo has mostly given me back my soul (I still have the last several chapters and epilogue of Comedy of Rain to complete), but I will be back on my every-15-days posting schedule now.

I had the wonderful opportunity recently to participate in an online launch party as host, and with the authors' permission, I'd like to talk about our behind-the-scenes preparation and experience.

My good friend, Virginia Marybury, asked me two months ago if I would be willing to host the Facebook launch party for The Faraday Cage anthology, which she had been asked to write for by author/editor Steve Turnbull.

I'll admit: I was nervous. I'm glad I was asked two months ahead of time, because it took me the better part of a month to build up my courage. I was being asked to host someone else's launch party. Something I had never done before. No easy feat when I'd only participated in a single previous launch party, and that was as a member of the audience.

But I'm glad I decided to accept the challenge of hosting. It was a wonderful experience, and Steve and the others were great to work with.

We led up to the event with an "exponential growth" of communication, and since we had over a month to plan (and also because I was intensely focused on Camp NaNo), Steve and I played a bit of Facebook tag, sharing pre-planning ideas.

One thing I want to make clear here: I was completely open and honest with Steve from the get-go about my lack of experience with hosting such an event, and he assured me right back that we'd all be in it together because none of them had been on the host side of a launch party before, either. That openness made for a great behind-the-scenes development team, as everyone was involved in preparing for the launch.

Steve set up a private organization group on Facebook for myself and the authors, and as we got closer to the event and everyone had a better idea for their schedules, we made preparations accordingly. Katy O'Dowd knew for certain that she wouldn't be available for the launch, so she scripted some Q&As for us to have on hand in her stead. I'm so grateful she did this, as it made us think to have the other authors script Q&As, too (turns out we needed it, as three of the five were unable to make the launch in the end, so "Yay!" for building a script).

Now, before I ever got involved, Steve and the others had everything for their anthology worked out – including a magnificent piece of cover art for the book, as well as custom interior black and whites for each author's story. Those black and whites came in handy: since I wanted to take the time to spotlight each author, I was able to make those spotlights more visible during the event by having each paired with its applicable artwork. Add to it that the Q&As were posted for each particular author under their spotlight, and we were able to keep the event posts condensed, clean cut, and organized.

Something I did once we had everything collected for the trivia, spotlights (story title, author, short-form blurb, and 1-sentence author bio), and Q&As was put it all together in a timetable. I composed an event kickoff note, then staggered events on my timeline by 5-minute increments. Including two reminders about how trivia winners would be announced and what prizes were available, I was only able to cover an hour and a half of our two-hour event. But that was okay. The last 30 minutes gave us a buffer window in case we got busy or had hiccups (miraculously, no real hiccups aside from Facebook switching Steve and me back to our private account names instead of our author accounts a couple of times), and with the way we got busy, that 1.5-hour schedule stretched the entirety of our party. Steve then, of course, closed us out with Thank Yous and winner announcements.

Oh, and before I forget: about 15 minutes prior to kickoff, we shared the event page to several large Indie Author groups on Facebook to maximize exposure. There were several participants who none of us recognized, and I can only attribute them to those Indie Author groups. Not bad for what was a last-minute decision in the hour leading up to launch!

If all of that seems disorganized, then rightfully so. We were flying by the seat of our pants with limited experience, but we pulled it off through great communication via a behind-the-scenes group chat so that we could navigate in real time what we were posting next. As such, I'd like to now streamline this for the bullet-point folks who would prefer to see our practice put into a practical model form:

Two months to Launch:
  • Meet and greet: intros between authors and host to make sure folks are going to get along (we did, woohoo!);
  • Why a host?: find out why the authors want a host, as it helps shape the game plan and determines how much posting the host will be doing—in this case, Steve and the others wanted a host so they as the authors could be free to mingle with the audience during the event and to have time for other engagement if needed (we may have had scripted Q&As, but some of the authors did get surprise questions from the audience as we were posting!);
  • Open communication: who's done what before, from which side (audience, author, host), and previous experiences (what we liked, didn't like, and wanted to try);
  • Organization group: so authors and host can communicate at leisure as they start collecting ideas for what they'll post the day of the launch.

Month prior to Launch:
  • Organization group: continue collecting ideas for launch party (better to have more than you could possibly use in two hours than to turn up empty handed).

Week prior to Launch:
  • Finalize schedules: authors should know by now who's going to make it and who can't;
  • Timetable: host creates one in Google Docs (Tip: use "edit" mode to share with authors) and goes over it with authors for fine tuning (if it's imperative one person go first—in this case, Steve was the creator of the Voidships universe that the others were writing in—make sure that person is spotlighted first so they can properly introduce the audience to the anthology);
  • Materials: pictures (if any) should be collected by the host at this point and made ready to post to applicable spotlights or games (desktop folder works best), and all text scripts should be compiled in the sharable Google Docs timetable so host and authors can pull from the same location behind the scenes (this should include website URLs to any special giveaways, mailing lists, etc.).

