LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Friday, 10 January 2014

How to organise a book launch and create a media circus

The story of a launch party
in Writers' Forum.

In this article that first appeared in Writer’s Forum, CIRCUS MANIA author Douglas McPherson reveals the behind-the-scenes juggling for the book’s launch party at Circus Space

I planned the launch party before I wrote a word of Circus Mania.

In my proposal to Peter Owen Publishers I said, “Just picture the launch party, in a big top, with horses, clowns and acrobats...”

I sent an author photo with myself and an elephant and made up a cover quote: “A jumbo read!” - Sonja the Elephant, who promises to be at the launch.

That may sound forward, but I believe enthusiasm is contagious. Circus is a colourful, larger-than-life world. I wanted to get that spirit across to the publishers, reviewers, retailers and book-buyers - and I wanted a launch that would set the tone.

Circus Space
- the circus school where
Circus Mania
was launched
Circus Space
Although we discussed launching in a big top, we eventually opted for Circus Space, the UK’s foremost circus school (and now the National Centre for Circus Arts), which is located in a former power station in the trendy, media-friendly London borough of Hoxton.

One reason was accessibility. A big top show would have meant a trip out of town and as Michael O’Connell, the marketing manager, pointed out: “It’s hard enough getting literary editors to a bar in soho.”

Just as pertinently, Circus Space’s publicity man, John Dix, was excited by Circus Mania (which has a chapter on the school). He suggested we hold the launch as part of their open day on World Circus Day and promised to publicise it to Circus Space’s huge database of past students and circus folk.

This created possibilities for advance publicity. Theatrical newspaper The Stage ran a special circus issue and included a half-page article on the launch. I was also able to write an opinion piece on whether circuses should have animals for the Daily Telegraph’s website. They ran it on the day of the launch, giving Circus Mania! a huge plug.

Star attraction
How The Stage
reported the Circus Mania launch
with Gerry Cottle (L)
author Douglas McPherson (C)
and Dr Haze from the
Circus of Horrors
I wanted a celebrity on hand for photo opportunities and because getting the book signed by a circus star would be an added draw to circus fans.

Here I must pay tribute to the best known circus man of the past 30 years, Gerry Cottle. Knowing Cottle would be the most meaningful name to provide a cover quote, I emailed him some chapters and he sent a fantastic quote the next day: “Circus Mania is a passionate, up-to-date look at the circus and its people.”

Having already helped me so much, I didn’t expect him to travel to London from his Somerset home, but within five minutes of inviting him to the launch, he phoned and said, “I’ll be there and give you all the help I can.”

At that point it didn’t matter if any other circus ‘names’ turned up. We could tell the press and fans we had the big one.

Roll up, roll up!
While Michael concentrated on inviting literary editors and critics, I emailed an invitation to everyone in my address book. Some were editors and journalists I hoped would give the launch advance publicity, even if they didn’t attend. And I got a plug in some surprising places, such as a quarter page in car magazine Classic American, which has nothing to do with circuses or books, proving that editors tend to support their writers.

I also invited contacts in PR firms, people I’d interviewed, general acquaintances and people I barely knew. After all, who knows if some of them might be circus fans, or spread the word to a friend who was?

Proving the ‘you never know’ theory was a PR whose most recent communication had been to berate me for writing “the nastiest article I’ve ever read” about her client. Not only did she promise to come but she added, “You probably didn’t know I used to be a clown...” I wondered if she was going to bring a custard pie.

Inside Circus Space
It was heart-warming to get good luck messages from people I wouldn’t have expected to care less about my book - and to reconnect with old friends, such as Roger Foss, my former editor at What’s On.

“I’ll be the one in the sparkly tights!” Roger emailed.

“As long as they don’t clash with mine!” I replied.

What I didn’t realise was that Roger had a guest spot on LBC Talk Radio. A few days later I got an email from a friend: “I’ve just heard them talking about your book on the breakfast show...”

Hoxton hipsters chilling on the terrace
(including marketing man Michael O'Connell, centre)
at the Circus Mania launch party.
The launch party pictures were taken by
Anita Makri
We announced the launch on the day I received the page proofs. They came with a schedule arranged with military precision: Proofreader’s Qs to author 25 Feb; Queries answered by 1 Mar; Second proof for indexing 10 Mar; Index by 17th; Final Qs by 23rd; To print 25th; Delivery 9 April - a week before the launch, so not much margin for error.

“It’s always a nail-biting race to the finish,” said overseas rights manager Simon Smith. Michael said he’d attended launches  where they didn’t have the book ready. He assured me we’d be OK, but his words came back to me as I waited for the proofreader’s queries and realised we were already a week behind.

Two days before the launch, with no sign of the book, I asked Michael if it was back from the printers. “I know we’re cutting it fine,” he replied, but assured me the printer would deliver copies direct to Circus Space in time.

Gerry Cottle to Dr Haze: "It's not a
rock'n'roll show!"
And so on the big day  found myself driving from Norwich to London with no idea if the books would be waiting for me. What a relief, then, to walk inside and see piles of freshly minted Circus Mania paperbacks laid out like a feast on a crisp white tablecloth.

Having spent a year writing, researching and publicising the book it was wonderful and quite moving to finally hold one in my hand. Flipping through the pages, I felt another wave of relief, as editorial director Antonia Owen had told me she’d known launches where the printer had put the wrong book in the cover.

Our hosts at Circus Space did us proud, with uniformed waitresses serving drinks against a backdrop of people swinging on the trapeze and walking the tight-wire. On the sunny terrace outside, students strolled about, juggling with balls and clubs.

I didn’t perform myself - the relaxed mood was more suited to mingling than a formal reading. But Gerry Cottle made a nice speech and said he thought Circus Mania would give a good boost to the circus industry. Dr Haze, the charismatic ringmaster from the Circus of Horrors, graciously signed books for the fans, as well as posing for publicity pictures with me.

Publisher Peter Owen
who was this year
awarded the OBE for
services to literature
With plenty of people from Peter Owen manning the book stall, I was free to meet and greet, shake hands and sign books. The three hours passed in what felt like a third of that time, and as the tables were cleared away I felt it had been a huge success.

I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to meet and thank all the people from Peter Owen - and to discuss future strategy with them, such as which were the most circus-orientated countries to target for foreign rights.

The most rewarding part of the day was, of course, seeing the readers who’d come along to buy a copy. I’ll never forget the beaming face of the young American lady who bought the very first book. She looked so excited I thought she was going to faint. She made me feel like the biggest star in the world as I inscribed her copy with the traditional big top salutation: May all your days be circus days!

Circus Mania
- Loved by clowns!
Click here to buy your copy of Circus Mania in paperback or ebook format from Amazon - and may all your days be circus days!

And click here to see a history of Circus Space in pictures!

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