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Do You Have To Buy The Book At A Book Launch?

I am wondering what people think about the etiquette of going to a book launch when you may not buy the book. Would you feel obliged to buy the book knowing there was food and drink provided? I am regularly invited to book launches (some by friends and others by authors I have heard of but don’t know well) and don’t always want to purchase. I hadn’t thought anything of it until someone said to me, “I wouldn’t go if I didn’t intend to buy the book”. 1126-18

Book launches are an advertising expense for the publisher (or the author if self promoting) and it’s written off as an expense in the hope that eventually the revenues will be greater than the expense. In my opinion, it would be imprudent for any business owner to presume that 100% of his/her potential customers will all respond to advertising and purchase the item being advertised. It simply isn’t realistic.

However, having as many warm bodies at a book launch or signing is advantageous…nothing worse than walking into a book store and seeing a sad author sitting forlornly at a signing table with no one interested in his books at all.

So , go, enjoy the book launch parties.   Just because you don’t buy the book at the event does not mean you won’t at a later date.

{ 30 comments }
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  • HookedOnEtiquette November 27, 2018, 11:11 am

    You absolutely should go to the launches, enjoy yourself, and don’t worry about buying the book. If you want to do so, fine, but whoever said what the OP stated, about not going if you aren’t going to buy the book – I don’t even know what descriptive name I am trying to think of to explain a ”rain on your parade” type of person I categorize them as, and don’t listen!

    I have zero experience with such an event, personally, but as our lovely Admin said – what could be worse than sitting by yourself waiting for attendees and everyone observes this nonsense about don’t go unless you’re buying — no, the author needs a crowd lololol even if no one can afford the book! Have fun!!! I so would love to join you!

  • Just Call Me J November 27, 2018, 11:18 am

    I have a few friends who are authors, some of whom have had launch parties for their books. It’s often as much a party to celebrate finally finishing (and publishing) the book as it is an advertising/initial sales push.

    As long as you don’t hog all the food/drinks, or make a disruptive scene, your author-friend will be happy you came to celebrate their completed project with them, even if you’re not planning to buy it that night.

  • Lola November 27, 2018, 11:39 am

    I used to work in a bookstore (favorite job ever) and would again in the future. Anyway, we had several authors come through. A few were local and a couple were nationally known. My favorite was one from only a few hours away. She would stop in whenever she was passing through and sign any copies of her books we had in store. I loved her stories and was always recommending them to parents. Usually bookstores are hoping to put other books in your hands as well as the author’s. Oh you like this author, here have this similar title. Or if they know an author and the launch was for someone who’s style is similar it was a good jumping off point to find new book favorites. The authors we had just loved talking about their passion, their love of books and introducing their stories to people. Go and enjoy yourself.

  • Devin November 27, 2018, 12:05 pm

    I think attending these events where you have no interest in making a purchase is all about intent. Are you going to socialize, learn about the book/author, or go with someone who does intend to purchase the book? Or are you going cause it said free cheese and wine? Don’t be the person who goes in loads up a plate and doesn’t even stay for the reading, but also don’t attend just because you don’t want to shell out $30 for a book you can either grab later in paperback for $10 or for free at the library.
    The last event like this I attended was actually at a public library. The author had books for sale, with the perk of getting a signed copy, but it was held in a location that is know for being a resource for free books! The author quipped that they hoped their book would be checked out before the evening was over.

    • AM November 27, 2018, 2:15 pm

      I agree with this. I’ve been to lots of readings at bookstores where I had heard only a little about the book or the author and thought I might be interested. Sometimes after hearing the author do his/her reading, I decide to buy the book; sometimes I don’t. But I always go with an open mind. I would be uncomfortable going to an event for a book I know I would never, ever buy or read just for the free wine and cheese.

    • Opal Glow November 28, 2018, 2:18 pm

      This is my feeling as well. Our public library has an annual local author festival with dozens of authors and panel discussions. One author commented that while she may not sell many books at the event her online sales always spike afterwards. People attending talk to their friends about the books and they get interested and buy. It’s not something I would have thought of, but good to know.