Day-Of Host Duties:
  • Be well rested: I took a nap a few hours ahead of time since it was a two-hour event (and yes, I caffeinated with a few sips of Red Bull after I woke up);
  • Share the event: Find genre-targeted and open-genre groups on Facebook and share the Launch Party link with them 15-30 minutes before the event begins (I was already a member of several Indie Author groups that have upwards of 10,000+ members apiece; same with Steve);
  • Work with a mouse: Once the party took off, there was no way I'd have been able to manage from my tablet—I started from my laptop with my wireless mouse and stayed with it, and it made all the difference once notifications started coming in hot and heavy;
  • Keep two Facebook tabs open: As we found out at the beginning, Facebook would occasionally kick us from replying to comments as our author accounts to replying with our private accounts—the easiest thing I found to circumvent the problem was to keep one window open for Q&A comment postings, and a second tab to check notifications/reload page for up-to-date thread changes;
  • Facebook group chat: We opened the chat prior to the event and had it going during the course thereof, so that we could stage direct as to what we wanted to post next (we did some overlapping with trivia and spotlight posts) and notify each other during Q&A sessions when the next posts were going/responded to;
  • Keep time: I cross-referenced our script with our actual event, and within the first hour we were "behind" by 15 minutes, and by the end of the event we'd also "fallen behind" another 15 minutes (so my 30-minute buffer zone came in handy!)—there were some trivia/games we didn't get to do, but that was okay (again, better to have an unneeded surplus than to fall short);
  • "We", not "I": Above all, remember that it's the authors' party, so when hosting, use "we" to reflect the collaborative nature of the anthology – posting with "I" as host can get confusing fast to audience members unfamiliar with the authors (as in, the ones showing up from the groups the event was shared to).

The Event Itself:
  • Communicate: The greatest thing of all when it comes to managing behind the scenes;
  • Keep the authors involved: Sounds simple enough, but it's their project, so ask them if there are any changes/rearrangements they want to make as the event is going (sometimes things happen and changes need to be made on the fly);
  • Pinned posts: Steve actually had to cover this, as he had the admin privileges for the event, but anytime I made a new post for a spotlight or trivia, Steve would switch out the pinned posts so that the current topic wouldn't get lost in the mix (the games threads were VERY active);
  • Thank Yous: Thank the audience for their attendance, thank the authors for their hard work – so simple, but easily overlooked (Steve did this as part of his closing remarks).

After the Launch:
  • Personal Thank Yous: authors (and host—at least, I did) will have sent invites to friends and "anchor" guests (those who came at personal invitation), so be sure to personally thank them for their attendance;
  • Awards: This was headed up by Steve, but essentially, it's just making sure to contact prize winners to get info from them so awards can be distributed—and it goes without saying, but since this is a "How we did it": distribute those prizes;
  • Follow Up: if there's anything else to be organized (such as how I put this blog post together after the fact), coordinate with the authors to obtain any applicable information (preferred author URLs, any photos, etc.).

Now, as to what the timetable actually looked like, I'll do a condensed version (without the individual blurbs, bios, Q&As, etc.):

0:00 – Kickoff!
0:05 – Trivia/Game Rules (how winners would be selected)
0:10 – Prizes (List of what was available)
[Trivia/Game Filler]
0:15 – Author Spotlight: Steve Turnbull
0:20 – Q&As – Steve
[Trivia/Game Filler]
0:30 – Author Spotlight: Katy O'Dowd
0:35 – Q&As – Katy
[Trivia/Game Filler]
0:45 – Author Spotlight: Robert Harkess
0:50 – Q&As – Robert
[Trivia/Game Filler]
1:00 – Spotlight: Virginia Marybury
1:05 – Q&As – Virginia
1:10 – Reiterate Trivia/Game Rules
1:15 – Reiterate Prizes
[Trivia/Game Filler]
1:20 – Author Spotlight: Peter A. Smalley
1:25 – Q&As – Peter
[Trivia/Game Filler]

The actual Google Docs version was 7 pages long, and—like I said earlier—while I'd only scripted 1.5 hours of the event, we were down to the wire posting everything and we didn't even get to use all the trivia/games that we'd planned for. I did find myself having to skip about a bit (what with double-posting games/trivia at the same time as author spotlights), so the best thing for me to stay organized was to highlight each item as we completed it.

So after all of the planning and the two-hour adrenaline rush to keep up with everything, I've asked myself: would I do this again?

Absolutely. Steve and the others were great to work with and happily involved, wanting to see their project soar like an airship (yes, you saw what I did there ^_~). They knew what they wanted, I knew what I wanted, and we met in the middle like perfectly aligned puzzle pieces. With the right chemistry, I would love to work with other authors to help support them for their online book launches.

I loved every bit of working with Steve, Virginia, Peter, Katy, and Robert. I hope you folks will take the time now to wander over to their author pages, give them a like, and check out their collaborative Steampunk anthology, The Faraday Cage, which is now available on Amazon in hardback, paperback, and ebook (free for KindleUnlimited users).

Steve Turnbull: http://steveturnbull.me/

Whew. Okay. Not to keep you folks any longer, but I hope this more than makes up for me being late after Camp NaNo. See you in 15 days! :D

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Ash Litton

Ash Litton is a writer and lover of sci-fi, fantasy, and all things fictional. She is the author of Thoroughbred, Evening Hallow, Comeuppance, and Cabover Cabaret, and works on other Appalachian Dream Tales between her ongoing novel projects. She's also written No Diet, No Surgery, No Sweat, an ebook chronicling her weight-loss journey.

When she's not writing, she's drawing, and when she's not doing either of those, she's dreaming up new projects to work on. Born and raised in rural West Virginia, Ash has always wondered what things lay hidden in the hills around her. She attended West Virginia University, where she studied the English language before returning home to her family in rural West Virginia.