First Book Launch Event – a detailed glimpse

The launch event for The Turtle Ship took place at Books of Wonder in NYC on Sunday, June 24th! I’ve always wondered what it’s really like for an author to have a launch event. Is it mostly exciting? Mostly stressful? For writers who are introverts (like me), is it mostly terrifying? Here’s an inside look.

The quick recap: It was a hit! Over a hundred people showed up, and the staff at Books of Wonder told us it was one of their most highly-attended weekend events! About 80% of their in-store inventory of The Turtle Ship sold that day. And I’m happy to report I did not faint. I was actually coherent (and maybe even funny…once or twice).

The detailed version: For a few months leading up to the event, the marketing staff at Lee & Low (especially Keilin — thank you!) worked on scheduling the event at Books of Wonder and making sure enough copies of the book would be in stock on the day of the event. Lee & Low’s in-house designer also created a beautiful invitation and awesome stickers. Meanwhile, Colleen and I worked directly with the bookstore (thank you, Laura!) to figure out the day-of schedule (we decided on a quick introduction, a short reading of a few pages, Q&A, then signing of books) and what to bring for refreshments, etc. Colleen offered to make her famous turtle cookies for the event (yes, she’s nuts…and lovely!).

I arrived in NYC about a day prior to the event. I always get a huge dose of energy whenever I’m in NYC because the city is absolutely electric. And the night before the event, I simply could not sleep. A mixture of excitement and nerves and still being on California time. I didn’t fall asleep until 3 am only after taking a sleeping pill. (I hate using sleep aids, but when you’re desperate for zzz’s, what can you do?)

Colleen and I decided to arrive 45 minutes prior to start time. The Geno and I arrived even earlier than expected because our cab driver was the quintessence of NYC cabbies, hurtling through the streets as if we were in a crisis involving an asteroid about to hit the earth. After a harrowing ride that messed up my hair, we arrived to find a charming store with a handful of weekend shoppers/browsers. And EEEEEK! Standing before me, a full towering display holding copies of The Turtle Ship! Selfie time! We stood around snapping photos of the display case at different angles, me posing in front of the poster at various angles…this could’ve continued for hours.

Photos in front of the event poster outside of Books of Wonder (photo by the Geno)

Thankfully, the friendly staff of Books of Wonder interrupted the nonsense and introduced themselves. They were all smiles and good cheer. Before The Geno and I started snapping more photos of the display, Laura ushered us to the back room and immediately put me at ease with her warmth. The staff at Books of Wonder are such pros — they have a small area with a bench, water cooler, etc., so that presenters can calm down before the event. They were well prepared for my nervous energy.

Once Colleen arrived, we swooned at her gorgeous turtle cookies. Too stunning to eat!

These took Colleen three days to make. Aren’t they delightful? (Photo by Colleen)

It was 2:50 by the time Colleen and I took our seats at the front table. The reading area was…pretty darn empty. The Geno was there, Colleen’s son was there, and a few curious shoppers peeked in. But that was it. My mind started to replay all those nightmare stories of authors who held readings to an audience of none…or one (a bookstore employee who was obligated to be there). Laura assured us that people would start trickling in. Meanwhile, I kept smiling like a lunatic at the empty space, pretending I wasn’t nervous at all. I was so grateful I had Colleen and The Geno there, because my hands were clammy and my throat was dry… By 3:00, a handful of people had arrived, including some members of my family and some friends of Colleen. But still, a good number of empty chairs stared back at me. Seven people in the audience wasn’t horrible, right??

Our darling niece & nephew holding Colleen’s turtle cookies. And me in the background exuding nervous energy and scaring customers with my insane laughter. (Photo by The Geno).

We decided to wait until 3:10 to actually start, to give people a little more time to arrive. After all, the Pride parade was going on, so people could be stuck in traffic…right?…RIGHT??

