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Anatomy of a Book Launch: Starberries and Kee

It’s a highpoint in the life of every book for the author – that moment when you get to celebrate all your hard work, all the breaths you’ve been holding, and all the people who have come together to make it happen.

The book launch.

And, for me, Starberries and Kee was no exception. This was a celebration to mark the birth of a book that had been 18 months in the making from its conception when Sam Rutter from Storytorch Press lit a spark at a Canberra SCBWI meeting, talking about her publishing plans for the coming year, to its release as a finished, beautifully designed and produced book. Sam talked about looking for books that highlight community and compassion, books that embraced sustainability, and books that lit the way for a positive future, and that’s exactly what I set out to write, seeing a point of intersection between her passions and mine.

Storytorch is gaining a reputation as a highly innovative and engaging micropress with Sam holding the torch as a professional and dedicated publisher.

I wrote Starberries and Kee specifically for Storytorch – using NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) as the driver for completing the 50,000 (plus) words as quickly as possible, knowing that the deadline for submission was not so far away. I forced myself to wait a couple of weeks before I edited and rewrote and tidied up ends and checked on my research, then pushed the big, red (metaphorical) submit button with my fingers crossed and a sense that if it was to be, then it would.

It was.

Working with Sam to get the final edits done was fast paced and highly collaborative – rushing to meet a deadline so that the text could set off on an international journey before the book design had been finalised. Despite illness (me) and technical difficulties (also me), we got there, worked on the cover and book design with Mardi Davies of Flo and Ebb Design, and finally had our pre-run copies to have and to hold and to drool over.

I wanted Starberries and Kee to be an adventure for middle grade readers first and foremost, but I was also on a mission to spread a vision of hope for the future in a world full of grim predictions. I wanted my readers to know that there is a different future, one that we can create instead of waiting for governments and corporations to haul the ship around and actually do something about climate change. We don’t have to end up in a dystopian novel.

And I want my message to be heard – or read, anyway – and I’m proud of the book. I think it is worth a look.

So, launch day was set as close to release as we could swing, ideas were churned out, and promotions undertaken. I had some great reviews. No, I mean GREAT. And I spread the word far and wide.

Big plans for an outdoor launch crashed to a halt after a false start and threats of (not quite unfounded) inclement weather (it was not wet, in the end, but it was rather chilly - actually snowing in and around Canberra the following day!), and we regrouped for an afternoon with The Book Cow, a gorgeous bookshop that is going from strength to strength in Kingston under the careful, loving direction of Peter and his dedicated staff.

Not quite a couple of weeks before the event, I was grounded with a second bout of covid – thankfully not as debilitating as the experience of the first while I was working on the final edits but enough to slow me down and keep me home – leaving me with a lot of rushing around to do in the days before the launch.

This involved pulling together the bits to create a make-believe campfire (which Sam and I totally forgot to explain was all about coming together and community) – to make up for the real one that we couldn’t have because, you know, bookshop – organising cakes (a HUGE thank you to the very talented Heather Whittle who took my vague ‘sort of a starry night theme’ and pulled together a big batch of delicious and very beautiful cupcakes that were definitely Van Gogh inspired), making bookmarks (quirky ones that a design error – blame it on the covid – mean are upside down on the back) and pamphlets and colouring sheets (just in cases) and, er, finding something to wear.

A last-minute phone call from Sam just before I left the house saw us finalising that we were going to run the launch as a conversation between us and what sort of things we wanted to say – I’m not sure we included everything, but nobody looked too confused so I’m hoping it was all right on the night… er, afternoon.

I turned up slightly earlier than I had intended at the book shop and immediately started to cause the kind of havoc caused by someone bringing loads of cakes and bits of wood and cellophane and what-not. Sam brought a (stunning) banner and marshmallows (real ones) for the fire (fake).

Peter was summoned by the besieged front counter staff (lovely Audrey and Eloise – so professional and calm in reality, not like me) and bit-by-bit the bookshop was transformed into a meeting space, complete with campfire, and a truly gorgeous display of books (and cakes and other goodies).

People started to arrive – lovely people – and after many socially distanced hugs, we began. Peter introduced Sam and myself and spoke a lovely acknowledgement of country before we dived into our highly rehearsed (not) spiel to an entranced audience (either that or shell-shocked), talking about the birth of the book and the concept(s) behind it and finishing off with me reading the first couple of pages.

Then it was party time with lucky door prizes drawn and distributed - party bags from me with some added book vouchers from The Book Cow and lots of extra Storytorch books from Sam.

The marshmallows – beautifully toasted in the warmth of the fire (all right, so that is make-believe, too, since LEDs provide no warmth whatsoever) – went down very well, along with the delicious Starry Night cupcakes and some Milky Way chocolate bars (I had to, sorry), while I was allowed to scribble inside books that other people had bought (one of the great joys of being an author). I wrote Be the change you want to see. I hope nobody minded, but it is a good little quote whether we are talking a sustainable future or just leading a proactive life.

And before you know it, we were packing up (my lovely grandaughter was good enough to dismantle the fire) and thanking everyone for turning up.

It wasn’t a grand affair, and it wasn’t outside around a real campfire with real toasted marshmallows, and I couldn’t afford to get the strawberry seedlings to give away to everyone who came, but it was a great afternoon, spent with friends (some brand new), and I had a fabulous time.

And Starberries and Kee is off to a flying start.

Big thanks, too, to Rick Whittle from Wrick's Pics (see his work on instagram or Unsplash and pop into his Redbubble store to make a purchase) for the fabulous photos from the launch shared in this blog.

Dress by Karma East, jacket by Target, and gorgeous black cockatoo brooch by Erstwilder.

Silly smile by me.

Please ask for Starberries and Kee at your favourite local bookstore (or library)

or you can purchase online via The Book Cow or Storytorch Press.


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