  • staceyizme November 27, 2018, 12:55 pm

    If you already have the book or honestly thought you’d like to buy it but choose not to because, upon inspection and consideration, it doesn’t seem as good as you anticipated, then sure, no problem. But if you routinely go to book launches as a “looky-loo” because you enjoy the ambiance and refreshments, then, yes, it’s questionable. It’s kind of like the people who routinely “lunch” on the samples offered at the store or who show up to a wine bar and request the equivalent of a beer flight in samples before settling on a purchase. Your fundamental sense of fairness will tell you where the line is. If your response to an upcoming event is “oh boy, refreshments and good company!” and not “oh, I’ve always wanted to meet this author and this new book sounds awesome!”, then you probably should fund your own entertainment. A warm body that isn’t an actual prospect in terms of becoming a client is no compliment to the author and it could be considered, in all fairness, as taking advantage. If you love books, good food and just would like a regular gathering around that, perhaps a book club would be a good alternative?

  • Kirsten November 27, 2018, 1:30 pm

    I recently went to a Helen Fields event and in chatting to her explained I wasn’t asking her to sign the book because I hadn’t bought it because pay day was the following day. She very generously gave me her copy she had used to do the reading.

  • Bea November 27, 2018, 2:52 pm

    This is very much a marketing tool that can work well with turnout. Maybe you have no intention to buy it going in but later change your mind. Often they’re in public, so just being a warm body listening to a reading triggers another stranger to take notice, then they decide to buy the book. It’s part of networking. You won’t always want the product but you may be able to point others in that direction later.

    Perhaps you aren’t too into sci-fi but attend a launch. Enjoy the author’s interaction or otherwise have a good impression that sticks. Next time at a social gathering you may be chatting with someone who mentions they’re a fan of sci fi books. “I just saw Author at a book launch! Have you read her work? Not my cup of tea but maybe up your ally??” BOOM you may have sold that book you didn’t buy at the launch!

    It’s all about supporting the artist and giving them a wider audience while you sip punch and nibble crackers.

    • Tanz December 3, 2018, 3:39 pm

      This is where I land. Book launches are like tupperware parties; they’re advertising/marketing events, and so you should never feel an obligation to buy anything.

  • Vicki November 27, 2018, 3:36 pm

    I’ve also seen authors say that it’s a good idea to buy a book–any book–at bookstore events, because that makes the bookstore more likely to keep hosting those events. John Scalzi in particular has said this. If you can’t afford to buy books at all, yes go to the reading anyway–but if there’s something else you want to buy, please get it at the bookstore before or after his reading, because store managers notice whether a reading increases total sales. The publisher may be tracking how a book tour affects sales of that author’s work, but the bookstore is just as happy if you come for Scalzi’s reading and buy a bunch of Ursula Vernon, or Agatha Christie, or nonfiction about World War II.

    • sillyme November 28, 2018, 8:25 am

      I’ve been following him on Wordpress for years! I just saw his whole bibliography in B&N. He’s a great example.

  • sillyme November 27, 2018, 3:43 pm

    I beg to respectfully add a note of caution to the admin’s feedback on this one.

    As an independent author now looking into marketing my first work, I will probably finance my own launch parties and signings. Allow me to offer this prospective:

    Many independent authors are on **tight** marketing budgets which come out of personal income. It’s not accurate to draw a direct parallel between an independent author who hopes to break even and a multi-million dollar business that can build incidental marketing luxuries into their budget. Even authors represented by traditional agents and publishers may find such events personally financed, or on very small budgets. Please also keep in mind most authors, independently or traditionally published, only break a lower middle-class incomes, and that’s considered successful. The Rowlings and Martins and Pattersons are the exceptions.

    So, yes, I am sure that you are more than welcome to a launch party. And yes, as one respondent said, they are as much to celebrate completion of a project that has taken years to complete. For example, my book has been in progress for three years and is in its fifth rewrite BEFORE going to an editor. However, please do not treat this as an opportunity for a “freebie” happy hour. There are plenty of pubs and bars that offer “freebie” tapas and low-price drinks to draw in singles and business people.

    Also, a signing and a launch party are, in my mind, different functions. The latter’s purpose is to celebrate. The former’s intention is to *sell merchandise.* Attending without purchasing, but consuming the “free” food and drink is violating an unspoken understanding about reciprocity.

