Regular readers might remember the story of Tom Millea and the design and production of his photography book, The Book of Palms
Right around the time I posted that article, Tom had a major bash to launch his book. Although I wasn’t able to attend, it sounded amazing. When the whole story came out, I knew I wanted to share it with you.
Tom was gracious enough to write up his experience throwing a book launch party. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did.
My Book Launch by Tom Millea
It was the middle of July and the book was finally at the printers. After seven years of constant work I was exhausted. I felt like every cell in my body was depleted. I wanted two weeks of hiding under the covers before I could face the world again. That was the day my best friend said, “We need to have a party, a book-signing party.” I looked at her like she was out of her mind and walked away.
Two or three days later I began to think it might, in fact, be a good idea. It would be a small party, happiness, and a celebration, for all that work. My friend said she would help with all the details; I just had to show up and sign books. OK, that sounded good and the book would not be ready until the end of August and that was weeks away. In the meantime I could rest.
I wanted to have fun so I went to the restaurant I eat at every day and asked them how much it would cost to use a portion of the restaurant for a few hours in the evening. After all, I had no desire to cook or clean my own house and this sounded perfect. The restaurant told me ten thousand dollars. I should have known right then that this was a bad idea but I wanted to have a party and celebrate the book.
I thought it would be a great idea to combine my book signing with a charity event to raise money for the new art center.
The same day my friend Maria told me about the arts program she was starting for the mentally ill and homeless. I thought it would be a great idea to combine my book signing with a charity event to raise money for the new art center. She told me that her staff would take care of all the details on her end and made it sound perfect. I said OK and we started.
Partnering With a Non-Profit Changed Everything
I had no idea, but after coupling with a non-profit everything changed. For instance:
- People started to volunteer to help.
- The restaurant offered to donate the space and gave a huge discount on the food.
- The backer for my book said she would pay for any bills we incurred and I promised to keep the costs to a minimum.
- The printers agreed to do a post card to advertise the event at cost or for nothing.
- Friends offered to do a large mailing on Facebook to tell people everything going on.
The manager of the restaurant suggested I hang my photographs in the room we were going to use and I thought that would be a great idea. I went to the framer and he agreed to help with the matting and framing at cost.
Credit Card Processing to Go
I found a place where I could sign up to take credit cards on my phone. That was a great idea. I could go anywhere and take credit cards right on my phone. Easy.
For those who might be interested in taking credit cards I suggest contacting these people:
For those who have iPhones contact Intuit at 800-558-9558.
For those who have other types of phones try Dharma at 866-615-5157 or 415-632-1920. I like the people at Dharma and they are very helpful.
It is easy to sign up, reasonably inexpensive, and fast. It only takes a day or two to process everything and you are up and running. I have made many sales I would not have made because I can take credit cards.
You May Have to Do It Yourself
I contacted friends who worked at the local newspapers and asked them to write an article about the book signing and the art event and they were excited to do it. It seemed perfect and I thought I could relax and let all the people do what they promised to do.
I was wrong. Very wrong. One by one the people disappeared. It ended up that I did everything myself. People who were to do the writing and the designing of the postcard never did. Maria, who is the director of the non-profit, was in New York City and her staff didn’t help. I spent many nights writing articles, designing signs and postcards, all the things I was promised I would not have to do.
Then it got worse. The book printer called with the news that the book would not be finished in time for the book signing. I looked at the phone with my mouth open. I was speechless.
The next day my collector called and said she did not want to pay for any more of the expenses. She felt she had done enough already and, in fact, she had. She made the book possible but this was a huge blow. I had no money left. Nothing. I was broke. So I went around to all the people who were working on the party and told them I must pay them after the party when I had sold books. Fortunately for me they all said OK. That was one of the benefits of living in the same place for forty years.
I just had to trust. Trust? It seemed I had to trust on every level. Nothing was certain anymore.
I called the book printer and begged. Anything, send me anything for the signing. I need books or I am in deep trouble. Finally, after several days of horror, they agreed to send one hundred books with the balance coming a few weeks later. The books were to arrive on the day of the signing. I just had to trust. Trust? It seemed I had to trust on every level. Nothing was certain anymore.
But I think I was learning to trust. I had little choice. Either it was going to work or it would fail. In many ways it was beyond my control.
Another thing I learned was how necessary it was to be able to change on the spot. A good example is when the collector backed out and I was left with all these bills. One major problem was the money for the non-profit. If I had to pay all these bills using the money from book sales there would be nothing left to give the non-profit. I decided to take two of my prints and auction them off in a silent auction with all the proceeds going to the non-profit. It worked well.
The Big Day Arrives
I spent every day running around doing something for the book signing, until finally the day arrived for the event. My friend Bob agreed to help me all day doing the heavy lifting of prints and books and tables, every small detail necessary to make this work. We arrived in the early afternoon and the books had already arrived. Amazing!
Next we began hanging all the images. They were large prints, 30″ x 40″ and 20″ x 30″ inches. We filled the walls with prints from the book. After it was finished I stood back and realized how beautiful the space looked. It was like entering a cathedral.
Then I went home to change and headed back again because it was time! I still didn’t know if everything was going to work. When I arrived people were already there milling around. The staff of the restaurant had wine and food ready to go, the room looked beautiful and the people from the non-profit were standing around having no idea what to do. I quickly showed them their space and they set up in about ten minutes. And off we went!
There were between one hundred and two hundred people that night. Everything went smoothly. All the people who had agreed to help in the beginning were there asking how they could help and I put them to work doing things to make people comfortable. Bob showed prints we had brought, I gave a speech and so did the non-profit people. Another person took the money and I signed books.
The collector showed up with a car filled with cases of great wine and ended up buying a print off the wall. The money from that print ended up paying for most of the expenses. She also bought one of the auction prints and told me afterward she had no idea how good the event was going to be.
The arts center made fifteen hundred dollars that night. I wish it was more but it was enough to make them happy. Everyone had a great time, including me. I felt people were surprised by the work and really liked it. Conversation was light and people made new friends. The advertising worked. The food was great and people stayed for several hours. Others would go into the restaurant and have dinner and come back again. There was much laughter and smiles all around. It was a huge success.
Money makes everything easier. If you have no money then you must plan on doing everything yourself no matter how many people say they will help.
Reflecting on the party I would have to say two things:
- Money makes everything easier. If you have no money then you must plan on doing everything yourself no matter how many people say they will help.
- Be ready to change on a dime and always think as large as you are able. I had no experience in putting anything like this together and for all the work and worry—it was well worth it!! I felt wonderful after it was over.
I still have one more bill to pay, and I made no money, but it really doesn’t matter. I connected with so many good people, and people were able to see and learn more about me than ever before. Seeing people moved by the beauty around them was worth all the effort and I will remember that as long as I live.
I want to thank Tom for taking the time to tell this unique story. If you’re curious about his work, check the resources below.
To see more images from The Book of Palms, head over to:
The Book of Palms sales page with sample images.
9.5” x 11.5”, 72 pages
$75.00 available only from the photographer
To learn more about Tom Millea and his work, visit his website at TomMillea.com
And here’s a link to my article about the creation of the book: A Friend’s Book: Tom Millea and The Book of Palms