Guerrilla Tactics in a Small War (or, How to Have a Successful Book Launch)

Guerrilla Tactics in a Small War (or, How to Have a Successful Book Launch)

by Mary Ellen Stepanich

Bathtubs and Lilacs

Recently, I read an article that discussed “guerilla tactics” for successful book launches. I’m sure you’re familiar with most of the tactics: use traditional media outlets, but also reach out to social media; offer discounts and relate the launch to a special event; and especially, do what you do best.

A friend of mine, Dottie Dettmering, who is 95 years old, has recently written and self-published her Christian-themed book, Bathtubs and Warm Water: The Genesis of Faith. As you can imagine, at 95 she is somewhat physically frail, but she has experience as an actress and has a wonderful speaking voice. She is, however, naive regarding both traditional media outlets and social media, and she has only a nodding acquaintance with computers. Therefore, she needed help in setting up a book launch.

I, myself, do not think in terms of tactics, or even about selling the book, when I plan such an activity. I always think about a book launch, a book reading, or anything having to do with selling the book, in terms of a SHOW. What does the audience want to see or hear? What is going to reach their hearts? What will cause them to laugh, or cry? What will make them want to know more about this book? And how do I get them to come in and see the show? (And, of course, buy the book!)

The first step was to secure a place and set a date and time when all parties to the show would be available – both audience and actors, including my barbershop quartet, Lilac Crazy. I knew that my quartet could entertain any audience. Of course, we had to “clean up” our act for the launch of a Christian-themed book. After all, our name says that we’re no angels – we LIE like crazy!

The second step was to advise anybody and everybody about the book launch. I made posters to be displayed in the venue and sent to writers’ groups; wrote press releases and uploaded them to newspapers, posted announcements on Facebook, and e-mailed family, friends, and acquaintances.

The final step was to plan the SHOW. The author and I decided on themes for the excerpts to be read: miraculous, mysterious, humorous, and serious. Each of the four readings would be five minutes in length, with an appropriate song from the quartet between each segment.

We opened the show with a six-minute set we call our “Saved Package.” With nun headdresses, we sang “Follow the Fold” from Guys and Dolls; from there we went into a comedy routine as the Little Sisters of Mercy! of the Church of What’s Happening Now, singing part of the song “Saved,” interrupted by another comedy routine, and then singing a barbershop rendition of “I Fell in with Evil Companions” from Thoroughly Modern Millie.

The miraculous reading followed. Then we introduced the mysterious reading with the song, “Jesus – There’s Something About That Name.” We chose “One Size Fits All” to introduce the humorous reading, and used “Amazing Grace” as a lead-in for the serious reading. Finally, after a closing that brought tears to the eyes of the audience, we ended joyously with a rousing rendition of “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

Was it a success? Well, one measure of a success would have to be book sales. Dottie sold just about every book in her stash of 70 books, and took a orders for a few more. Every seat in the meeting room at The Forum was filled, and the activity director said it was the best program they have ever had at the facility.

What is the secret to a successful book launch? Well, guerrilla tactics are necessary, of course. But I firmly believe in the words to that great Fats Waller song: “Find out what they like, and how they like it, and give it to ‘em just that way!”

Dr. Mary Ellen Stepanich is a retired professor of organizational behavior who always
Mary Ellen Stepanichtold her students at Purdue, “I’m very organized, but my behavior is a bit wonky.” She has published articles in academic journals (boring), show scripts for barbershop choruses and quartets (funny), and an award-winning radio play, “Voices from the Front,” for Sun Sounds of Arizona (heartrending). Mary Ellen lives in Peoria, Arizona, with her cat, Cookie, and blogs on her website,

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3 Responses to Guerrilla Tactics in a Small War (or, How to Have a Successful Book Launch)

  1. Marcie Brock says:

    How fortunate Dottie was to have a go-getter like you on her side, Mary Ellen! I wish we had video to add to this post! This was such a well-told story about a successful event. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beth Kozan says:

    How special! I’d’ve loved to be in the audience!

    Having just seen my first Poetry Slam (at the Kingman Area Books Are Magic event), I can see that you’ve got the Show aspect that Poetry Slams require! If you book another, share it to our group and let us know!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. bchatzkel says:

    I second and third the comment that I wish there was a video. Sounds like a great book launch. Congratulations.

    Liked by 1 person

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