    If you have absolutely no intention of buying that book, or supporting the author in some way (mentioning their work to potential fans/readers on social media or by word of mouth, for example), or offering moral support (you cheered the author on through years of rewrites, screening editors, beta readers and cover artists), I would suggest you find other functions than a launch where you can get free snacks and drinks without doing more damage than you realize to an already tight profit margin (if any). Small, incidental consumption, which the admin may have meant, is one thing. But please be mindful.

    Unlike a party, where the intent is to host valued guests and provide for them at one’s own expense, signings definitely are not those kinds of functions. They are professional events run by an entrepreneur for his or her customers to purchase the product and get an additional, personal service: the author’s autograph. Food and drink are the author’s way of saying “thank you” to valued fans (customers).

    Launches I would put in a “grey area,” depending on the author, his/her budget and the relationship you have.

    Authors are entrepreneurs these days. Many of us view our works, while works of art, also the subject of a business we are trying to run at a profit in a competitive industry. This may sound non-artistic, but even Andy Warhol recognized this practical truth. He said (and I paraphrase) that he found the art of the business much more interesting than the simple art of making a picture.

    • lkb November 28, 2018, 6:52 am

      As a writer myself who has “ghostwritten” and edited several books by others, I agree with this completely. Most people don’t realize that book publishing is a business. Sure, a lot of people “have a novel in them” but they don’t know how to market them. It takes a lot of time, money, and perseverance and even then the book may never appear on the New York Times list or even show up on the remainder rack at Barnes and Noble.
      Definitely, if you know the author or think you may have an interest in the book, attend the signing or launch party. Buy the book at the event if possible or later if you honestly want it. However, if you do drift into the signing or launch party, keep in mind that someone, likely the author, had to pony up for the refreshments out of his/her own pocket.

  • Mary Sgree November 27, 2018, 6:11 pm

    The author( or publisher, book store owner, whoever) only has “X” amount of food/ drink there anyway, so even if people came to the event to just eat, when it’s gone, it’s gone, right? No ones (most likely) gonna run out & buy more food. Having said that, most people, who were going to buy the book, are going to do it regardless if a sausage puff accompanies it or not. But, I would consider it rude for a big family to come in and eat just because its free. So yeah OP go and enjoy yourself if you enjoy books & meeting authors & hanging out with other literary like minded people even if you dont buy this time.

    • staceyizme November 28, 2018, 10:47 am

      That’s the thing, though, right? “One sausage puff” for “one person who wandered in” may become that “nibble” for 20, or 40… because it’s an entitlement. “Oh, food! I’ll just have a taste.” It’s tricky too because authors aren’t holding the privilege of attendance and refreshments hostage to your desire to purchase. But it’s the same basic idea. You attend, you offer support, you purchase or at least had an intent to prior to concluding that “no, this book isn’t for me”. If you’re in it for the nibbles and the ambiance, and that is multiplied by others who do the same, it does negatively impact several factors. To wit- why should they risk running out of food for their real prospects just to provide for you? Why should they incur incidental expense for your entertainment if you aren’t at least open to purchasing? Why should the store be taxed with the clean-up or the inflated numbers of attendees (but disappointment in sales as a percentage of attendees) for your amusement? Traffic in business is a big deal and this is a bit different than “window shopping” because you’re taking part in an event targeted towards those who actually may purchase while not intending to do so. A $25 hard copy isn’t too much to pay for an evening out. You can always gift the book to your local library or literacy support project. If that’s too much for any given budget, perhaps an alternative outing would be a better choice.

      • Rinme November 28, 2018, 10:25 pm

        Nope, sorry. You can’t eat your cake and have it too. If you host a party that’s open to the general public – expect general public to arrive.

        It’s the author’s responsibility to calculate their own finances, not the guest’s.

        • staceyizme November 29, 2018, 9:20 am

          I agree that it’s the author’s responsibility to calculate the finances. However, the launch or signing isn’t for the general public in its intent. Its held in a public space for the benefit of those who wish to become the author’s clientele.
          You could say it’s like samples at a make-up counter. Technically, anyone may ask for them. Strategically, they’re intended for the prospect of that line as a means of trying what would be an otherwise expensive purchase before buying. Listening to an author read a little of his own book or look it over at the launch is the same thing. The space being created is in a public venue but it has a specific target in mind. So the wine and the cheese are part of the “samples” going along with the reading or presentation of the book. Can you take them? Sure. Should you? No.

