With 60,000 – 80,000 books being published a year, it’s little surprise that there’s no shortage of a book launch or two. What is surprising however is the general lack of creative thinking about what a book launch can really be - and not enough innovative thinking around how to use book launches to engage new audiences, so that we can actually grow readerships instead of solely catering to existing ones.
Having successfully put on three book launches (Robyn Travis, JJ Bola, MC Angel) with OWN IT! in the past 18 months - all for debut authors who mainstream publishing may mistakenly have thought of as niche (i.e. supposedly not commercially viable), and which collectively saw just under 2000 people pay for tickets priced between £5 and £20 - I feel more certain than ever that the wider industry’s inability to think more dynamically about author launches is bad for the future of the creative industries and bad for the business of books.
The book-buying queue © Rajvi Vaya
Storytelling is in our DNA as humans and books tell stories brilliantly. But simply knowing this as publishers is not enough. It’s our job to continually seek out new audiences, especially amongst younger generations and/or people, communities and groups who either have never felt like books are for them, or who couldn’t care less how much we love books and think they will too, because they are too busy being entertained and consuming stories through a variety of other entertainment forms.
We must seek out these audiences because they deserve to feel the joy of books too. We must seek them out because we won’t be able to sustain and grow as an industry unless we sustain and grow audiences. So how and where do we find them?
© Rajvi Vaya
The key to engaging new audiences to books is thinking outside of books. It’s why OWN IT! is a storytelling lifestyle brand releasing stories across books, music, fashion and film and not just a publisher. Stories are the future, so we must find where and how books fit into a media landscape with a growing variety of different platforms and content forms. It would be a mistake to assume that everyone is as passionate about books as we are and wait for new audiences to find us. We can and must go looking for them.
On 29th March OWN IT! launched Moments of Significance: A Memoir by Shauna O’Briain to a packed-out Camden Centre (more known for its music nights than book launches). It was a night of hip hop, poetry, live music and author Q&A with an eclectic mix of entertainment including a hip hop set from female emcee Shay D, spoken word from George the Poet, a live acoustic set from singer Graziella and a theatrical musical performance of Gimme Gimme from Thoroughly Modern Millie by Tash T. A two-hour show of brilliant talent and live entertainment for the truly diverse audience. But if the venue, eclectic line up of artists and vibrant very ‘un-bookish’ (whatever that means) audience might make you think that this was about everything but the book, you would be mistaken.
Tash T © Rajvi Vaya
The only act to get a standing ovation on the night was the headline – the author Shauna O’Briain aka MC Angel just after reading moments from her memoir whilst in conversation with Amy Lamé. And it wasn’t just through getting to their feet and clapping and whooping that the huge audience showed their appreciation for this exciting new author and her memoir. With hundreds of copies sold on the night, we can’t help but feel that by publishing and launching Shauna’s distinct, uncompromising and much-needed white working-class queer voice (you can see Shauna talking about her memoir here), we’ve done a small bit to fill a gaping gap and contributed to finding new audiences which the whole industry can benefit from.