Hosting virtual book launches have become increasingly popular among authors. While some have no choice because of a lockdown, for others, a virtual book launch presents a golden opportunity to expand global outreach. The event is no longer limited by the size of the bookstore or the number of people in town. I originally had an in-person book launch planned for my co-authored book, Dynamic Balance – Integrating Principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine into Strength and Conditioning. The event had to be held virtually in the end, yet it was a tremendous success thanks to the extraordinary team around me. I would like to share some of the practices with you and give you some ideas to put to use if you plan on holding a book launch in-person or virtually.
The Original Plan
December 15, 2021, I announced and started accepting RSVPs for our in-person book launch event. The event was mainly for our clients and friends in Hong Kong, and the launch was going to be hosted at theDesk in Hong Kong, a fresh and very modern-looking venue. We chose theDesk because we wanted the participants to feel the simple yet energetic vibe as they walked into a clean, sleek, and bright room. The minimalist decoration meant that decorative possibilities were endless!
theDesk , United Centre, Admiralty, Hong Kong
In the original plan, this 50-person book signing event will be held on a laid-back, breezy winter Saturday afternoon. My co-author, Dr. Stella Wong, and I would be at the door welcoming guests. Along with us would be my team of genuine yet passionate greeters (notice I didn't use the word outgoing because outgoing can sometimes be perceived as ingenuine). The guests would then be directed to the beverage table. There would be champagne, beer, coffee, black tea, green tea, homemade kombucha by Dr. Wong, and the ultimate party drink - water. Here is where our gimmick came into play.
Every book launch needs a gimmick that ties into the fundamental construct of the book. In Dynamic Balance, we highlighted how our lifestyle choices hinge upon our body constitution. The latter part of the book introduced ways to adjust our diet, perspective on emotions, and training methodologies to help us perform at our best. To illustrate our point on dieting, I had prepared cups with three different labels on them – Hot/Warm, Cold/Cool, and Neutral.
Guests without prior traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) knowledge might think that the cups describe the drink's temperature. In fact, put yourself in that category for a second. As you approach the beverage table with your winter coat on, you decide to go for some warm green tea. Our helpers will then pour the
boiling hot green tea (the temperature that Hong Kong restaurants usually serve) into the "Cold/Cool" cup for you. Out of curiosity, you will question whether Chad (who poured the tea) made a mistake. Chad will then respond "stay tuned" with a hint of a smirk ;)
After grabbing some delicious drinks, we will have the perfect Instagram-able snapshots of 50 people holding different cups, chatting, and taking pictures with the banners and foam boards. Following that would be the main sharing session where our event host, Amanda Niem, will prompt us into sharing more about what Dynamic Balance is all about and why Dr. Wong and I collaborated to write Dynamic Balance. This is also when we share one of the critical tips of the book – eat and drink according to your body constitution. In TCM, food and drinks are classified based on their effects on the body after consumption. Consuming foods that match your constitution will ensure your body continues to thrive; foods that do not match the constitution, on the other hand, will exacerbate or aggravate any underlying problem. Dynamic Balance also includes a body constitution questionnaire in Chapter 2 for you to participate in.
After giving this talk, we would go to the penultimate session of the event –book signing! Guests would first collect books they had previously reserved when registering for the event. In their books are messages that are specifically addressed to the person. The only part that we left blank was the signature, which was for the photographer to capture when the guest came onto the signing table with their books. There are two benefits to this decision. First, we could spend time brainstorming and writing sincere messages instead of writing a generic one. Second, we could increase the amount of time that people wait in line. We also prepared twenty extra copies just in case anybody would like to purchase a copy.
The event concludes when guests have their books signed.
The event concludes when guests have their books signed.
Excitement Turned Devastation
42 people signed up within the first two weeks of registration. I was eagerly counting down to the momentous day where I celebrate with friends and clients who have supported me since day one. Another milestone that was worth celebrating was Dynamic Balance receiving the #1 New Release badge on Amazon within the first day of its launch!
Little did I know, a week before our event, the Hong Kong government would announce tight social distancing measures where large gatherings are prohibited. Even though our venue was not bound by these rules legally as theDesk is a private venue, the internal debate was whether we should fulfill our responsibilities to be citizens that care about public health. Don't you admire our virtuous characters!? The truth is, people in close contact with COVID patients are sent to inhumane quarantine camps here in Hong Kong, and we weren't going to take that risk with a 50-person event about health. We had no choice in the end but to switch to a virtual format. I was devastated. As time went on, my confidence grew because of a few practices. Let me outline them for you.
Planning a Virtual Event
I wanted the book launch event to simulate the in-person experience as much as possible. Now, take a moment to think about the defining characteristic that elevates the in-person gathering experience - the interaction required between different people. The more we encourage participation, the more people will enjoy the event. To do this, I decided to send the cup activity and signed books directly to people who signed up. The cup activity will go on as planned! I also added in a lucky draw for those who stay for the entire event to encourage participation and retention. In the end, planning a virtual event was similar to preparing an in-person event. Here are some tips for all authors who are looking for some guidance.
