After almost 2 years of a global pandemic, physical book launches had begun to feel like a dream from a past life. Memories of clutching a brand new book in one hand, a glass of wine in the other while an author answers questions about their newest pride and joy had become muddied with seemingly endless lockdowns and virtual replacements.

Attending the launch of the Year the World Went Mad by Dr. Mark Woolhouse at the Royal Society of Edinburgh was an excellent return to this world. Working with the team at Sandstone Press provided me with invaluable insight into the responsibilities of the publishing house towards their authors at pivotal moments in their lifetime of their book.

As an intern with Sandstone, I believed it was my responsibility to show up ready to assist with any wrinkle in the fabric of the event, book related or otherwise. Arriving at the event, I met Ceris Jones (Campaigns Manager), Robert Davidson (Founder and Managing Director), and Eric MacLeod (Financial Director) who were representing Sandstone Press. We were armed with:

  • 3 boxes from BookSource containing the distinctive red books for sale
  • 2 contactless card readers charged and ready for tapping
  • 20+ matching tote bags for distribution kindly provided by the author’s family

Meeting Dr. Woolhouse provided opportunity to observe how Sandstone interact with their authors. With his first book having been launched the day before, Dr. Woolhouse had many questions in regards to the sales of his book, the ranking in the Amazon charts, and what was to be expected at this stage. Sandstone were able to share the good news with him that his book was doing really well, and had already received many positive reviews on Twitter and from mainstream publications. 

Dr. Woolhouse is a practised and assured public speaker, but there was still a sense of adrenaline present before the event within the team as he prepared to address the crowd of guests. After all, this was his first piece of trade-published work and The Year the World Went Mad focuses on such an important and nuanced topic. It was refreshing to see how easily Robert (MD of Sandstone) was able to reassure the author and his family that he had written an excellent book and the event was sure to strike a chord with attendees.

The event itself was polished and refined. Dr. Woolhouse’s daughter surprised him by playing the bagpipes for guests. Dr. Francisca Mutapi, Dr. Woolhouse’s wife, chaired the event. This had the effect of retaining the academic polish of their conversation, while also adding a slightly more personable touch since The Year the World Went Mad is dedicated to Dr. Woolhouse’s family. 

Robert gave a short speech on behalf of Sandstone, highlighting the positive experience they had working on this title, and how proud they were to be publishing it. Dr. Woolhouse then discussed the course of action taken by the government and answered questions with a pragmatism required of his field while also showing empathy for those who have suffered in recent years. It was no surprise when the queues started lining up to purchase a signed copy with a complimentary tote bag.

Ceris and I were poised behind the trestle table, ready for guests to pay for their copy and refilling the stacks of books for Mark to sign from the BookSource boxes. I got to see how Ceris managed the sales of the books via an app connected to the contactless card reader, as well as managing questions from the rest of the Sandstone team or the author in regards to sales numbers, always having them ready to quote. 

At the end of the event there were final formalities, we counted up final sales and managed the logistics of leftover copies. These are the small details of launch events that you may not consider as a guest:

Who manages photography and social media promotion? 

While there was a photographer there to manage this, Sandstone also had the responsibility to highlight the success of the event to their social followings. 

Who deals with cleanup? 

In this case, the event staff of the Royal Society of Edinburgh managed empty glasses, spills and general clear up. 

Who brings home any unsold books? 

If the event is hosted by a bookshop, this is their responsibility as it will usually be their stock. In this case, Sandstone had this responsibility as the launch was taking place in the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Ceris and I carried a box of hardback books towards Waverley Station for her to take home (uphill too, an olympic feat).

It was a pleasure to have this opportunity with Sandstone Press. It was a highlight of my internship with them to see the inner mechanisms of such an important event, and to be trusted with a small part of it.