Planning a book party is a lot like planning a wedding

For the past year I’ve been planning my wedding, set for next month. I’ve booked the venue, hired the caterer, secured the gospel quartet. I’ve chosen party favors, and selected the menu. I can’t wait to see what the guests think of the duck confit spring rolls, chicken coq au vin, and strawberry cream cake. Last night I took a break from wedding planning and drove to Brookline Booksmith to attend the book launch of one of Boston’s most celebrated crime fiction writers, Hank Phillippi Ryan. Her latest novel, The Wrong Girl, has just been released by Forge Books.

New Hank PhotoIt was a standing-room-only crowd. Champagne corks were popping. Guests crowded their small plates with hummus, fruit, and gourmet water crackers. The room was peppered with Boston literary luminaries and local television personalities. At least two professional photographers rubbernecked constantly to capture the scene.

As the emcee read Hank’s impressive bio, I noticed her standing a few feet away from me on the fringes of the crowd waiting for her cue. At the appointed time, to thunderous applause, she made her way up the center aisle to the podium. I’m sure some wondered how she stayed afloat on her black stilettos. I wondered why Mendelssohn’s Wedding March was playing in my head. It was in that moment that I realized something: planning a book launch is a lot like planning a wedding.

Launching a book is a major accomplishment so it deserves to be acknowledged. Plus, having a book party is a great way to get people to buy your book. Twenty minutes before Hank appeared, people were lined up at the register to purchase copies of The Wrong Girl.

During her presentation Hank said that after she finished writing her first novel, she thought she could relax. Soon she realized that her work was just beginning.  A book launch requires time, energy, and creativity, much like a wedding. At times when I’ve projected ahead to when my own book is ready for launching I’ve felt overwhelmed at the prospect of planning a book party. Now I can exhale. As I finalize the menu for my wedding reception and confer with my fiancé on the table seating, I am comforted by the fact that planning a wedding has given me a test run for planning a book launch.

Writer by Day, Karaoke King by Night

KaraokeIt’s a Saturday night at independent bookstore Brookline Booksmith and the latest author event is about to begin. The chairs have been arranged. The book signing table has been set up. But before the author, Rob Sheffield, talks about his book, the people attending– in the order in which they signed up–grab a microphone, flip through a booklet of lyrics, and belt out their favorite tunes. Turn Around Bright Eyes, is Sheffield’s story of how he started a new life as a young widower spending nights in New York City karaoke bars. Karaoke played a big part in his emotional journey and led to him meeting his second wife. Karaoke also plays a big part in his book launch, getting readers to come to his events and plunk down the price of a Saturday night dinner to buy his book. 

It’s a clever marketing tool, taking a theme from your written work and making it a vehicle to generate sales. I’m sure plenty of karaoke lovers show up at his events who hadn’t heard of Sheffield before. Some of them probably don’t even read very much. What a great way to build an audience.Gone are the days when authors stood stiffly at podiums, wore drab, rumpled suits with elbow patches, or uninspired pantsuit and blouse/shirt combos to deliver flat presentations.

Authors and publishers are realizing that getting the buying public to pay attention, in this day of flashy video games and fast-paced social networking, requires creative thinking.Cookbook authors have been catching on lately. At Trident Booksellers and Café in Boston’s Back Bay, for example, the author of EATS: Enjoy All the Seconds, has a September 15th engagement to not only talk about her book, but to give a “free” cooking demonstration, billed as an event to ensure that readers will never be faced with tossing away the healthiest foods again. I doubt if all those in attendance, dining on balsamic strawberries and carrot and cumin fritters, will eat and run before making a pit stop at the cash register.This has me thinking.

My novel in progress features an African drummer. I’m making a mental note to book African drummers to do a demo or mini class when I eventually launch my book. I’m curious to know if anyone else has been to a nontraditional book event or hosted one. What other approaches are authors and publishers, and publicists using these days to get a reader’s attention?