(Note: this post is written with traditional publishing in mind, but may also apply for self-publishing; I'm less familiar with that process so can't speak to it.)
Publishing a book is a long, hard journey. Seriously, it's hundreds of hours spent with no guarantee of the book ever making to a bookstore shelf. So, when your friend, family member, or colleague tells you they've done it, they sold their book to a publisher, and you want to mark the occasion, what should you do when publication day arrives?
We're all accustomed to celebrating life events related to marriage or babies (engagement party, bachelor party, wedding shower, wedding, anniversary party, baby shower), but this event is different and, unlike other life events, we're not really told how to mark this occasion. So, if you're looking to support and celebrate an author in your life, here are my tips - feel free to add yours in the comments!
This is a big deal!
They've worked hard, probably for years, on something and they've succeeded in making it through the gauntlet of traditional publishing and crossing the finish line to get a book on the shelf. Statistically, they are the anomaly. There's no one answer on how to mark the event, it will depend on your relationship and your traditions, but perhaps think of how you mark birthdays and then know this is a much more special occasion - it's definitely less common! I think a good rule of thumb might be to mark the occasion the way you would graduation from a challenging multi-year program.
Support the book
Authors only get to keep writing and publishing if books sell, and getting anyone to notice a new book in a sea of other new books is tremendously difficult, so buying the book if you can afford to is important. (Pre-ordering it before it comes out is extra helpful as it signals to bookstores that there is interest in the book and can make them order more.) If you can afford to, buy several copies (books make amazing gifts). Or, get your book club to read it so they'll all buy copies too.
What else besides buying it? If you like the book, tell your friends and review it online everywhere (did you know you can leave reviews on sites even if you didn't buy it there?). Barring being picked for a celebrity book club or other high-profile thing, books sell based on word of mouth by lots and lots of passionate people - you can be one of these people for your friend! If you have an online platform, find a way to mention the book (repeatedly, ideally). Request that your library purchase copies - most libraries have a form for this. My sister has a hobby of going into bookstores that haven't stocked my book yet and telling them about it - enticing stores to check it out can help them decide to stock it. Anything to draw attention to the book is helpful.
Celebrate them If your author friend has an event (a celebration, a book launch, a reading, a pub gathering), do everything you can to attend. Adjust your schedule if you possibly can - this is the moment when you need to make an effort to show up even if it's inconvenient. This may be the only time they get to have a book event. The odds of getting published are very, very small and there's never any guarantee of publishing more books after the first, so mark the first with as much fanfare as possible. Show up for them. Offer to help out with the event. I promise they are worried that no one will attend.
I'll put some specific examples of lovely things folks did for me at the bottom of this post in case you need inspiration.
Dislike awkwardness? Things to Avoid
You're curious, I know, but don't ruin the fun of the launch of a book by asking when the next book is coming. Some authors write fast and have many irons in the fire, others nurture a project privately for years before it's ready to go out into the world. Focus on the book that just hit the shelf, let the author bask in the glow of accomplishment for a few hours before thinking about the next thing.
Don't ask how sales are. Authors aren't typically writing for the money (writing doesn't generally pay much). Also, weirdly, authors don't find out for some time about their actual sales. And, finally - statistically, most books don't sell big numbers. If their book is a breakout hit selling a lot, they will bring it up themselves, trust me.
It's great that you're curious about your author friend's new life, but here are some questions you can ask instead that are safer and hopefully more interesting:
how are you enjoying the debut/book launch experience?
what's surprised you most about publishing so far?
how did the concept for your cover come about?
how does it feel to have your book out in the world being read by strangers finally?
Publishing is a lot of time spent alone, then your book comes out along with literally thousands of other books in the same month, then the next month thousands more come out, then more. It's easy to feel small and lost. But good friends and colleagues lift you up and carry you through all that, helping you see your accomplishment for the amazing thing it is. I hope this has been helpful in guiding you on how to support the newly published author in your life!
I've been lucky to have supportive folks celebrate and support my first book (Adrift - go buy it now!) in all kinds of ways and it has made for a wonderful experience.
Examples of kind things folks did for me to support & celebrate the publication of Adrift - offered as possible inspiration:
sent me flowers 🎔
gave me a gift card for a coffee shop (knowing I write best in coffee shops)
sent me photos when they saw my book on the shelf in bookstores or when they picked up their pre-ordered copies (so many wonderful surprise text messages!)
forced me to actually have a party to mark the occasion (I tend not to make a fuss over my own accomplishments)
helped me organize the party
offered free use of an amazing venue space for my party
designed and created seven foot tall mural versions of my cover to be decor for the party!
made amazing food for the party
volunteered to be the high-energy MC for the party
took the book on vacation and took a ton of awesome photos of it for me to share on social media
brought up my publication accomplishment when in conversations with me and others and actively encouraged them to pick up a copy (i.e. acting as an excited salesperson on my behalf).
did multiple posts on social media being enthusiastic about the book
took me out for lunch to celebrate my publication day
recommended Adrift as a read for their book club
filled out online reviews everywhere