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Insights from Hawthorne Publishing

A “Launch” for a New Book: Lots of People and Cookies Shaped Like a Book By Lou Ellen Watts, author of Sleeping in Dixie’s Feather Bed: Growing Up White in the Segregated South

My book took just one year to be born. It was conceived at Eugene and Marilyn Glick Author Day at the Indianapolis Public Library, just a year ago, in a workshop I attended. There I got encouragement from the memoir workshop leader Lyn Jones and met the editor of the regional publisher Hawthorne Publishing. She became intrigued with the story I felt I had to tell: how a girl who grew up in working class neighborhoods all over the south slept comfortably on a racially stratified bed in southern states—and how she (I)  finally woke up to the Civil Rights movement. The editor agreed to help me develop the book.  Several drafts happened.

The memoir was born but now it had to be nurtured, cuddled, educated, and sent off to college!  Hawthorne Publishing decided yes, to release the book as part of its line, a departure from their usual Indiana Civil War books or biographies. Lots of refining and editing details followed. Then—the book was here! It was almost exactly a year from the time I sat around a table at Glick Author Day and discussed how my idea could possibly find publication.

A catalogue and flyer sent word around to Indiana libraries, and newspapers in my area.

Then my own touches could be added to the release. I was told that it was the duty of a regional book author to do her own publicity—with guidance and advice and publicity materials from the publisher. I had to find a place to have a “book launch,” so I contacted the Johnson County Museum of History in my town of Franklin, Indiana. After they read a copy of the flyer and spoke to me a bit,  they readily agreed. It was to be in October, but each Saturday was filled with other activities. We finally agreed on a date but my book was to come immediately after another speaker. Instead of 1:30 -3:00 we had to settle for 4:00-5:30, not the most desirable time for a Saturday afternoon speech. Still, we would make it work.

I now had from Hawthorne that synopsis of the book and a picture of the cover which I had printed as an attractive flyer. I placed these flyers in any store front that would accept them. I passed them out to all of the organizations that I belonged to in addition to the local libraries. I made “You are invited to” postcards and sent them to organizations in the community and about a week before the event I passed out “You are invited to” reminder cards to my own organizations and friends. I contacted the local newspapers and had announcements printed, set up dates to sign at local bookstores and the library. Notices were also sent to my college sororities and alumnae magazines.

All of that was taken care of, so now I had to think about the setting of the facility where the book was to be presented. Was there a podium? How was the mic set up? Were there enough chairs? Where would the signing table be? Where were the tables for the refreshments?

Then what would the refreshments be? I contacted the local bakery/designer for cookies a month in advance, since I knew how busy this excellent local baker was. The question was, “How many?” I just guessed, “Four dozen.” I would buy some already made cookies just in case.  We decided on a simple punch served from a regular punch bowl.  I made notes to remind myself to take ice, table clothes, napkins, cups and serving platters.

I read that props always add to the setting, so I made a little bed covered with feathers to place on the serving table along with one of the flyers propped up on a display stand. The signing table was covered with a black tablecloth. There my husband would sit on one end to take money, with me sitting at the other end to sign books. One of the major purposes of these book launches, of course,  is to sell the books you are introducing. The South?  I put some cotton bolls on stems with some magnolia leaves in a container in the middle of the table as a reminder of what people think of the typical South. Another poster was propped up next to the cotton bolls with my business cards in a little display case next to it.

Finally, it was 3:30 and I roamed the hall greeting each attendee personally. At 4:00 the curator of the museum stepped behind the podium and read the introduction that I wrote for her which gave some history of my past life.

Of course in my lecture I talked about life in the south, but I also tried to paint a picture of my Louisiana Cajun grandparents on my father’s side and my rural Arkansas relatives on my mother’s side. It was in their home that I actually slept on a feather bed in the 1940s. I also told the audience that it was at my aunt’s house in Arkansas that I was “introduced to the outhouse.” That description got a laugh. In another part of my lecture I put my hand over my heart and sang part of “Dixie”, “Oh, I wish I were in the land of cotton,” and told the audience that for along time I thought that was the National Anthem. I got a laugh from that too.

I closed with “This memoir tells about a journey in which I discovered a new view of equality that I want for my own life and for America.” Often, I believe, we grow up with views we absorb from our culture. It may be time to examine that process of “growing-up values” and think for ourselves in some cases.

As people came by to get a book signed I heard them say, “I never even knew there were black people nearby where I lived.” Or “I saw a Mammy when I visited my aunt in North Carolina.” Or “I played with a black girl who lived down the street.” It seemed like so many people had stories to tell and they were not intimidated to tell them. It was as if they were eager to tell their experiences or lack of experiences. Perhaps a few doors had been opened, and if that is the case the book is a success on that front.

It was such a rewarding night where I felt renewed to keep spreading each day my book message of equality and kindness. And, as my editor insists, “a truly good story.”

Lou Ellen Watts