How NOT to Launch A Book

It's mid-afternoon in San Francisco and this evening at 6.30pm a collection of writers, Irish musicians and readers will get together to launch After The Rising & BeforeThe Fall.

And to kick off the SF Chapter of The Alliance of Indie Authors.

How NOT to Launch: Part One

The first time I launched a novel, it was in Dublin back in 2005. I still remember the encouraging faces smiling up at me from a room full of goodwill, many of them family and friends who knew how long that night had been in coming.

It had been a full three years between signing the contract with Penguin and getting to that room in Waterstones with a printed book to offer.

Before that, I’d spent years navigating rejections from agents and publishers. And before that, many more years writing the books on the fringes of work, family and study.

But, finally, there we were. My editor finished her introduction and announced my name. I stepped forward to applause and some very Irish whoops and cheers. I mounted the podium, opened my book, took a deep breath and….

We were suddenly plunged into darkness.


Yes, pitch black, everything-all-gone darkness.  The lights had gone out. But why? (Whyyyyyyyy?)

One of Waterstones staff went to find out, returned with a torch and head-shaking regret. They didn’t know what was wrong, they couldn’t fix it, and he was awfully sorry but we were all going to have to leave.

Health and safety

My moment was over before it began.

How NOT to Launch: Part 2

The last time I launched a novel, in 2008, I was in chemotherapy treatment and just two days before, all my hair fell out. To say I hadn't had time to get used to before standing up in front of a room of readers would be an understatement.

I wrote my very first blog post on the day of that launch. I'm reading it back here now: “I don't want it [baldness, illness] overshadowing the book,” I wrote. “The launch is about the book.

“And I know signifiers of sickness make some people uncomfortable. As do women without hair. My new hairstyle is the same as my brothers' and nobody has ever suggested to any of them that they should wear a wig. ‘Oh quit it, sis,' says brother Cathal.  ‘At least yours will grow back.' True. But for now, this is how it is.

“That's what decided me in the end. I might wish it otherwise but this is how it it is. So I will go bare: no wig, no scarf, no hat. Just me, in front of the audience, bald. Just me, just as I am.”

What I only dimly perceived as I wrote those words was: that was with blogging too, this new, amazing technology that allowed me to reach readers directly. I didn't realise as I wrote that first post how revolutionary it would be for me — having spent half my writing life in journalism, a job that teaches you to self-censor before you've even formed your idea — to be able to put myself out there just as I am.

I didn't realise how the freedom to write whatever I wanted, however, whenever, would change my writing so much for the better. Or what it would mean to me to have your support, to have readers who ‘get' me and still seem to want to hang around for more.

How it would lead on to publishing my own books — something that wasn't even possible back then.

And now to founding this (already amazing) Alliance that's bringing together other writers who are doing, or want to do, the same.

So tonight, I'm able to have a launch organised by me, the way I want it. In San Francisco, my favourite American city. In the Red Vic peace centre, a home from home for me for a decade, where I wrote much of the San Francisco passages in the books.  With green tea & Irish Cream Coffee (they do St Patrick's Day with aplomb over here), with San Francisco friends — and other writers who want to partake in this literary and publishing revolution that is changing how we do everything.

Tonight I have hair again, and a feeling that the lights have come on not just for me but for writers and writing — and that this time, they're staying on.