A launch in lockdown

Kate Beal of Muswell Press on her experience of launching a book during the pandemic

For a tiny indie, this was going to be our biggest launch yet. Actor Dugald Bruce Lockhart’s The Lizard is a fabulously pacey thriller set in Greece in 1998. We had already had splendid endorsements from William Boyd and Charles Cumming and had lined up an exclusive edition for a WH Smith travel promotion, strong advance orders from the trade, author appearances at multiple festivals including Edinburgh and a major promotion from Bloomsbury Australia—not to mention a launch party at Daunt Books with 120 guests. Then, at the very point of release, lockdown was announced. Festivals were cancelled, promos were postponed and orders were scrapped.

The books were printed and sitting in the warehouse—so what could we do? We got feisty and we got online. We asked the Muswell Press family of authors and freelancers to support us by ordering the book, recommending it to their friends, tweeting and Facebooking about it. As one of the May titles on NetGalley we had plenty of advance reviews that we added to online retailers’ sites, along with audio clips. We moved to a digital launch party on Facebook, which thanks to Dugald’s acting skills was a huge success—despite hisyoung son appearing halfway through to announce that he needed a poo!

The book is hitting the sweet spot with reviewers: a major feature in the Times Crime Club last week, a confirmed review in the Guardian and others in the pipeline, a blog tour and interest from film and radio. Physical sales are lagging behind, the warehouse is working fewer shifts and bookshops are still shut—but we are determined not to let this brilliant book down. WHS Travel will promote it when the airports are operational, and when shops open again we will embark on another round of publicity. Shops in Australia are still open, and Bloomsbury is doing a fantastic job. We remain ever confident that this brilliant story will ultimately get to the audience it deserves. As one reviewer said this week, it is ‘pitch perfect escapism’—which frankly is what we all need right now.

Kate Beal is co-owner and director of Muswell Press.