Launching a Novel: Moonshot or Catapult?

rocket launchCatapult

The argument started when my wife showed me the e-vites she was about to send out for a party to celebrate the publication of STEVENSON’S TREASURE. 

“I like everything except calling this a Launch Party,” I said, carefully.

Her soft brown eyes looked a little bit hurt.

“The invitations are beautiful,” I hastily reassured, “everything about them, even the purple color of the envelope and the confetti that explodes out when people click on it.  But the word ‘launch’ is a little like ‘hurl.’  It suggests vomiting my novel to the world.”

A pause.  “What would you call it?” she asked.

“How about a book release party?”

“That sounds like you’ve been holding something captive.”

True.  For years I had confined the thing, first keeping it somewhere in my head, then in notebooks, and finally in computer files cleverly labeled STEVENSONS TREASURE_draft01 thru STEVENSONS TREASURE_draft19.

“As usual, dear, you are right.  We want to celebrate a book, not a prisoner exchange.  So let’s launch the sucker.”

stevensons treasure release party night toastSTEVENSONS TREASURE books and gold coinsThe LAUNCH parties were great.  Champagne toasts, signing books, sharing the giddiness of a first novel with family and friends; what’s not to like?  But in the afterglow of the celebrations, and over a glass or two of left-over wine I got to pondering the meaning of “to launch.” 

Oxford dictionary definitions “1. Set a boat or ship afloat, especially by sliding it into the water; 2. Send a rocket, missile, etc. on its course; hurl forcefully.”

I hadn’t slid my book into the water, nor hurled it forcefully anywhere, but I did like the image of blasting something into space.  Suitably grand and dramatic.

I remember reading somewhere that sending a rocket to the moon required the precision it would take to hit a flea (or was it a fly?) with a rifle-shot from a distance of ten miles.

If that’s true, launching a novel isn’t like a moon launch, but more like flinging it with a catapult.  As anyone who has seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail knows, those ancient weapons were used to hurl things both dangerous and insulting over the besieged castle walls: boulders, rotting carcasses, sacks of feces, buckets of flaming oil.  Regardless of the elaborate, systematic strategies described in “How to Market Your Book” books, launching a novel is more like flinging juicy stuff with a catapult than taking aim at the moon.  Because no matter how carefully you hurl the missiles there are lots of harmless plops.  I sent passionate emails to newspaper reviewers about my amazing new novel that have gone unread, or for sure un-replied.  Ditto to messages sent to BIBS (Big Influencial Bloggers).  And there are only so many Facebook posts a guy can make about his novel before friends retaliate and bury him in My Amazing Kitty videos.

But catapulting is all about keeping a sloppy sense of hope for those lucky shots, when the sack of offal sails through the enemy’s kitchen window and causes a goodly stink.  Or stated more positively, when a bucket of flaming oil sails over the castle walls, lands on a thatched roof and starts a fire.  My launches set some little fires in unexpected places.  Two wonderful Scots who remembered me from my research trips and referred the book to friends.  New friends who bought the book, said they stayed up late because they couldn’t put it down, and who wrote fine reviews.  A harried newspaper editor who phoned and promised to blurb the book in his weekly column.  A history buff who is setting up a reading in Monterey, in the middle of where much of the book is set — how great is that?

First off, readings at Face In A Book Bookstore in El Dorado Hills (Friday May 23 at 6:30 PM) and Avid Reader at the Tower, Sacramento (Saturday June 7, 2:00 PM). 

There’s still some fine wine left — see you there!


  1. Lovely post – I can relate to your thoughts and hope for more champagne – I recently launched my first book – the product of ten years in my life and feel something vital was just excised – Silly! Best of luch with your book. Judith

    • markwiederanders

      Thanks, Judith! I’m glad the post found a kindred spirit who has launched, and experienced those ups and downs. Best of luck to you, too! Mark

  2. Congratulations, Mark, both for the launch into outer space and the sense of humor. As I move into this phase of book production (who ever thought of this stuff when bashing one’s head against those first walls of early drafts?!) I hope I can also keep a sense of humor. Here’s to lots of flaming roofs for you!

    • markwiederanders

      Thanks for the well-wishes, Judith Starkston! Hopefully your launch will rocket your tale of the ancient world to lots of readers. I’m looking forward to reading it!

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