By the time 3:10 rolled around, the room began to fill up, so we got started. My heart was pounding so quickly it felt like it might jump out of my throat (I’m always super nervous when I start speaking in public, but then I get my groove and then something dangerous happens: I start believing I might be a fascinating creature). We introduced ourselves, I talked about how I got the story idea for The Turtle Ship, Colleen talked about her vision for the illustrations. By the time we started reading an excerpt from the book, the room was completely packed — standing room only! People were spilling into the aisles between bookshelves and standing on tiptoes to capture photos and videos of us. We had about a hundred or so people there throughout the two-hour event. It was incredible!

A lovely young reader in the audience, enjoying our book. (Photo by Joe Kepferle)

One of my main worries about the event was that kids would be bored and/or fidgety. But they were fabulously engaged.

I love this photo. I don’t know who these little ladies are, but boy are they cute! (Photo by Joe Kepferle)

This video cracks me up — listen for the little girl’s commentary towards the end (video by Kathleen Roh):

We got so many great questions during the Q&A. These are some questions from kids in the audience: “How old were you when you started writing?” “What kind of turtle is Gobugi?” And a hilarious question from a two-year-old who was fixated on Colleen’s cookies — she raised her hand and asked, “Is that a cookie? Can I have one?” That got a huge round of laughter. The adults probably posed half the questions, and the other half came from the amazing kids in the audience. It was wonderful to see so many hands shoot up during the Q&A.

This little lady had several great questions. (Photo by Joe Kepferle)

And then we moved on to the book signing. WHOA. The line snaked from one end of the bookstore to the other! Laura had to use a microphone to get everyone in order. I had so many cool conversations with folks in attendance. Some were family and friends, but many in the audience were sweet strangers who were curious about the book. One woman had a young adopted son from South Korea, and wanted him to be exposed to more stories about his culture — what a wonderful mom! Others had heard about and/or read the book and wanted to meet the creators. Very, very cool.

By the time the signing part came around, I was finally feeling relaxed. (Photo by Secil Cornick)

Colleen’s gorgeous signature with a turtle. (Photo by Secil Cornick)

What a lovely line of folks. (Photo by The Geno, who stood on a chair to take this shot– the staff at Books of Wonder were too sweet to yell at him.)

These beautiful people lined up to buy our book! I love it when folks support local businesses. (Photo by Secil Cornick)

Met some really amazing folks. (Photo by The Geno)

Afterwards, about ten of us walked over to Colleen’s apartment to have some prosecco and toast the event. We also got to view Colleen’s original illustrations. What a treat! So stunning to see the detailed collages up close. (A few of the spreads will soon be hanging on the walls of my home!)

Then, at night, about twenty of us went to celebrate and get K-BBQ at Bann. It was a fun, boisterous time.

Korean BBQ always hits the spot. (Photo by Secil Cornick)

I will never forget that day for the rest of my life. I’m so grateful for how smoothly it went, and for how many lovely people showed up to welcome The Turtle Ship into the world! If someone had told me five years ago that on June 24, 2018, I’d be celebrating the launch of my first published book in NYC with these beautiful people, I would’ve let out a hearty (and crazy) laugh. This experience seemed so out of reach at that point in my life.

I hope this post gives a good glimpse at what it’s like for an author embarking on her very first launch event. If you’d like to see more “inside glimpse”-type blog posts, do let me know.

Thanks for a great time, NYC. Until next time!

Our L.A. event is up next on September 8th. Save the date!

Peace out! (Photo by Colleen Kong-Savage)


4 Responses to “First Book Launch Event – a detailed glimpse”

  1. James Jae-hoon Park

    Wonderful event. Sorry I missed! Must read the book.

    • Helena

      Thanks for reading the (long-winded) post 🙂 Hope you enjoy the book!

  2. Colleen

    Ok, how’d I miss this post—pardon delayed reaction. I love reading about the event from your perspective! Reading this post one month later means I get to relive the moment 😁 Fun time, and I’m so glad we got partnered up for our debut experience. Going it alone would’ve been fine, but sharing this event with you made it that much more special.

    • Helena

      I agree! I’m so glad we partnered up for this, and I’m very excited for our September event! A lot of folks here in L.A. are eager to meet you 🙂