All about visuals
Pay attention to team dynamics
Plan by the minute
Structural freedom for an authentic atmosphere
All About Visuals
The whole point of hosting a book launch is to generate some noise for marketing. If you are a new author like me, you might have to create this noise yourself. Following this noise idea are a few critical questions that you must ask yourself – What do you want people to remember about the experience? What does that experience tell the world about you? For me, aesthetically pleasing is a priority. As I alluded to at the beginning of the article, I want this event to be minimalistic, sleek, and energetic. For this reason, we decided to still host our virtual session at theDesk.
Suddenly, the five banners and foam boards that I printed for the event appeared in my mind. A light bulb switched on in my head. Maybe we could set up three iPads/computers (one for Amanda, the host, one for me, one for my co-author, Dr. Wong), and each would have its own frame. Instead of us all being on the same screen for 45 minutes, the participants will get to see different backgrounds, just like a TV show. In the end, we set up four computers and iPads and three stations. The additional computer was for Carl Au, who oversaw the Zoom call.
What do you think of the photos? Do they elicit our intended feelings of sleek and energetic? Let me know in the comments!
The plant arrangement, in particular, was a nice artistic touch.
In the end, I was really pleased with how the photos turned out. The images were fantastic thanks to the detail-oriented and creative team.
I had the luxury of forming my own team for the event. In any successful team, roles have to be clearly defined according to the unique individual strength of the team. For starters, I knew I needed people with scrupulous attention to detail to help plan the logistics leading up to and the day of the event (Alison and Ying Yee). An artistic photographer who understood the event's objective was critical (Alison). The host needs to be a friend of Dr. Wong and I and a proactive person with a production mindset (Amanda). The person running the Zoom call must have experience in event management (Carl). Physical labor was needed to transport props to the venue (Kenny). Lastly, a game-changer that is often overlooked and underappreciated is having an energetic cheerleader that electrifies the atmosphere of what can often be a dull virtual environment (Annabelle). Like a TV or radio show, the atmosphere within the recording studio transmits to the audience.
Thankfully, my ideal person for every role graciously agreed to help me out. The next part was figuring out the game plan.
Team for the day.
Plan By the Minute
Similar to planning an in-person event, our schedule was planned by the minute. Anyone who reads the agenda can picture the entire event. With the amazing support from my meticulous wife, Alison Chiu, we created a professional rundown for the team to see. Events and responsibilities were outlined in an excel spreadsheet.
When writing a schedule, it is important to be as descriptive and detailed as possible to minimize confusion for the readers. For example, during the welcoming speech by our host, Amanda, Carl was instructed to post the Amazon and Barnes and Noble links when there was a call to action by Amanda.
In another example, Carl was instructed to spotlight different frames within the Zoom call. We wrote the instructions as if we were writing to a middle school student - "unpin A and pin C". Not because we doubted Carl's intelligence, but because we must minimize any ambiguity in the schedule. Freedom is reserved for other parts of the show.
The danger of planning by the minute is that the event might come off as too scripted as it becomes a matter of regurgitation. As mentioned in the previous section, the audience could feel the atmosphere of the recording venue. Robotic and ingenuine are the last words that should come across our audience's minds. What did we do to combat that? Structural freedom.
Structural Freedom for an Authentic Atmosphere
Structural freedom is a concept that I learned from being an educator for different fitness companies. Here is the key differentiation between a good and bad education company in terms of quality control – with good companies, we, the instructors are given a precise script on what to say at a precise time, yet we are also encouraged to bring our unique offering to the table by leaving out space where we share our own insights and experiences. On the other hand, the bad companies provide vague guidance throughout the course that relies on the individual magic of the instructor. Therefore, a good company is more likely to successfully monitor and ensure the quality of their course offerings around the world.
80% of the content should be scripted and planned for your book launch event, and the remaining 20% are vague pointers. What wasn't planned were the playful jabs thrown in my direction by Amanda and Dr. Wong. Before the event, I made it a point that throwing playful jabs towards me is absolutely fine. In fact, playful jabs are encouraged to lighten up the atmosphere. Annabelle also did not have a script because her job was to be herself, which would cheer up the atmosphere. Even though we planned by the minute, we wrote down 10-15 minutes for the cup activity because we were unsure how the audience would react. We spent 15 minutes on the activity because participants were involved and actively participated.
Hopefully, my advice here can give you some inspiration. Writing this book has been one of the most challenging – yet rewarding – tasks that I have ever attempted. There were many obstacles along the way, even for the book celebration. Yet, these obstacles were solved collectively by talented individuals. For this book launch, not only was I supported by those heroes above, I had the support of those who tuned in to the zoom call. To be honest, I expected many to drop out when we switched the event's format.
To those who tuned in to the ring, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Get your copy of Dynamic Balance today!!!!
Barnes and Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/.../dynamic.../1140831892
Book Depository (Free Shipping Worldwide) https://www.bookdepository.com/Dynamic.../9781632994127...
Thank you Kristie Lu Stout for the brilliant advice of "sometimes you have to generate your own noise" and the inspiration of including a gimmick that ties into Dynamic Balance.
Even though we were able to put together a fine plan, I am adamant that the original plan was going to be 100 times better. My confidence comes from the fact that the original plan was reviewed by Erica Wu.
Thank you Kevin Rushton and Phoebe Ho for their support leading up not only to the book launch event, but even since I started my fitness career 7 years ago.
My wife Alison Chiu has played every role that you can imagine for Dynamic Balance – editor, designer, illustrator, assistant, cheerleader, counselor, and friend. She can now add production manager and photographer to the list. What an incredible person!