      • Rinme November 28, 2018, 10:28 pm

        If you truly want to cash out your hot dogs, why not host a “free hot dog with purchase” kind of party?

        • sillyme December 5, 2018, 2:21 am

          It’s *not* a party. That’s what authors, etc., have been trying to emphasize.

  • jazzgirl205 November 27, 2018, 6:55 pm

    I go to lots of art shows at galleries with no intention of buying a painting. I grew up with a lot of artists and everyone is welcome at gallery openings. Wouldn’t it be the same at a book launch?

  • Waltzing Matilda November 27, 2018, 10:25 pm

    I very often go to book launches with the ladies from my book club. Sometimes I buy but mostly not – the hardcover books are terribly expensive. I go just to hear what the author has to say. Admittedly we usually pick very well known authors, but they all have fascinating stories and anecdotes that are wonderful to listen to. Don’t worry about not buying the book. I’m sure they factor in a percentage of attendees who will or won’t buy. I’d love to go to one that had free food, though. Not come across one of those yet – maybe Australian authors know they’d be inundated if word got out ?

  • Princess Buttercup November 28, 2018, 4:09 am

    I would imagine that if you are only going for the cookies then it may not be the best plan to attend. However there is so much more to get from an event like this. Support the author. Meet others who are interested in the same author or genre. Be a body (others passing by, see people, wonder over to see what is happening, which can help sell books). Etc.
    Go. Enjoy. I’d imagine everyone involved will appreciate your presence.

  • Princess Buttercup November 28, 2018, 4:10 am

    I would imagine that if you are only going for the cookies then it may not be the best plan to attend. However there is so much more to get from an event like this. Support the author. Meet others who are interested in the same author or genre. Be a body (others passing by, see people, wonder over to see what is happening, which can help sell books). Etc.
    Go. Enjoy. I’d imagine everyone involved will appreciate your presence.

  • Princess Buttercup November 28, 2018, 4:11 am

    🙁 my comments are bouncing again. Ugh. I don’t know what the problem is.

    • admin November 28, 2018, 4:36 am

      I don’t know what the problem is either. There is no rhyme or reason as to why certain messages end up in the Trash. I now scan the trash in box, too.

  • Lerah99 November 30, 2018, 8:52 am

    When my mom hit her 50’s, she started getting tons of “Come enjoy a free steak dinner while learning about….” invites through the mail. Most of them from financial planners shilling some sort of life insurance, annuity, mutual fund, long term care insurance, etc… product.

    They’d host the event at a chain steak house, everyone got salad, a 6oz fillet, and a side.
    And the host would go through a brochure talking all about their product and giving incentives for anyone who signed up on the spot.

    Kind of like time shares offering free tickets to Disney/Universal if you come hear their sales pitch.

    My mom went a 2 or 3 of times to hear about different products because she was interested in learning about them. But she always felt the fees were too high so she never signed up. She headed to the restroom at the end of the third presentation and was in the stall when the two sales ladies came in complaining to each other that the event had been filled with “blue haired, plate lickers, who never intended on buying and just wanted a free meal.”

    She never went to another “free dinner” sales pitch after that.

    I think you should look at each book party invitation individually and make your decision on a case by case basis.

    Is it a reading in a book store?
    Show up, even if you aren’t going to buy the book that day, it looks better to have a crowd and you may find yourself loving the book after hearing a portion.

    Is this a party being thrown by the publisher?
    Show up, even if you aren’t going to buy the book that day. Often at the publisher parties they are giving out a free copy of the book to invited guest to help generate buzz.

    Is this a party being thrown by a local author and NOT in a bookstore?
    Make your own call here. I would feel awkward going and not buying the book in this case. Since the author is ponying up for the catering and everything in the hopes of selling books.

  • NicoleK November 30, 2018, 9:29 am

    I’m the sucker who feels like she has to buy one of the things she tried the free sample of at the grocery store.

  • Angela December 1, 2018, 11:24 am

    Perhaps a better rule of book launches would be “I wouldn’t go if I knew I’d never consider buying the book”.

  • Kat December 6, 2018, 9:34 am

    I’m an author – you don’t have to buy the book. The author will probably be so caught up in the excitement that he/she won’t even notice, and any author with good grace will just be grateful for every purchase they do get.

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